Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

Pushing The Boundaries of Game-Based Learning – Institute of Play

game-based learningGood gamers are good learners! Institute of Play — a not-for-profit design studio that pioneers new models of learning and engagement — is constantly pushing the boundaries of how game-like learning design can engage and empower learners. Let’s start this post from this quote from their latest article:

If you’ve played enough well-designed games, you know that they provide immediate feedback, are constantly challenging, promote learning by doing, and reframe failure as iteration. As most teachers already know, these are core principles of good teaching. This is a powerful relationship.

Besides “Quest To Learn“, a middle school with the curriculum based on video games, they move forward actively to extend the reaching of game-based learning by wrapping and sharing their experience. These are several projects and resources from them.

PLAYMAKERS is an exploration of the experiences and innovations that are leading the way for learning design in the twenty-first century. Produced by Institute of Play, the seven videos in the PLAYMAKERS series introduce you to a range of people working at the intersection of games and learning, from teachers who happened on the power of play through trial and error, to commercial game designers who set out to make one great game and ended up empowering millions of users to make their own.

Playforce is an online community built for and by players, parents, and educators to discover and share learning experiences in games. A searchable database of games with learning potential, Playforce allows users to explore games related to specific learning content, academic standards or twenty-first century skills, like empathy, systems thinking or collaboration. Playforce provides an indispensable resource to educators and parents looking to use games in service of specific learning goals.

Playtime Online provides live bi-monthly webinars explore the work of the Institute and its partners vis-à-vis design, play and learning. Playforce is currently in private beta, but today’s Playtime webinar participants just got an exclusive first look at the website. (You can now join Playforce now in its beta phase, at!)

games for learning

Play@ Your Org provides workshops designed to help businesses, cultural institutions and other organizations leverage the power of play-based learning in their work. It gives you tools to integrate the power of play-based learning into your work through a hands-on exploration of games and design.

Gamestar Mechanic is an online adventure game where students in grade 4 through 9 learn design and systems thinking fundamentals by designing, repairing and playing games. No previous experience in game design or game play required. Gamestar Mechanic Learning Guide supports educators, librarians and parents in leveraging the game as a learning tool in formal and informal settings

Gamekit is a platform to connect teens to design challenges created and moderated by professional game designers. Published periodically, and organized by theme, Gamekit game design challenges expose youth to a variety of game design media, methods, platforms and communities. And because challenge outcomes can be shared online, the platform provides an important opportunity for youth to give and receive peer feedback in an online environment. Gamekit challenges are entirely self-directed and can be completed at the user’s own pace. Gamekit is scheduled to launch in December 2012. But you can join now by visiting the Gamekit website. Game designing is not new to the students in Quest To Learn school, check out more about “Mobile Quest” and “Design, Art,Code“.

game-based learning

GlassLab is an unprecedented research and development effort aims to transform learning and assessment practices through digital games. The lab is exploring the potential for existing, commercially successful digital games to serve both as potent learning environments and real-time assessments of student learning. The Lab represents a ground-breaking collaboration between the Institute, the Entertainment Software AssociationElectronic ArtsEducational Testing Service and others.

Mission Lab is a learning design studio that develops game-like curriculum to bridge traditional and twenty-first century competencies. Embedded in the Quest to Learn school, Mission Lab comprises game designers and curriculum specialists working closely with teachers to design, produce, playtest and develop game-like curricula, games and other learning materials. Mission Lab is responsible for effective implementation of learning materials, as well as for the purposeful integration of technology in the classroom. In addition, Mission Lab serves as a resource and inspiration for students, who are able to observe and participate in a live design process. Mission Lab also manages the design and roll-out of an innovative professional development program, called Studio Q. More resources and tools can be found here.

In their article: Collaborate, Prototype, Playtest, Explode!: How We Design Game-Like Learning at Quest (by Daniel O’Keefe):

The game integration process begins in our weekly curriculum meetings attended by a teacher, a game designer, a curriculum specialist, and a learning strategist. The process springs from carefully considered learning goals that are based on New York State and Common Core Standards. The decision to integrate a game is usually sparked by one of two situations:

1. Sometimes it’s just a tough topic. For example, during a curriculum meeting, a teacher notes that arithmetic with negative integers is a troublesome topic. Games are excellent for tough topics, so we begin the process.

2. Sometimes content just feels game-like. Perhaps the space of the topic feels game-like (like circles, triangles, and rulers), or perhaps the mechanics/actions of the content feel game-like (like how citing sources can be similar to trusting players in a bluffing game). We try to brainstorm a prototype. Sometimes it doesn’t work, and that’s fine. We don’t push what’s not working just because we like games.

Our first response to these two potential sparks is always: “Is there a tool that already does this?” Our goal is learning, not game design. If the tool already exists, we use it. Some of the fine tools that we use include Algodoo, Minecraft, SimCity, Vernier and Pasco Probeware, LEGO robotics, MangaHigh, Brainpop, Prezi, Pixlr, Wikispaces, Comic Life, iMovie, Keynote, and these things called pencils. If a great tool does not already exist, then perhaps the game design process begins.

A note on leadership: the curriculum team follows the teachers, not the other way around. Teachers know what they want to teach, know their students, and know what will work best for the context. This is extremely important, and is not just a principle of our game design process but of our curriculum design process as a whole. The team supports with their skills, is a sounding board, and offers advice—but the teacher is the teacher is the teacher.

The design thinking for teaching and learning is so important, so Daniel wrote: It’s important to note that our games are not one-and-done’s. They work best when the teacher “explodes the game. Embed the game design ideas or tools into classroom activities, and explode the game!

Katie Salen is the Executive Director of Institute of Play and a Professor in the School of Computing and Digital Media at DePaul University. She just wrote about why StarCraft II Is The Greatest Learning Tool That Isn’t Being Taught In Any School.

video game

StarCraft, a real-time strategy game from Blizzard Entertainment, has been labeled the chess of the 21st century. Cognitive scientists are using it to study memory, decision-making, and motor skills.

For educators in the 21st century, online communities like those that have grown up around StarCraft offer exciting models of peer-based learning environments. Players can move at their own pace, take advantage of a diverse set of resources created by other players, and contribute their own knowledge and expertise back to the group. And perhaps most importantly, they have access to experts like Plott who share their talents for free. “StarCraft is a space of inquiry in which to test yourself,” he says. “It is all about asking, ‘What works here?’ How cool is that?”

It’s an exciting moment in human history to see what game designers can do for education, so it might change the future of our society. No lecturing, no show and tell, just play and learn.


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  1. Links for December 14, 2012 | Andrzej's Links

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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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