Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Gaming to Change the World

I have long been interested in the use of games as learning tools.  So I recently read two books on video games, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal and Video Games and Learning by Kurt Squire.  I'll focus on the first book in this post and save the other for another time.

Jane McGonigal is the director of Game Research and Development at the Institute for the Future and makes an excellent case for using games to solve world problems.  Although her book does not focus on education, I learned a lot about the  mechanics of what makes games (especially online games) so appealing and tried to make my own comparison to traditional educational activities.

McGonigal starts off explaining that all games both on and off line from the simplest to the most complex possess 4 features: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation.  (p. 21).  Then she spends a good deal of the book describing how research has shown that games create positive emotion.  Games make us happy because they are hard work that we choose for ourselves, and it turns out that almost nothing makes us happier than good, hard work (p. 28).  Unfortunately, while many classes are hard work, they are usually required not voluntary.

In McGonigal's book I  learned that there are three things that make online or video games so compelling:
  • Feedback
  • Flow
  • Fiero

The 3 types of feedback these games  provide are visual (perhaps by something appearing or disappearing, ) quantitative (a score) and qualitative (a steady increase in the challenge level).  This feedback allows you to always know how you're doing.  In contrast  in a class in the feedback is often sparse and delivered well after something is turned in.

 McGonigal tells us that In a good computer or video game you're always playing on the very edge of your skill level, always on the brink of falling off.  When you do fall off, you feel the urge to climb back on.  That's because there is virtually nothing as engaging as this state of working at the very limits of your ability - or what both game designers and psychologists call "flow."  When you are in a state of flow, you want to stay there ...(p. 24).  Although some classes are very energizing, others tend to make students keep looking at the clock hoping that the period will end.



Fiero is what we feel after we triumph over adversity (p. 33).  It's the feeling that makes us want to throw our hands in the air or do a "happy dance" because we have truly accomplished something.  How often does that happen in a class?

McGonigal both explains the appeal of video games and poses a provocative question.  What if we decided to use everything we know about game design to fix what's wrong with reality?  What if we started to live our real lives like gamers, lead our real businesses and communities like game designers, and think about solving real-world problems like computer and video game theorists (p. 7)?

I still have a lot to learn about video games and education.  So I plan to continue reading and to play several video games like Civ IV in the summer so that I can experience the feedback, flow and fiero that McGonigal describes.  In the meantime, however, I heartily agree with her goal of using games to change the world.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Tools of Engagement Project

  I have been participating in professional development for faculty at the State University of NY at Buffalo through a site called Tools of Engagement. Although previous mods proved interesting, this morning I viewed the mod on collaborative spaces and was disappointed.   Although I was glad to see that my favorite site, Voice Thread, (VT) was featured, I was dissatisfied with the examples that were provided.
    Unfortunately some of the links for examples of VT did not work, but for those that did, the examples showed very little interaction between creator and audience.  The threads showed the creators using VT as a substitute for Power Point.  In my opinion the presenters were ignoring one of the main features of the program -comments.
    In my own online course I use a class Voice Thread for students to post their reflections on certain activities they have done or tools they have explored.  Here is an example from a previous course.  The students in that course (who were all present or future teachers) were also required to create their own Voice Thread to use with their own students.  Learning L2 Culture: More Than Words is an example created by one of the students in which he used VT to elicit comments about French culture.
   Personally I feel that I have just begun to utilize all the features of VT and hope to soon incorporate more.