Exploring Game Based Learning

“We aim to identify, collect, test and distribute good practice in game based learning.

Our project will result in a framework of game based learning pedagogy.”

The Project GAMEiT Logo

The above is the proclaimed mission statement of the currently ongoing Project GAMEiT, in which I am lucky enough to actively take part.

In many ways, this project is right up my alley.

The obvious one: it is all about games, and further exploring how they can be creatively applied to support learning. I often argue that we know enough to start using games in education, yet we always need more knowledge. I hope and believe that our project will mark another step forward in this direction.

Even more important is the central focus on distributing this knowledge, making it easily available to teachers wanting to begin using game based learning. We are developing courses to teachers, which we supplement with a comprehensive handbook describing the most important aspects of GBL, case studies, inspiration to new approaches etc.

Both the harvesting and distribution of knowledge were among my primary focal points, when I begun this quite adventurous and eventful journey of mine. With this in mind, GAMEiT brilliantly encapsulates my initial intentions, and the ground I have covered this far. (If only the time to come is going to be half as exciting, I would be perfectly happy!).

GAMEiT Partner Countries

I am particularly fond of this project due to the fact, that it is a project supported by the European Commision and their “Leonardo da Vinc” programme“. The technicalities of this are certainly less interesting than the fact, that I get to work together with very skilled and passionate people from different European countries.

Being the curious kid on the block, I really appreciate every opportunity I get to meet new people, exchange thoughts and ideas, and contribute to the progression of a common project.

It is always a great pleasure and source of inspiration to participate in a project like this, acquiring fresh perspectives, learning about practice outside  DK, and being confirmed in the value of my priorities until now.

Partner meeting in Project GAMEiT

At the moment, we are carrying out fieldstudies, describing chapters for the handbook and meeting online every month. Great things are in the making, and updates will be posted here and over at the official site.

Below is the text “GAMEiT in a nutshell”, in which we aim to introduce the project to anyone interested. Please, read it if you like, and feel (very) free to comment below, or contact me for further information.

Click to show the text in fullscreen.

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Knowing it all?

I am always trying to stay updated in the fields of video games, digital media and learning.

This is truly a daunting task, which in itself makes for more than a full-time job, and quite often leaves me with the feeling of not knowing anything at all. This, of course, always reminds me of Socrates, turning the lurking feeling of defeat into the joy of knowing nothing:

The only real wisdom is knowing you know nothing.

Anyway, however appealing  (and appeasing) this seems, I can’t just leave it at that. I need to know something and thus returns to the “information overload” immensely reinforced by the abundance of information and knowledge available to us on the internet.

Luckily, a wide array of tools have been developed to help us overcome this fundamental challenge.

Most of you probably know RSS (Really Simple Syndication), the oldschool, yet indispensable service allowing us to subscribe to and gather (syndicate) “feeds” from relevant sites in one place. For some time now, I have been using Google Reader to syndicate feeds from a large (and always growing) number of sites:

Now I have a dynamic collection of frequently updated feeds all in one place. Curious as I am, this is really a treat (even though the acutal process of reading these feeds demands more time than I can currently afford!).

So far, so good.

However, I am the kind of person, who more than anything believes in sharing knowledge. I am not really interested in knowing things just for myself, considering the process of exchange to be the what truly adds value. Of course, I am already trying to share knowledge right here, on Twitter and a number of other places.

Even so, I would very much like to create a fast, low-barrier entrance to the different articles and blog posts, I read and like. Google Reader actually allows me to share articles from all the feeds I subscribe to:

Share posts with Google Reader

It is quite simple, really. Read a post, share it and attach a short comment, if desired. That’s it. I am not completely convinced, however, that this is the best possible way. As the list of shared posts grow, it seems like a chaotic mess.

Well, I will try it out, and here are my shared feeds from Google Reader:

Who’s playing games?

