Last week I learned a lot about game-based learning at a fantastic EDCO Collaborative workshop at MIT. The presenter was Peter Stidwill from Playful Learning, a project of Learning Games Network at MIT and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
For years the federal government and other agencies have been focusing on educational game development and research by giving tons of grants. You can read a 2006 report from the Federation of American Scientists to see what some content experts believe about game-based learning (remember Ender’s Game?). A recent round of federal grants funded some exciting new educational gaming projects . Over the next few years, gaming will become part of more curriculums across the country.
The workshop opened with a quick quiz on Kahoot.it, a gamified quiz platform based on speed. Try it—you’ll love it. Then Stidwill moved on to identifying what gaming offers students:
- Authentic challenges—engagement/movitivation
- Scaffold support with increasingly complex problems—zone of proximal development, pulling kids into “flow” by getting lost in the program
- Introduce concepts slowly—just in time instruction
- Learning through doing—participator-constructivist
- Social/collaborative opportunities
Stidwill expertly identified barriers to using educational games in the classroom:
- Finding quality games
- Lack of experience/confidence
- Pedagogy—what’s the teacher’s role? Where does the learning happen?
- Finding quality support materials
- Lack of peer support
- Convincing administrators and parents
- Timing and curriculum
This is where Playful Learning comes in. It’s a platform designed to help teachers discover the right game for the right purpose, and share the info with other teachers. It’s a collaborative platform, still being built, using clean, easy to understand design. You can start a free account and make a folder to save your favorite games. It’s a free service and doesn’t host games—it links to them, helps you discover them, find supporting materials, comments from other teachers, award info, reviews, etc.
Gaming does not equal gamification
Next we learned a bit about the history of educational gaming. We’re not talking about Grand Theft Auto, but games that have a discernable educational link (yes, we did discuss at length the physics applications of Angry Birds). Gaming is not gamification. Why? Because “gamification, which takes the least important bits of games (scores, etc.), is all about external motivation—not about finding the intruiging and fun parts of learning like game-based learning does.” (Stidwill) Gamification includes badges, which has a been a big topic in education lately (and one in which I am very interested).
There are two types of games: COTS, which stands for “commercial, off the shelf” games, and educational games. Both are divided into two categories, short form and long form. Short form games work on “a specific concept or skill, fit into a single class period” (Stidwill.) Long form games “extend to multiple sessions or weeks and focuses on developing concepts and 21st century skills” (Stidwill.) These are games like the new Sim City or Sid Meyer’s Civilization. They have a vertical learning curve, are immersive and take weeks to master.
- Drill and practice
- Interactive Learning Tools
- Role Playing (World of Warcraft)
- Strategy (icivics.org)
- Action/Adventure (Lara Croft)
- Simulations (Sim City, Zoo Tycoon)
- Sandbox (Minecraft)
In addition to developing the discovery and sharing platform described above, Learning Projects has developed high quality educational games for a variety of subjects from ELA, to Civics, to ELL learners.
Nervous? You’re not alone
None of the teachers in the room at the workshop had introduced game based learning in their classrooms—yet. I suspect it was because of a combination of factors—the instructional technologists who made up the bulk of the audience don’t have classes of their own and have to work through other teachers. Not only do they have to convince themselves to take a chance, they have to convince another teacher, too.
If you want to find out more about game-based learning and live in the Boston area, you’re in luck because Playful Learning is hosting the 2013 Media Literacy Conference in Boston on Saturday, November 2.
It’s time to give game-based learning serious consideration. The Playful Learning platform is a great place to start.
More links from the wonderful Rick Atkins at EDCO:
Case studies on YouTube for using Minecraft and other games in the classroom.
ELA game that develops ethical decision-making skills and critical thinking, for ages 8 and up. Just launched: the Character Creator Contest on the new iPad and Android tablet version.
Game Design Tool Kit
FREE guide to implementing game design in your classroom.
Game design software
Handy guide to game design tools from the National STEM Video Game Design Challenge.
Lure of the Labyrinth
Math game that demonstrates really well the idea of learning through play and exploration.