About Tom Benjamin

Researcher, exploring games and multimedia applications to education.

Mental Health Professionals’ Network

Mental Health Professionals’ Network

Coffs Harbour Collaborative Network Meeting

Forum Series: Evidence-based Mental Health -

Topic: Naming the Elephant

 Guest Speaker: Dr Rosie Ross, MBBS (Hons) FRACGP

Mental Illness: is there more to this picture?

  • • SSRI’s and how they work
  • • SERT transporters and the Methylation cycle
  • • Biotypes of Depression
  • • Mood Disorders and Nutritional deficiencies

Dr Ross’s talk will be of great importance to anyone working in a clinic. The ‘elephant in the room’ is the medication that so many patients will have been prescribed in concert with other therapies. SSRI’s in particular are widely prescribed and covered in both academic and popular press.

Date:                           Thursday 23rd March 2017

Time:                          5:30 pm – 7:00pm

Venue:                       Venue:           Northside Health

14 Edgar Street, Coffs Harbour

Registrations required

Catering:                   Snacks provided,

RSVP:  Please register to ensure catering and a Certificate of Attendance

MHPN contacts: register direct with Project Officer Ingrid Benge i.benge@mhpn.org.au .

General enquiries: contactus@mhpn.org.au

Network enquiries: networks@mhpn.org.au

Ausmusic Month and National Psychology Week, International Games Day, November 2016

For Ausmusic Month 2016: 1-30 November and National Psychology Week, the second week in November, and International Games Day I’ve scheduled a number of events:

During National Psychology Week Australian Psychological Society members have been encouraged to offer events to the general public. This year’s theme is Compass for Life and it promotes the Center for Technology Transfer of the University of Pennsylvania PERMA – profiler (Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment) measures of psychological wellbeing.

My first event in the series is

Event name Ways to thrive: Accomplishment
Start date 10/11/2016
Time 4PM -7PM
Attendance Public event
Event website http://www.tom-benjamin.com
Venue name Seminar Training Room
Street address Seminar Hut #6
Suburb / town Coffs Harbour
Postcode 2450
State NSW
Event description “Being able to set and achieve goals and enjoy some mastery and control over our lives has shown to help us derive a sense of purpose from life” is a pillar of this year’s Psychology Week. This live event reviews the principles that can lead to accomplishment in new activities. The case examples for demonstration will include “games & simulations on a shoestring” as presented at the Australasian Simulation Congress (2016) outlining principles for custom simple game creation and a recently patented ‘world’s easiest’ music-learning system. The methods minimize complex software and computer expertise, making it possible for therapists, teachers and community group leaders to instantly gratify total beginners in rewarding participation. In addition to the demonstration the underpinning psychological principles and evidence will be reviewed.

The next event will be

Coffs Harbour City Libraries participation in International Games Day – at Coffs Harbour Library.

The project is an initiative of ALIA (Australian Library and Information Association in conjunction with the ALA (American Library Association) http://igd.ala.org/

“Our event is being held on Saturday 19th November. Of particular interest may be the presentation / demonstration at 12:00 noon.  Psychologist Dr Tom Benjamin will demonstrate the principles through which any task can be transformed into a game with applications for teachers, therapists, online educators and community groups. The event is a collection of FREE drop in sessions, suitable for ages 10+ as well as adults, and no bookings are required.”

Music Club

The Music Club has been launched in 2016. The goal is to enlist participants from around the globe to learn and rehearse basic through advanced multimedia skills to share resources via digital technology. Online courses and activities will be conducted through OpenLearning.com and BigMarker.com. To date I have had over 7500 international enrolments in earlier courses such as Gamification, Personal Branding, and a range of psychology topics.

I conservatively hope for many times that figure for music-based courses. There are literally millions of guitars and ukuleles sitting in closets around the world, unplayed for lack of a simple learning system. My system evolved over many decades working in hospitals and educational institutions. It is logically the easiest-possible ‘learn to play’ system as it starts with 1-finger and even no-finger chords. What makes it revolutionary is that it re-writes the music to fit the player. The music makes the simple chords ‘fit in’ so there is no fear of playing a sour note.

