Can students save the world?

Due to my huge interest in “games as learning machines“, I’ve been actively pursuing the idea of “challenge based learning” for some time now. In short, good games build a framework for exactly that – challenge based learning. Players are tasked with numerous challenges, and they must learn what is required to overcome those challenges in order to play the game.

At the same time, education is all too often not about facing challenges and solving problems (as I lamented on recently) and we tend to forget the importance of doing things in a context. Rather, it’s about learning subject matter in relative isolation and with no immediate application.

“Why are we learning this? – Oh, because the central curriculum states its importance”.

Luckily, we’re currently seeing many movements arguing in favor of radical change. Education needs to find a more healthy and dynamic relationship with society, and one where students are allowed a role in shaping and improving the world around them. Why do we instinctively believe, that we have to be socialised through education for 10-15 years before we have any contributions to make? Why don’t we allow students to “make a dent in the universe”, as Steve Jobs famously described our reason for existing. Isn’t it in a way disrespectful to treat our young generations like this, stowing them away in classes where they can cause no harm? Couldn’t we make better use of students as valuable resources in our ongoing pursuit for a better world?

Are we really just afraid, that they can do better than us?

One ambitious and interesting project, initiated by The New Media Consortium in partnership with Apple Education, is appropriately titled “Challenge Based Learning” and intends to explore and promote the idea of linking learning to concrete real-world challenges:

Yes, the video is only showing a very polished image of the actual projects, yet I’m repeatedly impressed and touched by the kid in the end. It really says it all, and better than I possibly could.

A new report is out, where the project studies are described in more detail:

CBL makes learning relevant by giving kids problems big enough so that they have to learn new ideas and tools to solve them, but immediate enough so that they care deeply that solutions are found. Young people want to solve real problems, and that is exactly what challenge based learning is designed to do — give students and teachers a framework that makes learning relevant, and then let them dive in

In terms of clarification, my very good twitter companion, Michelle Hoyle, asked me about the difference between “problem based” and “challenge based” learning:

[blackbirdpie url="http://twitter.com/#!/Eingang/status/136780365573533698"]

To be honest, I don’t exactly know. Both are about solving challenging problems. Does problem based learning inherently focus on actually interacting with society?

Whatever the differences and similarities, it’s an important lead to follow.

Can students really save the world, then?

Maybe not, but we should definitely create more meaningful educations, which, in the very least, allow them to try.

Revisiting old posts – part two

In this post, I try to create an overview of what I’ve written on my blog in relation to digital media & education. This is the second installment, where I focus specifically on games & learning. See the first installment here

My work remains centered around the relation between games, learning and education (even though I can’t help but stray from that path quite often). My point of departure was quite narrowly concerned with the application of serious games (e.g. Global Conflicts) in school (see my master’s thesis (in Danish) or the English abstract). It’s only been 3-4 years, yet it seems like I’ve covered so much ground since then. I’ve had the immense pleasure of meeting and working with great, inspirational people, and I have been constantly on the move. As stated elsewhere, I sometimes feel a bit like Bilbo, writing and being present in so many different contexts. During the last couple of years I have, however, been trying to make this the central hub of my work, and thus I have collected here some posts on games & learning.

Games & learning

When revisiting my writing on games, learning and education, some patterns and reappearing topics are identifiable:

  • Introductions
  • Games & entrepreneurship
  • Projects & conferences
  • Perceptions of games
  • Barriers to games in education

As with the previous post, these are only analytical constructs; containers for a number of posts, but containers which overlap in many ways.

All links in this post are internal (except when stated otherwise).

Introductions

Despite the increasing attention, the growing interest and the enormous amount of work being done within the field of “games and learning”, we’re still very much in the middle of defining what we mean, when we talk about “games and learning”. I, for one, often gets confused and loses my bearings, because we lack a common vocabulary, a common frame of reference.

As a consequence, I frequently try to define what I’m talking about, drawing borders; basically, I’m chasing a moving target.

