I’m at a panel on the use of games to help students in science education.
I came in part way through Melissa Gresalfi and Anna Arici’s presentation on two games-based approaches in 6th grade science education based around something called Quest Atlantis.
[Me: this seems to be a presentation making the classic argument about the difference between “traditional” and game-based pedagogy–that in traditional pedagogy the most successful students are those strongly motivated by wanting to respond positively to authority-driven assignments, whereas the most successful students are strongly self-motivated, with a stronger sense of their own agency.]
Students who responded strongly to Quest Atlantis talked a lot about how much they felt like scientists themselves, had a strongly positive disposition towards learning. But they also did say that the QA students showed strong factual competency at the end, etc.
Very good question from the floor that implies that comparing the game-based pedagogy to a text-based, reading-centric approach isn’t the right comparison–shouldn’t it be a comparison between a science curriculum that takes them into the field, has experiments, and so on, versus a game-based, virtual reality approach. Gresalfi responds, more or less, that virtual reality is cheaper, but she agrees that the key thing is really hands-on versus factual. [ME: to some extent this is ye old constructivism in game form, as much games-learning scholarship is. I agree with the basic insight that getting students to do science rather than just learn it formally is key, but there are lots of ways to do it.]
On a 3D science education program for JASON Project, intended to give students a sense of what science practice is like both by letting them do it themselves and by showing them scientists in practice.
Nice phrase: trying not to show students science just as a “rhetoric of conclusions”, but instead as a space of thinking through problems. Example: they look at the work of one scientist who is arguing that there are too many tiger sharks in a particular ecology that are overpredating monk seals and are charged to collect data which challenges his conclusions. So what they’re trying to teach to some extent is the notion that science is about a practice of permanent skepticism. Also in the case they’re showing to some extent the issues involved in the interface between science and policy (the tiger-shark overpopulation scientist argues for an organized tiger shark cull).
[ME: They’ve got the ‘fun’ right as well as the learning content–they showed one bit where you have to make a shark regurgitate so you can assess its typical eating patterns which was very amusingly gross. This is just such a key thing with learning games–I’ll probably rant about this later, but there’s so many educational games being talked about at GLS that are so horribly unfun and ungamelike, when you’d think that the need to make a game playful should be well understood.]
[ME: I was worried that this was still a game where you basically prove one “preloaded” hypothesis, that it’s just a game that locks you in, but they actually do try to show two very different ways of looking at tiger shark populations, ecological relationships, and the game leaves it open which might be right. This strikes me as really important even in a program for 6th graders. Still, needs more of this, I think, even at this level. The real gold standard would be trying to create something that allowed unpredicable or contingent findings–maybe pulling in ongoing material from outside databases in a way that isn’t preloaded.]
[ME: Also they do a good job in presentation terms of running the game in the background while talking about the overall design. You have got to show the game in action, I think. I almost think a lot of game presentations should have a talker and a player working at the same time. Yes, it’s distracting, but without it, you have no idea if what’s being talked up is crap or not. Seeing it in this proposal, for example, convinces you that this is a really good piece of work.]
In response to a question, Dan Norton had some smart things to say about the pedagogical problem that branching narratives pose in a classroom–that you can’t be sure that all the students have had the same experiences or learned the same things, and therefore can’t build progressively on what they all know.
Laird and McDonald, “Is Our GaMerz L3arning? (Evaluating Games As Shared Experiences)”
Talking about how to design a game that CAN be evaluated. So they’re going to have audience play a game that is on purpose designed to be incomplete, confusing and impossible to evaluate.
[ME: I feel some of my own hobbyhorses starting to gallop, namely, that I’m inclined to think that some of the most interesting learning that can happen through games is by definition not easy to measure or evaluate, and that the more measurable it becomes, the less productive, interesting, useful (and fun) it is.]
So the incomplete game is demonstrating (I think) that you can’t play a game if you don’t have information about its rules and outcome at the outset, and that this makes any outcome feel unfair.
[ME: Heh, someone in the audience found an unintentionally broken part of the rules, in addition to the intentionally broken ones. This is one great things about games: players will eventually always find every ambiguous or contradictory rule.]
They apply this to a game called Shortfall that they use with university engineering students to talk about sustainable manufacturing. Play all three parts of a supply chain (materials, parts, cars). In Version 1, didn’t work because students played to be individual winners and didn’t consume any of the content, they were just driven to get to the game-mechanical end.
Argument here is that you need to make it team vs. team to improve content consumption.
[ME: Ok, yes, design is very important if you’re trying to make a game that has an educational intent.]