Locally we have launched live sessions in Coffs Harbour through the Arts Council. We meet four times a month in a scenic park by a creek right in the middle of the CBD.

Open Forum Series: Evidence-based Mental Health

I’ve taken on Coordination of the Coffs Harbour Collaborative Mental Health Professionals’ Network. The established Counselling Services Inc. and Coffs Branch of the Australian Psychological Society will merge some of their meetings to make it an open forum. I am also Vice-President of the Medical Consumers Association and will ensure that the consumer perspective is at the very least not mis-represented.

The overall topic will be Evidence-based Mental Health. Presentations will consist of speakers and audio-visual materials to stimulate and inform discussion.

This is an important topic from any perspective. Medicine itself is already regarded by some authorities as in itself among the leading direct causes of death in the Western World. The dramatic rise in classification of millions of persons into ‘mental illness’ categories starting in childhood, has a big impact on their future participation in the workforce:

As Dr Allen J Frances put it: “We have a medical system that couldn’t’ve been conceived more brilliantly by an enemy of the United States. Our medical industrial complex is a brilliant conception if you wanted to destroy our economy and it’s working exactly to do that.”

This Forum begins with these issues as a starting point and as Audio/Visual triggers for discussion, with templates and guidelines to evaluate the issues from the perspectives of the scientific method and its clinical, economic, sociological and historical variants.

The Forum will be held in the CBD Coffs Harbour. Current MHPN members will be contacted by email with venue details. Those wishing to register with MHPN can contact them at http://www.mhpn.org.au/find-network.





How to Write a Romance Novel

Margaret and I are proud to accounce our collaboration on the first of our multimedia OpenLearning courses: https://www.openlearning.com/courses/romance


Course Description

Romance is one of the fastest-growing sectors of publishing, in both traditional books and e-versions. The biggest-selling book of all time, 50 Shades of Gray, is now among them. Regular readers worldwide consume these books like magazines so there is constant demand. Romance has expanded to mix with other genres such as crime, sci-fi, horror so that there is ample scope for creative writing.

This course provides a strategic approach to getting your romance novel published. As you do the activities you are building your marketing plan and learning how to write what the readers are seeking and, importantly, what the key publishers will be likely to accept.

Experience from judging writing contests, publishers’ guidelines and feedback, and readers’ reviews is synthesised for you so that you can save countless hours fine-tuning to increase the chances of your creative efforts being published.

Course Presenter

Margaret Penhall-Jones

Hi – As a romance writing contest judge I’ve seen it all – the good, the bad, and the misguided. I want to share with you what took me many years of study and writing. I can save you countless hours and disappointment by applying strategy. I’ve worked in the government, legal and private sectors, writing across the full range from government policy documents to short stories. I’ve seen how important it is to tailor your creative efforts to what your audience wants.  As a counsellor and psychotherapist I’ve seen the full spectrum of human drama so am familiar with the new directions romance writing is taking as it mixes with contemporary social concerns.

The course will launch in 2015 through www.openlearning.com. Cost for this course will be $30Aus.

National Psychology Week Events

Neuropsychology for Forensic Psychologists

This free brief online self-study course is being hosted by OpenLearning for the NSW Branch of the APS Forensic College.


The international firm, Accredible, has offered its documentation services for those wishing to use the resource for self-study PD. Details are onsite.

The course will be expanded during 2015 and soundtracks for the full version are available at www.radio-tom.com


Psychology in a Digital Age

A live talk is scheduled for National Psychology Week at the Deep Sea Fisherman’s Club in Coffs Harbour Jetty for Rotary. Those wishing to attend should contact the Club to add numbers for catering purposes.

One Sky May 2014

On the 9th of May 2014, people from across the globe will be  looking up and appreciating one of the things we all share: our sky. Astronomers from around the world will be setting up telescopes absolutely free for anybody who wants to look.


