5 life rules that games teach and Facebook won’t.

If you want kids to learn about how to behave in massive online spaces then don’t rely on school. If you are worried about Facebook – you should be. Games however, are far less scary than many people imagine. There are signficant benefits from choosing an online game world over ‘the web’ as a place for kids to learn about digital-rules. In fact all games have rules and are systemtic in their enforcement, they also happen to be the same rules that govern the behaviour that so many are worried about in non-game spaces. Of course to believe this, you must un-believe the relentless media bias and increatingly, the bain-missing rhetoric called ‘game-ification’.

Games give students solid understanding of digital rules.

  1. Mediation rule – conflict resolution in digital networks
  2. Behaviour constraint rule – what you must do and must not do
  3. Goal achievement rule – goals must roughly correspond to the goals of the individuals in the given role they have in real life
  4. Environmental response rule – how the environment behaves in response to individual action
  5. Social Rules – restitutive social law (social correction) and repressive law (social punishment)

If you spend time in game worlds, these rules are persistently applied. They are aslo far less permanent and forgiving unlike much of web-media that never forgets your mistakes, and doesn’t easily let you retry until you succeed. There are far wose things to see that a bit of blood splatter in a world everyone knows isn’t real.


Twitter is just another bloody MMORPG

*update – A video I’ve made that is going out as part of Massively Productive Education keynote. Relates to the stuff below.

Gaming has an enviable problem. It provides too much flow and satisfaction missing in real life. Their predictive sense of achievement wired into instant feedback loops is an almost certain guarantee of engagement and it’s spilling over into Twitter.

While education seeks to use technology to engage students in meaningful online work, games such as World of Warcraft actually attempt to deter people by rewarding players for not killing monsters and having rest time – not working.

Players use this time to stock up on potions, get food, repair their weapons, visit the bank and of course buy and sell items won in the auction house. They don’t even need to be logged in to do this – there’s an iphone app for that too. This doesn’t mean they spend less time tuned into the game environment (which extends well outside of Azeroth), but varies the kind of ‘work’ that they do and helps promote discussion and development of game-resources in the numerous wikis and forums so vital to documenting how to play better.

Is this what you do with your rest time? For many teachers, rest-time is used to explore technology – and without it, little innovation would take place in the classroom quite frankly.

Chris Betcher recently blogged about this, how when he went to a teacher-meeting, he already ‘knew’ most of the people who attended, not least though the OZ/NZ Teachers network started by Simon and Sue a few years ago – one of the oldest and long running teacher networks.

Over time, I’ve come to see the thinning of the walls between rest-time and work-time – but a thickening of connection as Chris discusses.

Twitter isn’t just about building your Personal Learning Network (PLN) it’s rest-time turned into fun work. The kind of work being done, is not that different from what Warcraft players are doing. The big difference is that Warcraft players do it  from the age of 5 – so imagine how good they are at it by the age of 12.

I see Twitter as a game of sorts. Searching for #edchat or whatever #conference is on today is questing. Choosing to Tweet is not that different from choosing to chase down honour points in Warsong Gulch. Sharing resources and bookmarking what you find is a version of the ‘need’ or ‘greed’ mechanic Warcraft uses to get players to make critical choices.

Twitter demands making meaning from intangible collections of digital artifacts that someway allows others to better understand personal identity and abilities. Warcraft has a much more defined set of variables, common to sets of players (faction, race, class, talents, gear, professions, reputation, experience) – but unlike Twitter, it allows other players to make very accurate assessment of themselves in relation to others. So while I love Twitter – it is really hard to know the people you are dealing with – as there is no Warcraft like attributable profiling.

Those with little concern about their practice see technology generally as related to work (place) and social media as fairly pointless. By not participating – they are finding an exploit. At the macro level – systems ban it or seek to devalue it in an effort break the connectedness, that Chris was talking about.

The best PD, the best experience, the best of people – come from inside these networks, not external to them. Sure there are online spats and disagreements but the social-rules correct undesirable behaviors and generally all players are seeking the same goal. The social rules are determined by sets – not by the technology, and change between the infinite intersections people make in who they interact with.

The world is forever changed around education. No matter how turbulent the surface of educational debate and activity is online (systems talk it up too) – deep below on the ocean floor, non-participation allows life to carry on unchanged. All games are essentially about overcoming avoidable obstacles. And let’s face it, teachers don’t need to be on Twitter.

