Educon 2.3 – a new kind of education conference

Next weekend in Philadelphia will be the fourth annual Educon conference. I’m happy to say I’ve been to all of them so far, and it’s grown into one of my favorites of the year.

There are several things I love about Educon:

  • It’s small. Capped at 500 people, it’s intimate enough that you get a “sense” of what people are thinking and the shifts occurring in real time.
  • Authenticity gives it voice and shape. Held at the Science Leadership Academy, a public magnet school with a progressive philosophy in the center of Philadelphia, the vibrancy of the school (both from teachers and students) shines through the event.
  • It’s not a trade show. So many educational conferences, even the ones with academic roots, have morphed into what Gary Stager calls “boat shows.” The focus on sales creates a different kind of atmosphere. Educon is about educators thinking out loud together without the carnival barkers.
  • Conversations, not sessions. At most conferences, people always wonder why discussions of new ways to teach and learn are held in old style lecture halls, and the interesting conversations are the ones in the hall. Educon has tried to bring those conversations to the forefront.
  • It’s centered in practice. Being in a school is not just about the building. The teachers and students are full participants in the conference and model collaboration, non-coercive learning and empowerment throughout. You can tell it’s what they do on a regular basis and it raises the bar for everyone.

I’m leading a conversation this year about gaming in education, “If Games are the Answer, What’s the Question?” Games in education are a hot topic these days, with all the usual mix of reality and hype that goes along with that. I definitely have strong opinions (which I’ll share) – but not the whole time. I hope to have a lively discussion where we’ll look at some games and talk about what makes them “good” for learning or not. Ultimately, perhaps we can come to some conclusions about what to look for in games for different subjects and classrooms.

I’d appreciate any input here or on the Educon page for this session about any particular games that people are curious about and want to discuss. I’ll try to have some screen shots prepared since there really won’t be time to download and play a lot of games AND have a discussion.

If you are coming to this session in person or via the live web streaming, please come with a downloaded game to share, or post suggestions here.

Sylvia

Previous posts about Educon

5 Replies to “Educon 2.3 – a new kind of education conference”

  1. Oh I’ve been looking forward to that conversation! Nice to find you outside of EduCon.

    I think the most significant game for classroom use in the last year has to be Minecraft, which I’ll be talking about tangentially during my Slot 6 conversation. Beyond that, I think that the incredible disparity in quality of EduGames, even ones form the same developer, makes me despair for “commercial” edugames. iCivics Do I have a Right? has some of the hectic decision making of DinerDash, wrapped around some nuanced ConLaw questions, and allows players to make many mistakes without failing them out. All in all, a good start! But their Cast Your Vote is a simplistic muddled mess, a six question quiz with no buy-in and no stakes.

    I can’t wait to hear your take on the gap between the promise of edgames and the frustrating reality.

  2. I tend to think, like anything, that games can be a compliment to education. I doubt that there is ever going to be a game that will engage kids AND teach them all they need to know about a topic.

    I’ve often thought games such as Real Lives (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Real_Lives) or Oregon Trail are good ways to introduce a lesson. Simulation games in particular seem good, provided there is discussion and/or reflection activity associated with the game. Once again, they are only a tool and not a magic bullet.

    I suspect that educational games are akin to what movies used to be when I was in school. A passive, mindless activity disguised as education, which some teachers use for break (or planning) time.

    Oh, and don’t forget the corporate advertising prevalent in some education games. I remember subbing for an elementary school computer class and the kids just played their M & M math game all hour. At least they were quiet, right?

  3. Steve: You’re right about the use of EdGames as the “modern” filmstrip, but we should recognize that as a collosal failure of imagination across the board.

    At the base level, games are simulated worlds, and any game worth playing in school should give kids MORE power to affect MORE aspects of that world than they can in ours. If an EdGame just makes kids answer questions, then its recapitulating the worst parts of the EdSystem.

    My sense continues to be that we’d be better off as educators layering the content and support we want over existing games, rather than waiting for a commercial (or non-profit!) solution to arrive. Last year I wrote about running a Writer’s Guild in World of Warcraft, which expands a bit on that idea.

  4. Was just informed about you Sylvia. I am glad and I am excited to find more resources for my classroom. It looks like I could spend several days sifting through your materials.
    I have used Civilization IV in the classroom (Ancient Civilizations) for several years. Researching games was part of my master’s degree. I created this site several years ago, so please excuse the oldness of the site. I have not touched this site for a long time and I have readjusted my plans when I use the game, but it could give you some helpful info.
    http://www.unit5.org/anthemproject/index.html
    Someone created a Civilization V online civilopedia.
    http://civilopedia5.com/
    I have also used self created board games and some COTS games like Catan.
    Also, I love this TED- Tom Chatfield: 7 ways games reward the brain
    http://www.ted.com/talks/tom_chatfield_7_ways_games_reward_the_brain.html
    I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have any questions. There is so much to talk about and little space.

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