Category Archives: games

Wanna Play?

CMU is looking for teachers to partner with for research on educational games. Read more about the ENGAGE project here and sign up.

Try the games (I have to say I did not play these games because they require a download of a Unity web player and I was too lazy to do it!)

Play RumbleBlocks! at rumbleblocks.etc.cmu.edu

Play Beanstalk!        at beanstalk.etc.cmu.edu

Sylvia

Games, technology, creativity, and creative reporting

A new study came out from Michigan State University this week – Information technology use and creativity: Findings from the Children and Technology Project by Linda A. Jackson , Edward A. Witt, , Alexander Ivan Games, Hiram E. Fitzgerald,  Alexander von Eye, Yong Zhao.

First problem – it’s behind a paywall. It costs $19.95, or becoming a subscriber of the journal, Computers in Human Behavior. Well, sure, I could pay for it, or better yet, I “know people” and could probably get it free, but then I can’t post it, and worse, I can’t link to it and therefore we (me + you out there) can’t talk about it. Even the links in the abstract to what the tests of creativity are based on do not go anywhere (see the funny little anchors?). The only other information from MSU is the press release.

Abstract
“This research examined relationships between children’s information technology (IT) use and their creativity. Four types of information technology were considered: computer use, Internet use, videogame playing and cell phone use. A multidimensional measure of creativity was developed based on and test of creative thinking. Participants were 491 12-year olds; 53% were female, 34% were African American and 66% were Caucasian American. Results indicated that videogame playing predicted of all measures of creativity. Regardless of gender or race, greater videogame playing was associated with greater creativity. Type of videogame (e.g., violent, interpersonal) was unrelated to videogame effects on creativity. Gender but not race differences were obtained in the amount and type of videogame playing, but not in creativity. Implications of the findings for future research to test the causal relationship between videogame playing and creativity and to identify mediator and moderator variables are discussed.

Highlights ► Positive relationship between videogame playing and creativity. ► Relationship held across types of videogames (e.g., violent, interpersonal). ► Despite gender and race differences in videogame playing, there were no gender or race difference in creativity.”

Already the abstract has got my antennae tuned. Did they really call videogame playing “Information Technology Use”? I mean, I see what they were going for – do the things kids do with common technology correlate to measures of creativity?

But it really makes me want to see the actual study. I wonder what the correlation was between the three other types of “information technology use” – computer use, Internet use, and cell phone use. What kind of “use” did they test? Was it a survey? What did they ask? Was it just hours? What were the kids doing?  What was the difference between Internet use and computer use (isn’t one a subset of the other?) Questions, questions, questions.

Plus, if ed tech enthusiasts are happy that creativity is linked to videogames, what does it mean that computer and Internet use did not show the same link? For learning game enthusiasts, what does it mean that the link to creativity didn’t depend on what kinds of games the kids played.

Next problem – the press picks up the story, reads the abstract (if we’re lucky) and proceeds to write a story that really isn’t what the research says. That’s true even just reading the abstract.

USA Today Headline Research: Video games help with creativity in boys and girls starts off, “Here’s another reason to include The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword on those holiday shopping lists: children who play video games are more creative.”

OK, so the headline implies that video games are responsible for making children more creative – but the article is fairly carefully worded about assuming that playing videogames MAKES children creative.

The Register (an IT site from the UK) headlineKids! You get back in front of that Xbox right now: Playing videogames makes kids more creative. Positive news for gamers, and their parents. Hours in front of the glowing box hammering zombies as a youngster can make you more creative.”

Several commenters point out that correlation does not equal causation, but there are an equal number of commenters who believe that videogames cause children to be violent, so therefore we will have a lot more creative axe-murderers due to games. So it’s not like you can really look to the comments for wisdom.

There are lots of headlines that get it right, or at least use some caution, using words like “linked” or “tied” to connect creativity to videogames, but from my brief survey, plenty more that get it wrong.

Play More Video Games, Be More Creative? – Parenting.com
Study: Playing Video Games Promotes Creativity
Video Games Are Making Your Kids More Creative
Study Finds Games Make Kids More Creative

Repeat after me… Correlation is not causation!