As part of this I’m here posting some classroom activities that can be used in daylight as prelude or follow up to the event. I refer also to my earlier podcasts and movies on the topic:





Benjamin, T. (2009b) The Best Views of the Universe are from our Backyards. Cloudy Nights.  http://www.cloudynights.com/item.php?item_id=1995

Benjamin, T. (2010e) It’s what you can’t see that counts. Cloudy Nights.  http://www.cloudynights.com/item.php?item_id=2437

Make a Star Map: Group or Class Exercize


Paper version:

  • sheets of paper – black and white;
  • coloured pencils, crayons, pens
  • toothbrush & toothpaste

Digital version:

  • Paint and draw programmes (MsPaint, Powerpoint or equivalent)


  1. Get photos of  constellations in the night sky from the Web or a book
  2. Read about them and each player select one constellation that has a variety of objects (for example Scorpio has a globular cluster and several open clusters)
  3. Draw on the white sheet the stars of the constellation then the clusters according to map symbols
  4. Exchange the map within pairs with each partner
  5. Partner reads the map,
  6. works out which constellation is depicted
  7. paint white spatter on black with toothbrush to show what it would look like in the night sky
  8. exchange spatter maps back to partner
  9. compare symbol map with spatter map
  10. compare maps with photo images and professionally-made maps of these constellations

Astronomy Quiz Item Pool

(starting from simplest to easiest – create your quiz from these)

Why does the Moon have phases?

Observe the Moon during daylight. Look at the angle of light & shadow. What does that tell you about the relative distance from Earth to the Moon and the Sun?

What is an eclipse?

What is the Zodiac?

What is the Ecliptic? (OK to cut & paste your answer)

What does the Zodiac/Ecliptic have to do with the night sky?

Refer to the following Zodiac Sun Sign Table

  •  Aries: March 21 – April 19
  • Taurus: April 20 – May 20
  • Gemini: May 21 – June 20
  • Cancer: June 21 – July 22
  • Leo: July 23 – August 22
  • Virgo: August 23 – September 22
  • Libra: September 23 – October 22
  • Scorpio: October 23 – November 21
  • Sagittarius: November 22 – December 21
  • Capricorn: December 22 – January 19
  • Aquarius: January 20 – February 18
  • Pisces: February 19 – March 20

Pick a particular day of the year.

What Zodiac ‘star sign’ corresponds to that date?.

On that date chosen would you be able to see that Zodiac sign?

What does all this actually mean in astronomical terms? –ie- what does it tell you about the positions of the Earth, Sun etc  on that date.?

How might remembering your personal birthday ‘star sign’ help you find astronomical objects in the sky?

How would a pair of objects in the evening sky  help you locate the Zodiac/Ecliptic?

What are some possible pairs of objects in the evening sky that would help you locate the Zodiac/Ecliptic?

Why is the Zodiac/Ecliptic a curved rather than straight line in the sky?

From the information in the Zodiac table derive the following:

A Zodiac constellation appearing centre sky around 9PM on May 30?

A Zodiac constellation appearing centre sky around 9PM on October 30?

How can you tell whether a bright object is a star or a planet?

Describe what each of these looks like in the night sky:

  •  Mercury
  • Venus
  • Mars
  • Jupiter
  • Saturn

The next set of questions was not answered by humans until the 20th Century

What is the Milky Way?

The Milky Way is easy to spot on a clear moonless night in the country but how might you recognise it from a lit up area in a city or suburb?

Besides the Milky Way what other neighbour objects in the Local Group can be seen from Earth with the eye or binoculars?

“We on Earth have some of the best views of the Universe” – discuss in terms of the following:

  • How would moving closer to the centre of the Milky Way affect our view?
  • What are some types of spectacular objects within the Milky Way?
  • How would moving closer to spectacular objects within the Milky Way affect our view?
  • How would moving to intergalactic space Milky Way affect our view?

