There are many different types of technology available to today’s teachers; But are all of them helpful? This month’s installment of “The Gamified Classroom” explores what technology’s proper role in the classroom actually is. Read More. . .
Resources on the gamification of education
There are many different types of technology available to today’s teachers; But are all of them helpful? This month’s installment of “The Gamified Classroom” explores what technology’s proper role in the classroom actually is. Read More. . .
Gamification is a relatively new concept and bringing it into the classroom setting will pose some unique challenges for teachers attempting to do so. Over the next few months “The Gamified Classroom” will explore some of these challenges along with looking at how game mechanics can best be best used to motivate 21st century learners. Read More. . .
Thursday, August 25, 2011
The final day of the conference began with a plenary panel addressing the question of “How to Assess the Value of Serious Games.” Each member of the panel represented a separate industry interested in serious games.
Zoran Popovic is an Associate Professor in Computer Science at University of Washington and a lead designer of the protein folding game, Foldit. The game takes advantage of human’s natural spatial intuitions and the motivation of games and competition to crowd-source one of the hardest problems in modern biology, determining the physical structure of proteins. Alex Games is currently Education Design Director at Microsoft and worked on Gamestar Mechanic with the Academic ADL Co-Lab. James Portnow is CEO of Rainmaker Games and the writer of Extra Credits, the game design column at the Escapist. There was also a mysterious man named Bob Olson who was not on the program but I can guess in education.
The discussion was full of passionate and well-considered ideas but not leading to many unified points. It reflected the optimism surrounding serious games but confusion about what they should actually be.
The situation is especially complicated for many learning games and this is where discussion centered. Education administrators, strapped to the runaway rocket of standardized testing and No Child Left Behind, want games that will engage the kids in the standard curriculum. The people making these games don’t want to do remakes of Math Blasters and dream of games providing more discovery and question oriented learning. The problem is, nobody is entirely sure how to measure those things in the kinds of terms that the education administrators (the biggest buyers) need before signing the checks.
Some conference attendees were resolved to pursue big picture visions despite the problems of selling their games to a system that was not quite ready. The panel sided with the dreamers. The spotlight probably makes for easier idealism.
Alex said that “games don’t teach, just like books don’t teach, you teach yourself something.” Zoran thinks that games should try to advance curiosity and understanding of content in equal measure. Additionally, games should focus on teaching the general scientific process rather than something specific. Alex continued saying that the measure of learning in games should be the number of questions generated in the player rather than the number of answers. Bob spoke of the need for reform in the education system.
I’m trying to make a game this semester and I’m trying to plan my team so I posed a question to Zoron and James. “What is your 5-person dream team for developing a serious game?”
Zoron: First, off he wants a domain expert. For the second and third persons, he said educators and kids(read – end users). This is obviously groups of people and not individuals which was kind of cheating but I get his point. Involving kids and teachers in the development of games is why I think Quest to Learn is going to be putting out some great stuff. His fourth was “people who think about development in a scientific way” and he didn’t give a fifth. He was less interested in a more traditional development group and described a “crowd-sourcing platform for iterative design.”
James: His point guard was a designer with deep knowledge of the subject matter who was “receptive to criticism” and “aggressively iterative.” Second was a programmer. Third was an artist who understood the target the demographic. His fourth was a producer with a strong business sense. The last spot he left open for an artist or programmer depending on the needs of the project.
Right after the talk, I walked a few rows up to speak with a guy who had been playing around on his laptop with what looked like a game about the weather. It turns out that it was the website of the National Severe Storms Laboratory. The have an immense amount of extremely accurate, real-time visualizations of the movement of storm systems. It was not a game but I think it could be.
Next, Jon Aleckson and Clark Aldrich shared their extensive experience with “Rigorous Methodologies and Skill Sets for the Sim/Game Development Process,” specifically for a custom development service. Jon Aleckson is with Web Courseworks, a full-service elearning company which developed two competition entries, Play True Challenge and Distraction Dodger. Clark Aldrich is the author of several books on simulations and serious games and founder of the boutique education company, Clark Aldrich Designs. They had an entertaining exchange going throughout the talk. I got the impression they have worked together a good amount over the years, both together and in competition.
