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Are you interested in how video games and simulations support teaching and learning? Then the 4th annual GLS is where you should be this week. For my money it is the lowest signal to noise event that I attend all year. Oh – and you get to play some really fun games.

Here are a few random observations from day one – by no means a comprehensive review of the event or the topics covered.

In the opening session Cory Ondrejka noted that all the interesting questions about games and learning are interdisciplinary. This is a real challenge because in the institutional structure of a university there is no political base to sustain research.

186873_world_cyber_games_2004_finalsThe reaction of many parents and educators to the idea of playing games in school is horror. School is supposed to be serious hard work. What these people don’t know is that in modern video games doing tasks repetitively to slowly build skills and status is the norm not the exception. These games are all about “hard” play.

Gamers have a term for this – grinding. Grinding is spending two months getting your mining skills up so that you can make a special suit of armor for your friends. Grinding is repeatedly doing some menial chore for a faction so you can earn status with them and get access to skills they can teach you.

Educators also have a term of art for this kind of activity – they call it building fluency. We learn most of the hardest skills in life through a slow process of accretion that amounts to building fluency. According to reading experts a child needs to read several million words in order to become a fluent reader.

Washing Plane - Self ServeIt has been a while since I did a round up of blog articles, time to clean a few items out. Rather than dump a long list I’ve picked four articles I’ve found particularly interesting in the past few weeks.

Matt Mihaly over at The Forge notes that MMO’s/Virtual Worlds are some of the most valuable private tech firms in the world. I would add to Matt’s observation that 3 of the 4 firms he cites in the top 20 are for kids. Silicon Alley Insider’s original article is here.

Chris Anderson over at The Long Tail has an interesting take on the decline of the newspaper industry that is directly relevant to education publishing. Sure, readership is down, but at $45b it is still twice as big as Google and Yahoo combined. The money quote:

Crayon Physics from Kloonigames is a very cool serious game. I can see young kids in particular playing with this for hours. The designer said about one comment “Chris Baker wrote a great article about Crayon Physics Deluxe for Slate. He wrote that the game looks like it was designed by a third-grater. I take that as a compliment.”

If you don’t get video games this is an excellent video to watch. The kinds of puzzles kids are solving in Portal and World of Warcraft are very similar to the ones you see here. But with the interface stripped down to bare essentials you can get a sense of the brain work that is going on while players wrestle with the more complicated games.

If you want a sense of how engaging this kind of simple interface with some basic physics can be go play Linerider for a while. It only take a couple of minutes to learn it – then see if you don’t want to just PLAY.

Does real learning happen in virtual worlds? 190593_light_bulb_2

Cable in the Classroom Magazine published an article I wrote on this topic in their March issue.

The premise is:

“There have always been scientific concepts our children should experience that are too dangerous, too expensive, or too time-consuming for school. For these activities – some of the most thought provoking in science – we have had to settle for lectures and reading.

Virtual worlds change this equation. In a virtual world, students can use million dollar apparatus, experiment with lethal substances, and compress years of activity into a few weeks….”

The article goes on to describe how the Texas Workforce Commission is using Whyville as an outreach vehicle for biotechnology. It also addresses why virtual worlds are particularly attractive to tweens because of where they are developmentally.

If you have thoughts on what I wrote leave a comment here and I’ll respond.

Download the complete article (PDF) by clicking on the image to the right.Cic0308Virtualworlds

All the links referenced in the article are below the fold – continue reading to see them.

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Ed Note: Do videogames embody the best in cognitive theory? In Part 2 of his series on educational video games guest blogger NT Etuk explores the work of James Paul Gee. Part 1 is here

By NT Etuk – CEO Tabula Digita

Why do videogames work? Why are gamers so willing to learn in these environments but so unwilling to learn in school?

Fortunately, some of the answers lie in the research of an extremely well regarded literacy professor. Dr. James Paul Gee is the Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies at Arizona State, and the author of the book “What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Second Edition

gjames_lDr. Gee as an educator was curious about why videogames were able to do so much that our education system was having trouble doing – continuously engaging students, making students feel safe failing (not silly), unafraid to ask questions, and providing contextual learning that makes the learning relevant to the learner.

So he set out to answer these questions. His book is an excellent read and I encourage everyone to read it, but for the sake of brevity, I will pull out a core part of his findings.

Dr. Gee found that commercial videogames are built on a set of design principles, and that these principles translate into some of the more fundamental learning principles that cognitive theory has validated.

Among them are:
1. Active, Critical Learning Principle – [In a videogame] all aspects of the learning environment are set up to encourage active and critical, not passive, learning.

2. “Psychosocial Moratorium” Principle – [In a videogame] learners can take risks in a space where real world consequences (i.e. grades, risk of looking silly) are lowered.

3. Achievement Principle – [In a videogame] there are intrinsic rewards from the beginning, customized to each learner’s level, effort, and growing mastery and signaling the learner’s ongoing achievements.

