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There is a ton of information being produced about attempting to turn online learning into a more game-like experience. What we’re saying is that despite the rush of enthusiasm for technology based teaching, the profound effect on society by the interactive entertainment industry renders so much of ‘must attend’ education well outside this zone of engagement.

Consider however that ‘school’ is particular social construct and comes with certain cultural expectations and baggage. For example, school has been a daily experience of the dis-affected fifteen year old with poor attendance and a dislike of school methods. Offering her badges or points is hardly going encourage her to revisit her experiences before time expires and she leaves to make her way in the world. For the exceptional kids who chew through learning, the introduction of a game might well send their parents into a tail spin about how to play-school — a game they’ve probably been winning for years at.

The point I’m making here is that games, game-layers and game-mechanics being developed for the interactive entertainment of society cannot easily be subsumed into educational contexts. By easy, I mean time, investment and executive trust in taking a few risks and resisting the temptation to declare success after a week.

I’ve seen numerous game-systems which are little more than grade-book management and behaviour control. They might meet the power-relations of the teacher and the grade-compliance needs of the system, but I don’t think they should be called a game. Dressing up and talking like a pirate would be just as motivating to students who know game culture like the back of their hand. Let me put down the top three things which have little ‘game-basis’ at all, but never the less have been cited as game-based-learning.

3 elements which are un-proven

  1. Using points to sanction personal behaviour (ie, late to class, no homework, calling out).
  2. Assigning random events. The teacher should know exactly what events need to be triggered to move the student’s experience from A to B and B to C. This has more to do with the Zone of Proximal Development than the roll of a dice. Games do not issue ‘work’ randomly, they do it because the player is ready for it.
  3. Machine-automation should be used lightly. The best games I’ve seen played with students treat the Internet as a medium or layer to transmit important information — such as how the player is going, what they need to do next and so on. Machine programming which orientates to grading students is fluckery and should be avoided.

Why do schools find it hard to develop effective game based learning programmes.

The biggest challenge for schools is they are not used to employing project-managers and/or educational developers to design a game. They tend to hope teachers will pick this stuff up in the way they picked up how to use Edmondo. Games are complex cultural objects. For example: a game should be a re-useable resource which anyone can play. It should be well designed, documented and platform agnostic. It might require the development of illustrations, narratives and other objects … all of which is really hard to do alone or as a side-role when teaching. If the game is being played online, then it will need a community manager to help interpret the goals of the teacher into an experience online that is interesting.

I am not saying avoid games, or consider GBL to be too hard, but to think more carefully about requirements of education verses interactive media entertainment. Ultimately, the game is an experience which impacts how we see the world — if you missed it, check out the PBL Game for the Hunger Games which ran a few years ago. Start not with what we did that made it such a success — but why it didn’t pick up any interest at ISTE 13. The challenge for games is simple: They need at least the same status and investment that is routinely applied to things such as Google Apps … only then will robust, re-useable designs become available.

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