Clark and Jon presented an outline for development process and a number of useful rule-of-thumb developed in their experience. For one, both Jon and Clark were adamant that the designer should not be the project manager because of the conflicts of interest. Another was not to try do too much with the first level and should be just a couple minutes long. It should allow for interaction as early as possible(not after 10 minutes of text or video tutorial). Once coding has begun, each segment and genre should be prototyped and one full level (3rd or 4th) should be completed entirely for use as a demo.
Before that morning’s plenary panel, I had the chance to speak with a gentleman possessing a distinctive head of frosty white hair. He was LeRoy Heinrichs, a doctor of both medicine and philosophy and the executive medical officer of Innovation in Learning. I enjoyed our conversation so much that I decided to attend the his talk at 11:30.
His company produced CliniSpace, a training simulation for medical professionals. The player diagnoses and treats patients in a 3D environment simulating a standard hospital room. There are a variety of patients and conditions including patients hemorrhaging blood from heavy wounds and with community-acquired pneumonia. The game allows for online multiplayer and LeRoy was proud to say that several virtual surgeries had been jointly performed by 3 people on 3 different continents. CliniSpace was developed in Unity3D by Indusgeeks.
CliniSpace is the successor in a long line of methods to simulate the environment of a practicing medical professional. In the past, they have hired actors to play the role of patients and respond according to their conditions. They have also built dummies outfitted with built-in hardware and software to simulate real patients.
One small but notable design feature: The players have access to the variety of diagnostic equipment that exist in hospitals, including heart rate monitors and X-Ray. When using these equipment, the information is displayed only on the screen of the user. So in multiplayer mode, one person can be using the equipment but that information is not displayed on every player’s screen. This was designed to encourage communication between the players.
My last lunch hour of the conference was my favorite. I sat with two awesome doctoral students. The first was studying neuroscience at the University of Chicago-Illinois. We regrettably did not exchange contact info and his name is lost to me. The second was Joel Bremson who is studying transportation technology and policy at UC Davis. His thesis project is a game in which four players take the role of car manufacturers and decide what cars to produce based on the economic climate of alternative transportation. He has offered a demo of the game. I just need a couple more players so let me know if you want to play.
And I had a delicious sandwich on focaccia bread.
At 1:30pm, Ellen Beeman from Amazing Society presented “Hiring, Monitoring, and Retaining Serious Game Development Talent.” Her main point throughout the talk was that an employee’s decisions to stay with or leave a company were rarely based on monetary incentives but more determined by job satisfaction. This is why counteroffers rarely work. If someone is entertaining an offer at another company, more money is probably not going to keep them around, especially not happy and productive. She gave several ways to promote work-place contentment.
She talked about firing the “Poptart Guy.” He is the guy that everyone in the company knows is not pulling his weight. His continued paycheck makes good work feel less appreciated and his screw-ups are costly. Ellen asserted that firing him must be done and soon, despite issues of replacement. Another cause of unrest is layoffs. If they must be done, “cut once and cut deep.” Do your best to set the laid-off employees up with other firms that are hiring. Be honest with the survivors. Tell them why it happened and that it will not be done again. She also warned of assuming that employees would be able to acquire new skills without help and touted mentoring as vital the development of new employees and the growth of old.
At 2:30pm, I joined Jon Aleckson again for “MindMeld – Collaboration with SME’s and the Value of Rigorous Processes.”
Designing educational experiences with subject matter experts(SME’s) can be difficult. Before approaching them about the project, you should have do an overview of their research and have a solid understanding of the basic elements of the field. Upon meeting them, you will want to demonstrate your interest in their work (kiss up a bit) and talk about the possibilities of the project, both at a high level (vision and power of games) and a low level (capabilities of available systems and platforms).
SME’s are often very busy and in high demand within their organizations. Their input can be a bottleneck in development. If possible, project management should be someone above the SME in the organizational hierarchy. Weekly standing meetings and google documents are useful.
The last plenary session was an open discussion, moderated by Clark Aldrich entitled “What We Have Learned.” Well, these past three posts have been what I learned so I won’t go through it all again.————–
The conference was a great experience for me. I am entering my masters program for Instructional Technology and Media at Teachers College and conceptualizing my own entries in the genre of serious games. The talks and interactions gave me quotable and actionable information as well as many inklings that constitute a feel of what I’m getting into.
