Teacher as the Game Master

Paper, pencil, and dice games are fundamentally simple.  Players track information for their imaginary characters using sheets that keep track of  vital numbers like health, charisma, dexterity, and strength.  With a roll of a few special dice, the outcomes of combat or encounters with story characters are determined and drive the game play forward.  Likewise the Game Master/Dungeon Master sets the backdrop, spins the initial story, spurring the players on  to adventure and uses their own dice rolls to randomize outcomes within a set of parameters.  Game sessions are engaging, imaginative, and far from canned experiences which makes them incredibly compelling.

So, what if a teacher were to take the best elements of the role of a game master to create an adventure in learning for their students?  What if that thematic unit you’d planned for October were not only immersive but also playable?  That’s the topic of one of my recent presentations.  Take a look!

 

 So, what do you think?  What tips and experiences do you have?

 

-Lucas

EPIC Teaching Academy

Most of my past projects have focused on leveraging games and gamification in the K-12 classroom with students, however, a project specifically for teachers is long overdue.  EPIC Teaching Academy, turns the attention to educators and their professional development.  Though, I’ve tossed these ideas around for awhile and even built a loose framework, my new district, Surry County Schools, is truly the right-place, right-time to launch this project.  There’s been incredible support.

The EPIC Guild BannerSo, what is EPIC?  It’s really the result of some conversations and observations over the past several years in my primary role as a provider of teacher professional development.  The catalyst was a conversation two years ago at EdCamp Raleigh.  There, a group of educators from across the state including Bill Ferriter (@plugusin), Bethany Smith (@bethanyvsmith), and many others talked about what we, as educators dislike about professional development and what we really want in  our PD.  It was an incredible conversation, as most are at EdCamps.

Of course, I have my niche passions within the education arena, so instantly began to see opportunities to leverage a playful, game-like approach as a solution to many of the problems the group had with typical professional development.

EPIC Teaching Academy is program I’m developing, using 3DGameLab as a platform, that will offer players (yes, players) the opportunity to explore professional development topics of their choice to a depth of their choice.  These learning quests will increase in complexity and commitment as players progress through successive quests as they progress toward unlocking an official badge showing their mastery of a particular topic.  These badges can be shared through the educator’s website, social media, and/or badging system like Mozilla’s Backpack.

Of course, my ultimate goal is to move beyond simple gamification toward truly game-like experiences.  Perhaps a hidden Easter Egg (a la Ready Player One)?  Perhaps we’ll divide schools into teams like a local Hogwarts to host some fun, competitive learning experiences?  Likewise, a hope is that our educators, through this experience, will gain a greater understanding of the merits of an approach like this, ultimately paving the way for student badging.  Here, my friend, Dr. Bron Stuckey (@bronst), has offered some great starters and inspiration!

Tomorrow I’ll begin recruiting district teachers to participate in a pilot beginning in February.  Along the way, I hope to collect some data, pre- and post-, of their attitudes toward professional development overall and of the EPIC experience.

Here’s a presentation that I’ll be sharing that explains the program in a bit more detail:

 

 Time for some fun!

-Lucas

UPDATE (2/2/15):  The pilot launched today!!  Out of 50 available slots, 47 were filled.  There are a good mix of elementary, middle, and high school teachers along with media specialists, administrators, counselors, and others.  40+ quests are available to our teachers at launch and two official badges:  one for Twitter as a tool for growing your PLN and one for professional blogging.  There are 30+ Achievements and numerous Awards, too.  In total, nearly 2.0 CEU’s worth of content is out there for them to explore.  Lastly, yes, I was able to develop a hidden game-with-the-game with clues and activities hidden throughout!  More updates to come as we move forward!

-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

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

The Wall

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” or so the saying goes, and apparently, there’s truth in it.  According to an October 2011 story in The Atlantic, the lack of unstructured play is making our children more anxious and depressed.  When I present on the topic of games and their value for learning, I usually hit this fundamental issue.  Play is valuable.  Powerful learning happens when we’re in that flow state.  I point educators to a great TED Talk by Dr. Stuart Brown on importance of play.  In his talk, he quotes Dr. Brian Sutton-Smith, “The opposite of work isn’t play – it’s depression.”

This wall between play and work is entrenched in our fast-paced, corporate-driven culture.  Play is something we do on the weekends and perhaps in the evenings after we’re home from the office.  What’s frightening me, lately, is that I’m seeing this same mental wall in people’s minds between play and learning.  Our busy, test-driven classrooms allow little room for “sandbox” time, a time for simply exploring a concept of the student’s choice.  Our curricula are formulaic and, of course, time-finite.  We must ensure that all students achieve mastery before the summer.

It isn’t a surprise that the idea of bring play (and video games) into the classroom takes many educators aback.  After all, we’ve been thoroughly conditioned by the rat race.  What really concerns me is that this same division exists in the minds of even our youngest learners.  How do I know?  I’ve been moderating YouTube comments!  Several months ago, I posted a video of our 5th graders sharing their Minecraft creations.  At some point, the video became somewhat viral (as of this posting, over 600,000 views).  The huge majority of comments (over 4,000 so far) are coming from K-12 students.  I’ve been really surprised by the pushback I’m receiving from these kids.  Comments like, “You can’t learn from a game,  you learn at school,” and  “how can you learn while playing a game?” aren’t uncommon.

I often evoke Scott McLeod’s blog title when thinking about things like this.  Public education is barreling full steam down a path toward dangerous irrelevance.  Is what happens in the classroom truly meaningful to our kids?

C’mon innovators!  I know you’re out there.  Let’s reverse this trend, and bring play and exploration back into the learning process.  It doesn’t have to be through video games (though, that’s a good way to start).

-Lucas