GLS11 – Reflections

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I FINALLY made it to the Games+Learning+Society Conference! I heard about it probably 4 or 5 years ago and it was always held right at the end of the school year. GLS was a big reason that I wanted to come to Madison to graduate school.

My takeaways:

  • I love the people and the ideas and discussions they have. Game designers, academics, teachers, and lots who bridge all three communities. That said, games are not a core piece of my research, so I was able to do the “slow conference” thing: not rushing to every session, picking sessions at the last minute, not furiously taking notes to remember everything that was said.
  • My reading list just got longer. First, Seymour Papert’s Connected Family. Also, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (on audiobook narrated by Wil Wheaton???). And maybe, The Game Believes in You, by Greg Toppo.
  • Definitely a thread running through the conference about whether schools are the answer or the problem. Clearly some have given up on schools as a place to create change, which is disheartening. (Someone said: “[It’s] such a pain to get technology in the classroom.”) My question to them: If you don’t think schools, then who? You? The game design companies? Maybe schools aren’t universally where we want them to be, and goodness knows change is hard, but I still think they are a critical player (pun intended) worth paying attention to in making society better.
  • The keynotes were great – Sean Dikkers on Tuesday, Nichole Pinkard on Wednesday, and Brenda Romero on Thursday:
    • Seann‘s presentation reminded me that I really need to start crafting my personal story that translates the importance and drive of my professional work. The most compelling talks always seem to come through these personal stories (“When I was a kid…”). I also need to dig out some good (read: embarrassing) pictures of me as a kid.
    • Nichole spoke about her work with YouMedia in Chicago. As I’ve become more interested in the Cities of Learning initiatives, it was exciting to hear her take on using informal learning spaces to create pathways for learning across content and sites. She proposed three questions:
      – How do we follow the opportunities, follow the kids, and try to connect them?
      – How do we understand organizations and how they connect? Because kids can only go to things that exist.
      – How do we know what kids are doing, particularly in out of school time? Digital badges?
    • Brenda was funny, serious, and real. She talked about being a game designer and being a woman. The most interesting part, though, was sitting behind three white guys clearly uncomfortable with how to react or process the (sometimes) rant, particularly when she mentioned breastfeeding, pregnancy, or reproductive parts. There were eye rolls and sideways glances to each other while they read their email and surfed the web.

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Continue reading “GLS11 – Reflections”

Reaction Paper 4: Video Games and Learning

Reading:

Gee, James. (2009) Good Video Games and Good Learning.

Klopfer, Eric; Osterweil, Scot; Salen, Katie. (2009). Moving Learning Games Forward: Obstacles, Opportunities, and Openness. Report from the Education Arcade, MIT.

Squire, Kurt. (2006). From Content to Context: Videogames as Designed Experience, Educational Researcher. 35(8) 19-29.

Video games and learning is something I have thought a lot about (and apparently blogged a lot about! here, here, here, here, herehere, here, and here) in the last 4 years since I began a project integrating SimCity into my 7th grade science classroom. I participated in the Games and Learning MOOC that Squire and Steinkuehler taught last fall, Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal is a favorite, and this spring I finally got a chance to present on the topic of video games and learning to parents and a few teachers at my school. This week’s readings built on this foundation and affirmed a lot that I already believe, but I want to add an analogy that I think is helpful in terms of why games belong in education and one aspect that I think was missed.

First, though, I feel like I need to come clean and admit that I’m a gamer. Whenever I talk about games in education, I almost always preface it with “I’m not really a gamer.” I say it for two reasons. One, because I do regularly play major video games like WoW or Call of Duty, so my gaming does not align with what people stereotypically associate with the label “gamer.” Two, if I did identify myself as a gamer, it might prevent honest conversations with teachers or parents who are skeptical or negative about games, whereas presenting myself as a non-gamer allies me with them. I think this gets at the deep attitudinal barriers that Klopfer et al. (2009) refer to. But when I read the descriptions of the range of what is considered gaming, it’s me. My earliest memories include being allowed to “pick tiles” for my mom’s Scrabble game, I got Yahtzee with 3’s when I was 3 (very exciting), finally beating my older brother at Monopoly (which he contested, of course), and staying up very late playing Tetris against my cousin with our linked Gameboys. I spend and have spent a lot of time playing games; I’m a gamer.

One way that I find is helpful to address the deep skepticism and negative reaction to video games in the classroom is through an analogy. (It is not my own: I credit it completely to the director of educational technology that I worked with at OES, Brad Baugher.) While it’s an easy comparison to talk about how video games are like athletics, he took it one step further. He argued that the way video games are played right now is a lot like pick up games: informal, unsupervised, unregulated, ad hoc, and exclusionary. We believe (and spend a lot of money) on incorporating sports into schools because we see that they teach valuable life skills like grit, persistence, cooperation, and inclusion, and we employ coaches to facilitate this. Incorporating video games into the classroom is a lot like bringing them into a space where teachers can facilitate the game play, such as incorporating reflection on the experience.