Shot out to everybody I talked and/or listened to. Hope to see you around!
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
DigiPen was just within walking distance of the place I was staying. The first morning, I took the route of the cars but, the second day, I found a pedestrian/bike path following the course of a mid-sized stream. I had my mobile breakfast(banana and yogurt) on the way, topping it off with a couple wild blackberries growing by the path.
Day Two of the conference began with a plenary panel addressing another important business decision: choice of platform. Clark Aldrich introduced the panelists and each gave a brief presentation of their work and related research.
Alicia Sanchez of Czarina Games and the Defense Acquisition University presented first. She outlined a value creation model for serious games which identified the intersection of mobile, social, and real-time gameplay as the sweet spot for attracting investors.
She spoke about a game by the Mixed Emerging Technology Integration Lab. Super Nutrition is a browser-based game combining elements of resource management and RPG mechanics and content about nutrition and healthy lifestyles. Children take the role of super-heroes-in-training, eating healthy foods for energy and completing missions in the neighborhood and superhero academy. The game targets kids 9-12 year old. I liked the artwork. Purposefully distorted proportions and errant pen marks give it the feel of a flash-back from a manga cartoon (which is what cartoons taught me memories look like).
The presentation by Sam Adkins, Chief Research Officer of Ambient Insight, was packed with assertions about dominant and emerging platforms. I will go through my highlights and refer you to the presentation slides.
Sam’s first point was that the adoption of the iPad was largely limited to a few specific demographics, despite the common perception that the iPad is “spreading like wildfire” and would, by virtue of penetration, come to dominate the delivery of educational content.
He listed several platforms that he saw sticking around for the near future. Personal computers are “not going anywhere” and will remain a fixture of the home, school, and workplace(though the market for packaged edugames is still in mobile). He declared that “within 60 days, every major mobile browser on the market will support HTML5” but Flash and its offspring will remain in wide use. Additionally, consoles and handheld gaming devices will not be pushed out by tablets and smartphones.
Laure Casalini is the Dean of Supinfocom, a school for animation, game design, and industrial design. She stayed right on topic. Serious games targeting developing countries must be mobile. Mobile is the number one platform of emerging markets. Tablets are dominating for the very young and very old, the older demographic for the larger text size and the younger for the intuitive interfaces. Motion capture has huge possibilities and look for the continued rise of serious games on the Wii, Kinect, and PS Move. Finally, the television offers increasing possibilities for interactivity and is present in virtually every American household and has penetrated most markets throughout the world.
Also on the panel was Nick Berry, President of Data Genetics, a data analysis consultancy.
The first question addressed by the panel was implied in the session title and one that everyone hoped they would get a hard answer to: what platform should I use? And, of course, the answer was that it depends. Nick suggested that you use whatever language and tools your team was most comfortable with. Sam put forth that developers of custom-made titles are making their money on non-mobile platforms but you really needed to do your research and know your market. Alicia echoed the sentiment and instructed not to develop on platforms that the target market was not already using. Laure suggested that developers use the game engine Unity because it is cross-platform and accessible with limited programming experience (they also offer a pretty good publishing deal).
The talk shifted to problems of distribution. Many people related issues with getting games adopted by school systems. Mobile devices were touted as the answer. However, Sam Adkins pointed out that making a mobile game and putting it in the app market was a not a sure path to success. While the profits in the mobile games industry have been huge, the top ten publishers are seeing the vast majority earnings. Most smaller mobile game developers are making little.
I was so impressed by the info in the opening presentations of Sam Adkins and Tyson Greer that I decided to attend Sam’s own talk, “The U.S. Game-Based Learning Market: All Roads Lead to Mobile.” Much of the information presented in this talk was broached earlier.
