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

Don’t Incentivize Games And Play in The Classroom

A few months back, I blogged about “The Wall.”  In the minds of many, play and work (or learning) are mutually exclusive ideas.  This continues to haunt me as I filter through the comments on a video of students in my district sharing their Minecraft creations on YouTube.  It’s not just adults who struggle with the idea that game play can be a fertile ground for learning. Even our youngest learners are conditioned to believe that school isn’t a place for play.  Learning only comes from textbooks.

Sadly, many of us, in our efforts to pioneer game-based learning in our classrooms are reinforcing that wall.  As I read about other educators’ game-based learning projects or have discussions with teachers who have well-meaning notions of bringing Minecraft or other games into their classroom, an all-too-common thread is emerging:  ”After they’ve successfully completed their assignment, I’ll let them play ____.”  I even see teachers using this approach with skill-and-drill “educational” games.

And so, another brick is added to the wall.  This only widens the gap of relevancy between what happens in the classroom and what happens outside of school in the minds of our learners.  Incentivizing play in learning relegates video games to a dessert tray that can only be sampled once you’ve eaten your spelling words and finished all of your algebra.  We’re doing kids a long-term disservice in their thinking.

My plea to educators, especially those brave enough to explore game-based learning:  make video game play a part of how you do business in the classroom.  Don’t make it a reward.  Good games can stand on their own pedagogical merit.  We often talk about fostering lifelong learning in kids and we need to encourage them to be critical and thoughtful consumers of media, including video games.

-Lucas

Teachers Playing World of Warcraft

There is a certain thrill for me watching adult learners exploring a totally alien environment.  Maybe it’s the mad scientist in me?  I’m having those very sorts of opportunities in August as Peggy Sheehy and I lead teachers from around the world through quest-based learning experiences in 3DGameLab.  Our group’s quests revolve around the concept of using World of Warcraft (or similar MMO’s) in the classroom.  Our first week has simply been a chance to orient folks to World of Warcraft.  Simply put, we just want them to play the game, immersing themselves in the fantasy world of Azeroth.

As we move into week two, we’re asking our participants to look at the game through the lens of education and instructional design.  World of Warcraft is an incredibly complex game.  This first week has reminded me of just how much I take for granted:  the jargon, game culture, and of course the technical side of things.  We have a range of prior knowledge among our participants from those who have multiple level 85 characters, the highest level in the game, to those who have never experienced any virtual world, much less a game-based virtual world.

One of the first quests for our explorer-teachers this week is to examine how the game’s designers essentially are instructional designers.  The game has to teach you how to play the game.  This requires a great deal of thought, planning, and testing on the part of the designers.   Blizzard Entertainment, the makers of World of Warcraft, have become masters of this, as their subscriber numbers (around 12 million) indicate.

We asked our teachers both newcomers and veterans alike to reflect on their first experiences in the game and to consider what lessons we might apply to our classroom instruction.  The first responses coming in are very telling:

After a couple of unhappy days, something happened that turned it around for me. People started helping me – not only that, but on two different days, very advanced players went on quests with me. What a totally different experience it was! I loved playing. It was so much fun, and I was learning a tremendous amount by following their lead and asking questions. It’s lonely to struggle by yourself, and many times I thought that this must be how students feel when they get stuck and are not allowed to work with anyone else.

This response really highlights the value of the social component, something that good games typically foster but too often our classrooms discourage.  Another teacher shared this observation:

Each quest would expand the area you could investigate. Each quest would introduce you to more and more challenging obstacles to overcome. Some quests taught you how to fish, earn money with a trade, and use different talents. You were not tossed in the middle of the pool with all your skills in place, you had to learn them one or two at a time. New skills built upon previous knowledge.

This mastery-based approach is not common in our schools, primarily because time for learning is a set constant.  The mentality is, “if you don’t get it, sorry, we have to move on.”  Keeping your experiences within your “regime of competence” is a concept also reflected by this educator:

WoW is good at starting you off small – just a few spells, easily defeated baddies, and quests that let you go practice your skills without aggroing mobs. The game is also good at keeping you within your skill realm. You won’t find any level 30 foes in the level 1 areas so you’re usually pretty safe from biting off more than you can chew.

On the concept of feedback to the player (what we might call assessment), one of our educators shared this observation:

I could see that I was making progress, and that was motivating. Also the frequent advancing in levels at the beginning stages. I was so happy when my level went up! I’ve rarely seen this technique done in education, but it could certainly be borrowed.

I was so impressed by the thoughtfulness and reflection of these educators I had to go ahead and share it.  There are many more educators who’ll be sharing their reflections on exploring World of Warcraft this week.

Are you a gaming educator?  What parallels can you make between game design and good instructional design?