Most of us know the common stereotype depicting a gamer as a somewhat obese teenage boy never leaving his room due to a fundamental lack of social skills.

Well, gamers are not what they used to be (whether they actually used to be as described above is uncertain).

During recent years, several quite interesting developments have thoroughly shattered any traditional knowledge of the demography of gamers. Today, many people are playing games, even though those same people just a few years back would probably have dismissed the activity of playing all together.

Let’s have a quick look at who is actually playing today.

One often cited source of knowledge about the composition of the gaming audience is presented by the Entertainment Software Association. The data can be found in the annually published reports “ESSENTIAL FACTS ABOUT THE COMPUTER AND VIDEO GAME INDUSTRY” or in the video below:

Even though this might be surprising to some bystanders, another survey recently showed even more radical challenges to the good old stereotype. Initiated by PopCap Games (developer of the magnificent Plants vs. Zombies), the survey focused on the rather young, yet explosively growing genre of so-called “social games”.

If you  haven’t seen much of neither games nor Facebook lately, you might wonder what defines a social game? (you might also wonder how you managed to avoid all the fuzz, but that’s another matter). I’m fond of stealing, so why not borrow a definition from Gamasutra, where social games are described as “essentially games created to be playable within existing major social networking websites”. In most cases, this means games playable on Facebook (at the moment, that is). Right now, Farmville is by far the most played game with more than 80 million monthly active users (see Appdata). Who would have thought, that growing crops and buying red tractors could become that popular?

Back to the survey, which shows, that the average player of social games is a 43-year old woman.

A 43-year old woman.

Sorry for the repetition, but I was puzzled when reading this for the first time. Below you find a couple of illustrations from the report:

Gender of players of social games
Age of players of social games
Employment status of players of social games

(see the entire report or the press release).

From scarcity to abundance

It is beyond the scope of this post to provide an in-depth explanation of the comprehensive broadening of the video game audience. I will, however, sketch out some of the most likely reasons for the remarkable turn.

  • The field of games was once somewhat uniform, characterized by many games appealing to pretty much the same target groups (the obese teenage boy). This has fundamentally changed. The breadth and depth of available games is now enormous, catering to a wide array of different tastes and preferences. On important factor has been the move away from hardcore games towards casual games, which make smaller demands on the player regarding time, skills etc. This development was dubbed “A Casual Revolution” by video game researcher, Jesper Juul.
  • In addition, many newer games are developed primarily with pleasant, social situations in mind; pleasant social situations outside the virtual world of the game. The console Nintendo Wii, and the console games Guitar Hero and Rock Band are all prime examples, that games are no longer just confined to the computer screen. These are games/consoles, where the most important part is playing with your friends in the living room.

I will probably be able to elaborate further on these topics in a future post, so hang on.

But play a game or two in the meantime, please.

Digital natives get lost, too!

Kids know the media. They multitask with ease, surfing the internet while watching a movie, writing an sms, making a call on Skype, listening to music on iTunes and reading a book (the latter might be reserved for the few remaining book-geeks). They navigate with a convincing sense of direction; never losing their bearings in what seems to bystanders to be an anarchistic audio-visual chaos.

At first glance this might seem obvious, as most people have probably seen (or heard about) a scenario like the above. In many books and articles on the subject, this is proposed as an almost archetypical situation, arguing that kids are digital experts. Or that they belong to a “Net Generation” with computers and the internet hardwired to their brains (who said crazy sci-fi?)(Well, actually, it seems that the use of technology does change processes in our brains, but in the same way that our brain has always adapted itself to new impulses).

Or that they are digital natives – born digital and as such, natives of the digital world. Like the na’vi on Pandora.

The origin of this concept can be traced back to the American author, Marc Prensky, who published the widely known article “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” at the turn of the century, wherein he claims that:

“”Our students today are all “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet.”

