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Posts Tagged ‘educational gaming

Recently I downloaded The Simpson’s Arcade app onto my iPhone and my son’s iPod Touch. The free version of the game lets you play only the first level, but my son and I had a ball of a time playing it.

I think my son enjoyed it not only because of the gags but also because it was like a TV show that he could control. As he typically does, he learnt how to play it very quickly and then found ways to get Homer to perform. Literally. He not only found Homer’s special attacks but also discovered how to make him pose and dance.

This got me thinking about TV and video games.

My wife and I limit how often and how long our son plays on his iPod, a netbook or our Wii. We use a kitchen timer to allow between 15 to 45 minutes of game play depending the circumstances. He cannot move from one platform to another to get his fix nor can he play while in the car. Our primary concern is the health of his eyes, not the irrational fear that games will somehow turn him evil.

The games are certainly addictive because they are fun, but we use that to our advantage. They are a platform for promoting dialogue, language and mathematical development, strategic thinking, time management, etc. It’s an addiction to learning that I am trying to inculcate.

So ask me if I’d rather see my son play video games or watch TV and nine out of ten times I will choose the former. Even though there are “educational” programmes on TV, they are not interactive physically and you can’t really tell if they are interactive mentally. That is why we have the term couch potato.

But when I watch my son play games or when I play with him, I see him laugh and hop about. He comes over to me to show off something he has done. He talks aloud during the game, often narrating his thought processes. We also talk about our gaming strategies, like “buying low and selling high” or making sacrifices.

A creature my son created in Spore Origins

With a TV you consume. With a game you can converse or even create (think machinima or YouTube and other online walkthroughs). You could talk about a TV programme you just watched, but you cannot ask what-if questions and manipulate it in order to seek answers.

We don’t have a definite time limit on how much TV my son watches, which is not a lot to begin with. But maybe we should be regulating his TV time more and his gaming time less. 😉

Last Wednesday, I was glad to read in Digital Life (31 Mar 10) about Mr Tan Kok Wah, of Greeendale Secondary School, who uses Civilization IV to “reinforce geography and history concepts to Secondary 5 students”. It’s a great example of how one might use off-the-shelf gaming for formal education. I also liked that the same article advised parents to play video games with their kids.

But I was sad to note the way the advice box was written and attributed. Given how such boxes are short and easy to read, they may be the only thing busy parents read instead of the longer article.

The advice box was an example of how not to cite sources. Yes, sources from NLB and NIE were mentioned in the main article, but you cannot claim that you asked these two organizations for advice to parents on gaming. It gives the impression of a lot of distilled wisdom in one short piece when it probably represents the views of two (or just a few) people. Granted that this was a newspaper article, not a journal paper or dissertation. But even savvy bloggers know how to attribute better than that! What happened to professional journalism?

That said, I do not disagree vehemently with the advice. The main problem I have with it is that the advice comes across as coming from many experts.

I also worry that the advice might be read as rules instead of the guidelines they are meant to be. Am I saying that parents are stupid and don’t know this already? No. But think about it: If there is something you know nothing about, or are fearful of, and experts tell you what to do, what would you do?

There are exceptions to the “rules”. For example, the recommendation is that 10 to 12 year-old kids be given games that encourage critical thinking. But who is to say that such games cannot be introduced earlier? I also want to know how the gaming durations were determined. Who is to say that 10-20 minutes is too much or too little?

My point is that parents should be more involved in what their children are doing. Just buying them games based on age recommendations and reviews and leaving them to play is not enough. You want your kids to learn from games but not get overly addicted to them (there must be some addiction or they won’t return). Parents should determine how much time and how often a kid plays computer games, but they must be more than just nannies.

Parents should play the games with their kids and have conversations about the games. This not only builds on the parent-child relationship but provides informal learning opportunities for both adult and child. Conversations that emerge could centre around ethics (good vs. evil), basic literacy, elements of storytelling, strategic thinking, methods for quick mental calculation, and so on. Is that so difficult for a newspaper to emphasize?

Parents need to be educated. There needs to be a mindset shift in games. Games should not be used as babysitters or time wasters. Games can be a means to powerful learning ends. By managing game play wisely in the classroom and out, we might be able to say that our kids are addicted to learning. Now that is news!

Video source

According to the YouTube page, this project “is an after-school program that uses World of Warcraft to encourage students to build skills in leadership, online collaboration, digital citizenship, mathematics and literacy”. More information is available at the WoWinSchool Project’s wiki.

Video source

Speaking of WoW, Jane McGonigal gave a TED talk on how gaming can make a better world. And here a teacher wonders if teachers in the land of Oz can capitalize on the gaming phenomenon.

