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. And more often than not, these games can be played from accounts that are sold at websites like aussyelo.com. 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

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

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

The Gamification of Education

Here’s a fantastic infographic by Knewton that shares some great concepts behind applying game design techniques to instructional design. I also might add that 3DGameLab does this beautifully and makes these ideas accessible to classroom teachers (click for a larger view):

Gamification of Education 

Created by Knewton and Column Five Media

 
-Lucas

 

NCSLMA 2011 – Gaming Librarians!

I had a fantastic two days at NCSLMA 2011, where I was honored to present on using video games in education.  Sarah Justice did an amazing job of organizing a great learning and networking opportunity.  Of course, anyone who has a Doctor Who Quote in their signature gets big props from me:

 

 

Gwyneth Jones delivered an call to arms for librarians across the state!  Let her passion for learning and “little monsters” (a la Lady GaGa) be an inspiration for us!  You can find her resources here and be sure to check out her blog, The Daring Librarian.

 

During awards, the media center of one NC school was described as “the hub.”  I love this!  That’s exactly what our media centers should be!  A hub of:  learning… inspiration… creativity…  engagement.   What will it take to make your media center that kind of hub?

 

There were so many great educators there, and I didn’t have enough time to meet them all.  The ones who I spoke with and who braved my sessions seemed genuinely passionate about learning and eager to try new things.  Today, some even endured part of my presentation on the street!  (Yeah, there was a fire alarm!)  There were great sessions scheduled during each time slot!  However, that’s the beauty of sharing and the web.  If you missed my sessions and are interested in learning more, all of my resources are here.  Steal… liberally.

5th Graders in Minecraft

I’ve said it before, but here I go again, “Minecraft is probably one of the most valuable games (for the price) available to the education community.” It fosters critical thinking and can be used in so many creative ways. Here’s a quick video I put together with my iPad at the end of last school year. It features some of our 5th grade students talking about their construction and learning in Minecraft. Apologies for the poor audio. I wasn’t aware I was covering the microphone at times. Lesson learned!


 

If you’re interested in learning more, be sure to check out Joel Levin (The Minecraft Teacher) – http://minecraftteacher.net/ and the awesome folks at Massively Minecraft – http://www.massivelyminecraft.org/. There’s also a collaborative wiki set up to foster the sharing of ideas on the use of Minecraft. You’ll find it here – http://minecraftinschool.pbworks.com.

-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?