With appealing and convincing clarity, Prensky argues for the dichotomy between the digitally competent kids and the equally incompetent adults, who have only recently immigrated into the digital world. As with the humans immigrating to Pandora, the majority are never able to fully understand this new world and its strange, blue inhabitants.

If I were Jesse Schell, I would probably call the idea of digital natives “total bullshit”. Clearly, I am not, and instead I will suggest an approach a bit more balanced. The essence, however, is covered sufficiently by the b-word.

The notion of digital natives is an oversimplified one, greatly lending itself to misunderstandings and faulty initiatives (or lack thereof). During the first decade of the new millennium, this has manifested as an inappropriate unwillingness to adress the issue of digital media and digital literacy in education, as teachers are often intimidated by the way kids seem to juggle with technology.

An incompetent native?

At the very core, the metaphor itself is flawed. Being a native of any kind never equals being a perfect speaker of your native tongue, deeper knowledge of linguistics etc. Even natives learn their language by socializing, training, exercising and so on.

digital native
Via Francis Anderson http://bit.ly/abdtWH

Natives can very much be incompetent, and this of course also goes for the digital natives. They might be born into a world of digital media, but they are not automatically speaking some magic “digital language”.

Skills, competencies, literacy

Without knowing Prensky in person, I would guess he originally was inspired by a scenario similar to the one initiating this post, observing kids intensely immersed in several media experiences all at once. He thus states that kids today are “surrounded by and using computers, videogames, digital music players, video cams, cell phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age”.

So far, so good. I won’t oppose the idea, that kids are possibly engaged in a “heavier” use of media than any other structural group in society. Neither will I argue against the widely held belief, that kids are less fearful when approaching new media. They might even possess a certain curiosity-driven intuition, fuelling their seemingly competent use of these media. This, in some cases, allow them to master the technology – at a skill-based level, that is. They are able to use a computer, a cell phone, a television and they can retrieve funny videos on YouTube. Sure.

But this doesn’t make them neither digitally competent nor digitally literate. Both require more (much more) than just the simple ability to turn on a computer and play a game. It requires, for instance, the competence to critically evaluate the information found on the internet. It requires the development of analytical approaches, allowing the individual to understand the way different media work, relates to other media and is positioned within the larger media ecology.

On an even higher level of reflection, it is necessary to be able to reflect upon ones own use of and experience with media.

Even if we accept kids as skilled and with a certain intuitive way of using digital media, it should be clear, that they in most cases are neither competent nor literate. These higher levels of abstraction are seldomly reached without the support and guidance of tutors of some kind – e.g. teachers, parents etc.

1 kid = all kids?

Another hugely problematic trait of Prenskys framework is its tendency to make generalizations far beyond the limit of reason. It simply doesn’t make sense to assume, that children and youth are constituted as a completely homogenous group with equal approaches to digital technology. On the contrary, when looking at kids – even within the same class – we see a motley crowd, constituting a very heterogenous group. It almost goes without saying, that this diversity is also mirrored in the way, these kids approach, use and reflect upon various media.

In continuation of this, adults are not just one homogenous group either. We are not all digitally incompetent, helplessly left on the losing side of the digital divide. The dichotomy itself is a false misinterpretation placing us in a deadlock, where no adults dare to challenge the digital experts.

Goodbye, confusing concept!

If we could please leave this misunderstood metaphor behind, and move on, we would all be better off. Such a step forward might allow us to establish a much more inclusive, balanced and up-to-date approach to kids’ digital literacy. I don’t want to do Prensky or his metaphors injustice, and they might have served a purpose earlier on, when people had to acknowledge what it meant to grow up in a digital landscape. Yet, as Henry Jenkins argue in “Reconsidering Digital Immigrants…“, “the metaphor may be having the opposite effect now — implying that young people are better off without us and thus justifying decisions not to adjust educational practices to create a space where young and old might be able to learn from each other.”

