My Daily Tech

Over the last six months or so, I have read a number of blogs of writers from across education speaking to the question "what tech do I use everyday?" It's a topic worthy of consideration because there is such a bewildering number of applications and programs that aim to make one's life easier professionally and to make the art and craft of teaching more managable. At school today, I had the opportunity to work with colleagues at the last professional development day of the year. One colleague and I have done great work together; today he and I worked with teachers who wanted to refresh skills or who had more straightforward questions. The conversation we had was a reminder just how many offerings there are to do almost anything.

So, I start my list of everyday tech with Evernote. I use it professionally to keep track of notes, tag my notes, store photos that speak to work concerns and use it to plan both professional and personal projects. I was both surprised and a little delighted to hear such disparate opinions on Evernote from colleagues. Some, like me, really liked it but didn't use it as a classroom/learning management tool (though it's a great program for that purpose). Others did use it to manage and run their class through sharing. Still others didn't like it because it didn't really work for the way they work. That was one of the key take-aways from this seminar for me. You have to try these tools out first and, if you don't like it, don't use it. Don't go on what anyone says - at the end of the day, you have to find that it works for you. Having said that, I find Evernote and its power to sync across every possible platform a godsend.

Gmail is a first in the morning, last at night program for me, although not for work. Gmail's easy to use interface, cloud-storage, ease of use and cross-platform compatibility are crucial.

In the social networking realm, I read Twitter everyday, but don't always tweet or retweet. I don't really get how Twitter works as a social network for friends - I think Facebook serves far better in that capacity. But where I might find cat videos on FB, I find great learning on Twitter. If you don't have an account, you really should.

I am an avid user of Google's blog aggregator as well. Reader is an outstanding and intuitive aggregator that makes really good suggestions based on what you already read.

I am a To Do list enthusiast and have downloaded dozens of different apps, taken Franklin Covey courses and done my best to find the one that works for me. About six months ago, I found it. iProcrastinate (Mac and iOS only) is the best to do program ever and I use it practically hourly to keep track of what's what and what needs to be done when. It is intuitive with clear relationships between different tasks and excellent tagging.

Have you heard of Zite and Flipboard? If not, you should seek them out. Both are personalized, social magazines. Zite gets better at finding content for you the more you use it. It's content engine is very smart - it's sent me lots of articles over the last six months that I would never have found on my own (except by dumb luck). Flipboard is a beautiful social magazine that takes your content and its own and melds them into an experience that reads like a magazine. Speaking of magazines...if you've got an iPad, you can't go wrong with Zinio.

When I was teaching, I used the very powerful Schoology as my daily classroom management tool. It's user interface makes sense, is easy to use, has a dropbox feature and fantastic support. It could easily simplify a school's technology framework, largely replacing email and making it possible for students to learn asynchronously and for school communities to work together without having to use other, public social networks like Facebook when you really want Facebook's features but not it's public facing.

I'd love to hear from you what you use every day. There are so many choices - it's critical that we share with each other as we make sense of a world of ubiquitous technology.

 

Classroom Free Schools?

Clearly I am obsessed with Good.is this week. Go have a look at this article that will provide great food for thought not only for educators but also designers, human factors specialists, futurists and place-based theorists. The article asks a question we haven't asked as readily as we should in the US - what if you built a school without conventional classrooms? The problems of the conventional classroom are well-established in the literature (if you want the bibliography, feel free to email me). Given that the state of California alone will spend billions of dollars over the next decade on new schools, much greater, careful attention should be paid to building schools that have the capacity to be flexible enough to respond to the needs of 21st century learners. And let me be explicit. These needs do not center on learning how to sit quietly in rows for 6-8 hours a day listening to experts. Active listening is an important skill, but not to the exclusion of others. Creativity in education is important to me and to others (Sir Ken Robinson, Dan Pink, etc.). Even more important to me is the need to individualize education so that each student's particular needs are addressed by a meaningful and, to the degree possible, personalized curricululm. If you don't go out to the article, at least have a look at the Vittra schools in Sweden that inspired the original post. Food for thought for me.