699057_keys_and_finger_24. Practice Principle – [In a videogame] – learners get lots and lots of practice in a context where practice is not boring (i.e. in a virtual world that is compelling to learners on their own terms and where the learners experience ongoing success). They spend lots of time on task.

5. Multimodal Principle – [In a videogame] – meaning and knowledge are built up through various modalities (images, texts, symbols, interactions, abstract design, sound, etc.), not just words.

These are principles built into all good videogames. I have listed 5, but there are 36 that Dr. Gee documents.

As you read through them, hopefully it becomes clear how videogame systems can actually translate into tremendously powerful and flexible learning systems. Tabula Digita [link] and other companies pioneering this arena embrace these principles and look to embed as many of these principles as possible in the design of our games.

The good thing is that school systems are beginning to realize the inherent power of simulations. I can only speak from our company’s experiences, but Tabula Digita games and simulations have been accepted in some of the largest and sometimes most conservative school districts in the country, including Plano ISD, Orange County – Florida, New York City Public Schools, Forsyth County, and Chicago Public Schools among others.

Educational gaming methodologies and pedagogical approaches have been accepted as superior by some of the most rigorous judges out there. Orange County educators published a list of 54 intervention products that they recommend their teachers use. Tabula Digita simulations received the highest Rubric score of ‘A’ and the highest educator recommendation rating of 4 stars. Only 4 other products were rated so highly. Two were non-computer based.

628292_imageAnd students are singing the praises of educational games and simulations, with approximately 88% of the students who have used our software recommending it to other students and over 90% saying they wished more simulations were in their classrooms.

There is a paradigm shift that is occurring in education and it’s being forced by our industry’s ultimate customer – the student. Today’s child demands immersion. They demand experience. They demand engagement. And their expectations of how they receive, interpret, and absorb information are growing more sophisticated every day. As educators, if our methods don’t adapt to their needs, we run the risk of irrelevance. And if we’re irrelevant then we run the risk that we can’t talk to them. And if that happens, then how will they ever hear what we have to say …. ?

About Tabula Digita:
Tabula Digita is the award winning publisher of the DimensionM series of educational videogame titles. DimensionM titles encompass action and non-action titles and allow students to play other students within classrooms, across schools, and across the country, all while learning and increasing achievement.

Related Blog Posts

Link to Part 1 in this series.

Slaying Myths About Video Games In Schools

Virtual Worlds for Education – 1987 Redux?

Games for Education- Essential Resource Links

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introductionEd Note: Are video games and simulations essential learning tools for the 21st Century? Guest Blogger NT Etuk responds to my post about Ethics in the first of two posts on this topic.

By NT Etuk – CEO and Co-Founder, Tabula Digita.

Video games and simulations are among the most efficient learning tools ever built. Period. This is not a guess. It is not a hypothesis. If you don’t agree I’d like to share the perspective of someone who is working with schools to incorporate video games into classroom practice.


FETC 2008 starts tomorrow and I’m looking forward to catching up with friends and colleagues from across the Education Technology industry.

I’m participating in a panel discussion on Thursday afternoon about games and education that will balance practitioners with vendors in a discussion about the state of games and learning. From the practitioner side John Rice of the Education Games Research Blog will be there along with Gary Weidenhamer, Education Technology Manager at Palm Beach County District. Dave Martz from Muzzy Lane Software and I will be speaking from the business perspective and Karen Billings from SIIA’s Education Division will be moderating.

The panel runs from 1:50-2:45 PM Thursday in room CS4. Hope to see you there!

Blood-Grave.jpgWill a middle school video game to teach ethics using a story line out of zombie movies and Frankenstein work? Doug Thomas at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication is working on “Modern Prometheus” a game that involves plagues, body parts, and building a better monster.

My hat is off to the Professor and his team but I question how much real life ethics they are going to teach. One of the fundamental challenges we face in creating serious games is the balance of fantasy vs. reality. Deciding whether or not to dig up graves for body parts just isn’t something your average middle schooler is going to be faced with on a regular basis. On other hand – being nice to the new kid or saying goodbye to a friend who is using drugs are very real.

It also surfaces one of the more vexing issues the entire game industry is facing – how do we move away from guns and gore and yet maintain fun game play? Mainstream gaming sites are full of lamentations about how staid and formulaic most games are today (despite fascinating new entrants like “Portal” from Valve – crazy fun and mind bending at the same time).

Jessica Hagy - IndexedTechnology & Learning On-Line has launched a set of forums on education technology issues. For some odd reason they selected me to moderate the Games and Virtual Worlds Forum. As the graphic shows teaching and learning is about a conversation, so lets get one going over there.

MaestroC got the ball rolling by stating that Second Life is the best platform and that games for education are a fad. Agree, disagree, keep it polite and lets all learn together. See my response on the forum and ad your own!

There is also a quick poll on which kind of game player you are. Several years ago Richard Bartle articulated the four primary styles of game play and a theory about how to balance them. Take the poll and see where you fit with your peers.