As one of my first posts, I asked “what is game based learning?“. I try to find out, what it is, that games do; they “offer a situated practice, where we as players must acquire the skills, knowledge and competencies needed to beat the game, thus echoing John Dewey’s mantra, learning by doing”. At the time, I reached upon this definition: “Game based learning describes an approach to teaching, where students explore relevant aspect of games in a learning context designed by teachers. Teachers and students collaborate in order to add depth and perspective to the experience of playing the game.”

Two approaches to games in educationIn my view, game based learning may be only one of several uses of games in education, and I thus tried to describe “my take on games in education” in a larger perspective. In short, it’s about either using games as learning tools in order to support learning in any possible subject area (e.g. maths, social science, language etc.) or working with games as cultural phenomena, which we must understand.

Building on the former post, I wrote a more elaborate “intro to game based learning“, which represented a draft chapter for the handbook in the GAMEiT Project. Among other things, I distinguish between four different approaches to game based learning:

  • Dedicated learning games
  • Commercial entertainment titles
  • Game-like scenarios
  • Developing games

By the Power of Greyskull” (or merely the internet) it becomes possible, if you are “new to games & learning“, to listen to “the worlds’ finest experts across research and practice”, and I always recommend that. Therefore, I tried to collect in this post a number of very important speakers, who all have valuable insight on games and learning.

Games & entrepreneurship

One particular area, in which I’m increasingly interested, is the relationship between developing games, learning and entrepreneurship. This is way outside my initial line of sight, yet it has proven to resonate with the principles of good games. When David Williamson Shaffer is talking about “epistemic games”, he could thus be talking about games about game development:

David Williamson ShafferEpistemic games are games that let players learn to work and, thus, to think as innovative professionals. Epistemic games are games that let students develop the epistemic frames of innovation. Epistemic games are fun, but they are fun because they are about innovation and mastery of complex domains. Epistemic games are about knowledge, but they are about knowledge in action—about making knowledge, applying knowledge, and sharing knowledge. Epistemic games are rigorous, motivating, and complex because that’s what characterizes the practices of innovation upon which they are modeled.

For the GAMEiT Handbook (an outcome of the GAMEiT Project), I wrote a chapter introducing some of the ideas behind “learning by producing“. Springing from the work at GameIT College, I describe how students develop games and how they, by doing so, start working and thinking a lot more like entrepeneurs.

Talking about entrepreneurs, I urge everybody to “embrace the initiative“. Inside as well as outside education, we need students, people, citizens, who are able to take the initiative and make things happen. Oh, and I also talk about the inherent importance of failure. We need to be willing to fail more often.

Describing a very recent project at GameIT College, I wrote about “games for medical students“, where the GameIT students are “making games for medical students. The games were primarily supposed to be concerned with supporting reflection and decision-making in regard to law and ethics in the field of organ donation”. Highly exciting stuff.

Projects & conferences

This is a somewhat inane and broad category, but bear with me.

GAMEiT Partner MeetingOne of the projects, which have occupied a fair chunk of my time the last couple of years, is the GAMEiT Project, where we have been “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.”

As the project is coming to an end, we did a conference, which I described in a “GAMEiT Conference – post mortem“, where I sum up the conference, and talk a little about our GAMEiT handbook. At the conference, we ended up talking mostly about the “learning by producing”-approach to games, as almost every speaker touched upon this in one way or another. We also, however, had a chance to reflect upon the capability of games to make us reflect upon the world; exciting meta-stuff.

I keep attending as many relevant conferences as possible, as I always walk away with more than I brought upon arrival. Even though most often I’m not confronted with radically new knowledge, I get to hear what other people in the field are doing, and – most important, probably – I get to talk to people more passionate and insightful than myself. I love that almost more than anything.

IMAGINE (Increasing Mainstreaming of Games In Learning Policies)

Last summer I went to Prague with the very inspiring Ella Myhring, and I wrote about my “impressions from Prague“. We were invited to participate in a workshop in the IMAGINE (Increasing Mainstreaming of Games In Learning Policies), and we each did a talk. I took note of a couple of things in particular. First off, a year ago we were all confused about what the actual meaning of game based learning. We still are. Secondly, some participants argued for the use of small and simple games in order to lower the effort needed to include those games in education. I’m not opposed to “small and simple” per se, but I’m opposed to the idea that we should only consider that type of games out of a misunderstood intention to make things easy. Education is and should not be easy. Games are many things, and we should certainly also include the big, complex and – perhaps – intimidating ones.