Further discussion on exactly what is in Scandinavia's water that's causing all of these fascinating educational innovations to come.

 

Play and Learning

A great post at the inestimably well-written and well curated Good.is looks at the connections between robots and learning, finding that robots are a "useful proxy for understanding kids' social, creative and learning aspirations." Perhaps more importantly, the reporting of the post's author (the equally inestimable Liz Dwyer) suggests that what students like most about working with robots is their non-judgmental patience.

21st century classrooms should be places of joyful tinkering, playful learning and spirited engagement where both students and teachers feel drawn by a day-to-day tone of encouragement and, yes, play, to push themselves towards and beyond their limits and "potential." To the degree possible, classrooms should be places where students and teachers strive to solve meaningful problems and do so in ways that when executed, surprise even themselves. Classrooms, in short, like the classrooms described in this thought-provoking post. 

 

Read These Blogs

It can be some work keeping up with the ever-expanding universe of bloggers, thinkers, confabulists and furturists writing about education, technology, new methods and the 21st century. Here are some blogs that I recommend or at least encourage you to look at to determine if what they're offering is what you're needing. In no particular order...

Nottingham, England's Tom Barrett writes the wise, thoughtful and provocative edte.ch blog. With interests in school design, design-inspired curricula and technology there's a lot that Tom offers. In the past month, I have read blog entries about designing learning spaces for the needs of learners, great suggestions about iPad apps that really work in classroom settings and a thoughtful piece about the notion of co-designing curriculum with your students.

Another inestimable resource in the world of 21st century educational thought is Dean Groom. "Design for Living" is a sometimes cantankerous, always provocative look at education, curriculum design and digital life. He cares about game-based learning and play, as I do, but is also interested in how we use and interact with digital spaces generally.

Subscribe to Pekka Puhakka's twitter feed for one of the best aggregations of social media and gamification news. 

Ben Rimes is doing very helpful work at techsavvyed.net. Concerned about practical questions that can vex the classroom teacher in integrating technology into the classroom as well as theoretical questions about 21st century education and skills. His post on recursive teaching and learning practices was very helpful for me.

Germany-based Ilona Buchem writes about gamification in education, game-based learning and digitial culture and identity. Don't miss her March 6 post on digital identity in particular. Excellent!

And the work of two colleagues who are learning and leading in the craft of 21st century method development. Nick Holton works at Milken Community High School in Los Angeles where he is a mentor teacher in the area of education technology.  Mike Irwin, a middle schol teacher at Henry Ford Academy in Detroit, has been exploring deeply powerful game-based learning techniques with his students and classmates. He blogs about these matters on his tumblr site. Check him out!

And of course you should be reading the Gamification blog and Bill Ferriter's Tempered Radical.

I'm personally and professionally grateful that these educators, philosophers, thinkers and dreamers have shared their work with the rest of us. Education is the better because of it.

 

Uptown / Bluff / Soho / Boyd's Hill

Since moving to Pittsburgh a few months ago, I have come to learn that Pittsburgh's character as a city of neighborhoods runs very, very deep. It's one of the many things that makes this such a great city - worthy of its status as one of the finest places to live in the country. How many neighborhoods does this city actually have? Depends on who you ask - surely eighty, perhaps ninety. In honor of getting a fancy new camera on coming to the city, I've decided to acquaint myself with all of these neighborhoods by means of a photography project. And I've started at home - in the neighborhood that at some point has had at least four different names. The city calls it "Bluff," but most everyone seems to call it "Uptown." At least everyone in Uptown does, that is. When I tell long term Pittsburghers where I live, they think it's Downtown or the Hill District or, more sadly, they don't think it's anything at all. With the opening of the Fifth Avenue High School lofts where we live and other signs of development closer to the Consol Center, it is possible that this neighborhood, with its decades of morphing identities, is on its way to another chapter. I hope these photos give you a sense of the place, its great public art and its potential. I know that the name Soho conveys a hipsterness that isn't present in the neighborhood and is probably not even desirable, but perhaps there's something in those other Sohos, a clear sense of self and identity, that would be.  Larger images can be found here.

