Contributed by David Seelow, PhD, Director of Writing and the Online Writing Lab, School of Liberal Arts, Excelsior College
This May 17th Excelsior College will host a major symposium entitled Games and the Curriculum: Toward a New Educational Model. You can attend this event online by registering at http://ecgaming.eventbrite.com/# or attending in person if you are on campus or in the Albany region. Game Based Learning has arrived and is here to stay. Let me just take a few moments to explain why this event is important and who you will hear from.
First, a symposium format offers a wonderful learning opportunity. In a symposium, distinguished and highly knowledgeable individuals gather in a single place to talk about a clearly defined topic for a set period of time. Luckily, technology now allows us to bring these experts across the globe and expand the potential audience and conversation. In essence, a symposium is a learned conversation with a give and take among the expert panelists. What emerges is often spontaneous and unexpected. Nothing is scripted in advance. Second, online learning has pushed traditional higher education to reconsider the long standing model of a professor lecturing to a largely passive class of students. For example, the ‘new’ flipped classroom allows professors to deliver a lecture online and devote the entire 90 minute of classroom time to hands on work with students. Regardless of the learning environment, students need to do something and have an impact. Games and simulations help students, indeed, force students into a very active and highly personalized learning experience. Yes, games are now nearly as popular as Hollywood movies, but they are better. A movie audience is a passive. A game player is active. When you play a game you perform actions that affect your trajectory. What’s even better, in a game, failure at a challenge does not result in an irretrievable and fatal “F”. You can get up and try again; learning from your mistake. Thus games provide a safe environment for learning, and contribute to what has been called mastery learning, i.e you don’t move forward on your learning path until you have mastered a particular stage on the road to a final outcome or successful course completion. In simulations and games students are placed in immersive environments that are authentic, but safe. The military has known this for a long time. Pilots learn, for example, by simulated flights. If they crash no one gets killed. Once they have mastered the skill, the pilot can fly a real plane on a real mission. In other words, simulations build real world competencies.
Let me make two other large interrelated points that validate the need for game based learning. Let’s begin with motivation. As I said above, games sell tremendously. They sell to all ages. People play games for hours. Psychologists attribute this to the release of dopamine, but, whatever the reason, motivation remains critical to success on any learning task whether losing weight or writing a good paper. We need to design curriculum that engages the student the way game design engage the player. What makes a game motivating? Without doubt, part of the answer is fun. We spend hours playing a game because the experience is fun. We enjoy playing even if the outcome is in doubt. In fact, I stink at golf and the desired outcome of shooting a par 72 represents an impossible dream at this stage of my life, but I still love to spend four hours on a Saturday playing golf. Think back to childhood. Most of us loved to play before entering the formal education system. Once we entered compulsory learning play was usually relegated to the play ground during recess; a respite from learning. Why not bring this element of fun into the classroom, both physical and virtual? It’s not hard to predict that if students enjoy learning they will probably perform better than if they find learning a chore.
I hope I have convinced you that games need to be a critical aspect of the future of learning. If not, I am sure our panelists will convince you. Let me say a brief word about each one and encourage you to come listen to these wonderful experts share their wisdom.
Clark Aldrich, Founder Clark Aldrich Designs-(http://www.clarkaldrichdesigns.com/).
Clark is a leading national force in online learning (e.g. Learning Online with Games, Simulations, and Virtual Worlds: Strategies for Online Instruction), the design of simulations, and a genuine voice of education reform (see the Unschooling Rules Project). Clark brings a national reputation to the symposium.
Jon Aleckson, CEO Web Courseworks Ltd.
Jon’s model of micro collaboration in MindMeld (http://www.mindmeldbook.com/) is a model for 21st century thinking. In online learning, collaboration is critical. The professor is no longer the be all and end all of the college learning experience. At Excelsior Colleges, our online courses require at a minimum the close collaboration of instructional designers, subject matter experts, and program directors. Jon brings us expert knowledge on collaboration around the development of games and other learning objects.
Ben Devane, Assistant Professor of Digital Arts and Sciences at the University of Florida, Academic Affairs Coordinator at the Digital Wolds Institute
A leader at the Digital Worlds Institute (DWI) (http://www.digitalworlds.ufl.edu/), Ben is a young innovator with many creative ideas. For instance, he currently runs a special project teaching middle school students programming skills used in game development. Ben has also been involved in a Gaming Against Plagiarism initiative (http://blogs.uflib.ufl.edu/gap/). In this initiative, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, librarians played a critical role in content development. Plagiarism is a national epidemic and an innovative approach to plagiarism prevention is something most people want to hear about.
Joey Lee, Assistant Professor of Communication-Computing-Technology in Education, Columbia University’s Teachers College
Dr. Lee teaches at Columbia University’s Teachers College in the Games Research Lab, the country’s premier teacher training college (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltASfvmmxZs). Dr. Lee leads two fascinating projects that employ games to teach real world problem solving skills. One project involves motivating students to become scientists and the other “greenify” project helps students use gamification skills to address climate change (see Gamifying Education at http://www.gamifyingeducation.org/about).
Tobi Saulnier, CEO 1st Playable Productions, LLC (http://1stplayable.com/)
Dr. Saulnier is a tremendous entrepreneur and leader of women in business. Tobi is currently working on a writing game for Excelsior College’s Online writing Lab (www.excelsior.edu/owl). This game will be housed on the OWL, but downloadable for mobile devices and integrated into a pilot study with five community colleges. This is a step toward the design of games to support the need for improvement in student writing across the country.
Lee Sheldon, Co-director of Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)- http://www.hass.rpi.edu/pl/gaming
Lee is a true pioneer in games and higher education. At Indiana University he first developed an entire course based upon a game. In other words the course is managed like a game. He has extended this work at RPI and recently published a tremendously innovative book entitled The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game (http://www.amazon.com/The-Multiplayer-Classroom-Designing-Coursework/dp/1435458443).
As you can see, this is an exciting group of speakers, so please join us on May 17th and contribute to the evolving conversation on games and education.