Twitter is Tetris in that it presents an unattainable victory. The problem Tweeple playing are trying to solve is to improve education (the reward). Twitter gives digital rewards for playing such as greater declarative knowledge, new schemas and digital objects that make you a better player – as long as you are in the network. You can’t leave, you have to come back to play, so any argument leveled at Warcraft, is also true of Twitter.

It is haughty to look down on games such as Warcraft or non-game worlds such as Second Life, and not to understand their rich history. From Multi-User (text) Dungeons to the beauty of Warcraft and Rift, game-designers have mastered that which education hasn’t.

Growing up digital – buffed for success

Regardless of your teaching philosophy, one of the biggest concerns among society is the erosion of declarative knowledge, brought about by the Internet. Recently, the New York times published a report called “Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction”, typical of this social debate and thought I’d discuss it (slam it)  in relation to why I see WoWinSchools are a leading prototype for education.


I see two scenarios significant for ICT in education. The third is that it’s not used – and I’m not wasting time discussing that brain-missing scenario in 2011.

1. an environment which allows students to engage in ongoing metacognative activities at a level that would be unattainable without the support of technological tools, not limited to – the environment itself.


2. students to receive directions, guidance, and feedback from technology, using technology tools to set goals, plan activities, monitor progress or self-evaluate.

Many seeking change in educational strategy put forward an argument society is enveloped in a world where information is no longer scarce, and that education is founded on the assumption it is. The role of the Internet, and the layers of technology that use it presents a moving target for education raising questions around why students are predominantly assessed though quantitative methods on their declarative knowledge.

Game designers create generative environments, which are worth comparing to a broad generalisation of what think is the ‘norm’ or ‘reform’ use of ICT in education – be that in the the Taylorism or more recent technologies presented in social discussion by people like Will Richardson or Conor Williams who  points out that much of the current debate is ‘bereft of data’ (not unlike this one from the New York Times).

(spinning the chamber)

This report makes several bubble-gum statements – which, although wrapped up in a relevant social dialogue, are presented as if evidentiary, even citing MIT (to add validity to the catchy headling presumably). For example,

“he discovered a passion for filmmaking and made a name for himself among friends and teachers with his storytelling in videos made with digital cameras and editing software … But he also plays video games 10 hours a week”.

What nonsense. He’s playing games, not because his brain is “wired for distraction” – but beacuse game designers better motivate players though their constant demand to develop ever more declarative knowledge – and – insistence that players work harder.

In that regard, I might also argue, he spends 10 hours a week constructing declarative knowledge. This also interesting, as 10 hours is about the same time a high school student is expected to study a subject each week – and personally, I have no issue with my kids spending 10 hours a week in games over watching television or doing exercises from a text book to get a ‘mark’.

The fact game-knowledge isn’t aligned to a syllabus, or his parent’s don’t see the link, is a moot point. What is significant is that game designers are able to do this without seeing any need to engage a teacher – and links in social-research support the hypothesis that games offer a rich opportunity to inductively think about how we set out to teach – anything.

(cocking the hammer)

WoWinSchool is an example of the first paradigm, and a prototype for education —  for harnessing the considerable schemas that kids hold for developing identity, self-esteem – and declarative knowledge. This is to say, that I think we remain truly ignorant of student’s capabilities – if they have had exposure to game-play.

Games are all about developing declarative knowledge – and use a constellation of strategies to motivate players such as the character, the environment, the narrative and rewards. They purposely leave room for social action such as modifying the environment, rule making, group forming and peer teaching – which is exactly what Peggy and Lucas are exploiting.

(pulling the trigger)

So while some may look on their project with curiosity, returning to their blogs and wikis – the may not realise how important and significant the project is – as a prototype to use the motivational schemas and declarative knowledge that game designers are installing in today’s youth – rather than attempting to work against it, or simply deem it distracting.

4 critical ingredients to engage the gen-gamer

In preparation for a first Games Based Learning day at Macquarie University (24/10/2010), I’ve started to flush out some of the ingredients that are built into World or Warcraft, that make it an almost ideal learning environment.

Firstly, let me say that I don’t believe Blooms taxonomy works in 2010, as well as it might in the latter part of the last century. Mt view is that game designers build for understanding, not knowledge – which creates the advantage that the learning process is not locked to content, but independent. To me, this is partly why kids can jump from one game to another so easily.