Teaching in a Gamified Classroom - Levels 9 and 10: On Ambition

Levels 9 and 10 - Vanquishing that boss was a big deal, and that journey ends, but always around the corner, a new journey beckons…

I had no idea a year ago when I sat down and began to radically restructure and gamify my America 3.0 class that the journey would have led me to where I am now. It has been an extraordinary learning journey for me, certainly one of the richest I've undertaken as a teacher. The process of looking at a course curriculum from a fresh, new perspective isn't all that dramatic. Good teachers do it all the time. But the degree of revisioning that this work entails was more comprehensive than I realized when I began. Anyone who knows me and has been reading this blog knows that I'm an avid gamer...have been my entire life. What was surprising to me was how well game philosophies transfer to the classroom. I wasn't sure that what I've learned from playing board and computer games would have such a clear, dramatic, obvious connection, but it certainly did.

More important than the work has been the relationships and the sharing of the "gospel" of game-based learning. Great work with my colleague Nick Holton who used the game-based learning concept along with others at Milken Community High School last year informed my understanding of the method. Perhaps the most rewarding relationship that has come from this is with a fantastic young educator in Detroit, Mike Irwin, who has become a valued accountability partner, creative sounding board and emerging visionary who has pushed my own thinking in dozens of new directions. We've got a number of presentations in the works for next year. Very, very excited to be working with him.

Two thoughts to wrap up this nine part series.

Scope: I began this story in a single, elective, semester-long class for seniors at an elite private high school in Los Angeles. This is not an inappropriate place to start. But friends and colleagues have shown me that that scale is pretty restrictive. There are entire schools that do game-based learning throughout their curricula. And there's every reason to believe, based on evidence gathered by Mike Irwin that the method can have a powerful impact on student self-direction, resilience and persistence. It's a reminder that there's no reason not to start small, but there's also no reason to stay small.

Ambition: Many of us who've been studying education in the last dozen years have become acutely aware that as our society changes, our approach to educating young people also needs to change. As the pace of change increases, it becomes more and more incumbent upon us to reach out to that change and embrace it, because to do otherwise makes it worryingly likely that our institutions will be bypassed as society comes to its new equilibrium. Game-based learning is a straightforward enough method. What makes it important in 2012 is that it makes claims on the entirety of the student's experience that are themselves radical. We must be ambitious in the 21st century if we are going to meet the challenges that confront us.

As General Eric Shinseki said: "If you dislike change, you're going to dislike irrelevance even more." Now is the time to be bold, relevant and ambitious.

 

Tobago

Tobago

Teaching in a Gamified Classroom Level 8 - Competition

Level 8 - time for a little PVP…

One of the core notions in game design is competition. What opposes the player? Is it a fearsome boss at the end of the game like in Diablo? Or is it a mental challenge, like in Portal 2? Perhaps what opposes the player isn't at all clear...like in the game Journey, perhaps the opposition doesn't really exist, or is so abstracted, that it might not exist at all.

In the gamified classroom, one of my biggest challenges was setting up the systems of opposition and challenge to motivate learners/players and to sustain their motivation/learning. The literature on game design is frequently focused on theory associated with these questions, because we all know what happens when we play games where there is little opposition or challenge. Candy Land, anyone?

This question vexed me throughout the process of designing and then teaching America 3.0 and in fairness, I don't think I ever really hit on the answer. There were two major problems that I encountered. The first problem was the question of the game versus the players. How difficult was the game/course? For many students, merely understanding what was expected of them was so difficult, that they struggled, even months later, to move past this point, despite regular explanation. I discussed this challenge in a previous post. For other students, the course was easy enough to understand, but they challenge facing them wasn't structured as well as it might have been. As a result, they would bog down very early in a problem that I thought was straightforward, or at least doable, which they found difficult or impossible. Hence the practice of "nerfing" the experience. The lesson for me and for you if you are thinking of gamifying your classroom is to be mindful of the challenge you establish for your students/players, and how essential it is that these challenges be structured so that students can manage them. Be prepared, particularly in the first year, for this challenge. Interestingly, the younger your students, the less likely this will pose a problem.

