The Town of SpringHaven

There is a small village on the outskirts of a mountainous region, perched on a plateau overlooking the sea.  It sits in the shadow of a great castle adorned with great towers, fortified walls, and topped with a roof made entirely of blocks of pure diamond.  SpringHaven, as the locals call it, is a quaint village in a vast, largely unexplored world.  Shopkeepers and an ever-patrolling lad named Drakia, add to the activity and bustle, but real life is breathed into this town, and the surrounding regions, when the world’s architects are there.  I’m talking about the learners who are actively creating and building this living, breathing virtual world in Minecraft.  I merely provided them with the canvas, but they are the true artists who are making this year’s newly re-designed survival server come alive.

springhaven_s

This year, we’ve re-launched our district’s survival Minecraft server with an emphasis on building community among our student-players.  If the first few weeks is any indication, they have embraced that call.  They designed our starting area, the town of SpringHaven, the great Diamond Castle that overshadows it, and are working to create a unique world, all their own.  Another goal of this year’s project is to increasingly hand over the leadership and ownership of this community to the learners.  We’ve instituted a challenge/rank system, offering players the ability to “level up” by actively contributing to the design of the world and participating in the community-building projects and contests that we will be rolling out.  We’ve also incorporating some exciting new plugins, including MCMMO which allows players to level up skills like Mining and Archery.

Just last night, we just launched our first event, a community build (a collaborative, server-wide building project), called “The Town of Deadwood!”  In the spirit of the Halloween season, players are invited to build a deserted, and haunted town, each choosing a different component to be responsible for, and working to add it to the town’s deserted streets.  By participating, they earn community participation points and can advance their “status” on the server as a contributor.  Want to see our event flyer?  You can find it here:  https://docs.google.com/document/d/16Ry36DMAIarAKirE-3UECM6tCmDfubZ6s9Seu8r-iPk/edit.

I’m thrilled at the level of engagement and ownership I’ve seen so far.  I can’t wait to see what’s next!

-Lucas

NCTIES 2013!! Game On: Play to Learn

ncties2013

So, needless to say, I’m pretty excited about this year’s theme for the conference.  There are a number of fantastic sessions related to games and learning.  My session resources can be found here:

Game on!

-Lucas

A Hero’s Journey: From Azeroth to Tyria (Guild Wars 2)

The WoWinSchool Project continues to amaze me.  What began in 2009 has grown, evolved, and continues to engage students in unique and exciting ways.  The keys are tapping into relevance and creating a space in which what our Heroes learn relates to the context of their experiences.

The curriculum that Craig Lawson and I wrote for the program and released in June of 2011 has resonated with other pioneering educators around the globe.  This year has been no exception.  With the more affordable, dynamic MMO’s entering the market and game-based learning gaining the attention of district-level decision makers, more Lorekeepers (teachers) are taking up the banner and guiding a new generation of student-heroes into this adventure in learning.

The adaptability of the learning quests in the curriculum makes it suitable for games beyond World of Warcraft.  In Pender County Schools, our programs have made a significant transition to a new world.  The subscription fees associated with WoW have, historically, made it cost-prohibitive for many would-be additions to the program.  As our allotment of 60-day subscription cards began to dwindle, I began to research viable alternatives that might allow us to continue our momentum.

I experimented with Rift and Star Wars: The Old Republic, and though they have merits, both, at the time, were subscription-based, and in my experience, didn’t provide the epic-level experience we’d had in WoW.  I began following the developments of ArenaNet’s Guild Wars 2 and held out hope that this might be the one.  A month after release, I was convinced.  Around this same time, LeVonda Vickery from the REACH School in Oregon, contacted me regarding her desire to use our curriculum with Guild Wars 2.  So, I wasn’t the only one thinking about the possibilities!  Guild Wars 2 would take us and our program forward, providing our heroes with deep, story-driven content, while adding a huge layer of community-driven experience I felt had always been lacking from World of Warcraft.

We conducted a test to see how well it would fit with a group of five students in Cape Fear Middle’s SAGA class.  Their feedback was very positive and the game performed acceptably on our newest Dell desktops (with integrated graphics) and beautifully on our Alienwares.  After discussing with our school-based Lorekeepers, we agreed.  ”It’s time to move to Tyria!”

All of our 30+ Heroes have now embarked on a new adventure in Tyria.  GW2’s emphasis on character and story during character creation really sets the stage for focusing on a player’s role in the bigger picture of world events.  The unique level-adjusting system means that players who have outpaced their guild mates in level can go back to support their lower-level friends while still being challenged.