What is meant by the term ‘deep sky objects’?

Besides stars and planets what sorts of astronomical objects might be seen with a pair of binoculars?

What is meant by the term ‘richest field telescope’ (RFT)?

What advantage might a RFT have over a ‘high-powered’ telescope?

What advantage might a ‘high-powered’ telescope have over a RFT?

What are some typical specifications of a richest field telescope?

What are some typical specifications of a high-power telescope?

What is a dobsonian?

What is meant by the term ‘exit pupil’?

What is a planisphere (commonly called ‘star wheel’)?

What is a torquetum?

What is an equatorial mount?

What is an altazimuth mount?

What is Right Ascension? Is it associated with longitude or latitude?

What is Declination? Is it associated with longitude or latitude?

What is a ‘deep sky object’?

What is an open cluster?

What is a globular cluster?

What is a nebula?

What is a dark lane?

Why is the view from a dark sky site in the country likely to be among the best possible in the entire Universe?



Free online Forensic Psychology Course

The course was launched as a live event in Sydney for National Psychology Week.

The international online course will launch on 3rd February 2014. For details see https://www.openlearning.com/courses/ForensicPsychology

It is also listed with the Australian Psychological Society http://www.psychology.org.au/Events/EventView.aspx?ID=13641

This is a general information course that follows on from my earlier www.OpenLearning.com courses on Gamification and Neuropsychotherapy. The Neuropsychotherapy course covers multimedia and is intended for teachers and therapists.  The Forensic course covers scientific method as applied to psychology in the forensic settings. It is a forum rather than a skills course.

The case material was obtained with permission from media sources and from persons who had taken their stories to the public domain. Warning – this is not suitable material for young children. These are genuine cases, widely described as ‘horror’ cases in the mental health sector.

As Vice-President of the Medical Consumers Association in Sydney and as a former government researcher into the mental health sector I became familiar with these public cases. The course target audience is professionals such as psychologists, lawyers, and insurance officers who deal with these issues as well as members of the general public who bear the consequences. It can also be relevant to science teachers as it addresses fundamental questions about scientific method.

The video modules of the course are live on YouTube. The full course is being finalised on OpenLearning. The course is free.

There is no certification for a course such as this as most nations and states have statutory regulation of professional accreditation. However, the course can be treated as any other textbook or video source. If instructors wish to use the materials in their courses it is fine with me as they bear all responsibility for accreditation. Any reproduction of the material would be subject to their local copyright laws.  Individuals wishing to cite open online courses of any kind on their CV should exercize caution as it is ‘self-study’.

Neuropsychotherapy Course

This is a multimedia skills course that follows on  from an earlier www.OpenLearning.com course on Gamification. The Neuropsychotherapy course fleshes out the principles with specific details of techniques and software. The target is to help teachers and therapists develop games and other digital activities. But, of course, anyone else could find these skills useful as it starts from the most basic audio-visual skills and works up to animated and interactive materials.

So activities in this Neuropsychotherapy course are presented without claims as being ‘treatments’. All educational and recreational activities have some treatment value in settings where the goal is general activation and engagement.

The course is in line with our e-Chautauqua concept. It is traditional adult education made more accessible with digital technology.


The Hero’s Journey in Gamification and Marketing

Marketing has seen applications of every sort of theory: psychology, operations research, anthropology – you name it.  A number of marketers have mentioned Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey as a way of framing advertising.

A hero’s journey has a number of common elements:

  1. The common day
  2. A distress call to adventure
  3. A victim
  4. The hero is singled out as ‘the one’ who can help
  5. There may be initial reluctance
  6. They enter a world of supernatural wonder
  7. Help from a wise mentor
  8. Gods or supernatural benevolent beings assist (or interfere)
  9. Tasks and battles
  10. Trials – the unanticipated; accident; treachery; treason
  11. Transformation of the hero
  12. Return with a Boon to share with others

The logical question arising is “Who is to be the hero?”.  Examination of the heroic role and the history of advertising reveals a number of good answers to this. Advertisers soon learned to promote the buyer as the hero. In this role the product becomes not the hero but the hero’s empowering tool.