Want to do a WoW-Based Project in Your School? Here’s Everything You Need…

Over the past two years I’ve been approached by several people from around the world inquiring about our World of Warcraft in School Project.  Yet, despite the numerous contacts, I’m only aware of two other schools/school systems who’ve started similar projects.  Of course, there are many potential barriers from costs to people-barriers.  Craig Lawson (@midlawsondle) and I have worked over the past year to create a full-year, standards-aligned language arts course that is based on World of Warcraft.  We have several goals in doing so:

1.  We want to demonstrate that there is value in considering commercial, off-the-shelf games for curricular integration.

2.  We want to share our work with anyone else who might take it on, and in doing so, expand the network of educators who are exploring the potential that games like this hold for the classroom.

3.  We want to create a model (using the term loosely, here) upon which similar projects, perhaps using other games might be built.

4.  We hope that others will look at the work and expand on it, improve it, and share it.

5.  We want to show that, “Yes! You can do this.”

Last Friday, we decided to kick it out of the nest.  It’s a work in progress and we sincerely welcome your feedback.  If you want to start something similar in your school, it contains most of what you need to get started.  For what’s missing, well, that’s where the power of networking comes into play.  Contact me, especially via Twitter (@PCSTech), and I’ll do my best to fill in the gaps.

If you’d like to download the .PDF of the curriculum, you can find it on the project wiki or preview it below:

WoWinSchool: A Hero’s Journey

-Lucas

Boise State’s 3D GameLab on EdGamer Episode #11

3dgamelabVery excited to have had a hand in helping Zack and the cool folks at the EdGamer podcast connect with the cool folks behind Boise State’s 3D GameLab.  Chris Haskell, one of the visionaries behind the 3D GameLab, joins Zack Gilbert for this week’s EdGamer episode 11.  If you’re not familiar with 3D GameLab, it’s essentially a tool designed to support a quest-based learning format that emphasizes learner choice while guiding learners through a course of study.  I really feel a tool like this could prove invaluable in moving us to a new paradigm of instruction.  Chris Haskell and Lisa Dawley get it.   Check it out the podcast at:  http://edreach.us/2011/05/14/edgamer-episode-11-3d-gamelab-from-boise-state-university.

-Lucas

Pender County Students Participating in Video Game Study

Screenshot from Tabula Digita's Dimension-M (Evolver, Mission 1)Back in the Fall or 2008, three classes of students at Cape Fear Middle School, the district where I work as an instructional technology coordinator,  participated in a course called Virtual Math.  In this course, we used an immersive, 3-D video game,  Tabula Digita’s Dimension-M, to see if it enhanced students’ learning of pre-Algebra concepts.  The course was a great success.  We have since expanded the course to West Pender Middle and Topsail High.

Starting in January, UNCW has launched a study at both West Pender Middle and Cape Fear Middle to take a closer, more scientific look at the impact this game is having on students’ performance in mathematics.

This story has now been picked up, not only by our local Fox/NBC affiliate (which has a great video of the students), but has now been reported by a number of online websites as well:

Look for more news in the future as the results are published!

-Lucas

Court Overturns California Violent Video Game Law

As reported in the L.A. Times, a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California has overturned a law requiring a label that reads, “18,” to be affixed to any “violent” video game.  Part of the problem with the law was the fuzzy definition of “violent” and the lack of a clear link that shows violent video games cause psychological/neurological harm.

Again, parents can make these decisions and should be closely aware of what their children are doing, anyway.

-Lucas

My Gaming Thesis As A Wordle

I took my last thesis revision and put it into Wordle. It creates a very interesting representation and gives you a good idea what was studied.  Have you heard of Wordle?  Wordle analyzes any text that you copy and paste or a website with RSS feed to produce a representation of the words used.  Words used more frequently are larger.  You can then select your colors, fonts, and the orientation of the words.

-Lucas

Dimension-M For Middle School Math – Thesis Nearing Completion

Screenshot from Tabula Digita's Dimension-M (Evolver, Mission 1) To date, I haven’t spent a great deal of time discussing my thesis research, because it has been an ever-changing work in progress.  Without anything “final” I didn’t want to throw anything out into the blogosphere.  However, I’m very close to finalizing it and will be sharing my work here soon.

To provide some background, I used Tabula Digita’s Dimension-M game with middle school students to see the game’s impact on their mathematics achievement and attitude.  In addition, I wanted to see if gender played any role in the outcomes.

Though the group I was working with was small and the period of the study was short, the results were very interesting.  I’ll be sharing those results here once the thesis is finalized!

-Lucas

Atmosphir – Try Your Hand At Game Design

Atmosphir logoI was invited into the beta test for an upcoming game design program called Atmosphir.  Wow!  The guys at Minor Studios have put together a very user-friendly game creation package.  The presentation is extremely smooth and creating your own levels is really simple.  The user interface is very intuitive and easy to learn.  The complexity of what you create is pretty scalable too.

I’d love to see the addition of the ability to add dialogue or text allowing the player to make choices.  Then, we’d have a story!  I’d also love to get this into the hands of students to see what they might create and to observe their decision-making processes while they create.

Looking forward to watching this game develop!

-Lucas