GW2’s focus on guilds also creates unique opportunities for our student guild, The Legacy, to engage with the larger server community.  The perks that guilds earn for gaining influence points (by working together in the game), allow for students to have a greater say in the direction of their community takes.  A great example of how we’re taking advantage of this is with our recent guild emblem contest.

Already, more schools have joined or expressed an intent to join the program in the near future.  The Legacy Guild is growing!  Exciting possibilities are on the horizon!

-Lucas

Everything I Need to Know About The Future of Education I Learned from Science Fiction

The future is coming.  Are you ready?  I am and I’m excited about what it holds for education!  As if it weren’t already clear that I’m an unabashed (and rather proud) geek, you might suspect that my favorite genre of literature is science fiction.  And, you’d be mostly right, though the number one spot is also shared with fantasy literature (big surprise, huh?).  Last week I wrapped up Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.  It was a blast!  A mashup of 80′s pop culture and gaming with a healthy dose of dystopian cyberpunk, it really is this 80′s kid’s dream novel.

When consuming media, though, I find it difficult to take off my educator-glasses. So, as I’m reminiscing about the days of the blips and beeps of the mall arcade and the tabletop PacMan at the local Pizza Hut, I’m also paying close attention to what Cline says about education.  I highlighted several passages because they got me thinking…  Want to know what school will be like in the future?  Maybe science fiction holds the key!  Then, I reflected on other science fiction I’d read or seen in the movies.  What if?  Here are some possible futures:

 

Virtual Worlds for Learning – from Ready Player One by Earnest Cline (2012)


"Then, one glorious day, our principal announced that any student with a passing grade-point average could apply for a transfer to the new OASIS [the virtual world in Cline's novel] public school system.  The real public school system, the one run by the government, had been an underfunded, overcrowded train wreck for decades... ...every kid with half a brain was being encouraged to stay at home and attend school online."

 

This is a future that both excites and worries me at the same time.  However, look at the pressures our public schools are facing.  Imagine a system that was free, accredited, and offered experiences like these:

 

"...since the buildings were just pieces of software, their design wasn't limited by monetary constraints, or even by the laws of physics.  So, every school was a grand place of learning, with polished marble hallways, cathedral-like classrooms, zero-g gymnasiums [way cool!], and virtual libraries containing every (school-board approved) book ever written."

What person wouldn’t want to experience a learning environment like that?  Aside from the physical and monetary constraints on today’s schools, consider this, more personal statement by Parzival, the main character in the novel:

 

"Best of all, in the OASIS, no one could tell that I was fat, that I had acne... ...Bullies couldn't pelt me with spitballs...  No one could even touch me.  In here, I was safe."

Ever wonder why students are drawn to video games and virtual worlds?  Do you think, given the option to customize the appearance of their avatars that they’d hesitate to choose this kind of schooling over the traditional brick-and-mortar alternatives?

In later passages Parzival explains his experiences exploring ancient Egypt, touring a beating human heart (a la The Fantastic Voyage), and visiting Jupiter’s Io to watch a volcano erupt as Jupiter loomed on the horizon.  Imagine being able to have these sorts of experiences with your own learners!  Sleeping in class?  I doubt that would be an issue.

 

Personal Tablet Computing – Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (1985)

It’s interesting that I actually read Ender’s Game after I’d first used an iPad.  So, as I read passages like the one below, I was amazed at the author’s vision of learning in the future:

 

"Ender doodled on his desk, drawing contour maps of mountainous islands and then telling his desk to display them in three dimensions from every angle...
The bell rang. Everyone signed off their desks or hurriedly typed in reminders to themselves. Some were dumping lessons or data into their computers at home. A few gathered at the printers... Ender spread his hands over the keyboard near the edge of the desk and wondered what it would feel like to have hands as large as a grown-up's... Of course, they had bigger keyboards - but how could their thick fingers draw a fine line, the way Ender could..."

Already, tablet computers like the iPad are becoming frequent sights in our classrooms.  Their ability to provide technology-enhanced learning, individualized to a learner’s needs is powerful.  What might the future look like if every student had access to these devices to support their learning?  In some places, that future is already here.

 

Game-Based Learning – Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (1985)

Consider the Battle School from Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game.  Through rigorous game-based simulations, students in Card’s world learned standard curricula as well as military strategy.  Schools around the world are starting to pay attention to video games and how they can be effective tools for teaching.  (This blog has examples!)