Sylvia

Games in Education Resources

A lot of people know that in a previous career I was a video game designer. That means that I get asked all the time about educational games. So here’s a wiki I’ve just created with some of the resources about that topic, including a 20 min presentation. I think that there is a lot of hype about games in education, and it’s important not to just take it so literally.

My hope is that educators take the time to really explore what games can offer in the classroom – not because games are going to “save” or “revolutionize” education, but that they offer a metaphor of what learner-centered education can be.

By learning more about games, educators can decide for themselves if a particular game is something they want to introduce into their classroom because it supports their beliefs about learning, not because it’s all the rage. Or, they can learn how games carefully balance frustration with success to create engaging challenges.

Finally, I always say that the best way to bring games into the classroom is to let students design their own games. It puts the agency even further into the learner camp. Playing games is fun, but you are always playing by someone else’s rules. Making your own game means that you are in charge, and that’s where real learning can happen.

Games in Education Resources

Sylvia

iPlay no more? Has childhood play been changed by technology?

I recently ran across this interesting study, Children’s Playground Games and Songs in the New Media Age (PDF). Honestly, I don’t remember where or how it came up, but it was one of those things that I had no idea people even studied formally, but once reading it, seemed impossible not to want to know more.

It’s a wonderful antidote to some of the silly pronouncements of late that childhood is “toxic”, that children have no capacity for real play anymore, and of couse pointing to technology as the ogre in this sad myth.

However, this study disputes those claims.

“Needless  to  say,  serious  research  in  this  field  has  usually  discovered  the  opposite.  Our  own project, found  that  play  was  alive  and  well,  more  diverse  in  some  respects  than  ever,  and  drawing  on resources  which  had  both  a  long  historical  lineage  as  well  as  ones  from  contemporary  media cultures.”

This is really a fascinating study, with a website with digital recordings, ethnographic studies, collections of the games, a documentary film,  and interestingly, a panel of youth who provided input and commentary on the study.

Hope you read it!

Sylvia

Buzzword alert – Gamification

Have you been gamified yet? Perhaps not a painful as it sounds, gamification is on its way to becoming THE buzzword of 2011. Social media engagement tools such as badges, points, levels, leaderboards, etc are making their way out of hipster apps to every online engagement you can think of. Yes, it all sounds oddly familiar (green stamps, reward cards, etc.) but of course, it’s all NEW NEW NEW, with gurus and pundits claiming that gamification will change the way we live and of course, spend money.

Rick Gibson of Games Investor Consulting is quoted (pretty much everywhere) as saying, “Some analysts estimate that 50% of companies will have ‘gamified’ by 2015. That’s 13.5 million businesses in the U.S. alone. That seems pretty ambitious to me.”

But hey, guess what! Education is actually AHEAD of the gamification movement for once! Educators have listened to the breathless pronouncements about how games are the future of education for years! And guess what else?! It’s pretty much the same hype that is going on right now in business.

For years we’ve seen “educational games” that are merely flash cards and multiple choice tests dressed up in the costume of games. They use the vocabulary and graphics of games but suck out the fun and replace it with content drills. But you get points!… and badges! And as every good educator knows, points and badges are the only reason kids would ever want to learn… right? (Gosh I hope the sarcasm translates there… if not, read Punished By Rewards, or this interview with Alfie Kohn, the books’ author.)

A few game designers are pushing back against the “gamification” of business. In Persuasive Games: Exploitationware, Ian Bogost, a well-known serious game designer, discusses what’s wrong with the idea that you can take “…the easiest way possible to capture some of the fairy dust of games and spread it upon products and services.

But as he also points out, the difficulty of designing great games is hardly of concern to the marketeers and consultants who will jump on this bandwagon, wring some money out of it, and move on.

Nicholas Lovell writes in Gamification: Hype or Game-Changer? (Wall Street Journal,) “Others argue that gamification at best ignores the unique feelings of fun, learning, joy, flow and discovery that lie at the heart of a game, and at worst is the evil exploitation of human nature by psychological tricks and Pavlovian manipulation.”

Yup, sounds just like most educational games.