The aspect that I think was missed, particularly in the Education Arcade’s report, is involving students in the creation of games. Klopfer et al. (2009) mention this in the example of Gamestar Mechanic, but not really elaborated on: “The Gamestar Mechanic team argues that by participating in and understanding the interactions of multiple complex systems, they are developing skills that are crucial for an increasing collaborative, networked, and high tech society.” This meta-awareness is crucial, and this is what I think needs to be used to create a sense of urgency amongst educators. In my experience with SimCity, and here I will make an unresearched generalization from my anecdotal though professional experience, students rarely asked why the games were designed they way they were. Boys were much more likely to prod the limits of the game and test cheat codes but without asking fundamental questions about the assumptions of the games, whereas girls were more likely to accept the gameplay as they were and seek to optimize their play within the rules, but also without questioning the game itself. I think this says a lot about how gender plays out in the game of school in general. Engaging students in game design will improve their understanding that games are artifacts designed by people who have ideologies, beliefs, and values, in the same way that learning to create movies or use photoshop helps them understand the media they see. By extension, students who learn to identify the rules and ideologies of a game can ultimately learn to question how and why “real life” societies are governed by rules and ideologies. I, perhaps optimistically, see intentional and reflective game play as an exploration and understanding of who we are and the world we live in.

Parent Partnership: Video Games and Learning

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Click above for the presentation slides or download the pdf here.

Download the handout here.

I also mentioned two important books: It’s Complicated, by danah boyd, and Reality is Broken, by Jane McGonigal.

Recap:

This morning I gave a presentation on Video Games and Learning. I’ve wanted to have this discussion since I started as technology coordinator and since beginning the SimCity project. The focus of the presentation was on the opportunities presented by video games and the skills learned, hopefully providing an entry into why kids (and lots of adults!) play the games they do and why they enjoy them so much.

I tried to walk the line between research and practicality and tried to frame how we think and talk about video games rather than giving my opinions, though my positive bias is clear. I wish I could have had more time to devote to the current research on the transfer of skills from video games to other arenas and the effect of play violence in teenagers. But that is what graduate school is for!

The best part was my somewhat last minute decision to play MMTW, Massively Multiplayer Thumb War, as inspired by Jane McGonigal from ISTE last year. I felt like I couldn’t talk about games without playing one!

Overall, I hope that people come away holding worries at bay and looking with their kids towards the opportunities. Technology is neither good nor bad, though it does change what life affords and affects us as individuals and as communities. When I look at the world, I am fundamentally hopeful about what the future will be, and maybe growing up around the Scrabble board helped shape me that way.

“The Gamers of Today May Be the Leaders of Tomorrow”

Rethinking Education

Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology, by Allan Collins and Richard Halverson

I’m preparing for a parent presentation on video games, learning, and kids. It’s a subject I’ve wanted to bring to a parent meeting for a number of years, and I’m excited to finally have it scheduled on the calendar.

Here’s my basic outline:

  1. Inoculate – basically address some of the common objections outright and diffuse potential defensiveness
  2. Reframe the discussion of video games: why do kids like them? (spoiler: it’s not because they are easy)
  3. What can games teach us about learning? (Overview of the research and history of games in learning and flow)
  4. Discuss common ways we denigrate or undervalue gaming, many times without even realizing it

I’m hoping to weave in lots of examples from Minecraftedu and SimCity, since those are the two video games we currently use in our curriculum. (Although it could be argued both of these are not the typical video games people think of. Minecraft is really more of a sandbox/creative tool and SimCity is an open-ended simulation tool.)

Stay tuned for a post of resources for my presentation!

I’m taking this opportunity to return to a book I read last spring, Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology, by Allan Collins and Richard Halverson. Just as with It’s Complicated, I’ll include some quotes, but know that the items that I pulled out specifically relate to my presentation on video games and don’t represent the entirety of the book.

  • My biggest picture observation is that we are in a time of enormous change in the structure of education, and educators have little control of this, which is probably why things are actually changing. Educators are conservative in their practice because of the design of the system. Change is upon us, whether it’s the internet, the computers, the nature of globalization and global problems, or the homeschool communities. I think this is exciting!
  • Watch a kid do math problems for homework. Watch a kid play a video game. When we know they are learning through the video game, why do we still feel in our gut that the math problems are more valuable? How did the popular culture and media so convince us into the idea that school and learning must be serious in order to be effective?

Notes from the book:

p. 9: 2 key arguments by technology enthusiasts:
1. “the world is changing and we will need to adapt schooling to prepare students for the changing world they are entering.

2. “technology gives us enhanced capabilities for educating learners, and … schools should embrace these capabilities to reshape education.”