 

Digital Learning/Research Assistants – Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson (1992)

Imagine what classroom learning might look like if each student had a personal, digital assistant to help them as they learned, adjusting to their specific learning styles, and helping them as they researched online.  In Neal Stephenson’s Snowcrash, the main character, Hiro, has a computer program dubbed “The Librarian” who takes the form of an avatar and helps him as he researches a mystery that’s plaguing hackers in cyberspace.  Consider this interchange between Hiro and his assistant as they piece together information that each of them has collected:

 

"He believed that Babel was an actual historical event. That it happened in a particular time and place, coinciding with the disappearance of the Sumerian language. That prior to Babel/Infocalypse, languages tended to converge. And that afterward, languages have always had an innate tendency to diverge and become mutually incomprehensible - that this tendency is, as he put it, coiled like a serpent around the human brainstem."
"The only thing that could explain that is - "
Hiro stops, not wanting to say it.
"Yes?" the Librarian says.
"If there was some phenomenon that moved through the population, altering their minds in such a way that they couldn't process the Sumerian language anymore. Kind of in the same way that a virus moves from one computer to another, damaging each computer in the same way. Coiling around the brainstem. "
"Lagos devoted much time and effort to this idea" the Librarian says "He believed that the nam-shub of Enki was a neurolinguistic virus"

When I consider these elements I think about my iPhone and that quirky little personality that resides within, Siri.  The thing that makes Siri amazing is not that it can recognize your speech or conduct basic information gathering for you, but rather that it’s the beginning stages of tools that can make sense of what we are saying/asking.  This is beyond speech recognition.  This is semantics.  What if each of your learners had one of these?  This wouldn’t supplant a teacher, but would foster individualization and differentiation.  At the same time, this we can always direct students to Siri for those “Bloom’s Basement” sorts of questions.

 

If you haven’t read these novels, you really should.  Not only do they have interesting predictions about the future (and the future of learning), they’re great reads!  There are probably countless other examples from science fiction.  Perhaps you’ve got some?  Leave a comment and share!

 

-Lucas

It Takes a Guild Webinar: Episode 3 – Featuring PCS Super-Teachers Craig Lawson and Sara Toothman!

Yeah… I work with amazing people.  GamesMOOC (massive open online course) was kind enough to invite Craig, Sara, and I to share about our game-based initiatives in Pender County Schools.  Missed the live show?  You can watch it here:

 

-Lucas

Video Game Companies That Really Get It

When I present on the use of games in the classroom, I’m usually advocating for using COTS (commercial-off-the-shelf) games.  These are games, not designed for education that you might pick up at your local WalMart or GameStop.  Games like this were designed primarily to entertain, though many have some powerful embedded learning, too.  This is the realm I really enjoy exploring.

What’s really great is that some of these companies are paying attention to the education community and even reaching out to them.  Though I’m sure there are more, I really want to mention two:  Mojang, the creators of Minecraft, and Valve, the creators of games like Half Life and Portal.

Mojang has partnered with MinecraftEDU to allow a deeply discounted rate on licenses of Minecraft to schools.  According to Joel “TheMinecraftTeachr” Levin, who helped start MinecraftEDU, the company has been incredibly supportive of their efforts to bring Minecraft to schools.

 

Valve recently launched an education-outreach program called TeachWithPortals.  Through this program, schools can get Portal 2 and its level editor for use in the classroom.  In addition, they’ve provided a space in which educators can connect with each other sharing lessons and ideas for integration.

This is an encouraging trend.  As game-based learning continues to evolve, we need more pioneering companies to see and foster connections to classroom teachers.  Great job, Mojang and Valve!  I know students in my district are experiencing engaging learning opportunities because of your work.

-Lucas

Games in Education 2012 – Presentation Resources

Games in Education 2012 is underway.  Already, incredible ideas and resources are being shared by educators from across the country who are bringing game-based learning to their students!  Today, I’m presenting on a new project, SAGA (Story and Game Academy).  It’s always my goal to give teachers resources they can use to get started with games in their own schools when I present.  All of the links and resources from today’s presentation can be found here:  http://edurealms.com/?page_id=613.

Game on!