The next time you hear that some educational activity should be “gamified” – just ask:

  • Are you talking about adding extrinsic motivation? Why does this experience not have intrinsic motivation?
  • Is the “game” aspect integral to the context of the learning?
  • Would this activity be valuable if it were not “gamified”? If not, why is adding game elements an effective strategy?
  • Is a competitive aspect harmful in any way to some children?
  • Are you labeling children as winners and losers for no apparent reason?
  • Are the game elements the same elements you would consider necessary for real learning? For example, if a game element is a time limit, is there a real reason for speed over accuracy or thoughtfulness?
  • Does the game rely on out of context memorization to “win”?
  • Does the gamification create unintentional incentives to “game the system”, limit risk-taking or avoid challenging problems? For example, to repeat easier exercises just to build up points?

Hopefully as parents and educators see this crass move to “gamify” consumer experiences, it will help make it clearer that gamifying education is just as silly.

Sylvia

Gamestar Mechanic – Designing games through gameplay

I spend a fair amount of time encouraging teachers to think about “games in learning” not just as students playing games, but student designing games and other digital experiences. Game design is a great combination of systems thinking and design, offers students a lot of choice within constraints that make for concentrated problem-solving, supports a collaborative classroom, and more. It’s everything most people hope for when we talk about 21st century skills and project-based learning.

One of the issues, however, is that many teachers think that they can’t teach programming. Programming is seen as too difficult, something that is done only by highly trained professionals — the proverbial “rocket scientist.” In reality, programming is just like any other subject. Lots of teachers learn how to teach things that may seem very difficult. I know if you stood me up in front of a class and told me to teach Advanced German or Organic Chemistry I’d run screaming from the room too! But every day, teachers get up and teach all sorts of difficult things – programming is no different.

The great thing today is that there are lots of ways to teach programming to all ages. I’ve written about a few of these options before, but Gamestar Mechanic is a new tool in this toolbox.

Gamestar Mechanic is not exactly a programming language – it’s more like a toolkit, where students can construct games of all kinds. It also provides game-like entry to game design – the initial steps are “challenges” that take you one step at a time, just like a game. There are some other cool features, like an online showcase and community. With initial funding from the MacArthur Foundation (see Digital Media in the Classroom Case Study: Gamestar Mechanic), Gamestar Mechanic was fully released to the public in Fall 2010.

If you are interested in game design for children, the Gamestar Mechanic website is well worth your time. It includes sections for parents and educators, and offers both a free version and a premium version that seem reasonable, with pricing and features both for home and school use.

Related wiki: Games in Education Resources

Sylvia

EdGamer Episode 8 – Sylvia Martinez Says YES to EdGaming

EdGamer Episode 8 – Sylvia Martinez Says YES to EdGaming is live!

Last week I had a wonderful time speaking with Zack Gilbert and Gerry James who do EdGamer podcasts over at EdReach, a new site where lots of educators are collaborating on blogs, podcasts, and more. It was fun (and funny) and we touched on a wide range of subjects beyond games, including how I got into designing games and the work of Generation YES.

And of course we talked mostly about games in the classroom – both the hype and the hope that exist out there. The podcast is a nicely edited version of our conversation. Sylvia Martinez Says YES to EdGaming

I so admire podcasters – editing is difficult and time consuming work! Hope there are many more EdGamer episodes, and I’d be happy to spend more time with the Click and Clack of Educational Gaming.

Sylvia

Finding good learning games

Often teachers ask me what kinds of games help kids learn. I know they want a list of “good” games, so they can avoid the “bad” ones. But the problem is that to answer the question, “what’s a good game for learning?” – you really have to start with, “what do you mean by learning?” Now that’s a difficult, downright philosophical question that gets tough right away. But to really talk about whether games have anything to do with learning, and if they can help, you have to ask it.

We also know that most people talking about learning games these days are talking about video games, since they seem to have extraordinary abilities to enthrall kids for long periods of time. It’s obvious that when you play video games, you learn. You learn rules, you gain experience that allows you to adjust your play for greater success, etc. So when you look at educational games, you have to decide if this translates to the kind of learning that you believe in.