The bigger challenge that I am going to direct myself to next year is the idea of competition between students/players. Earlier this year I emailed with Mark Hendrickson, a former student of mine, about this question (he studied this idea in graduate school). In response to a question I wrote asking for his thoughts on the spirit of competition, he wrote:

"...defining the "spirit of competiton" on a sociological level may help: a rivalry between two or more persons or groups for an object desired in common, usually resulting in a victor and a loser. This, of course leads to more questions. How is "object" defined in the classroom? What do students in grade X desire to achieve in the classroom that could result in a friendly rivalry if subdivided into individuals or groups? What kind of rivalry or competition in the classroom would not result in only one side winning?"

Next year, I will be teaching a course on the federal election in the United States. Clearly, my intention to divide the students into an Obama staff and a Romney staff will give me a chance to explore these ideas some. Providing ideas and work to their side that has a measurable impact on their candidate's success (within the laboratory setting) would be a great "object," but it doesn't go far enough. He then wrote:

"One of the examples in gaming with the MMORPGs, as you pointed out, were the boss battles. These boss battles could be done individually or with a team. I think your spirit of competition ideal could spawn from these battles. In other words, what better way to provide competition than defeating a boss, or seeing what individual or team could beat the boss most effectively."

And this is where it gets interesting. In the MMORPG setting, teams of players are opposed by the game itself - the boss is a construct set up by the game designers. I do not know of an MMO that injects a player-versus-player (PVP) element into this kind of encounter. And this is what Mark is suggesting here. Constructing a boss battle that is clearly defined and static, but which two different teams could approach, struggle with and overcome. As the teacher, I would have the opportunity to measure their successes according to a single rubric, but the students would have the opportunity to explore what "effectiveness" would look like in that encounter. He concluded:

"Also, the "random encounters" idea in the other teacher's classroom would be a good place to start. One random day per week, you could divide the students into any number of individual or group combinations. These groups would compete to answer questions in your "modeling" form, and if you chose, winning these random encounters would have no impact on their level or grade. What is the purpose of a random encounter in an RPG? For me, it has been to fight weaker monsters to be able to beat the stronger bosses through stat increases. What is the purpose of a random encounter in a gamified classroom? To apply my current knowledge  to be able to effectively challenge and solve a larger issue or problem through confidence increases."

Take a look at that last sentence again. Application of knowledge...this is at the core of great games, gamified learning and game-designed courses. By structuring the student's experience effectively, this would give the student the opportunity to demonstrate mastery of a skill or a content concept. By structuring it like a random encounter, it generates the "spirit of competition" that most of the game literature suggests is critical for successful game-based instruction. It reminds me of the Food Network program "Sweet Genius," in which the contestants are given a baking/candy making challenge and then part way through the challenge, have an additional obstacle put before them in the form of new ingredients that have to be incorporated into the mix. I am very much looking forward to incorporating these ideas into my class next year.

Mansions of Madness - an example of a boardgame featuring competition and cooperation.

Mansions of Madness - an example of a boardgame featuring competition and cooperation.

Carygrantathon Concludes!

46 films later, I think I've seen every film Cary Grant appeared in that is also in print. Mind you, that still leaves me 27 films short, but 17 of these films are from 1936 or earlier, before Grant started to see really significant success as a lead actor in films like 1937's "The Awful Truth" and "Topper." If Grant's early output is similar to the pre-1937 films that I have seen, I suspect I've seen enough to be able to draw conclusions about his filmography. My opinion of Cary Grant at the end of this personal film history journey is not significantly different than it was at the beginning. He remains an actor who has an almost supernatural personal appeal. Charming, suave, funny, believable, authentic. It's no wonder that his career took on its independent, self-directed shape and character. There was no actor who was his equal across so many different kinds of pictures throughout his career. They were not all good films, however...nor was he great in everything. Generally, he brought a film up and was rarely to blame for a film's lack of success.

