Wednesday, March 6, 2013

How to Play: Models for Game-Based Learning #SXSWedu

Notes from a panel session at SXSWedu 2013

Teaching is a complex undertaking. Learning is a deep challenge. Schools are messy.

How do we approach game development and what role does it have in learning?

Play is fundamental to how we learn. How to make them work in education is the question.

Learning things that are challenging for kids to learn is a process that unfolds over time across multiple media and experiences. What process are you seeking to support and where does a game fit in the process?

What is the learning outcome and what are the components needed to get there? Build the game around that. Focus on player experience rather than classroom ecology.

Who are students and teachers in 2013?

We live in a time when children are playing games more than at any other time in human history. Kids in 2013 have well developed game playing abilities, but they check those skills at the schoolhouse door b/c that's not their school experience.

Teachers are increasingly from game playing backgrounds, but they are under the gun to produce results. Which makes them busy. One of the developers assumes he is designing for overworked, highly skeptical teachers. (Love his realistic grasp of educators today!)

Teachers are often surprised by how their students respond to games. Struggling kids often become stars. For students, call a "test" a "game" and it changes their level of excitement and investment increases.

How kids work as learners varies dramatically depending on their age and developmental stage. As they get older, their experiences narrow from elementary to middle school. But their ability to begin abstracting is growing. So games can capitalize on this in the context of encouraging kids to engage in play and experimentation.

One of the developers creates "gamelets" with small footprint, focused on one skill, playable in one to four class periods. Targets the space where "kids must be ready for the test". (CATS - Center for Advanced Technology in Schools)

Another developer (Possible Worlds) creates pre-instructional experiences. Creating a common analogy that can be referred to later as the teacher covers the content later. Gives conceptual model for processes that cannot be directly observed. Ex: photosynthesis. Students are not held responsible for learning specific things by the end of the game. It's all about the experience forming concepts.

MIT development lab - put a mystery cypher out via the Internet and students voluntarily collaborated to solve the mystery. A few teachers and classes joined in too. Thinking of ways to bring this to the classroom.

How do you know if game based learning working?

Possible Worlds - Check with kids for comprehensibility of materials. Do the kids think the game is about what you think it's about? Check for feasibility - Can it be learned in the classroom? In PW case, they were asked to assign for homework. Kids took the DS home. Then, suss out what is working in terms of student outcomes. PW was not able to directly claim impact. Part of this they think was due to the fact that teachers did not play the game.

CATS - Heavy focus on assessment. Test the heck out of kids all the time. In the game and on paper. They make the teachers play the games as part of their PD. To make them aware of content and student experience. Also can see where hang ups might occur.

MIT - Let the kids play the game and then let the students teach them how to play it. Takes a bit of onus off the teacher for having to master the game first.

Games have to be interesting to players and authentically challenging. Has to have small steps to enter; don't blow players away too much. But overall the game has to be challenging. Have to have a sense that you can get better.

Set up opportunities to fail without making the student feel like a failure. When they get stuck, it might be a teachable moment.

Should have opportunities to engage in the game in multiple ways. If you decide to crash the robot into the wall, it doesn't break the game.

Q: What incentives work best?

A: Mastery. "Trinkets" should reward real success.

Q: What helps get the teachers to sell games to students?

A: Often harder to sell to teachers than students. Need to see how it helps them teach.

Q: Issues of teachers as tech support?

A: Don't think teachers should be tech support. Don't do things that require downloads. Stick with mature technologies. Have some support online.

Installed game on flash drives with executables to try and mitigate differences in access to technology.

Q: Is there any work toward integrating physical/face to face/real world application into the digital?

A: MIT: Do worry that we spend too much time in front of screens. Is working to incorporate physical building challenges into their mystery game.

Q: Any work on group games that could be used on IWBs?

A: Working on games on tablets that can be played with multiple touch. Or games that can be played in small groups in front of one screen.

Q: What is the biggest prob with Ed games today and where should they be in 10 years?

A: Have to believe topic of game is inherently interesting and that fun and learning are one in the same. Many game designers aren't passionate about the topics of their games. In 10 years, games will be ubiquitous.