Ambient Insight analyzes the market for learning technologies according to their own taxonomy. The products, buyers, and suppliers are each broken down into segments. There are eight types of pedagogically-defined learning products, two of which are simulation-based learning and game-based learning. Both segments are growing though simulations are already larger and growing twice as fast as games. Simulations will reach $2.48 billion by 2015 and games will reach 413.2 million. The games segment can be further split into custom content development services and packaged content (this is making a game for somebody else versus making your own and selling it). While packaged content will remain a much larger share of the market, custom content development is growing twice as fast at 21.4% as opposed to 10.2%. Custom development concentrated in non-mobile and this will continue into 2015 though mobile is growing more quickly.
A chilling statistic for those seeking to sell games to a public education system, 75% of the budget is commonly teacher/trainer salaries while only 1-2% is reserved for instructional materials.
After so much business talk, I was ready to get back to the development perspective so I headed over to hear Talib Hussain of Raytheon BBN Technologies talk about “Techniques for Achieving an Effective Blend Between Engagement and Learning in Games.”
I am sure that everyone at the conference had been waiting for this talk. By the title, it seemed that this guy would give a step-by-step explanation for the art of instructional game design. Unfortunately, he did not offer up the recipe for the perfect game but there were some helpful suggestions.
Make every decision taking both learning and engagement into account. Further, keep the game simple. It is important to consider the total cognitive load of every moment of gameplay. That includes the intrinsic load of content as well as the load imposed by the game. Extraneous game elements can overburden the player.
During lunch, I sat with with one of the few people younger than me at the conference and his mother. He was an undergraduate at George Mason University and considering DigiPen for a graduate degree in game design. I am pretty sure they were the only multi-generational delegation at the conference. He was also the least invested in the idea of serious games and made some interesting counter-culture remarks.
After lunch, I went to listen to Jeremy Friedberg, the founder of Spongelab Interactive. In the “lab,” entitled “Play the Science: ‘Experiencing Science by Having Fun with Games,’” Jeremy allowed volunteers to play several of his company’s titles and talked about a couple more. My hand was first up for a Guitar Hero-style game about protein linking. The use of those mechanics for the content was an exciting concept and was reasonably well implemented. However, as one who has been acquainted with guitar controller for a while, the tempo and variability of “notes” of the game were a little too easy to maintain my engagement. I would be interested to see how the game is received by younger children.
The History of Biology is an “interactive, online science scavenger hunt where students experience the history of biology, through the people and the impact their discoveries had on, and continues to have on, our culture, society, politics, economics, and ethics.” It was not a game that can be demoed in five minutes so we did not get to play.
The last talk of my day was given by David Versaw of WILL Interactive. It was a presentation of several of his company’s projects entitled “The Lost (But Critical) Art of Storytelling in Serious Gaming.” They custom develop interactive, choose-your-own-adventure(remember Goosebumps?) instructional videos. The experience is designed to stimulate empathy for the character in the drama. That emotion is purposed to to engage the player and promote retention of content.
The first was made for Fannie Mae called Ways Home. It is an interactive video about financial management and foreclosure. The player selects a character and scenario analogous their situation and tries to work through the dilemmas in a choose-your-own-adventure format. The High Ground was produced for the Center for the Army Profession and Ethic. You play the role of a officers making difficult decisions in combat and training. The Fumble also confronts ethical dilemmas, this time for student athlete’s navigating classic issues of role conflict.
We were even fed dinner that night. I dined on multi-topping pizzas and fine juices with an assortment of interesting individuals. Tariq Lacy, an employee of Nintendo and former employee of Apple, is interested in language learning games, specifically for Mandarin. He was well-spoken and full of ideas. Nelleke van Wouwe is a researcher with TNO Defence, Security and Safety, based in the Netherlands. With the Department of Human Performance, she is studying the potential of games to train physiological control. Her organization entered a game which uses biofeedback. Sensors attached to three fingers measure the variability of heart rate and surface moisture and one must complete tasks by staying calm. I also met two members of a local audio engineering firm, Omni Audio. They have worked on titles such as Tom Clancy’s End War and Halo 2.
After dinner, the hopefuls and onlookers filed into the computer lab to for the awards ceremony of the competition. Zachtronics Industries scored a silver with SpaceChem as did, one of my favorites, Fate of the World by Red Redemption. Among the gold winners was Gamestar Mechanic by E-Line Media and the Institute of Play. This game was developed at New York City’s own, Quest to Learn. With a team of developers, a whole school of play testers, and high profile funding and publishing, Quest to Learn should be putting out a number of learning products
The award for Best of Show went to Air Medic Sky One, developed in the Netherlands at the University Medical Center Utrecht. The game teaches young doctors about patient safety while also engaging the player in exercises using the same biofeedback system I described above.