Last fall, the European Conference on Games Based Learning (ECGBL) was in Copenhagen (right now it’s in Athens), and I wrote a post appropriately titled “ECGBL“. Despite me not being a researcher in the formal “I’m-at-a-university-doing-research” way, I’m tremendously interested in the field. Three topics were central to me throughout the conference; 1. the idea of using the study of games (usually labelled “game studies”, appropriately) and their understanding of games as our foundation for game based learning, 2. the idea that assumptions regarding games and game based learning must be constantly challenged, e.g. the notion that games automatically foster motivation, and 3. the idea that games should not be directly integrated into exisiting teaching practice, as they should be used to leverage new was of teaching.

Perceptions of games

One thing that always strikes me, when working with games, is the multitude of perceptions.

People think all kinds of different things, when thinking about games.

One discourse, which have been hampering the use of games for anything than entertainment, is the rather crude idea, that games make players more violent. Trying to be just a little provocative, I wrote a post on how “I kill people“, in which I tried to shed some light on the actual research in the field of video games and violence. The conclusion? “We are nowhere near any final conclusions”.

In continuation of this, I’ve been discussing if “games can get too close?“. Time and time again, we see discussions about whether or not games should be allowed to tackle contemporary issues like terrorism and war. “Books, songs, television and movies have been depicting painful events for years on end, and they all caused quite a commotion; at least in the beginning. Why are games not allowed to follow suit?”

I’ve also been looking at “games as arguments” in an attempt to explore, how games can be used as media to promote ideas or arguments. “Could a game persuade you? To think differently? To vote differently? To change your perspective on the world? To buy another brand of milk?”.

Do you want to buy this red tractor?

There’s a widespread perception, that games are not real; or, to elaborate, what takes place in games is not real. The rapid growth of “virtual consumption” radically challenges this notion, because what are you buying, if what you’re buying doesn’t exist? I argue, that “virtual goods ARE real!“, quoting the Finnish researcher, Vili Lehdonvirta, that  “people buy virtual goods for the very same reasons as they buy other goods”. Among other things, this is important because we have to address the notion of “consumer competence” in education.

Barriers to games in education

Many people seem to think, that the barriers to applying games as educational tools are too many and too hard to overcome, and that it really isn’t worth the effort.

It should be obvious by now, that I passionately disagree.

Even so, it’s very important to identify the barriers in order to address them in our continous effort to increase the understanding and use of games in education. (I haven’t explored this in appropriate depth here, but take a look at Simon Egenfeldt’s “The Challenges to Diffusion of Educational Computer Games” for a research based introduction).

When I am (frequently) asked, what it is, that I do – I say, that I build bridges. That I am “bridging gaps“. This is because, I see the many gaps between game developers, researchers, politicians and practitioners as one of the major reasons for game based learning not being much more advanced and widespread by now. We should share knowledge much more vehemently, and facilitate dialogue both with stakeholders inside as well as outside education.

Another barrier is linked to the “time to play“. This refers to the very real issue of the actual time it takes to play games. Many games are big, complex and long, and requires the player to dedicate massive amounts of time. This is hard, but we still need to consider the playing of games an essential part of “understanding games”. “We need to be serious about playing games; even when it’s just for the sake of having fun. Could we imagine a situation, where we only talked about books without ever reading one? Where our common frame of reference was primarily built on some vague preconception rather than first-hand knowledge about concrete books? Where the suggestion of actually reading a book was above all received with scepticism and a disoriented laughter?”

Revisiting old posts – part one

In this post, I try to create an overview of what I’ve written on my blog in relation to digital media & education

I’m not really the stable blogger, churning out a steady flow of blog posts week after week…and I probably never will be. Too much else is going on all the time. Too many projects, conferences, meetings, talks, articles, teaching, trips abroad, games, people and other exciting stuff. I love it. A bit hectic at times, but still; terrific.

