Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

Play and Learn! Are You In?

The White House recently announced two major initiatives in learning and technology — these “digital seed capital” efforts are “down-payments” with strong intentions to jumpstart innovations and break a two decade slow reform. The first is a digital textbook initiative; the second is a new games and learning effort.

President Obama has been critical of parents who don’t set limits on children’s screen time, but he is also coming around to the benefits of well-designed games. In a speech last March at TechBoston Academy(a public middle- and high school), Obama told students he wanted to create “educational software that’s as compelling as the best video game.” He added, “I want you guys to be stuck on a video game that’s teaching you something other than just blowing something up.” Currently there are already many agencies in White House using games to educate about different topics.

A famous quote from Marshall McLuhan is: “Anyone who makes a distinction between entertainment and education doesn’t know the first thing about either.” This formalized approach to learning has only been around for maybe one hundred years and isn’t necessarily serving our humanity and new society well. We can go back hundreds and hundreds of years before that and see how people learned. Learning through playing is inherent in the human nature. With modern technology plus imaginations and creativity, through games it’s possible to facilitate an engaging, personalized and safe learning environment. Some innovators have been in the endeavors for several years.

gaming, play and learn, gamify learning, gamification of education

Will Wright, the mind behind The Sims and Spore, said players learn through failure, which is the best route to excellence. Wright alluded to a study involving two pottery classes, one in which students had to spend a session making the best possible single pot and one the other in which students were told to make as many pots as possible in the same time span. The second approach produced the most high-quality pots. The interview with Will Wright on Game Design, Play and Learning might give us more insights.

Failure is a positive act of creativity,” Katie Salen said. Scientists, artists, engineers, and even entrepreneurs know this as adults. But in schools, the notion of failure is complicated. Salen, executive director of the Institute of Play and founder of Quest to Learn, the first public school based on the principles of game design in the U.S., explained how failure can be a motivating agent for learning in her presentation at SXSW. (you can listen to Salen’s talk)

In the migration from paper-based 20th century textbooks to 21st century digital “textbooks” there is a great deal the education sector can learn from the game industry. To connect education and entertainment, Michael Levine talked about the effort in this reagrd — Games: A Textbook for Digital Best Practices — since not all games can provide quality game-based learning experiences.

Play and Learn, a well-designed learning approach needs both expertises of pedagogy designing and game designing. While gamification layers can be added or integrated onto learning in different ways, we saw many new communities trying to help teachers and students “game up” for learning:

  • edWeb Game-based Learning Community – The professional learning community explore how to integrate games into the learning process to provide higher engagement and achievement for students. It’s a forum where educators, publishers, and game developers can come together to discuss ideas and current practices, and to advance this emerging field.
  • We teach game-based learning – Online community of teachers of game-based learning on ning
  • ISTE Games and Simulations for Teaching and Learning – New group focusing on game-based learning for K-12
  • BrainPop GameUp – a new community aiming to help teachers and students “game up” for learning, seriously! There are selected learning games,  exhibition of games created by students and recommended tools to create games, and discussion on game-based learning.
  • Games for Change – The global advocate for supporting and making games for social impact. It provides an open platform for the exchange of ideas and resources between organizations and individuals from the social impact sector, government, media, academia, the gaming industry and the arts to grow the field.
  • WoWinSchool – A wiki loaded with all you need to gamify your courses (Math, Language Art) by playing World of Warcraft. All project materials, including a fully-developed language arts course, aligned to middle grades standards, is now available under a creative commons license here. (by Lucas Gillispie)
  • 3D GameLab is a quest-based learning platform for teachers and students of all ages offered by Boise State University.

The Gamification Wiki is the largest resource for information on Gamification and Game Mechanics. Gamification of Education is full of information on applying Gamification in Education.  Besides, Games in Education (in wikispace) is a fantastic resource collection put together by Adrian Camm. List of Research on Game-based Learning from Lucas Gillispie is for you to learn the depth of gamifying learning.

Play and Learn! Are you in? What’s your recommendations?


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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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