So back up a step and look at these four ingredients that you find inside World of Warcraft (and other games).

As you read though, mentally swap out the terms for more schooly ones like student, lesson, activity.

When I think about ‘teaching and learning’ in the context of ‘game based learning’ – I am not thinking of Halo, Warcraft, Nintendogs – but what taxonomy and strategies are being used in order to keep players engaged and working harder on their understanding. I argue that you can use this in non-game lessons more effectively that using Blooms (big call) – in developing understanding though engagement. If for example I was teaching elementary (primary), I’d be looking hard at Moshi Monsters to teach maths, english, civics etc – because I also believe in ‘blended learning’.

Critical elements in Game Based Learning Design

1. Authentic tasks
Instruction designed around authentic tasks help players become fully engaged in learning and developing an understanding of content. A quest is an authentic task – it allows you to learn about the game, the factions, the lore and the skills needed to complete the next. No tasks in the game are pointless.

2. Opportunities to build cognitive strategies
Basic skills such as organising, finding to higher level skills like breaking down a problem into its element  through explicit instruction or by modeling and encouraging use of these strategies within instance, arena or battleground.

3. Learning that is socially mediated

  • learning and understanding are enhanced when players interact constructively with each another in building, integrating and testing new knowledge. Social games ensure shared ownership of the learning activity (quest is assigned to a player shared to a group)
  • players make their thinking visible to each other through visual representations or dramatization (emotes, low-intimacy chat, gestures); and
  • players solve problems that allow for a range of talents, skills and abilities (things that Paladins are good at, things that Warlocks are good at). Social-signals are developed. For example “r?” means – “we are ready to play, as means of leadership communication” – the response “r” is agreement with that, where as “kk” means, yes – just get on with it.

4. Engagement in constructive conversation
Players engage in constructive conversation. They are able to express their own ideas and questions and listen to and integrate the perspectives of others into their own thinking. Constructive conversation by maintaining a focus on a theme, allowing time for significant discussion, and responding thoughtfully to other players. An example of this is in group play. A new player will declare they are ‘learning to tankand will receive advice from other players on their performance and improving it.

These four elements, when wired into a ‘leveling‘ taxonomy and sequence of activities, I argue will work better for a generation growing up online. It’s facile to argue otherwise. Mr Blooms might just have had his day – regardless of how teachers might feel about it.

Which comes first: Warcraft or Second Life?

I’ve been thinking more about why I would not take teachers into virtual worlds. A minor clarification, is that this line of though relates to some research work I’m doing, around cyberculture, and how it is reflected in under and post graduate education. I been particularly thinking about live classrooms online, and where, conceptually, the types of learning experiences that I would build into the professional development of teachers.

My view is that virtual worlds, are not somewhere to take teachers, but somewhere to meet them, and I kicked up a rather bizarre post about that yesterday. Why does this matter? – Well, because there is increasing interest in using ‘live’ classrooms generally, and greater opportunity to do so (despite Linden canning Teen Second Life). I absolutely believe that virtual worlds and games are great places for teachers to learn – about learning in this century. What I’m yet to resolve are the terms under which I see that happening.

There are three general spaces under the ‘live’ classroom concept to me – Second Life (or other open, non goal-directed world), Games (Aion, Starcraft2, World of Warcraft type goal directed MMORPG) and the various Webinar offerings (Adobe Connect, Elluminate etc). All of which to me, disembody the teacher as a human in favour of being a cyborg.

Personal identity in virtual worlds, is a beautiful fiction. The absence of your own life narrative allows exploration of new meta-personas and shape their story to be as real or imagined as you choose.

When Linden chose to call their technology, Second Life it evoked a sense of post-humanist existence. When Adobe called their platform ‘Connect’, there was never any intention to do more than create much more than an information appliance. When Blizzard created Warcraft – is was was going to be an epic experience, based on lore.

Connect etc.,, from my experience, places the presenter in a personal, direct position of responsibility and pressure – to perform for the assembled audience. If you are working with students, this performance often gravitates to the tools the information appliance offers – powerpoint, polling etc.,

Physically, it requires two monitors to even begin to cope with presenting and interacting and at least 10% of everyones time is spent dealing with its habitual tendency to throw people out, cut their microphone or simply hang up, should you be foolish enough to have browser add ons, or any other instslled application. That doesn’t happen Warcraft, there is no presenter, no technical microphone support – just other players.