During the presentation of awards, I got the chance to play one of these biofeedback games. I played TNO’s entry and tried to keep my cool so my helicopter would lower nice and steady to a landing pad. I am sorry to say that I was awful at the game! My heart rate was through the roof and hands were apparently drenched in sweat. I tried restarting, rubbing my hands of on my pants and thinking about Mom’s kitchen, but it was no use. I could blame it on all sorts of extenuating circumstances but maybe I just shouldn’t be flying multimillion dollar aircraft.
Like the night before, they eventually kicked me out and I made my way home. As much as I enjoyed my host’s company, I was perfectly okay to find him away when I got back. I hit the pillow hard.
This past week, I had the opportunity to attend the Serious Play Conference in Redmond, Washington. I’m going to write about my experiences there, the highlights of the talks I attended, and what I took away from the event. For a brief summary of the conference goals and speakers, please refer to my last couple of posts.
Washington is a beautiful state. This is true even when it’s raining but especially when the sun is out as it was this past week. The air was clean, the days were warm, and the nights were cool and crisp.
Redmond is a handsome little suburb of Seattle, home to Microsoft headquarters and its 50,000 employees. The evergreen-lined lawns are green and trim, buses are frequent and the pedestrian and bike paths are plentiful.
Traveling from the East to West Coast for conferences is the long end of the stick when it comes to the potential jet-lag problem. East Coast Standard is 3 hours ahead of the West Coast so, in the mornings, it’s easy to wake up with plenty of time to enjoy breakfast. I didn’t even use an alarm clock. My host for the event happened to have multiple cats, my biological nemesis(I’m allergic), but I slept out on the balcony which was a very pleasant solution.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Despite a late arrival the night before, I awoke with the sun and was well ironed and fed for the opening words of Claude Comair, President of DigiPen.
The conference purposefully directed the initial focus with a plenary panel session assessing the serious games market size and potential growth. This early emphasis provided context for the assertion of several speakers that serious game development should begin by identifying need and case use. Clark Aldrich introduced the members of panel.
First was Tyson Greer, CEO of Ambient Insight, an elearning market research firm. She gave a brief presentation of her company’s chief research points. The most striking piece of data for myself was a graph showing the very young and older demographics dominating with a trough in between. She gave another interesting bit of info on mobile versus non-mobile in two sectors. The market for mobile commercially-sold edugames is growing while the market for non-mobile commercially-sold games is flat. However, the market for custom developed edugames is growing, both for mobile and non-mobile platforms. The slides and white papers from which the data was drawn are available on the company website.
Alan Gershenfeld, President of E-Line Media and former Chairman of Games for Change, was next to speak. He cited the abundance of research touting the benefits and potential of serious games but lamented the scarcity of products that were both financially sustainable and making impact. He put a word in for the E-Line Media and Institute of Play project, Gamestar Mechanic, which guides middle school age kids through the creation of digital games.
The third panelist was Kevin Oakes, the CEO of i4CP, a network of corporations purposed to maximize company human capital.
The audience that morning was mostly developers and researchers with a smattering of publishers and educators and a couple students. There was exactly one person who identified as an investor. He was warned to take care lest he be accosted at the coffee break.
Throughout the question and answer session, talk kind of stayed on the official topic. Healthcare education was identified as a major sector, both in brain training and patient education games for aging baby boomers and games for premed and nursing students. Gershenfeld asserted that he had seen many interesting hardware solutions but knew of none that could scale (Sam Adkins would later predict a meteoric rise of the soon to be released LeapPad). Greer fielded the question of which market would grow by suggesting that one should “look to the kids.” She said that smaller kids currently consuming the wealth of edugames for elementary school subject material would expect the same kind of instructional material as they entered middle and high school.
Straying a bit, the talk shifted to discuss the need for more synthesized approach of the varied groups(educators, researchers, publishers, designers, …) interested in serious games and involved in their conception, development, and distribution.
