What Gamers Know
Gamers understand something that was a bit of a revelation for me last week. My brother gets together with friends and games with cards and dice when he’s social, and he’s on his Xbox 360 and PC when he’s gaming solo or sometimes synchronously with friends. For him, to technology or not to technology is not the question. My oldest friend, Adrian Dunston, a computer programmer at SAS, feels the same way. He has as much fun playing a board game (I’ve never heard of) as he has gaming on a computer.
It didn’t occur to me until now to apply what these gamers know naturally to Game-Based Learning in the classroom, which is a hot item among a list of innovative 21st Century Teaching and Learning best practices. It’s not about the technology; it’s about the game. In the case of education, it’s about the game and the learning, but the point is lost if the game isn’t fun.
Education’s Wrong Turn
About a year ago I led a team that tried to create a game-based online course with a videogame company. We started with the assumption that Game-based Learning had to be a video game in a virtual reality. In our heads, it looked something like Fallout 3 from the perspective of a scientist, not a soldier. To say the least, my team had no idea how to create a video game, and a major challenge we faced was the rigidity of game design versus the necessity in education to take advantage of creativity and teachable moments. I was reminded by Adrian Dunston this week that gaming is in no way lacking flexibility and creativity. Video games, however, by their nature are. My challenge to you in this article is this: Videogame-based Learning is expensive to design for the education sector, and it lacks flexibility and creativity; Game-based Learning can be cheap to design and is made more fun and valuable with flexibility and creativity.
One Possible Approach:
- Create a narrative progression of events sort of like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story. Have an idea of where it’s going, but only plan one week ahead at a time.
- Utilize a Facebook page or an LMS platform for the initial introduction of the setting and situation
- Share an understanding that students will use and have access to Facebook, Twitter, Google Voice, Gmail, Google Talk, Evernote, Google Calendar, Youtube, and Soundcloud, among others.
- Integrate some deliverables to game challenges as triggers in ifttt.com so that when the deliverables are completed new game challenges are delivered via web 2.0 tools.
- Integrate some answers to game challenges as triggers as well, but create the trigger in such a way that only the correct answer will deliver new game content.
- Prepare to be flexible and change the direction of the game as students bring creativity to the game!
A Creative Example Connected to Curriculum
With a classroom of ninth graders, I’d go cross-curricular and try to bring in a couple more geeky teachers itching to innovate. Ideally, I’d try it with a Freshman Academy like the one at South Caldwell High School in North Carolina. 9th graders in NC typically study World History (Revolution and Nationalism, Monarchies and Empires, Emerging Civilizations, and Historical Tools), Language Arts (writing, researching, and mechanics), Biology (scientific inquiry, basis of life, evolution, ecological relationships), and Math (real numbers, measurement concepts, probability).
Videogame-based Learning is expensive to design for the education sector, and it lacks flexibility and creativity; Game-based Learning can be cheap to design and is made more fun and valuable with flexibility and creativity.
A creative role-playing game that addresses areas of each of these curriculums might start with five students on a gaming team with the teacher as the architect, a player who is in charge of enforcing the rules and defining how the world reacts to the characters’ actions.
A Dose of Math
While most traditional role playing games deliberately make the math simple to keep game play fast and easy, I imagine the complexity of the math behind games like Warcraft III, where a computer calculates things like gear weight, character stats, experience, etc. as much, much more complicated. Consider an educational game that works on rules of probability and calculation that are a bit more complicated so that students get practice as a course of moving forward in the game.
A Dose of World History
Further, imagine setting the game in an emerging civilization at first, but players have access to something like the Tardis, an item most geeks remember as the phone booth that moved Dr Who around in time. Using creativity like this can get players a snapshot view of World History as they level up, solving problems and encountering famous historical events and people.
A Dose of Biology
Also, imagine each character starting out with a little bestial buddy at the beginning of the game. Each time the characters move in time, there is a mathematical function that moves their bestial buddy up or down an evolutionary chain as a consequence of time travel. Using this buddy, which can be as creative and varied as anything the game Spore might be able to create game can address evolution and ecological relationships.
A Dose of Technology
If we could keep a class to one teacher (The Architect) and five students, what a world it would be! Alas, I’m afraid it would be next to impossible, however, to have one Architect running 6 games of 5 players without some kind of assistance. Technology is the solution to this challenge. This game doesn’t occur on grubby character sheets and greasy dice; it occurs all over the web and incorporates a fascinating web 2.0 tool called IFTTT.com.
IFTTT, which stands for If This Then That, is a website that makes your web 2.0 services talk to each other via recipes, making one trigger actions in another. For example, you can set up IFTTT with your account information on Craigslist, Gmail, Twitter, your RSS feed, SMS, and Facebook among others to create hundreds of different possible tasks, or recipes. One example recipe is that if someone follows you on Twitter, you will automatically follow them back and send a thank you tweet. Another example is that if someone tags you on a Facebook photo, you immediately receive a text with the URL to the photo. Or, as an example in our game example, a student who delivers an email to the architect’s email address with the word chlorophyll in the subject line might release a Facebook page post that explains why the characters’ bestial buddies are all looking sickly green and how to go about finding a cure for a fungal infection.
Give It a Try
One teacher, as architect, could run six simultaneous games if he or she utilized IFTTT.com to release game content. Students are given challenges through the game that they have to respond to. Their responses trigger IFTTT.com reactions automatically, and these automatic reactions would advance the game and deliver more challenges and game narrative. The unique thing about using IFTTT.com in the framework is that a teacher familiar with IFTTT.com and the web 2.0 tools within it would have a unique blend of automation and flexibility that straight videogames don’t yet offer in the education sector. I’d like to find an innovative school leader and a couple of teachers daring enough and geeky enough to give this a shot. It would take a ton of time to