Second Life, is a world, the experience is quite different for student and teacher. It is no more complicated to operate, but much more complicated to conceptualise or explain, if your cognitive worldview sees it as no more than a field trip to the freaky side of cyberculture. It too suffers presenter-pressure over microphones, movement and connectivity. It is way better than 5 years ago, however, it is less than seemless.

While there is little arguement that teaching and learning ‘in-world’ is part of the landscape, it takes a brave soul to attempt it live. Crashing out of an Adobe Connect room several times in and hour is frustrating, as each time, it is a personal hit. Your personal identity, which for most of us apart from Gary Stager, is kind of fragile. An avatar is far more resiliant, and the environment lacks the two-way radioness of Connect, but is still the single biggest ‘issue’ new people have – often at the detriment of what it is you hope to do with the world itself – assuming it is social-engagement.

I wont take teachers into a virtual world on the same terms as Adobe Connect. Second Life is socially engaged theatre, Connect is functional, broadcast radio.

I see Connect etc., – in mass teaching, as radio – and radio has a purpose, so I’m not saying don’t use it. Provided it works, it does allow ‘classroom’ type activities – essentially are born of print and radio culture. They do provide access to ‘live’ teachers and peers, but are not ‘virtual’ is the post-humanist sense.

World of Warcraft (game worlds), I see as an almost perfect learning environment – to learn about immersive environments – and would argue to have it included as a core element of under-graduate experience of virtual worlds. Second Life (open-worlds) I see being a post-graduate experience, requiring a deeper sense of what it means to be a resident, and how that resident would create experiences, knowledge – and spaces that would build community and meet contextual objectives – based upon what is evident in MMORPG – and perhaps why many in Second Life are also gamers.

So, if I was to try and rapidly show teachers what online learning is, who are just beginning to think critically about online and cyber culture – then I’d run it out of Warcraft as a ‘live’ classroom. If I wanted a group of non-connected people to connect, I’d use it too. Only then would I step into Second Life.

The problem is – how would I get them to do either, when most people are still listening to the radio. More thought needed obviously.

Quislings and Rogue Collaborators

Collaboration, an easy on the ear term that permeates educational discussions. I wonder though if we might mistake co-operation with collaboration.  Peggy Sheehy was talking in Warcraft this weekend about the dynamics of collaboration in the Alliance citadel of Stormwind.

A striking conversation worth sharing. It again highlights why studies show gamers make better collaborators – and why reading blogs is just the surface of connected knowledge.

Take a Warcraft ‘raid’ for example (a factional battle between players on opposing sides). You can’t win if everyone is a warrior, nor vanquish the opposition if everyone is a Healer. It takes a dynamic. Learning how to construct a dynamic is really hard, as it involves personality, behavior and belief. Group work in school often fails, because the teacher assigns roles to students – or attempts to, because they themselves experience this in their lives.

Not all collaboration is healthy. It is not all positive. Take for example the Quisling class of empire-appointed leaders.

Vidkun Quisling was a Norwegian who identified more closely with the Nazi Third Reich than with his own nation’s heritage. He tried and failed to become Norway’s leader before the Second World War. After the German occupation of Norway in World War II, Quisling served as Hitler’s front-man and puppet leader. After the war, Quisling was captured and executed by the Norwegians, but he gave his name as the 20th Century definition of a collaborators.

Quislings identify more with occupying authority than they do with the people whom they seek to influence. Most of us are professionals, we are second-tier collaborators who get the job done – as even working with the Quisling is better than mass disorder and uncertainty of having no leader at all.

Leaders understand the value of dynamic-collaboration. Quislings understand it too, but are not true-leaders. They seek to serve the higher authority and in so doing maintain their elite status. We have to be very aware that collaboration is not one thing, but a complex set of behaviours.

‘Working together” is not collaboration per se.

Peggy pointed out another teachable moment in Warcraft. She talked about the importance of defining ‘class’ and ‘race’ structures in the game to promote critical thought – about the dynamics of collaboration itself. (Amazing huh).

To succeed in a group task, typically you MUST have a Healer, a Warrior, a Rogue etc.,  to have a positive, beneficial impact on group success. Being able to select your role is important – to understand YOUR limitations and strengths is even more important. In games, there are extensive, visible ways to measure this. In the classroom – it’s a mystery, and made worse when teacher-assigned dynamics are used. Understanding yourself and others in a group dynamic is critical to it’s success.