Following was a coffee and networking break. I abstained on the caffeine but got a tall glass of apple and cranberry juice. I met a graphic designer, turntablist, videographer, and visualist (all listed on his impeccably laid out business card) named Ian Hayes as well as Zach Barth, designer and producer within his own start-up, Zachtronics Industries. Zachtronics entered SpaceChem into the competition, a puzzle game loosely based on chemistry. When making the game, they had not considered it to be an educational title but it had gained some attention as such so they figured they’d go ahead and enter it into the competition. The game is akin to SimCity in its position on the ambiguous border of education and entertainment titles.
Next up on my agenda was another panel, “From Slate to Chalk to Tablets and Apps.” This was a meeting of the educators. Michael Golden was there from Educurious, a non-profit focused on reducing high school dropout rates by increasing engagement through technology integration. Scott Osterweil represented the Education Arcade and the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program(check out some cool games at Gambit). There was also Kathy Hurley and Kimberly O’Malley of Pearson.
The panelists relayed their extensive experiences incorporating past technologies into the classroom and then the forays of their respective organizations into educational games. Scott lamented that research on exactly what made games effective teaching tools lagged behind development. Figuring out how in-game mechanics transferred learning objectives was identified as the “holy grail” of educational games research. Then everyone weighed in on the potential of video games for education.
Before lunch, there was a service demonstration presented by Jacqueline Smith, “Strategicplay with LEGO Serious Play.” The company provides what they term “unconsulting” that seeks to tap into the creative and collaborative problem solving potential of the client’s in-house employees. Participants construct LEGO structures and then give them meaning and a story related to the business and issues facing the company. The LEGO become metaphors and abstractions for problems and ideas with which the company is wrestling. Jacqueline asserted that the service employs the subconscious and kinesthetic, auditory, and visual faculties as well as flow to break down assumptions and barriers to problem solving in the workplace. I am a lifelong fan of LEGO (I made the acme of my career, a giant castle/lighthouse, at age 17) so I was thrilled by the whole thing.
Lunch was well earned and appreciated. I was quite impressed with the dining services of DigiPen. They offered soups and make-your-own salads and sandwiches. The sandwich bar even allowed for multiple meats and cheeses, including fresh mozzarella! I ate with a researcher from Madrid and the young Zach Barth of Zachtronics Industries. We exchanged background stories and Youtube videos of our projects.
After lunch, Claude Comair held court over the conference. He is a decorated veteran of the gaming industry with many significant technological contributions and, for the first half hour, Comair regaled us with many tales of his exploits and conquests. I must admit that as one who vividly remembers the transcendent experience of playing Mario 64 for the first time, I was star struck to learn that Comair had approached Nintendo with the 3D engine that powered that revolutionary game.
The title subject was “B-Hive: A Human Behavioral Definition Simulation Environment.” B-Hive is a program developed by DigiPen in partnership with Boeing that enables users to more easily create simulations modeling individual human behavior. Most simulations modeling behavior deal in the aggregate and look at the discrete or continuous parameters of entire populations. B-Hive takes individual traits and characteristics and predicts the actions of that person. The program is used by a variety of organizations including government and military. (They may think they have me figured out but I bet they didn’t know I’d have huevos rancheros for breakfast this morning…)
He finished up with a few earth shakers for the K-12 education crowd, the epicenter of which was uncomfortably close to the home of my hopes and dreams. He declared that it was impossible to make a good game about math and those that thought they could would soon be going out of business. Furthermore, “as soon as a kid is old enough to say ‘hah,’” they will refuse to play our best attempts. I guess we will just have to see about that, Comair. I am too fresh in this game to believe that quite yet. He said, echoing the words of many, that we should instead be encouraging kids to make games. The process would develop all exalted 21st century skills and more. I cannot wholly disagree with that.
The next talk I attended was given by Christopher Hardy of the Defense Acquisition University(DAU). It was a production and integration oriented talk entitled “How to Create and Effective Sim/Game Strategy.” The DAU teaches the workings and procedures of the business side of the army, that involving the “acquisition” of all untold number of materials that are used. Many courses are online and the dominants forms of assessment are standardized. For their body of instructors, the DAU recruits senior contractors and “puts them through faculty training courses.” Hardy’s mission statement was to “provide an integrated, interactive learning environment that helps acquisition workforce members, teams and organizations improve outcomes.” To date, the DAU has developed and integrated 35 mostly Flash-based games into the curriculum. The per game costs have ranged from 25K to 500K.
