Game to Learn: Take 2!

by Phil on March 21, 2011

This year’s Game to Learn (G2L) conference finished with a keynote from Siobhan Reddy from Media Molecule talking about Little Big Planet (LBP). Siobhan mentioned the things the team at Media Molecule had in common from their childhood, things like Lego, Take Hart and the Commodore 64. You should be able to see the stream of her talk here.

I mention Siobhan’s talk first, because for me it was representative of what I took to be the two big themes of the conference: Learning about learning by learning with games; and learning through game construction.

Learning about learning by learning with games
Over the last few years, attending conferences like G2L, something that has come across quite powerfully, is the difficulty of using Games Based Learning (GBL) in a curriculum setting. At this year’s G2L I detected a different tone. There seemed to be more of an interest it what we can learn from the way learning takes place in game play and how we can use that to inform how we design learning in the formal setting – indeed this was essentially the message of Nicola Whitton‘s opening keynote on Friday and Derek Robertson‘s on Saturday.

We’re not talking about the gameification of education here, we’re talking more about the psychology of the learning environment. For example, we’re not talking about progress bars, achievement points, levelling up or high scores and leader boards, but about what they represent i.e. realtime feedback. What effect does it have on learning and motivation to learn when feedback on homework comes days or weeks after the task (or worse: months later, as in an exam)? How do we address bad habits or misunderstandings that have already been learned when the current topic of study has already moved on? Games provide instant feedback so the player can learn and progress at the time it’s needed. Games can teach us a lot about how we design learning.

There are many other features of learning from games that we need to examin more closely, compare with formal education and see if there’s anything we can learn about learning and use it to improve what we do in formal learning settings.

Learning through game construction
The other big theme seemed to be about game authoring environments. Many of the presentations and workshops this year emphasised the creative process.

On Friday I attended two sessions about game construction:
The first was Colin Maxwell’s “3D Games Development for Free”. Colin showed us, in just an hour, how we could build a simple game using Blender (the free, open source, cross-platform 3D authoring tool that now has game logic built in too). Although Blender looks like quite a daunting tool, with Colin’s expert guidance we had all built a working game by the end of the workshop. The thing that struck me about this was the sense of achievement I got and how it fuelled the motivation to try to do more. Blender can be (and has been) used to develop commercial games. Based on what we achieved in an hour it is incredible to think what could be achieved in a term and Colin hinted that his students are coming up with amazing results.

In the afternoon I attended Charlie Love’s presentation “Creation, Not Consumption” where he told us about some of the work LTS (Learning and Teaching Scotland) have been doing with schools using Kodu and Scratch.

This theme continued on Saturday:
In the morning I attended a presentation by Lisa Sorbie who is using Hotel Dusk on the Nintendo DS as part of a suite of resources the pupils use to explore the noir genre in English classes. While it may be said that the use of the game here was partly as a motivation tool (it certainly did that as the pupils worked out how to cheat in order to read more), the creation actually came from developing a noir genre radio play recorded using GarageBand. It was in this creation activity that we heard again about the importance of immediate feedback. Students discovered the importance of proof reading their work.

Iteration is key, I heard it from Colin and Charlie the day before and now I was hearing it from Lisa – learners need that immediate feedback to learn successfully and the iterative design process integral to creating (be it games or multimedia) provides that feedback.

In the same session we also heard from Mathew Reid, another English teacher, and two of his pupils, about how his writing club took an interesting turn when the pupils adapted the novel they were writing to form the basis of a Role Playing Game (RPG) authored using RPG Maker VX. I attended Mathew and Co’s afternoon workshop and learnt how to build a world, buildings, characters and link them all together with quests. Again, just like Colin’s workshop, we had a working game (albeit quite basic) in just an hour! RPG Maker VX is engaging, quick and intuitive to learn and will feel very familiar to anyone who has played RPG games on the Spectrum/BBC/Commodore64 or, more recently, the Nintendo DS (it was just like my Harry Potter game on the DS). Again interation and instant feedback was at the heart of the engagement (you could run the game at anytime to see how what you just changed worked) – I could imagine spending many hours ‘playing’ with RPG Maker VX.

Saturday’s presentations and workshops covered many creation tools – I wish I could’ve gone to all the sessions! I was going to list them here, but to avoid this post getting too much longer, I’ve created a list of them here.

Lego, Take Hart and the Commodore 64
So we come full circle and back to Siobhan’s keynote. I wanted to finish with her talk because in a slightly indirect way it made me think about my own research.

For those that don’t know, I’m doing a PhD, with University of Aberdeen’s School of Education, looking into Games Based Learning. The inspiration for me has been the realisation that I was involved in some pretty steep learning when I played video games, but I was captivated and reluctant to stop. I wanted to know what it was that game developers knew about learning, that those of us in education could benefit from – learning about learning from learning with games.

Siobhan seems to’ve been pretty blown away by some of the things teachers and their pupils are doing and it looks like Media Molecule and Sony will be looking at this further as they try to develop some teaching resources.

For me, though, the link to my research was the Lego block. It reminded me of Seymour Papert’s forward to his book Mindstorms and made me think about the role of embodied experiences in learning – I’ve written a post about it here.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Phil March 23, 2011 at 5:23 pm

In the above post I mentioned the question “what can we learn about learning from learning with games?” and that this is not about the gamification of learning.

I’ve just seen an excellent presentation on slideshare about how to get gamification right when designing applications – it seems to me there’s a lot of really valuable stuff there about how to design good learning experiences too – check it out here
but remember don’t read it in terms of gamifying education – as you’ll see it’s about providing meaning, mastery and autonomy.


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