A collaborative classroom, is less effective if students are assigned groups and given roles. This is a hypothasis I’m currently exploring with a group of students working in a wiki. In life, some people collaborate negatively – the opportunists who find reward in others misery is natural disasters, warriors  who sell their strength to the highest bidder becoming Corporate Lawyers for Fortune 500 Companies etc., and the masses who simply comply in order to collaborate as they feel disempowered from doing anything radical. “I have bills to pay” etc.,

I love how Peggy was using Warcraft to teach students, not just about collaboration, but about themselves – and in doing so, knows more about them as people – not students. Collaboration is not all positive; forced collaboration is not leadership – and the masses know it. Why do I let my kids play WoW – because they interact with people like Peggy all the time and they can spot a Quisling at 10,000 feet.

Meeting ISTE NETs – Using World of Warcraft

Blood Elf Paladin

World of Warcraft is an online massive multiplayer game with a free 10 day trail. Here’s how to align it with ISTE NETs and meet your own standards/outcomes – though assessment. This is for those teachers who ‘get’ the Web2.0 concepts of participation, collaboration and shared reality. It’s not a post about whether games are a good idea – they are.

Here is a simple look at how to develop a game based learning project – using World or Warcraft. There’s more to developing a robust project, but this should give you some idea of how to blend games into your ICT powered classrooms. (13-16 year olds).

Design a project that meets 2 outcomes and 4 ISTE’s NETs.  6 outcomes, 5 hours of game-play and about 10 hours or other work around it. — 15 hours over 2/3 weeks. This is using game based learning – so you have to plan well ahead — have a number of activities that are not obviously connected, and tasks that students must achieve which in part require using Warcraft. The students are then able to choose how to set about it. You will immediately notice that hands will raise with questions – as students are so used to being given the steps and spoon fed the content – that they will be disorientated. That is not Warcraft, that is the shift to inquiry based learning practice. Don’t hand out the answers … make them grind them out.

We start with the end in mind. Which are the outcomes/standards we want — and how are we going to assess it? It is critical to be able to align ISTEs standards with activities in games and standards/outcomes. This to me is where most teachers fall over. Their ICT repertoire is so small, they simply cannot do it with Web2.0, let alone games. Someone has to lead and help build these things — just as someone used to write the ‘teachers text book’. Let’s not assume that all teachers stepped outside ‘off the shelf’ lesson planning in the first instance – and games are a further step removed from Web2.0 — and it is MOTIVATION that games bring in abundant quantities.

Remember Warcraft is the activity not the outcome or the assessment. Students would have to sign up for their 10 day trial – and do so in a timeline that will allow them to complete the project – so it’s not going to be end endless grind-fest. You are going to design your project to allow them to choose when to play, and when to do the other things you are asking for. This means you will not be in a linear classroom, and will have to deal with the idea of not actually ‘teaching’ at all, but helping them –  ask good questions.

If you don’t play WoW, then some of this might be a bit brain-missing to you– but trust me, it’s basic stuff.

Level 1-10 type activity associated with the free-trail. On the left is the ISTE Standard, the middle is with WoW activity and over on the right is a rough idea of how I might align those with some additional classroom activities (meeting the curriculum outcome). In that last column, you can also add a activity — write a narrative, create a blog, use a spreadsheet … this is the assessment you need. You have to be clear about what activity in project is going to allow the outcome to be reached – and how it will be evidenced and assessed – both for ISTE and your curriculum. In doing this you can create blogs, wikis, art, role-plays, narrative, movies, music — Warcraft is the motivator. You are not assessing how well they play or level.

In Australia, out ICT outcomes are so low, most pre-schoolers would pass — and teachers skills are so low that they’d fail the year 10 computing skills test in spectacular style.

Game based learning — is not about what you learn by playing a game – but how the game can be use to to foster inquiry skills, critical thinking and evidence student learning – in part though exploration, error and play. Many people seem to think game based learning is the Magic School Bus type of CD-Rom and can be easily ‘gamed’ by students. We see this in may online children’s edu-flash games. They are just boring. game. These things are very instructional, but very linear. They don’t allow for unexpected outcomes. Today, social games are teaching kids more ICT skills that you can shake runed-sword at.

If you want kids to go nuts with ICT, then find a motivator … and start thinking about designing your own projects – Ms Frizzle is not going to cut it.

‘Grats to Mr8 – who attained Level 80 this weekend!