-Lucas

Refining “Game-based Learning”

In case you hadn’t noticed, education is full of jargon and rife with an alphabet soup of programs, policies, and practice.  It’s often challenging for me as a professional in education technology to keep my terminology defined.  What’s the difference between CIPA and COPPA?  When you say PBL, do you mean problem-based learning or project-based learning?  Of course, my own area of passion in education, the use of games and game principles for learning is faced with a similar, murky sea of words and ideas.  Recent discussions, between David Warlick, Mathias Poulsen, and myself via Twitter during ISTE 12, forced me to consider the issues.  For me, it’s time to refine the definition of “game-based learning.”

It’s exciting to watch the idea of game-based learning gaining market share in the discussion on educational change, especially, since I’ve been pushing it for a few years now.  There is, however, some confusion among educators, and even in my own mind, about how we define the different terms associated with the use of games and game principles in the classroom.  What’s the difference between using games to teach and gamifying the classroom?  Let’s take a look at some of the big ideas:

Playful Learning

One of the best things that game-based learning is bringing back to the education reform discussion is the value of play and a playful approach to learning.  This is nothing new (see Vygotsky, Piaget, and others), of course, but it’s an idea that has seen hard times in an era of standardization and high-stakes testing.  The value, here, is in encouraging learners to “play” with ideas.  In doing so, the idea of failure is either not possible or is an accepted part of the process.  Using this sort of approach also provides learners with opportunities to test ideas and hypotheses to solve ill-defined problems.  Some key thinkers in this area that you should review include:  Papert, Brian Sutton-Smith,  and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  Though an integral part of game-based learning, it’s a only a component of the bigger picture.

Using Games To Teach

First off, notice I’m saying “using games to teach” not “using video games to teach.”  I think this in an important first distinction.  While most of my work has been in the application of video games to instructional goals, I think that focusing solely  on video games is too limiting.  There are some incredible games out there that are not electronic at all.  Secondly, I think it’s important for educators to distinguish between simulations and games.  Simulations provide experiences through which participants experience concepts and are certainly valuable for learning, however, they lack many of the elements that games bring to the learning process.  So, how do we define “game,” then?  According to Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman, “a game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome.”  Others include variations on the definition, but the fundamentals of rules, challenge, and interaction are foundational.

I see the idea of “using games to teach” as the use of a pre-designed game to help learners reach an instructional goal.  In the world of video games, this breaks down into two areas that I feel are distinct:  the use of “educational” games (think Math Blaster) and the use of commercial, off-the-shelf games for education (think using Civilization V to teach World History).  The quotes around educational are intentional.  All good games are educational even if they weren’t designed with the classroom in mind.  My personal passion is exploring the use of games not designed for the classroom to help learners understand concepts.

Serious Games

Serious games is another term that you’ll often hear in discussions on game-based learning.  According to Wikipedia a serious game is, “a game designed for a primary purpose other than pure entertainment.”  That definition can encompass a broad range of games including “educational games,” games designed for training, games designed to solve real-world problems, etc.  I believe that the Games for Change movement would also fit as a subset of serious games.  Consider the game Re-Mission, designed to help cancer patients not only learn about the disease but also fight it.

Gamification

Gamification is applying the principles of games and game design to a non-game-related system.  This concept is quickly gaining momentum in the corporate world, spurred on by increased access to social media and mobile technology among consumers.  Take a look at FourSquare, for example.  When gamifying a business, consumers unlock badges and awards for being frequent patrons and earn points for participating in events and activities much as they would by completing activities in a game like Call of Duty or World of Warcaft.  When applied to the classroom, the discussion focuses on ideas such as replacing traditional grades with experience points and levels, player groups, and redesigning lessons to be more akin to the quests (see quest-based learning) that players might experience in a game.  It’s important for educators to distinguish, here, that this idea can be applied to any subject area and doesn’t necessarily involve the use of a pre-designed game.  A video by the folks at Extra Credits does a decent job of summarizing the idea – http://youtu.be/MuDLw1zIc94.  This is also another opportunity for me to plug 3DGameLab, an online system that makes this process manageable for classroom teachers.

For my own sanity, I’ll be lumping the ideas of using games to teach and gamification under the bigger umbrella of “game-based learning.”  Of course, I’ll still have to ask others using the term what them mean when they say it.  If you’re interested in learning more, follow the #GBL tag on Twitter.  If you’re looking to engage with other educators in the trenches who are wrestling exploring these issues, take a look at Jennifer Lagarde‘s Level Up Book Club (#levelupbc on Twitter)

(Edited 7/2/12 – Added Serious Games)

-Lucas