I do have a couple of new posts coming up, yet I thought I’d also like to try another approach.

I’d like to try going back.

For you and for me, I’ll try to provide an overview of what I have written on digital media & education so far. Many posts are related, touching upon similar subjects, and grouping thus makes perfect sense; as long as it’s clear, that many posts overlap those four categories:

  • Sharing knowledge
  • A new direction for education?
  • New literacies?
  • Games & learning
The remainder of this post is a kind of summary of all that I’ve written on the blog. It is at the same time a summary of most of my thinking regarding digital media, games & learning.
I’ll cover the first three topics in this post, and the last one – games & learning – in a separate one, as this is a subject I’ve covered in a large number of posts.
Sharing knowledge

As hard as I may try, I’m probably not able to appropriately highlight exactly how important the sharing of knowledge is. 

In “knowing together?“, I briefly touched upon collective intelligence and how it “exploits the potential of network culture to allow many different minds operating in many different contexts to work together to solve problems that are more challenging than any of them could master as individuals”.

Throughout my work – and life – I try to promote “transparency as an ideal“, which I even describe as my business model. Increased sharing is a big part of the solution to the challenges of education, but “how do we nurture a culture of transparency in education? How do we make it not only feasible, but attractive to share?”.

I wrote a blog post on Twitter, which described “why I love Twitter (and you probably should too)” and in which I was able to quite Niels Bohr’s request for “free access to information”. I focus on Twitter, but I try to place Twitter within a larger framework of transparent communication and collaboration.

In my latest post on this topic, I end up shouting in order to encourage people to “share EVERYTHING“. This was sparked by a couple of thought-provoking incidents, which made it all too clear, that sharing is often considered much less important than creating knowledge. I recommend to not “fear experimentation. Try different methods, tools and approaches. Mix online with offline, writing, talking, showing. Be a little more ad hoc’ish – .anarchistic if you like.” We should experiment with the ways we share, and we should not wait until any “final” results; share the process as well.

A new direction for education?

Throughout my writing on this blog (as well as in most of what I do), I argue in favor of change. This is most prominent when talking about education, as I wholeheartedly believe, that radical change is needed.

Inspired by the many game jams taking place, I suggest that we start “jamming in education“. I would love to see education jams, in which we “summon a large number of dedicated, creative teachers and relevant practitioners, release them from the everyday constraints (if only for 48 hours) and indulge them to work out new experimental solutions”.

One challenge in facilitating change is that we are already so caught up in the “old ways” of doing things. We follow ancient maps, when we should probably just “leave the map behind“. “We should consider leaving the map behind a crucial part of our solution. We should continually encourage experiments and a willingness to risk failing by challenging conventional wisdom and old assumptions on what constitutes good education.”

We need to say and do things differently. When one approach doesn’t work, we shouldn’t just do the same again; “don’t just repeat; rephrase!“.

I have a profound problem with our current framing of cheating in education; not least because this practice effectively means, that “I’m a cheater“. “What is considered “cheating” in school, is considered “creative, innovative problem solving” outside school”.

I’m convinced, that one key component of education in the future must be “context design”, which I elaborate upon in “context is everything“. Oftentimes in school, we provide no context for the curricular activities we expect students to interact with. “Whichever kind of education (also the corporate kind) one is engaged in, context is invaluable. We’ll probably never become good enough at designing relevant contexts, but we should never stop trying. We should always strive towards embedding any kind of learning in a context, where said learning actually makes sense.”

This is important because we must not underestimate “the importance of relevance“. If learning contenst is isolated from proper contexts, chances are, that most students won’t understand the relevance and importance of said learning content. If they won’t understand the relevance, they’ll have a very, very hard time learning anything.

We also need to focus on new skills and competences. One such set of competences is comprised by the notion of “entrepreneurship” and the ability to “embrace the initiative“. Quoting Seth Godin, “most people don’t believe they are capable of initiative”. This is sad, and we as educators must be better role-models in inspiring students to think and work like entrepreneurs, who are willing to experiment, take chances and – from time to time – fail.