Luckily, Jenkins is not alone, as a number of smart people (smarter than me, at least) have already challenged the simplicity of the dichotomy – native >< immigrants. Danish media researcher Mette Nyboe makes this unmistakingly clear in the book “Digital Literacy” (Digital Dannelse, my translation), where she states that:

[…] No children are born digitally competent. Through their media experiences in the digital media culture of their leisure time, children and youth develop knowledge and skills, which, with appropriate sparring, can be transformed into competence. But competence does not come by itself (my translation).

In “The ‘digital natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence“, the authors thorougly examine the “digital native” discourses and arguments, and conclude that “they have been subjected to little critical scrutiny, are under-theorised and lack a sound empirical basis”. In addition, they reach other important conclusions along the way:

It may be that there is as much variation within the digital native generation as between the generations.

The picture beginning to emerge from research on young people’s relationships with technology is much more complex than the digital native characterisation suggests. While technology is embedded in their lives, young people’s use and skills are not uniform.

Finally, in relation to the “Web Use Project“, the article “Digital Na(t)ives? Variation in Internet Skills and Uses among Members of the “Net Generation”” was published very recently. In this article, Eszter Hargittai presents a study on internet use by college students, and instead of uniform expertise, Hargittai points to the diversity:

While popular rhetoric would have us believe that young users are generally savvy with digital media, data presented in this article clearly show that considerable variation exists even among fully wired college students when it comes to understanding various aspects of Internet use.

Regarding widespread assumptions about the inherent digital savvy of young users often referred to as ‘‘digital natives’,’ it is important to note that the data presented here do not support the premise that young adults are universally knowledgeable about the Web. Rather, we observe systematic variation in online know-how even among a highly wired group of young adults based on user background.

Hopefully it can no longer be doubted, that kids are not better off by themselves when it comes to digital technologies.

So please, don’t leave the natives by themselves. In spite of them being born into a digital world, they might get lost, too. Let us supply them with maps and compasses and support them in learning how to use these tools for navigating this rather confusing digital society.

The future of games?

There is no telling what the future holds. This is obvious, of course, yet most people keep trying, and this is no less true when looking at the video games business.

Everybody is trying to predict, what is going to be “the next big thing” – the next Pac Man, Wii or Farmville. The next “killer app”, the next “blue ocean” ready to be conquered.

The last couple of weeks, gaming sites all over the world have converged on a presentation held by one Jesse Schell. This guy caused quite a stir, and most people seem to be overly impressed. Such consensus always makes me a bit sceptic; dunno why, I just seem to distrust majorities. On the other hand, however, I am not one to remain in opposition just for the sake of it, and the presentation actually is quite interesting and thoughtprovoking. Don’t take my word for it, but have a look for yourself:

I must admit, that I actually did not know Jesse Schell, though he seems to be quite respected in the games business. Well, I will surely be following him in the future, as he must be considered prone to come up with other inspiring stuff. It would be a pleasure to disagree with the guy just for the sake of disagreeing, yet his perspectives are ensnaring. Games are clearly both ubiquitous and prolific, breaking out of their confining boxes, blowing established target groups apart in the process. Did you know, by the way, that the average player of social games is a 43 year old woman? And how about playing to achieve better MS Office-skills?

Schell hopes for games to make us better people, trying to optimize our “performance of living” in an effort to maximize our “score”. This might seem a tad naive, yet what is the matter with ambitious hopes and dreams?

Now excuse me, I gotta go brush my teeth – desperately need the points.

A space for ideas

Welcome to my personal blog, which is an attempt to create a single focal point into my thoughts, ideas and activities.

As indicated by the subtitle, “thoughts on games, media and learning”, I will primarily focus on digital media, learning and related subjects.

This is my passion and pivotal field of interest – both privately and professionally.

I consider learning a social process of constant interaction and exchange, and therefore I truly hope for this to become a space of exactly that – interaction and exchange. Please, comment and challenge my writings.

Only together are we becoming smarter.