Part 1 Gaming: Should Fun, Learning and Games Intersect in the Class?

What’s your favorite game?  Is it a good game of chess?  Are you more of a Solitaire or crossword puzzle person? Is WoW your thing?  Perhaps you prefer sports such as soccer or basketball?  Most of us have some game(s) we like.  Mine is Pinochle.  Just saying the word makes me smile.  Think of your favorite game.  Some part of you must light up.  Strategies, fun and learning all tied together in a bundle of joy, frustration and satisfaction—games.  What, the three letter f word—fun, and learning tied together?  Is it possible? Maybe it is inevitable? Erno Rubik, inventor of the Rubik’s Cube pointed out, “Our whole life is solving puzzles.”

Here’s a “playful” post with more questions than answers.  It’s a post that reflects learning in progress.  Perhaps you can relate to my background at some level?  I’ve explored online games for learning purposes as a kid, teacher and parent.  See my past post on Number Munchers, The Oregon Trail, and Lemonade StandBoowa and Kwala bring back fond memories of interacting with music and stories with my 18 month old on snowy Michigan afternoons.   I’ve set up links for my adult ESOL students and their children to game learning opportunities.  I download apps and software and use Twitter and Google + to find educational sites for my now 10 year old.  All of this I do instinctively, but WHY?  Are online and mobile games really a good way to learn?
'Kids working on their computer.' photo (c) 2010, Jim Parker - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
I recall playing Number Munchers with such intensity that my parents had to kick me outside to play in the real world.  Is this healthy?  Was I intrinsically or extrinsically motivated?  Does gaming really lead to healthy learning? If the answers to these questions are positive, how do we as teachers fit gaming into the curriculum?  These types of questions led me and Kacey to discuss gaming and gamification.  At the end, we were both in agreement that gaming has exciting potential in education.  Here’s my take away that I plan on researching and pondering more.

Definitions matterGamification is a term I’ve seen in multiple contexts, including the business world and educationGaming extends to a wide variety of games.  Here’s my very rough breakdown of the definitions in education as I see them in my experience and at the beginning stages of research.
  1. There are games for the sake of escape.
  2. There are a lot of flashcard drill-and-kill type games and apps out there today.  They are often rewards based.  These are not the type of games we are endorsing for educational purposes, but on occasion, they may serve a purpose.
  3. The more substantive educational games encourage problem solving and extension of thinking and learning into the real world.  More recently, I’m seeing them embedded in transmedia storytelling like Inanimate Alice. (Read Gary Hayes at Personalized Media to find out more about transmedia and related topics like augmented reality.)
  4. It seems that educational gaming is stepped up a notch when students take on the role of the designer.  I’ve seen this first hand as my kid explores Sketchup.  With good reasons, computer science teachers promote programs such as Scratch for kids elementary and beyond. 
As a final thought, many of the games under each of the above categories have a social component to them.  Massively multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG’s ) depend on this.   This info.on Digital Play is useful in defining gaming related terms in my field of ESOL.  Perhaps with some imagination and discussion, any of the above types of games can be incorporated into the classroom in a healthy learning environment, even if it means just reaching out to our students and tapping into their interests.  But there’s much more potential than just that!

Here are some of the related sites we discussed worth considering:
  • Getting Serious Games Into the K-16 Classroom  is a 2010 Google Tech Talk by Victoria Van Voorhis.  Amongst many other things, she talks about how games can fit into standards and individualize instruction.
  • The video media clip of Jane McGonigal, Alternate Reality Game (ARG) developer and author of Reality is Broken, led to good discussion about my definition 2 type gaming, games that potentially have intrinsic value, games we’d like to see fitting into to the standards, augmenting instruction.  Watch her 2010 TED Talks video Gaming Can Make A Better World! Perseverance, collaboration, and hope are a few of the many concepts in her talk that should spur conversation. 
An upcoming part II post will pull together what I hear practicing teachers saying about gaming, our takeaways as applicable to education, and site/app recommendations for extending learning with gaming in education.  In the meantime, happy gaming!

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