My latest ponderings on new directions for education was inspired by a little yellow duck (made of LEGO bricks). Guess I was in a poetic mood when I wrote about “the simple beauty of a duck“, yet my arguments were surprisingly well aligned with what I’ve written elsewehere. “Less scaffolding and rigid rules, more freedom and exploration”.

New literacies?

It’s becoming increasingly obvious, that we cannot rely solely on traditional notions of “literacy” in a world, where digital media is as pervasive and important as ever.

This is only accentuated by the oft-cited dichotomy between digital natives and digital immigrants. I’m quite skeptical about the value of these terms, and argue that “digital natives get lost too“. We need to understand, that digital natives are not really that competent, and that being competent means more than “pushing buttons”.

Digital competence can also be understood along the lines of “digital literacy” and I’ve been quite inspired by “a model for digital literacy” put forth by Futurelab. The value of this particular model is, that it makes it very clear, that digital literacy consists of many different skills and competences.

That’s it for now. I’ll be back very soon with another post summarising my writing on games & learning.

Share EVERYTHING!

I don’t normally shout (in typing, at least. I am known to noisy in person, though), but I sincerely feel it is appropriate this time around. During the last week, I’ve encountered several related issues, which I don’t fully understand. Or, to be more precise, I understand them, but they worry me a great deal.
Earlier this week, a quite popular Danish site and forum for people working with media and communication (and hey, who isn’t these days?) known as “Kommunikationsforum” featured an article on Twitter. Despite some very reasonable personal conclusions from the author towards the end the article, it mostly painted a bleak picture based on the very small userbase in little Denmark. Because there are few of us on Twitter, numbers are ridicolously low when looking at traffic generated, and also the general activity level on Twitter (which just reinforces my existing belief, that English is lingua franca in this respect).

My earlier musings ought to make it very clear, why I disagree with a reduction of Twitter to a simple generator of traffic and hits. Not only does this quantitative, metrics-based analysis not say much about the real potential of Twitter, it ends up being just another example of trying to understand one service in the light of, or even worse, as an extension or copy of what came before. This, to me, is certain to lead to misunderstandings and a shallow understanding of, in this case, Twitter.

This brings me to my most recent and eyeopening experience (in all its simplicity).

A couple of days ago I participated in a small workshop focusing on the many international (or EU, at least) collaborative projects to improve education. I’m in one of those projects, and I wholly support these initiatives. The day was all fine and good, visited by very passionate and dedicated people, who obviously were all eager to make the famous difference. What struck me as surprising – frightening, even – was one very tiny exercise, where we each had to tell, why we attempt to distribute whatever we learn in our respective projects.

I may not have been entirely clear or persuasive myself, but I do hope that I managed to convey, at least partly, my huge passion and belief in sharing. I don’t mean to do projects for the project itself, just for the involved institutions, or for entirely egoistic purposes. I want to do projects, because I sincerely believe, that they can contribute to a better world – however microscopic this contribution may be. Frankly, if that’s not the purpose, I don’t care.

Several other participants looked at this quite differently. As they said, they share because they must. Because EU (or whoever is funding the project) tells them to.

In the current upshot of talk on motivation, this is clearly extrinsic. We need the idea of sharing to be intrinsic and meaningful to everybody.

I’ll be very quick to point out, that I’m not targeting anyone here. It’s not that these are not good, competent, inspired people with the best of intentions – I am completely convinced, that they are. It is merely a symptom of a challenge, which is to be found everywhere in society.

We need to challenge and change the firmly rooted culture fuelling the perception, that sharing is secondary, tertiary or even completely undesirable altogether. This holds true in education, but also in society in general. I’ve been there several times, but never stop repeating myself on this matter. Sharing does not undermine your own position. Sharing is not like sawing off the branch, on which you yourself are sitting more or less comfortably. On the contrary. By sharing you make yourself relevant, and move into an even more lucrative position of being someone people want to consult in the future.

