C21U Catalyst Workshop on Games in Education

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[edit] Overview

Center of 21st century universities (C21U) at Georgia Tech is holding a series of catalyst workshop on innovative ideas and practices on higher education. The second workshop of this series is on Games in Education. The goal of this event is to discuss how to use games in GT classrooms to make learning a fun experience for our students.

This Wiki page is built to prepare participants for the workshop by encouraging pre-workshop discussion, as well as to continue the discussion beyond the workshop after the event. These free discussion threads are presented in the second part of the Wiki (without distinguishing between pre and post workshop discussion threads). The first part of the Wiki contains notes taken during the workshop and provides an overview of topics raised and discussed. The Resources Section at the end of the Wiki includes external links to useful resources.

Everyone is welcome to edit both parts of the Wiki, to contribute their ideas, and to propose collaboration opportunities.

[edit] Part II: Open discussion threads

[edit] How do we define game design in a higher education context

1. What educational games have been out there?

ESL: Carmen Sandiego comes to mind. 1993 by Broderbund. Probably the most popular learning game ever created.

NRG: SimCity (1989) and other simulation gaming has been very popular for a couple of decades; more recently Alternate and Augmented Reality games (ARG, AR) have been in use, with mixed results.

SJH: For specific subject literacy, there's Reader Rabbit and Math Blaster; for subject familiarity and period settings, there's Oregon Trail; and Gizmos and Gadgets was always a fun psuedo-science game growing up.

AGM: As popular games grow increasingly sophisticated, we can begin to define educational use more broadly. Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed series, for example, has unlimited potential in the humanities classroom.

MN: There are also games that support certain artistic areas such as filmmaking (The Movies) or various rhythm games that can support music creation.

2. How can we use social games to improve learning?

ESL: Social games can provide contextual sharing of knowledge and ideas from trusted and connections of trusted people. Just as in a class room setting questions and discussions by others can spark interest or participation.

NRG: Social gaming is similar/related to peer- and project-based learning.  Understanding of others, planning and communication are skills that come to mind; students explore real-world problems and challenges.

SJH: What are the mechanisms we're using to define "social gaming"? Right now, most of the games on Facebook fall more into Bogost's "exploitationware category" than into any sort of "collaboration" category. Typically, there's little or no meaningful interaction between "friends" in an online social game, so how does that translate to understanding of others and communication skills?

EJB: Any multi-player game offers an opportunity to develop positive relationships among participants. This may not improve anything besides communication skills, but it could be a motivator if the relationships are positive by design. Is there any proven way to achieve this? Do we need to experiment?

MN: I am not sure that multiplayer features have proven to enhance learning. But for a situated game session, where players share space and interaction in the classroom, I assume there are direct benefits (including teacher supervision).

3. Is using badges in social games an effective way of engaging students?

EJB: It may have benefits for engagement. However, it seems like a way to optimize an existing system. Should there be changes to the existing teaching/learning model before optimization is considered?

NRG: I'm on the fence regarding badges.  A really immersive, interesting game doesn't need a badging system to engage players.

SJH: Badges are extrinsic rewards that are used as a cop-out when designers are unwilling or unable to make an immersive experience with intrinsic rewards. It's effective for a limited time, but once players realize that the badges aren't actually worth anything you no longer have any leverage over them.
4. What are the pros and cons of educational games for students?
Is it a bad idea to ask students spending more time on computer games and social networks?
Can students improve social skills (e.g. communication skills, teamwork skills etc) when playing social games?

ESL: I would say yes, the games should help with communication and collaboration, especially if designed to require these competencies.

NRG: Games are merely tools; they can be used well or misused.  Gameplay needs to promote active and engaged learning.  It should inspire students to obtain a deeper knowledge of the subjects they're studying.

SJH: Instead of focusing just on games as physical artifacts, what if we look at intrinsic motivations in general?

AGM: Games can be effective tools to teach analysis and critical thinking skills if used effectively.

5. What are the pros and cons of educational games for instructors?

NRG: The learning curve: instructors need to game, or understand the mechanics of gameplay in order to integrate it into curriculum.  Serious gaming is on the rise among groups that may not have previously experienced gameplay – i.e. women and people over age 35.  It's important to make a connection to one's own experiences and identify what made it fun and engaging.

MN: there are some simple technical advantages such as the fact that they can easily update them and change the content

6. What is the role of the instructor in an educational game?  What is the role of the instructor in a class that centers around an educational game?  Are different skills necessary?

NRG: The instructor's role is to participate as a peer, monitor the activity, or facilitate and moderate, as needed.  In Alternate Reality Gaming (ARGs) instructors can act as puppetmasters, watching how students/players are engaging and interacting with the storyline, then making adjustments to the story, scoring, or game mechanics as necessary to keep players focused and addressing the goals of the game.

EJB: Games in the classroom could introduce new methods for assessment of student understanding. Instructors would certainly need to oversee assessment when games are first tested in the classroom, and it might be an ongoing role. 