Online School of Opportunity (OSO)

Why write on the walls, when you can write everywhere?

Mashable posted  “Why Teens Don’t Tweet”, giving a range of data and view on the demographics of a social network growing at +1300% a month. It made me wonder about how effective we are at competing for the attention of students, teachers and educational leaders. Are we too busy pressing the ‘Digg’ button and missing the opportunities presented?

“Twitter’s different than Facebook or MySpace because Twitter is not about your friends … Teens, more than any other age group, care about their friends. It’s the continuation of real-life friendship (and the creation of online ones) that has driven the tremendous growth of MySpace, Facebook, Bebo etc”.

To use these spaces, today’s teens spend increasing amounts of time informally online. They are using informal learning. As formal public education provides almost no spaces for this it is no surprise that teens power down between 9 and 3.30, disconnected from their informal learning networks. And it isn’t a teen sensation; social games and online networks are actively marketed to pre-schoolers. The numbers participating in pre-school social game Webkinz alone dwarfs teen blogging.

McGivney (1999) a decade ago recognised the importance of informal learning pathways.

Informal learning generated by local people themselves often led to wider community involvement and activism, whereas learning arranged by education providers most often led to high rates of educational progression. Informal learning often started people on a continuing learning path by helping them become confident and successful learners. “

Space, time and organisation are cardinal elements of formal learning – which is the inverse of the online educational commons. Informality enables us to be successful learners in playful and social ways that we can take to new situations. Increasingly games and social networks provide this function. It is common to see two teachers talking about education online; but rare to see departmental CEO or Minister add to any authentic open discussion. They have attained their authority by abiding by the rules of formality; where as online authority is now earned through action in informal networks.

Teens use  mobile phones, Bebo, Facebook and MySpace – to successfully strengthen friend networks. What they don’t know how to do is apply it to the discipline needed in obtain life affecting qualifications. There is a clear role for teachers to do this, and students readily work with these teachers – who are not necessarily technocrats – but are adoptive leaders and good communicators. They talk with, not at – which is another characteristic of policy making bureacrats and politicians. You can’t co-opt your way to social change on your terms anymore. Get over it; move on. Stop building walled gardens and ignoring what is there already.

The problem with internalising everything and agreeing with yourself, is that it sustains nothing except yourself.

Seriously – why do we spend millions developing ‘closed’ applications using tax-payer money on things like a blog engine ‘pilot’, when the world is using Edublog Campus? The criteria is less than transparent and hardly going to give any real indication of pedagogical reform; if indeed there is going to be any public release of the findings. Per teacher; what is the investment?

The blog trial involves 20 teachers, each from a different school or TAFE Institute from across the State. Trial participants were selected though a variety of means but all are users of collaborative tools and are keen to use blogs for teaching and learning.

The Centre for Learning Innovation’s website (The public education tech-development arm) says “Connected learning projects allow students to engage with real-life situations, which involve communication, collaboration, self-directed learning, problem solving, researching and publishing findings.” it prompt you to download  a 1997 document which then explains what the internet is, why use it in the classroom and gives an illustration of how to use a website (Netscape 2). The link is dead, and obviously ancient history – yet is on the ‘new’ website.

Do you learn more by skimming last night Tweets than you did at your last technology ‘in-service’?

We don’t need to be at specific time or place to learn – just access the educational network commons that now exists online. We are seeing an effusion of activity in forming and joining new networks that is changing education philopshy, not technology itself. The tragedy is that teachers are often unable to benefit students from this action. It is locked stepped by political orientation to conventional, schematic discernment of the 21st Century itself.

We should be better utilising existing resources such as libraries and teachers, and investigating an ‘Online School of Opportunity (OSO) and not limiting students through long-familiar toothsome approaches to quality improvement (aka “School of Excellence” ). We need centres of opportunity before excellence can be afforded to all –  though investment in public Libraries and community spaces that encourage both teachers and students to get together and transform the way they use technology; not block it.

Ref: McGivney (1999). “Informal Learning in the Community: A Trigger for Change and Development.”  National Institute for Adult Continuing Education, UK.

Games – Dangerously Irrelevant?

SCOTT McLEOD remarked on his blog that he had some questions about ‘educational games’; so in spirit of 21days of being positive, I’d like to try and answer them – and perhaps he might send me a flashing badge.

Picture 11

screenshot from : Dangerously Irrelevant

Does the quality of the graphics matter when it comes to educational games?