There are lots of educational games that use the vocabulary and look of games to create a game-like experience, except that it’s not really fun (unless you already know the answers.) Dragging or shooting things (the correct fraction, igneous rocks, the matching chemical symbol)  is not a game, it’s a fancy worksheet. So – do you believe worksheets and flashcards are good for learning or busywork? Putting it on a screen with 3D graphics should not change your answer to that question.

Do you believe in practice? Alfie Kohn says, “…practicing doesn’t create understanding.” If you have kids who can’t multiply, or haven’t grasped the concept of fractions, will shooting at the right answers with a galactic flamethrower help?

Do you believe in chocolate-covered broccoli? Do students have to be tricked into thinking that they are doing something fun to learn something important?

So the answer to the question, “what’s a good game for learning ____” – is not so simple as a list. It has to be answered with the question – “what do I believe about learning?” leading the way.

  • Do you believe learning is about making meaning – or memorizing?
  • Do you believe that learning is natural, or that children have to be tricked and cajoled into learning?
  • Do you believe that math is a set of skills – or deeper understanding of concepts?
  • Do you believe that faster answers are better answers?
  • Do you believe history is memorizing facts – or understanding complex relationships between events?
  • Do you believe “time on task” is a good measure of learning?
  • Do you believe that vocabulary can and should be learned without context?
  • Do you believe that practice creates understanding?

Even when teachers hear this, they say, “but surely practice is good reinforcement”, “if they gain speed and automaticity on easy problems, they can tackle harder ones”,  or “some students are so far behind they really need the practice” – to which I can only quote Alfie Kohn again, “In reality, it’s the children who don’t understand the underlying concepts who most need an approach to teaching that’s geared to deep understanding.  The more they’re given algorithms and told exactly what to do, the farther behind they fall in terms of grasping these concepts.” (my emphasis)

What this says to me is that using practice to reinforce skills may actually undermine a student’s confidence in their own thought process. They may come to look at learning as a rote skill that is supposed to be automatic, not thoughtful, something that if not immediately obvious, is unreachable.

So finding good games, then, means finding games that reinforce the style of learning that you believe in. Which, in a sea of hype about the benefits of educational games, might not be as easy as it looks!

What do you believe about learning?

Sylvia

Math 2.0 interview with Sylvia Martinez

On Wednesday, Oct. 27 2010 I’ll be talking with Ihor Charischak of the weekly Math 2.0 online chat about Engineering, Game Development, and Math Education.

A couple of careers ago I was an electrical engineer and programmer in aerospace, then did game development for consoles and PCs. Some the games were “educational” and some weren’t, but the process of building a game was certainly educational for me! The connections between these subjects might not be obvious, but I think the connective thread is that “real world” math is disconnected from “school” math in many ways. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to talk about all that and some solutions during our hour together.

Ihor and I are old friends, so this gives an opportunity to make some of our private conversations over the years more public.

When: Wed October 27, 2010, 18:30-19:30, US/Pacific (GMT-08:00)*Find your local time zone here.
Participant URL: http://tinyurl.com/math20event
More information: http://mathfuture.wikispaces.com/events

Please join us!
Sylvia

Serious games: FATWORLD

FATWORLD is a video game about the politics of nutrition. It explores the relationships between obesity, nutrition, and socioeconomics in the contemporary U.S. The game’s goal is not to tell people what to eat or how to exercise, but to demonstrate the complex, interwoven relationships between nutrition and factors like budgets, the physical world, subsidies, and regulations. Existing approaches to nutrition advocacy fail to communicate the aggregate effect of everyday health practices. It's one thing to explain that daily exercise and nutrition are important, but people, young and old, have a very hard time wrapping their heads around outcomes five, 10, 50 years away.

You can choose starting weights and health conditions, including predispositions towards ailments like diabetes, heart disease, or food allergies. You'll have to construct menus and recipes, decide what to eat and what to avoid, exercise (or not), and run a restaurant business to serve the members of your community.

FATWORLD comes with numerous foods, recipes, and meal plans, or players can create their own from the foods in their pantry or their imaginations.

via FATWORLD – The Game.