He offered two imperatives for effective games/sims. One, the first step in making a learning game is to identify a topic and determine how the proposed game would be integrated into the existing curriculum. He termed this the “use case.” Two, never build a game where all you learn is the game. These were two solid points. The second is easier said than done of course but it was nonetheless said with the wisdom of experience. He also advised to “look for low hanging fruit” when trying to get a gamification program started. A few small but quick successes are essential to securing funding in the crucial early to mid-stage of a program’s infancy.
Hardy was practical and to the point. The military has been an early adopter of serious games and the education sector could do well to study their experiences.
The last talk of the first day was “Game Mechanics Used for Learning,” delivered by Douglas Whatley of Breakaway Games. Whatley was with Breakaway for the development of Civ III and a pupil of Cid Meier and Bruschelli.
He opened by establishing examples of a few key terms in the context of the classic, Trivial Pursuit (which I don’t care for and my sister loves, perhaps to spite me). The game mechanic is basic. The player moves, is asked and answers a question, and then, if correct, they get a pie piece. Whatley said that the game theme and content were both contained in the questions.
Whatley defined a spectrum of learning objectives from explicit knowledge to implicit knowledge. He also defined a corresponding spectrum for employment. Routine work is dominated by the need for explicit knowledge while knowledge work uses implicit knowledge. For example, teaching history involves the explicit facts and implicit inter-relations of those facts. Additionally, the spectrum of knowledge corresponds to a spectrum of game development time. Games teaching explicit knowledge are relatively easy to make while games teaching implicit knowledge take longer.
Explicit knowledge is incorporated into game content whereas implicit knowledge is built into game mechanics. As example, he referenced Healing Blade which is a multiplayer infectious disease card battle game. Players take the role of disease or doctor and battle each other using reality-based but fictitious medications and bacteria/viruses. The explicit knowledge, medical facts, is on the cards. The deeper learning objectives, like the concept of antibiotic resistant bacteria, come thru in game mechanics.
He closed up by telling a story from the making of Civ III to illustrate the subtle effects of game design on learning objectives. Earlier in the series, the game randomly generated the world maps but would assign real-world names of landscape features to analogous in-game features. However, this encouraged many players to spatially align their worlds and civilizations with those landmarks as they were in reality. For example, most people would try to establish the African nations on the Sahara Desert. Mimicking reality limited a deeper exploration of the ways that landscape and space have shaped the trajectory and culture of civilizations. The assignment of real-world names ended with Civ II.
After this last talk, I headed to the computer lab to check out the entries into the competition. Not all entries were up and ready to play but I will talk briefly about a few that I did the chance to try out.
There was Emergency Birth by the Engender Games Group which is a still-image Flash-based game teaching the proper procedures for a lay person to manage an emergency birth. All I will say is that it is quite an experience. Check it out.
In Play True Challenge by the World Anti-Doping Agency, the player controls a young track athlete. The “racing” aspect of the game is a platform game in which the player jumps obstacles and gets power-ups. In between races, the player has conversations with the coach, friends, and family and makes decisions about whether to do performance-enhancing drugs.
Fate of the World by Red Redemption, winner of the Knights News Game award at the recent Games for Change Festival, is a turn-based strategy game about climate change. The player controls the Global Environmental Organization and mitigates climate change, resource scarcity, and global economic crises using initiatives in public health, research, politics, and the environment. These initiatives include everything from supporting research in biotech to curbing rampant population growth by secretly adding sterilization drugs to the local drinking water.
Flame-Sim is a 3D simulation about fighting a house fire. It was developed for fire department training programs as an extension of classroom lessons.
RiggleFish teaches players about scientific inquiry and genetics. The player is charged with developing a source for the fatty acid, Omega X, which is a protectant against a deadly bioweapon. The game developed by UL Lafayette’s Center for Innovative Learning and Assessment Technologies and Texas A&M.