Graphics of any description matter, as research suggest that over 60% of people today are visual learners. So whenever you place an image in front of someone it sends a message to the brain. I noticed for example; that in the cluster of game samples Scott posted, there was this one. Quality is not just ‘resolution’ but the modality of the image itself; what reaction, emotion or instruction does it prompt.

Graphics are a component of game-play; although some of the biggest games of 80s were text only; and such as First Age in such a case graphics did not matter at all. Here is a list of online text-games. CD-Rom Games such as the Magic School Bus; had lots of graphics but lacked any real game-play.

We have to differentiate the role of ‘toons’ and graphics from what they are doing; and therefore the importance of the graphics is directly related to objective – in a flight simulator – yes if you are teaching pilots.

Prensky (2002) “The reason computer games are so engaging is because the primary objective of the game designer is to keep the user engaged. They need to keep that player coming back, day after day, for 30, 60 even 100+ hours, so that the person feels like he has gotten value for his money (and, in the case of online games, keeps paying.) That is their measure of success.

In Warcraft; the graphics are not as important and the social-hobby nature of the game; or the game’s ability to train a player though resonance. What is important perhaps is that the social contructs that interplay with the story. They are MORE important that the graphics; AI; gameplay etc; Some games will suffer mouse-lag due to the intensity of the graphics; Arma2 for example – yet the realism and game play will be forgiven. Others – such as the new Harry Potter has amazing graphics; but almost no meaningful game play. Much of the discussion in ‘gaming development’ today is around story telling; not graphics.

So in conclusion –  NO they don’t matter in the context I think the question was asked.

just how bad are most of these so-called ‘educational games?’

Some are terrible; as they are designed from the perspective of being ‘edu-entertaining’ – with instructional design or didactic skills development. Students, according to Pew Internet Research (2009) are more engaged with social gaming that any other form of social media; yet in school ‘games’ are classified distinctly as an add-on to the disciplinary learning. So if you are looking to occupy a mind – get your games from the sales floor at NECC.

To understand what ‘good games’ are; look towards alternate reality games or a project such as WoWinSchool (check out some of the academic research we’ve added to that project). Let me look at ‘bad’ in an example of one augemented reality game – Webkinz.

What kind of bad?

Webkinz – is ‘bad’ in a different way. A Webkins are plush toys with an online alter-ego and virtual lives – online. It is designed for pre-schoolers.  There are some 255 ‘classes’ of webskins, and even have a foundation to ‘help children’. There is in this tremendous potential to engage young learners; but at the same time the focus for the product is commercial sales driven. The site itself has a number of positive ‘skills’ development attributes and millions of users. This is bad for education; and the time pre-schoolers are spending in playing with commercial interests; takes away from perhaps doing something else. We must recognise that we need to adapt the popular activities of children in games – to learning; not try to create alternatives. Take a walk into Toys R Us – there are hundreds of products; all with an up-sell online using social gaming as a new revenue channel. More on Webkinz at Wikipedia.

So what is out there that’s comparable in the commercial downloadable/DVD educational games sector? Anything good?

The important concept to me here; is that we should not be looking to the past or for comparisons at all. We have to look to market research, massive game conferences such as E3 and to research such as Pew – all of which suggest that what many call the ’21st Century Skills’ are present in current social gaming. So in many ways; we can argue that classroom blogs; wikis etc or the lack of – will not prevent students from demonstrating the ability to communication; seek information; filter; make choices; solve problems; form communities; collaborate etc.,

Like anything; the teacher has to have that magical ability : conceptualisation – The games industry is not interested in educational games as a genre; it is not profitable; yet there are some online games that do work  – Mathletics being the obvious example. There are numerous ‘games’ being used – though adaptation; and being tempted to look for ‘learning in a box’ is a road to disaster. All learning must be blended.

The ‘games in learning gap’.

What is concerning is that games, despite overwhelming research, are seen as outside the current ‘web2.0’ fenzy of blogs, wikis, podcasts and Nings – yet more kids play them and interact with games than FaceBook, MySpace et al,. With a little creativity and planning, there is no reason at all that Wii – Fit, Nintendogs, Warcraft or even Grand Theft Auto can’t be adapted and used as a motivator. Motivation is the most important power of gaming – yet few Web2.0-fanbois explore it in the classroom with students, so we might say we’re missing 50% of the motivational opportunity to engage students.