Experimentation can be fun!I don’t have any final solutions (I never do, mostly because I think that’s an illusion; nothing is final at a macroscopic level). I don’t claim to be particularly good at it myself neither, but I keep trying, keep exploring new and (perhaps) better ways. This is probably also my primary recommendation – don’t fear experimentation. Try different methods, tools and approaches. Mix online with offline, writing, talking, showing. Be a little more ad hoc’ish – .anarchistic if you like.

Also, sharing should not be thought of as something we do once the project is over. Don’t wait for the build-up of a large body of work before you start talking about what you’re fiddling with. Think of the process as an open, iterative one with a constant feedback loop influencing decisions and directions. Sharing is just one part of reciprocal relationships, where you talk, other people listen and talk back. It’s not always as simple and well ordered as this – far from.

We really do need this change of culture, and we need more transparency.

Everywhere.

I’m a cheater

Smartphones - making cheating easier?I just read this post, where it is stated, that “smartphones are the next classroom computers”.

I definitely agree that using smartphones in education is one of the viable paths we should currently be exploring. These tiny, yet powerful “pocketable computers” provide us with a wide array of possibilities, which, if used cleverly, can obviously contribute to more dynamic, authentic learning scenarios. This presupposes a willingness to challenge existing structures, though. If we just cram smartphones in the classroom in support of current practice, little will be achieved.

Technology is not the ultimate saviour of education.

People, using available tools in creative and reflected ways, are.

The above was not, however, what said post really made me think about.

No cheating?No, it inspired me to think about cheating, by promoting this as one major problem in using smartphones:

Because of the negative ways students use cell phones in class, like cheating or texting, some teachers say they’re wary of the idea.

We all know of this concern.

When the walls of the classroom are broken down, ignored as they are by especially digital media, the traditional ways of thinking about and assessing student progression is fundamentally challenged.

When everything can be found on Wikipedia, how do we test our students?

Does "helping" equal "cheating"?

For several years, the “solution” has been one of creating artifical borders. We’ve been desperately clinging to our old ways, creating a classroom that is becoming increasingly isolated from the surrounding world, and all in order to be able to test and measure students. We’ve been forced to do so, because of the predominant “if we can’t measure it, it’s worthless”-dogma.

Use appropriate tools!I can’t help but think about how I myself work and learn. I see no borders, no boundaries. I use the tools available to me, find the information I need and solve the problems I’m faced with. I may read a blog post, which I stumbled upon via Twitter, where I afterwards return to discuss said post. I visit Wikipedia to get an overview, before I may even find a relevant book on the shelf. I mail a friend, we talk on Skype and perhaps I write something here.

No problem, no learning process exist in isolation, and I’m thus always involved in an informational ecosystem much, much larger than whichever situation I’m currently finding myself in.

If I were still in school, I would clearly be accused of cheating, as I’m not really adhering to any particular set of rigid rules.

In many ways, what is considered “cheating” in school, is considered “creative, innovative problem solving” outside school.

I don’t have any glorious solution to this problem, yet I’m urgently aware, that we must revise our idea of cheating. When students are “cheating”, they are very often only doing what every single one of us would do; only difference is, they’re in school, we’re not.

They’re using a wide array of “tools” to solve problems.

Instead of our ultimately doomed attempts at preventing this, we should be actively encouraging it. We should be designing learning contexts, where the old notion of cheating is no longer valid, but where the learning process requires students to use tools interactively (after all, that is considered a key competence by OECD and others).

simoncrookWe generally need to shift our focus. That which can easily be googled (by cheating) may not be the most interesting in a learning perspective. On Twitter, simoncrook recently wrote, that “if students can Google the answer, rethink the question”. If we pose questions which can be answered by a simple Google search, we pose the wrong questions. Why not shift the focus from factual knowledge towards using tools to solve interesting, relevant problems, which approximate real world problems? Or better yet, addressing actual real world problems.

But administration demands us to maintain the rigid testing, you say? Let’s be creative within existing structures, but let’s simultaneously work to change those structures.