Some of the games were meant to be 5-10 minutes long but a couple were much more in depth. I was there until even the event coordinators were ready to go and I had barely gotten started. After a bit of chatting by the door, I started on the trek home. I got to the corner when I was hailed by a small SUV. The window slid down to reveal Clark Aldrich “riding shotty” and Susan Bohle at the wheel. They graciously gave me a ride back to my host’s home which happened to be on their way.
After getting home and setting up my sanctuary from the cats on the balcony, it did not take me long to fall into a deep jet-lag-induced sleep…
For those wondering what a game-based classroom looks like in a traditional school, take a peek into Ananth Pai’s third-grade class in Parkview/Center Point Elementary school in Maplewood, Minnesota.
Edward Castronova on the blog Terra Nova recently posted his thoughts on gamification. Interestingly, he talks about how his gamified syllabi in classes have bombed and that he has mixed feelings regarding gamification. He explains that students don’t want their grades determined by MMORPG mechanics. He cites a number of challenges with gamifying classrooms: time is limited in the school semester so people can’t try over and over again repeatedly; teamwork isn’t free-flowing, it’s forced; and class is serious, not play.
Castronova’s thoughts seem to confirm my belief that gamification probably works best when it’s not simply gamifying one individual classroom or course. If a gamification experience can span more broadly across a student’s school experience, beyond one course and into other parts of school, or better yet, even applying to informal learning settings, then this ultimately would be much better for promoting learning as a lifestyle. The boundaries between the work done for a school assignment, learning science at a museum, and researching information at home to be able to excel an MMO like World of Warcraft need not be so rigid. Perhaps gamification can play an important role with that. Our Scholar’s Quest gamification of education design tries to take this (and some of Castronova’s critiques of classroom-based gamification) into consideration.
Castronova also compares the gamification revolution with the virtual world revolution. Remember when Second Life was the all the rage and universities NEEDED their own virtual campus? Lots of hype, but ultimately a lot of disillusionment when it became apparent that virtual worlds wouldn’t solve all of education’s needs. I for one would love to see more papers that discuss the challenges and limitations of gamification — we ultimately need some papers that can offer some design principles for educators using gamification for education. Would anyone out there like to co-author a paper?
Gabe Zichermann, chair of the (a bit too expensive) Gamification Summit, has written a short blog post on the purpose of gamification. An interesting quote: “gamification’s main purpose is to help people get from point A to point B in their lives — whether that’s viewed through the lens of personal growth, societal improvement or marketing engagement. We all have the intrinsic desire to be the best possible people we can be, and to make the world in our image of its maximum potential. However, most of us lack the systems thinking (and discipline) required to get to that goal. What games do well is expose complex, learnable systems that users can engage with to achieve personal mastery — and thus accomplish something aspirational.”
The idea of helping users go from point A to point B is interesting. My question is, who gets to decide what “point B” is? Businesses looking to drive engagement and increased customer loyalty with a product clearly have a very different goal (and motive) in moving a person to the destination state compared to educators and others trying to harness the power of gamification for “personal growth” or “societal improvement,” as Zichermann describes. Do players even have a clear sense of what their goals are when they participate in gamfied experiences?
Game designer Ian Schreiber writes a blog post entitled My Problem With Gamification. In the post, he describes three main points that people are making regarding gamification: “(1) The education system in the US is broken. (2) Grades are an outdated game mechanic. This is part of the problem. (3) Replacing grades with other extrinsic motivations such as virtual currency is superior and will give students the motivation they need to learn.”
Schreiber points out two issues with these points. First, Schreiber points out, a grade is not a game mechanic at all, but rather a resource or a reward. Second, Schreiber cites the body of psychological research that has shown extrinsic rewards destroy intrinsic motivation. He points to some anecdotal evidence in which the introduction of badges caused students concentrate more on earning badges to the detriment of their learning.
While extrinsic rewards can certainly decrease intrinsic motivation (as has been shown in numerous studies), I don’t think it’s as simple as that. For example, one study by LeBlanc demonstrated that it is possible to use extrinsic rewards in ways to actually increase intrinsic motivation, especially by rewarding the quality of the work.
See Schreiber’s original post here.