There has always been talk about Grant's appeal as the romantic lead in films like "Charade" or "An Affair to Remember," and his performances are quite memorable in these films. It would be a mistake, however, to see him as having just that one-trick. His work in "North By Northwest" and "Notorious" supports the argument that he could always be relied upon to bring extra gravitas to a suspense thriller. He was also believable as a war hero in films like "Destination Tokyo" and in "Operation Petticoat" (where at least I think he was overshadowed by Tony Curtis). And it only takes one viewing of "Arsenic and Old Lace" or "Bringing Up Baby" to realize that Grant was a skilled comic actor (or straight man) with the physical comedy chops and reactivity of a Vaudvillian. Many of these films have found their way into my permanent collection.

Now that I've done the CG thing, the next assignment I'm giving myself is to bring my documentary film education up to snuff. There doesn't appear to be an AFI Top 100 documentaries, so I'm going to aggregate a variety of lists into a Top 50 or 100 and go from there.

What follows is a few lists of Grant's work based on the ten-point film assessment I discussed in a previous Bricole post. In short, the ten components of a film that I look at are: lead acting, supporting acting, direction, cinematography, production design, plotting, dialogue, character development, sound design and ephemera (for things that matter, but that aren't part of the other categories). Each category gets a score of +1 (for excellence), 0 (for averageness) or -1 (for dreadfulness). The highest score a film could earn is 10; the lowest -10. A film that is average would earn a 0.

I would be shocked if there was any argument with the two films that earned perfect 10s for me. The other films in the Top 10 might generate some objection or conversation. I hope so, at least!

Lists!

"10s"

Charade

North By Northwest

Top 10

1. Charade (10)

2. North By Northwest (10)

3. The Philadelphia Story (9)

4. Bringing Up Baby (7)

5. Arsenic and Old Lace (7)

6. Notorious (6)

7. Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (6)

8. To Catch A Thief (6)

9. Born To Be Bad (6)

10. That Touch of Mink (5)

Bottom 10

1. People Will Talk (-5)

2. The Amazing Quest of Ernest Bliss (-4)

3. Father Goose (-2) 

4. Indiscreet (-2)

5. Wings in the Dark (-2)

6. Hot Saturday (-1)

7. Thirty-Day Princess (0)

8. Wedding Present (0)

9. Kiss Them For Me (0)

10. Once Upon A Time (1)

Grant's -1s for lead acting

Father Goose (tired acting of tired material)

Wings In The Dark (unbelievable)

Co-stars Who Outacted Grant (in alphabetical order)

Tony Curtis (Operation: Petticoat)

Sophia Loren (Houseboat)

Myrna Loy (The Bachelor And The Bobby-Soxer)

Frank Sinatra (The Pride And The Passion)

Teaching in a Gamified Classroom Level 7: "But I'm Not Learning..."

Level 7 - wait a minute...this isn't what we signed up for. We're not making any progress...we don't get it!

The most important feedback I received from my students at the end of America 3.0 was one idea split in two parts. Many acknowledged that the way the class was organized felt radically different from what they were used to and that they enjoyed that. Many of these same students (and some of the others who didn't explicitly acknowledge the first part) said point-blank that they felt like they "didn't learn anything." A few of them at a conference attended by my head of school a few months after America 3.0 ended confirmed that there was this sense that while the mechanics of the game-based classroom had merit, there was something so different from conventional instruction that some students simply couldn't process the difference.

What my students didn't understand through the process of taking this class (and which I take the lion's share of the responsibility for) is that the way they had been taught throughout their education had shaped their capacity to experience America 3.0. I had never intended them to experience the class as a typical or conventional learning experience. The one's who were most risk-tolerant, curious and free-thinking were able to see the course for what it was, namely, an opportunity to use pre-existing knowledge and skills to reinforce learning in American life and letters and skills that relate to the job of the professional historian (reading and writing, primarily). Those were were risk-averse, conventional or credentialist saw the course less as an opportunity to build on what they already knew and more as an experience that was fundamentally bewildering.

And lots of reflection followed as I observed my friend and colleague trying the same method with his 8th grade students at a charter school in Detroit. Much to my delight, the data he generated from his students' experiences were quite different from my teaching experience. His students didn't report that they hadn't learned anything. Rather, they felt that for the first time, they had been given autonomy to learn and as a result had learned much more.