The subject matter, such as math, science, product or service, can take many roles. It can be the hero, the hero’s empowering tool, or the prize/boon.

Even the dark side can be used. Sometimes a game portrays maths or science as the trial or obstacle to be overcome. Whether that is a good way to retain future interest in these subjects is a matter for caution.

Folklore gives us any number of precedents for these joint roles: Jason and the Golden Fleece, Percival and the Holy Grail, King Arthur and his sword Excalibur, Aladdin and the Genie, Thor and his Hammer. On TV we had The Lone Ranger and his horse Silver, Sergeant Preston and dog King, Captain Nelson and Jeannie, Knight Rider and his car KITT. There were often human ‘sidekicks’ like Tonto or Batman’s Robin. All these had a secondary but distinctive contribution empowering the hero.

In service industries the empowering tool will be a person. So the canny marketer is careful that the credibility and potency of the potential buyer is not threatened by contrast with the service provider as hero. Sometimes the buyers, particularly females, were cast in the Damsel in Distress role. But commonly the buyer is portrayed as the potential hero, like Aladdin, who only needs to rub the magic lamp to summon the empowering tool.  Indeed, many ads actually portrayed the Magic Lamp.

Taking the common example of a pest control product:

  1. the hero is a householder at home doing something routine in the kitchen or bathroom.
  2. The householder is called to action when the villain pest arrives
  3. it menaces the victims, commonly the children or those about to eat.
  4. The buyer realises action must be taken
  5. They don’t know where to turn
  6. A wonder product appears
  7. A scientist, elder or helpful neighbour explains and endorses the product
  8. The product is “brought to you by …[sponsor] ”  “from the makers of …”
  9. A battle ensues
  10. Progress reversed temporarily as a cat or child spills something
  11. The householder beams with pride as they have become a hero
  12. The meal is served, the kids go off to school and they all live happily ever after

Applications of this eventually became so formulaic as to become a cliché. As advertisers saw the coming demise of ‘the 30 second grab’ in the digital era of recorded broadcasts, fast forwards, mute buttons and eventually the Internet, there was often no time for such a sequence within the limited grabs now available.

The next cliché to appear attempted to harness game enthusiasm to hold attention and loyalty. This blending of advertising and gaming was termed “advergaming” and it became a repertoire staple.  Ad companies began placing advertisements within commercial video games and hired game developers to craft online game experiences based around their products.

The game industry became so big in its own right that it marketed physical merchandise like action figures and board games to promote its products.

For the purposes of my www.openlearning.com Gamification course, it is sufficient for the marketer to substitute the marketing roles they intend for games in place of the educational examples I’ve offered. The marketer’s goal is not so much ‘learning’ as ‘change’. The marketer has more in common with the therapist in harnessing gamification psychological processes to get the client, whether patient or buyer, to take some action, perhaps obtain something, and apply it. The therapist is very much in a service industry like financial planners, insurance agents, lawyers and many others. So their applications of Gamification and the hero’s journey will have similar role allocations.

The main thing to bear in mind is that it is not usually going to be the vendor, therapist or teacher who is to be portrayed and remembered as the hero. A brand recognition goal might be for the product to be remembered as co-hero , like Tonto or Jeannie or as an impersonal empowering  entity like the Magic Lamp.  Traditional sponsorship and public relations had the perceived ‘arms’ length’ independent role. In traditional analogy this benevolent benefactor role would correspond to the ‘god’ ‘supernatural being’ or ‘mentor’ role –ie- “brought to you by …. [sponsor]”.

In summary, roles and actions in the digital era may follow patterns in traditional market activity. Human nature responds to the same needs and the same practical products solutions will be needed to satisfy these needs. Gamification is but another application of these principles.