The Games for Learning Summit in NYC, organized by the US Department of Education, dove into the Why and the How of games in education with a passion. Richard Culatta from the Dept. of Ed. spoke on what makes the best games, saying they give feedback quickly – every 10 seconds – and they give students the freedom to make choices. There is a zone, Culatta said, between “what I can’t do” and “what I can do” called the zone of proximal development. This is “what I can do with some support,” and this is where learning happens. Good games adapt to learner needs to find that zone, and keep students engaged so they stay there. The value of play is that it allows for safe failure. When students don’t fear failure they will try again and again; games allow the opportunity to keep playing until the student succeeds.
Games are optimal for education for another reason, as well. It’s important to test students’ knowledge, or educators won’t know who “gets” the material and who doesn’t. And with games, assessment can happen in the background. Assessments can be fun and engaging. With games, curricula are transformed into challenging design elements.
One of the fantastic speakers was Refranz Davis, who by her own admission is a gamer, so she can’t keep calm. Her nephew gets bored with school and homework, but he can spend hours perfecting his Minecraft skills. He goes to YouTube and does research, he learns from it, and then he tries to buildin Minecraft. Her son prepares for a history test by copying 45 minutes of notes beforehand. He’s completely disengaged with history in school. But then he turns around and plays Assassin’s Creed, which is like a living history. He does research on the characters he finds, like Paul Revere, and it has kindled in him a love of history. But he still doesn’t like history the way it’s taught in the classroom.
Good game developers ask: “what do our users want and how can we make what they think they want, better?” This doesn’t seem to bear much resemblance to the way school is taught. But look at the results: engaged players who voluntarily spend extra hours acquiring skills and knowledge. We have to remember that our goal isn’t for every student to know the dates of the Civil War. We are trying to build better people, better students, better scholars.
Michael Gallagher, CEO of the Entertainment Software Association, made a compelling point that there are 400 universities with video game curricula, a major that didn’t even exist five years ago. There is a growing shortage of coders. We will need 1.4 million coders over the next 10 years, while there will only be 400,000 Computer Science graduates. Educators repeatedly ask him, “how can I implement game based learning in my schools.” His reply, “Let your students be the advocate for games in education”. I have to agree with him.
Paul Cross, from Ubisoft, got into the details of game design by reiterating what journalists already know: you need to start out with a hook. The intro is critical to getting people engaged in a game--it creates a story and a reason for staying in the game.
He explained that Guitar Hero is both a commercial and teaching success because it wasn’t built from the standpoint of “let’s make music lessons better.” The process of innovation doesn't mean making something better; innovation is transformative. People wanted to play the music they liked and they didn’t like to practice. Guitar Hero let’s them do that and have fun while learning. You have to start with the problems you need to solve, and take the opportunity they give you to innovate.
Jeff Hemenway is from Unity, where they help people build games. He was surprised at how hard it is to convince parents of the value to letting their kids code, play games, or develop games. He quickly outlined a plan for using games for assessment. First, he says, list the Competencies you will develop in the game. Determine what evidence you need for each competency. Then create Actions in the game around the evidence.
Adding a multiple choice question in the middle of a game is good pedagogy.Good learning systems, whether they are mediated by teachers or games
Provide goals and learning expectations to students
Allow students to take ownership of their own learning
Facilitate students as instructional resources for each other
Provide feedback to move learning forward, and create a structure for students to act on feedback
Games can especially help teachers who may not have been trained in pedagogy around a learning goal.
The Department of Education did an incredible job putting together people from the gaming and entertainment industries, educators, edugame developers, and researchers. You could see the conversations and connections grow.
I am proud that the Games4Ed collaborative is helping lead the way so that students can learn by solving engaging and challenging problems.