[edit] How are we different

1. Can educational games developed in one class be easily used by others?

NRG: It depends on the class/curriculum.  If the goal of the game is to dig deeper into a more general topic, then my answer is yes.  However, if gaming to problem-solve a local issue my answer is maybe or no.

SJH: It depends on what you mean by "class". If we're talking about different classes within the same school (say, English I vs. English II), then no, there's no evidence to support that you could use the same games for different curriculums. If you're talking about using the same game for the same class at the same school, then of course it's still applicable. Similar classes at different schools may be able to make use of the same materials. Basically, it's the whole situation with textbooks and how applicable they are across different curricula.

2. What are the drawbacks of existing educational games?

NRG: Designed only with the subject/topic in mind, not the users.

SJH: Most educational games don't go past the repeated drilling methodology of learning.

EJB: The activity or objective of the game rarely requires understanding of the purported topic of instruction. For example, solving simple arithmetic in Math Blaster typically lets the player spend a few seconds playing a game. Solving a math problem could be compared to inserting a coin to continue. Ideally, better understanding of the academic subject would make the player better at the game, but this seems to be the exception instead of the rule in educational games. 

3. What are the most popular educational games? Social games?

NRG: Problem-solving Alternate Reality Games (ARGs), simulation games, scavenger hunts, etc. I think we need to be more specific when describing the types of games that would work best in classroom settings.

4. What platforms can be used to design educational games?

NRG: The Web, of course, but games can also be designed in real life (IRL), not on computers.  Also, using mobile media and technologies for field work.

5. What platforms can be used to publish/share them? Mobile and web are most obvious.

NRG: One of the more interesting education-related games I've played is New York Public Library's Find the Future (designed by Jane McGonigal and others).  The game can either be played via the NYPL web site or using mobile tech remotely.  ARGs use geographical (physical) locations as the site for gameplay.

6. What knowledge is required for a good gamification design? 

NRG: Real world, problem-solving strategies and scaffolding into existing curriculum. I think "adding a layer to" existing content is not the way to go; weaving gameplay into learning activities is a better strategy.  

SJH: Understanding of flow, positive psychology, intrinsic motivations, and incentives. More important than any of those, however, are GOALS. If you don't know what you want to accomplish, you can never accomplish it.

7. Can we involve students in the design process?

NRG: Absolutely.  Using participatory, or iterative design strategies to create games will make gameplay more relevant to students/players.

8. Are there game design tactics that can be applied in the absence of a game?

NRG: Scavenger hunts are the first thing that comes to mind.  

SJH: Grades are extrinsic motivations themselves; are we currently trying to incorporate any intrinsic principles right now in education?

9. How can game design/creation be used to teach math, science, and engineering principles? Would it engage students as an interesting context?

NRG: I've been researching "culturally situated design" techniques employed by Ron Eglash and others that make STEM principles more relevant to the learner.

[edit] How much does it cost

1. How expensive/time consuming it is to develop educational games? How about social games?

NRG: More recently, for the Museum Computer Network, I facilitated and helped participants organize and Alternate Reality Game (ARG) in a half-day workshop.  The game they created made use of the Web/social media, QR codes and graphics.  I instructed the participants in how to be puppetmasters and guided them through the process; the game went on over the course of the conference (3 days).

EJB: It would be unusual if costly game artifacts need to be developed to test a design concept. Physical "paper" prototypes constructed in a few minutes typically suffice. So, at least for testing purposes, cost is in the time spent designing. Implementation could be extremely quick.   

2. What resources are needed to design and to use educational games? How can the university help?

NRG: It depends on the scope and range of technologies to be used.  Educational games are broad and skills required are specific to the type of game.  Deciding on game strategies that best fit the subject/area is the first step to getting at what resources are needed.

3. How can faculty collaborate on gamification design? 

NRG: By participating in games, through gameplay to determine which aspects of games fit their areas/subjects.

[edit] What barriers must be reduced

1. Will parents have concerns about educational games?

NRG: Parents need to be informed, or educated as to the purpose of the game(s); give them a way to address any concerns they may have.

EJB: Yes. Ask parents what they think about educational games, and follow NRG's advice above.

2. What GT policies should we be aware of?

SJH: Most notably, GT's privacy policies that lead to the disbandment of all class swikis at Tech. It won't always be relevant, but many games incorporate collaborative designs, and if we're not careful Tech could shut it all down.

3. How do we balance the need for persistent accomplishments and/or game data against students' privacy concerns?

NRG: Aliases, user profiles, etc. will help with privacy issues; give students the chance to participate without attaching too much IRL (in real life) information.

4. Assuming that the games wer're talking about are models/simulations, they always simplify what is being learned. How do we make those simplifications transparent to students and contestable/a topic of discussion? (I'm thinking about how SimCity simplified a lot of policy & economics.)

SJH: What if part of the game was a metagame - that is, what if the game structure allowed for assumptions to be directly changed and you could see the results of those changes in real-time? Then there'd be a level of "how do I win this game", but also a level of "what should this game be?".

[edit] Resources

1. Evernote documents on gamification created by Eric Langley:


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