Nothing is carved in stone; it’s all just a matter of perceptions, and perceptions can change.

I hate networking

It's all about networking!

Coming from someone always socialising, always online, always communicating, this may come as a surprise: If I go back a few years, the pervasive and extremely hyped notion of networking was my biggest fear.

Everybody was talking about networking as the only feasible path to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Even if achieving said pot was not your primary objective, networking was considered unavoidable. No pain, no gain. No networking, no success.

I hated the prospect of that, having always considered networking to be a shallow, superficial process consisting only of exchanges of nothingness, swapping business cards, the mutual agreements of using each other as stepping stones for something bigger, something better.

It’s not that I’m terribly shy or hysterically introvert. I talk a lot, and I love talking and listening to people. It’s just that I often find it hard to talk to strangers without having some common frame of reference; something to talk about, basically.

A thesis to change my life

My Master's Thesis on game based learningIn between my thoughts on the perils of networking, I had recently finished my master’s thesis on game based learning, and realised the (to me at the time) surprising lack of prevalence of this phenomenon in practice.

Curious, ambitious, idealistic, naive, I simply wanted to go and change this. I saw it as a very real, very concrete, and – eventually – very complex way to change and improve education.

My primary vision was (and is) one of knowledge exchange, of sharing thoughts, ideas, experiences, between commonly unconnected fields such as research, game development and educational practice. I had no very precise strategy or business model when I started my little company. All I had was this persistent idea that if I could place myself in-between all the relevant parties, I could carve out a niche for myself, and perhaps, over time, make valuable contributions to education and gaming culture while satisfying my own desire to be passionate about everything I do.

I’ve been working hard, putting in too many hours, trying out numerous approaches with very varied degrees of success, but slowly I’ve been moving forward. I love what I do, and I’m fundamentally grateful for getting the chance to work within such a dynamic, exciting and challenging field. I consider life to be one big learning process, and in that perspective, things are great. I’m always learning, and in a way, I’m like myself when I was only learning to read. Always looking for new letters, new words, new sentences, always searching for challenges and new meanings.

Paradoxically enough, however, most of what I’ve been doing for those three years have been revolving around that intimidating notion of networking. Creating the desired interdisciplinary dialog and knowledge exchange obviously requires exactly that, and I thus fully acknowledge the importance, necessity even, of networking.

Have I thus come to terms with the phenomenon?

Not really. Even today, I still hate networking in the rather bleak interpretation as described above, and I have experienced situations like that. Nobody’s interested in anybody else, only seeking to promote their own agenda.

I don’t believe in that approach. I truly believe, that promoting a common agenda is the only viable way to make all of us win.

Luckily, though, the nastiest of networking sessions are surprisingly rare.

More often than not I meet sympathetic, intelligent human beings, interesting and interested, with whom I have the opportunity to discuss topics near and dear to me. These people are just as passionate as me (if not more), and very inspiring conversations are abundant. We talk about how we love games in general, why games deserve to be taken seriously, how the Danish game industry is doing, in which ways game based learning could possibly improve education, how we can strengthen the general understanding of games by focusing on game literacy – and everything in between. It’s wonderful stuff, really, and I’m always being infused with knowledge, ideas, inspiration, upon these talks.

Sometimes a more or less coincident meet-up leads to nothing more than the good experience itself, and that is perfectly fine. I expect nothing more, and I’m convinced that seeing the process as something relevant, valuable and rewarding in itself is part of the key to respectful networking. When concrete projects are born this way, it’s only an added bonus.

In general, that is how I’ve managed so far; by focusing on content, on discussing ideas, concepts, solutions, rather than on networking itself. I will probably never be the guy touring conference halls to  introduce myself, unsolicited, to whoever could further my case; just as I, on a more personal note, will never be the guy talking to strangers at a party without introduction of some kind.

So. I hate networking, but I love meeting and talking to passionate, inspiring, dedicated people, online as well as offline.

Even if this is mostly a personal anecdote, I would love to share just one single piece of advise with everybody fearing networking like me. I believe I’m not alone with this, and many would probably refrain from following dreams because of the fear of networking.