Continue reading ““The Gamers of Today May Be the Leaders of Tomorrow””

Schematic of Gamer Progression #videogamesandlearning @coursera

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I’m taking two classes through Coursera right now: Comic Books & Graphic Novels and Video Games & Learning. I’ve already read Persepolis and American Born Chinese for the comic book class. I’m really excited about supporting our 8th graders as they read Maus (and teachers as they teach it) this year and working with our art teacher on creating resources for teaching visual culture. Continue reading “Schematic of Gamer Progression #videogamesandlearning @coursera”

What is it about games?

(While working on my NCCE presentation this morning, I decided to type out exactly what I’d like to say about games as I introduce my SimCity project. I will probably scale this back, but here’s the full, off-the-top-of-my-head version. Please leave comments and feedback on the content and organization or suggestions for resources!)

Games are play. We know the value of play (1) from all the research done that it encourages self-regulation, teaches cultural values and norms, develops creativity and real skills. One of my colleagues (@darkwolv) says that play allows you to explore ethics and morality in a pure way. There are clear rights and wrongs in a game, but you get to explore how you to handle it. For example, when little kids play doctor, they explore how they want to be treated when they are sick or hurt. When kids play multiplayer games like Call of Duty, they explore what it means to backstab a team member and the repercussions. How is play relevant to the real world? It allows us to temporarily leave reality, just as a good book or movie does. In this alternate space, we can develop real skills, such as cooperation with others, how to cope with and take responsibility, how to read and interpret data, cause and effect, etc.

Games give you a goal to work towards. (2) In soccer, it’s an obvious put-the-ball-in-the-net to score points and win. Even in an open-ended, real-time strategy game like SimCity where there is no way to beat or end the game, there are goals of growing your population and taking care of your sims. In school, the goal sometimes feels like getting the best grade or pleasing the teacher or getting the right degree to earn more money. If we are going to cultivate lifelong learners, the goal needs to lead students to learning and exploring.

Games give you, to quote Jane McGonigal (2), a sense of “heroic purpose”. If you look at American sports culture around high school sports, you see that successful high school athletes take on heroic proportion because of the emotion connected to winning. In World of Warcraft, you are logging in to save Azaroth. In this project, students got to be mayors of their city, not 7th graders. They had what I call “weightless” responsibilities. Because they are playing the role, there are no serious consequences to failure. Sometimes we give kids responsibilities that they are not ready for, like solving climate change, and instead of digging in and working on the problem, they shut down and disconnect. And we’re surprised? The weightless responsibility buoys the sense that they can succeed and makes them feel competent to succeed.

Games teach in context and allow you to learn as you go. You do not have to memorize the rules before you start. Take Angry Birds, for example. The first levels are simple and present the different types of birds one at a time. As you progress, exploding all the pigs gets harder and asks you to apply what you learned in previous levels. You wouldn’t start with the last level because each level improves your ability to play. Likewise, you do not get a guide to the types of birds and then try to use them. You discover their properties by trial and error. This is in contrast with much of how we teach. In math, for example, you are taught a formula first and then shown how to apply it to different scenarios just in case you come across something like it. How many times have you had to calculate the speed of a train going from New York to Chicago? Games, on the other hand, throw you into the fray and help you make sense of what needs to be done, and you learn how to do it by experimenting, exploring, failing, and succeeding.

The reason games are such effective teachers is in part because they are Goldilocks differentiators. They present exactly the right amount of challenge for every player that plays. For example, you can play scrabble when you are 7 or 70. The words you use will grow in complexity as your vocabulary expands and as you learn strategies for maximizing points. I love to do the New York Times crossword puzzle. Mondays are too easy but Saturday is too hard. Wednesdays are just right. A good game is designed intentionally to give you just the right amount of challenge. If it’s too hard or there are too many rules to memorize, you won’t play. By the same token, if it’s too easy, there’s no sense of accomplishment.

Games are fun! Without getting lost in all of these details, we know on a gut level that if something is called a game, it should be fun. Teachers, however, can feel that if their students are having fun, they are not learning. Playing games is seen as a frivolous, waste of time. Students should do “work” to learn. The exact opposite is true. Students learn MORE when they are having fun because they are engaged and alert. (3) With games, there is a sense of “hard fun,” where your work and effort results in success. This is what drives kids to practice free throws over and over so that when faced with a foul shot to win the game they can swish it.

Let’s take a moment to recap:

  • Development of creativity and skills, self-regulation, interpersonal skills
  • Exploration of morality and ethics
  • Goals
  • Heroic purpose and weightless responsibility
  • Learning in context
  • Appropriate challenges

Sounds like pretty good pedagogy to me!

 

 

Sources:

(1) Rieber, L.P., Smith, L., & Noah, D. (1998). The value of serious play. Educational Technology38(6), 29-37. http://lrieber.coe.uga.edu/valueofplay.html

(2) Jane McGonigal’s work: Ted TalkReality is Broken. Variety of other papers. http://janemcgonigal.com

(3) Variety of sources: Education.com, Instituteofplay.org, Play = Learning