I think you can — and McGonigal would argue that you must — if you 1) try gaming (be a learner yourself), 2) redefine what “desired learning outcomes” are (think outside the box), and 3) use more progressive pedagogies (teach outside the box).

Many thanks to Thomas (via Facebook) and Tuck Soon (via Twitter) for the initial information!

I have been messing about with Zombie Farm on my iPhone during my interstitial time. My 5-year-old son has too. Below is a screenshot he took of his fledgling farm.

[from isaac’s posterous]

I have been struck by the possibilities of how teachers might use this as a context for the teaching and learning of languages, mathematics and science. Beyond specific content, I am more interested in how such a game can promote strategic thinking, delayed gratification and design aesthetics.

I might integrate this game into the educational gaming series of my ICT course next semester. There will be some who can download the game into their iPhones (if they haven’t done so already) and I can provide two of my own iPod Touches to those who visit the mobile gaming station. Might Apple sponsor a few more devices?

On Wednesday I conducted a professional development session for a few of my Learning Sciences and Technologies (LST) colleagues. It was more a conversation than a lecture.

I shared what I explored in our ICT course in the area of educational game-based learning. The Prezi below is something I used right at the end of the series of tutorials, rather than at the beginning, because I borrow a gaming approach: Provide experiences first and relevant content only later.

While I was aware of some other colleagues who tried this approach or topic, I learned that we looked at it from different lenses. Their approach might be considered the pragmatic or traditional content-based approach: How might teachers/students use games to teach/learn specific content?

My approach was quite different. While I had one content and curriculum based station (Station 3), my other stations had other themes:

  • Station 1: contextuality, complexity and compassion
  • Station 2: competition, communication and collaboration
  • Station 4: cardio and coordination
  • Station 5: cognition (minds-on)

In other words, I was (and still am) more interested in exploring ways that games might influence specific thinking skills or learner values and attitudes, and how these might transfer into traditional teaching and learning.

Another difference that emerged was on how we might scale up this approach.

As not all of our colleagues were comfortable or knowledgeable with game-based learning (GBL), not all our ICT classes experience GBL. My approach has been to influence the mindsets of teacher trainees in my classes and hope that a few go on to implement these ideas when they get posted to mainstream schools. The risk is that they won’t because they neither have the infrastructure nor the support of their colleagues or school principal.

An alternative that a colleague suggested was to somehow get a few self-selected teacher trainees who really wanted to design and implement innovative lessons. NIE had previously offered electives, but these were discontinued due to heavy trainee course loads (this is why I think that a one-year diploma course is TOO SHORT!). The suggestion was to have the trainees be either part of a research effort or a special programme (e.g., Post Graduate Diploma in Education, Specialization in Educational Gaming). These trainees would be posted to schools that wanted to innovate this way and have supervisors and cooperating teachers that would support their efforts. I thought that this was a brilliant idea!

So how are we moving on? I will keep doing what I do because I will reach more trainees. I also believe that the approach has short and long term benefits. Teachers tend to teach the way they are taught, so there must be alternative models for them to observe, experience and critique.

We might also look for ways to make my colleague’s idea a reality. Working towards a special diploma is an administrative nightmare. However, someone with the bandwidth to take in another research study might consider submitting a grant to, say, conduct a longitudinal study on teachers trained to conduct game-based learning lessons. 😉

The group will certainly be having more conversations about gaming now. I also hope to include a few more colleagues in other departments who like the idea of playing games.

[image source, used under CC licence]

I loved reading this ProfHacker article, Playing to Learn. It succinctly provided insight into how we learn as children and adults and gave examples of game-play in a higher education context.

I do this myself with the game-based learning sessions I facilitate from time to time for preservice teachers. But I think I should bring in some gaming elements into the non-gaming weeks.

What troubles me is not the gaming approach but the prevailing attitude towards gaming. It seems to be viewed as frivilous or something that happens outside curriculum time or even a waste of time. Why is this the case when play is such a natural way of learning? We do not outgrow play. It is almost as if we need to relearn how to play.

One thing I tell participants of my courses or workshops is that you need not actually play games to use gaming strategies. Strategies like putting experiences, problems or assessment before content. Strategies like using a textbook not as the only reference but as one of many references to fill in clearly identified gaps of knowledge. Strategies like using authentic contexts for students to create and critique. It is almost as if we need to relearn how to teach.

[image source, used under CC licence]

This blog entry by Keri-Lee Beasley, an educator at the United World College of South East Asia, is one of the most thorough and hyperlinked. In it, she provides an overview of the benefits of educational gaming, i.e., literacy skills, critical thinking and social learning opportunities.

It’s something I will add to the quick reading list when I resume facilitating my educational gaming classes or when I conduct workshops for teachers later this year.

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