Playing Around With Games, Seriously
6.18.12 | Katie Salen, executive director of the Institute of Play and leader of a team that created the first Quest to Learn school in New York City and the spin-off Chicago Quest, told SmartPlanet recently that Chicago may become home to more schools developed around principles of gaming.
The plan, said Salen, is “to try to look at what a set of schools within an area might look like and how that might work. We don’t have a specific timeline for that yet, but there is a strong interest on Chicago’s part.”
Salen, a professor of games and digital media at DePaul University, talked with SmartPlanet’s Molly Petrilla about the goals in opening Quest to Learn and how students there are doing so far. On the question of how a Quest classroom differs from other classrooms, Salen replied:
When you say “games in the classroom,” a lot of people imagine a teacher bringing a game to class for one day and the kids playing that game as a substitute for a textbook. That wasn’t our approach. We did a fundamental redesign of what a school looks like. We asked the question, If you were to design a school from the ground up around the core features of game design and play, what would that school look like? A lot of research has pointed to interesting uptakes in games—learning to collaborate, empathy, thinking computationally, solving complex problems. We pulled all those things out of a game form and infused them into the structure of the school.
For instance, we talk about the curriculum being game-like in the sense that students are dropped into these complex challenges that are super interesting and it takes them a number of weeks to unravel the problem and develop solutions. For each trimester, there’s a master idea and then smaller quests within that mission. That’s the way games work: They provide interesting problem spaces that are impossible to solve right away and you actually have to build skills and knowledge in order to figure them out.
Meanwhile, over at Education Week, Ian Quillen reports on school-based programs that are turning students into video game designers.
Students at the Tygarts Valley Middle and High School in Mill Creek, W.Va., for example, are using the Globaloria curriculum developed by the New York City-based WorldWide Workshop, a nonprofit organization that develops educational social media and digital technology applications. Quillen describes how the curriculum is affecting the students in ways both immediate and long-term:
For the students in this computer-lab-turned-mini-software-company, who spend the entire course working individually or with partners developing a game that teaches an educational concept of their choosing, there’s the critical thinking needed to understand and communicate to players what exactly is toughest to teach about a subject. There are also the transferable skills of proposal writing, storyboarding, AdobeScript software coding, informational blogging, and presentation of progress reports, as students follow a development plan similar to those in the commercial gaming industry through tools available through their account on Globaloria’s wiki site.
For the 550-student school and its rural 4,200-student Randolph County school district, where 70 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, there’s a window to the world through communication with professional game reviewers and Globaloria students across the nation. (The district has also established Globaloria programs at Elkins High School, Elkins Middle School, and the Randolph Technical Center.)
And for a community where the economy hinges on retail sales and tourism, there’s the hope that those tools and that window may allow the best students to find local work in large numbers for the first time since nearby Elkins’ railway and mining industries faded after World War II.
Despite this promising vision, there are numerous difficulties involved with integrating game design into formalized school instruction, and Quillen covers how getting teachers—and students—on board can be a daunting process.
Plus: “In its 2012 report on technology trends in higher education, the New Media Consortium predicts that the horizon for widespread adoption of game-based learning is just two to three years away,” writes Amy Southerland at The Atlantic. “Despite some challenges, including economic pressures and institutional barriers, it’s a good bet that game-based learning will soon be commonplace in most college and university classrooms.”
Continue reading for a look at the spread of game-based learning and its use as an assessment tool. For more, read “The Future of Testing and Data-Driven Learning” and “This is (Not) Just a Test: Ender’s Game and the Gamification of Testing.”
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