Conferencing 102: GLS

Last month the GradeCraft team went to the Games + Learning + Society (GLS) conference where we immersed ourselves in the world of educational games (and plenty of cheese curds). Our strategy at the conference was to divide and conquer: different team members went to different sessions, and we met up afterwards to debrief and discuss. We wanted to share a few important takeaways we gained from our time at the conference.

Learning games are typically highly targeted tools, supporting a learner’s ability to develop a mental model on a specific topic. We saw amazing games that helped learners understand a range of things.Build-a-Tree teaches about taxonomic identification by breaking the differences between different taxonomic categories down into easy to understand differences, then ramping up the complexity to give learners an idea of how we group life. Turn up the Heat! took advantage of innovative home climate control technology to teach players about the way thermostats work and how they can be more sustainably used. SimCityEDU also targets the subject of sustainability, but through developing a students ability to critically think by taking control of managing a city. All built for a different context (museums, family, and classrooms respectively), we thought these were great examples of good games that paid attention to the context that they were being implemented in.

The conference pushed for designers to think of learning games as context-dependent products. One of the most relatable sessions we attended was led by Center for Games and Impact, which put forth the idea that games for learning are most effective when designed as a “service”. When delivered to the instructors (or parents) in this way, the technology also gives the teacher tools to understand the game, why it’s played, and exactly how it should be helpful to students. From this perspective, the delivery of the game by an instructor is just as important as the game itself.

A great example of service-oriented design discussed in this session was the ability for teachers to experience a game before using it with their students. In GradeCraft, we plan to implement features that accomplish similar goals. We want to demonstrate to an instructor what the experience of having multiple routes feels for a student at any given point in the semester right when they create their course. This could be done by allowing the teacher to take the perspective of multiple different students (generated by GradeCraft) who chose different routes at different points over the course of a semester for their specific game setup. Giving instructors the ability to walk in their student’s shoes could give them a better understanding of their own course design and how to support different types of students within it. To us, this is part of what it means for a game to be defined as a “service” for education.

At GradeCraft we see “playful learning” both as a tool to improve instruction and improve the educational experience for learners. We hope that by improving the educational experience for students, we can more broadly increase their motivation towards learning both in the immediate classroom experience, and also towards future learning. We are currently researching how specific features of gameful course designs work to motivate students, and we plan to use the results of those studies to better build support for intrinsic motivation into the GradeCraft experience. Recently, we have been exploring the best way to visualize the multiple routes that students can take to complete a course, and what tools are best at supporting the discovery and planning that goes into selecting those routes. With more autonomy in the classroom, we believe students will be more willing to take control of their overall learning experience. [Look for posts from us on some of these explorations and designs.]

The team had a great time at GLS, and these are just a few of the many ideas and design explanations we found valuable. We look forward to similar opportunities in the future to both share what we’ve learned from GradeCraft and to pick up knowledge from the learning game community!

To be continued…

The GradeCraft Team

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