Don’t.

Just make sure you create a “custom fit” approach, and that you strive to make all networking revolve around whatever it is you’re passionate about. When you change the game from “networking for networkings own sake” towards “networking as a chance to talk about what you love”, it suddenly becomes very rewarding and satisfying.

What is “game based learning”?


Questioning Game Based Learning – what is it?

Easter is coming up, and I feel like shutting down the thinking. At the same time, though, I feel like defining stuff (two contradictory feelings, it would seem).

I am always considering and exploring game based learning, and an inherent part of this process is wrestling with a feasible definition. It is very difficult to study and/or practice any given subject, if is not possible to define and demarcate the subject concerned. Therefore, we must seek an answer to the question:

What is game based learning?

This is not a question easily answered, and proposing a definition is certainly a daunting and difficult task.

At the moment, talking about game based learning might prove hard, as no common frame of reference exists. Many people look to Wikipedia for answers, and so do I. Here game based learning is defined as:

Game based learning (GBL) is a branch of serious games that deals with applications that have defined learning outcomes. Generally they are designed in order to balance the subject matter with the gameplay and the ability of the player to retain and apply said subject matter to the real world.

If we accept the above, game based learning is nothing more than a genre of serious games, i.e. games developed specifically for learning purposes.

This does not describe my perception of game based learning at all.

To me, game based learning is about much more than the game, which is “just” a tool to support learning.

This is not to say that games easily could be swapped with any other available tool. Games do definitely have special affordances, which make them particularly well suited for facilitating learning. In its essence, playing is learning, which Jesper Juul also states in Half-Real:

Playing a game is an activity of improving skills in order to overcome these challenges, and playing a game is therefore fundamentally a learning experience.

Perhaps this is game based learning?

To me, this is the basic premise of game based learning. Games offer a situated practice, where we as players must acquire the skills, knowledge and competencies needed to beat the game, thus echoing John Dewey’s mantra, learning by doing. Such mechanics promote a feeling of experienced relevance, where we learn what is necessary when it is necessary. This is often contrasted by the formal learning in school, where the curriculum content is considered irrelevant by many students, because the purpose is not necessarily clear, and because it is not used in a situated practice.

When playing World of Warcraft, it is often considered important to be able to speak English – if you don’t, you learn it to play the game. When playing Civilization, it is important to understand the logic of history, the history of technologies etc. In Sim City, you must learn some of the inner workings of a town, and in Global Conflicts: Palestine, you must think like a journalist and acquire seemingly contradictory perspetives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In addition, I do not consider game based learning to be restricted to the use of serious games or other games developed specifically with learning in mind. Any game or genre could be used, it is only a matter of the didactical goals.

Games provide contexts for learning; so far, so good.

Next, it is absolutely imperative that we always remember, that games cannot provide us with a miracle; they are no “silver bullet”, as researcher Kurt Squire stated in “Changing the Game: What Happens When Video Games Enter the Classroom?” several years ago.

Ben Williamson at Games in Schools-conference

By themselves they are of no or very little value in any educational situation; it is only by designing the learning context around the games, that we can hope to harness the potentials of games.

This point has been advanced with growing impact recently, and any overly optimistic hopes have probably been curbed by now. Futurelab is doing interesting work, and has contributed to game based learning with several publications. In “Computer games, schools, and young people“, Ben Williamson suggests, that games should be perceived as teaching tools:

Viewing games as ‘teaching tools’ is a useful distinction because it highlights the key role that teachers play in defining the purposes for their classroom use, in planning activities, and in providing curricular context.

I agree with Williamson, as “defining the purpose”, “planning activities” and not least “providing curricular context” are enormously important components in order to successfully practice game based learning. It cannot be overestimated!

In the light of these deliberations, I arrive at a dynamic working definition (which is very much subject to change, and please do comment or criticize):

Game based learning describes an approach to teaching, where students explore relevant aspect of games in a learning context designed by teachers. Teachers and students collaborate in order to add depth and perspective to the experience of playing the game.

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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