So for those of you thinking about gamifying your classrooms, consider the following:

  • The older your students and the more conventional their previous education, the more scaffolding you will need to provide to maximize their experience.
  • Be explicit that your intentions and objectives in the course are different from their previous experiences. I wanted students to learn more about how historians work, how collaboration generates knowledge and how technological tools can enhance learning and collaboration. I didn't explicitly say this...as we all know, don't make assumptions…
  • Remember that learning by doing requires students to be active learners, directing their learning and owning their decisions. For many young people, this is a frightening place to be in school. Teachers have to support student experimentation without setting up a learning environment that is so unusual that disengagement becomes the order of the day.
  • Don't give in to requests to make it more conventional - at the end of the day, your students will get out of your class what they're willing to put in, no matter the form of the class. If you're going to gamify, at least you're maximizing the expectation of engagement.

Teaching in a Gamified Classroom Level 6: Cognitive Load

Level 6 - Fall back! Fall back! We're in over our head!!!

The term cognitive load speaks to an evolving theory on learning, memory and instructional design that identifies three factors (called intrinsic, germane and extraneous load) that influence learning. Intrinsic load describes the inherent difficulty in a learning process, question or scheme (reading The Lorax is inherently easier than A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu). Germane load speaks to the work the mind does when it is learning, organizing information and making sense of complex concepts. Extraneous load is that load that requires memory, mental resources, effort or energy that might otherwise have been used to deal with the germane load of a problem (there's nothing you can do as an instructor, teacher or lesson planner to alter the intrinsic load inherent in a particular question). In essence, intrinsic load is fixed, germane load is what you as the instructor is looking to maximize and extraneous load is what, by skillful design and classroom management, you are trying to manage.

If only I had understood this in August when I was designing the America 3.0 course, I could have avoided some potholes!

What's frustrating from a curriculum design and game-based learning perspective is that  I knew all of this in August but didn't really make the connections I needed to in order to understand that the design of the learning experience would have the kind of influence over the learner's experience that it would have. Being a gamer, it should have been clear.

Anyone who has played video games would recognize everything I said above about cognitive load. I will speak to this through my experiences playing World of Warcraft, but I think you're likely to find that these experiences speak to other video games as well. 

In WOW, intrinsic load speaks to how inherently difficult it is to complete a game task. Farming minerals to make gold is not at all difficult, and people have been known to do it almost robotically. Killing mobs in the world or "trash" in an instance is likewise not very difficult. 5-man instance bosses are intrinsically harder, heroic 5-man instance bosses harder still, building to raid bosses which are the most intrinsically difficult bosses in the game to learn how to vanquish. The germane load of killing trash mobs is so low that it can barely be measured. The germane load of killing a complex raid boss is generally so high that even good teams of players can suffer TPKs (total party kills or "wipes" - where every player's character is killed before the boss is defeated) numbering in the hundreds before they succeed. In the case of World of Warcraft, extraneous load would refer to the design of the user's experience: how they play the game, the information the game presents to them, how they use the interface to play the game. Blizzard Entertainment (WOW's publisher) is very sensitive to user criticism about these extraneous detail problems. Every piece of visual information has to clearly and unambiguously inform the player about what is happening to their character. When that doesn't happen, players' inability to play the game requires rapid correction. When the game's germane load is too high, which it sometimes is, Blizzard executes a change in the program itself to lessen the load. Gamers call this process "nerfing," and now I fully understand what nerfing is because of my design decisions in America 3.0.

When you are engaged in gamifying your own classroom, be highly mindful of the questions raised by cognitive load theory. This was a big mistake that I made in my initial design. I was far too ambitious, believing that the structure of the course was within my students' capacity to understand and work within. The work itself was entirely doable, but the way in which I structured the rules of the work was beyond a number of students' capacity to even understand.  In order to create a framework for student success, I had to nerf the structure of the course twice, once to make the KTs more manageable and then to lower the number of required achievements. I don't think that this experience means my gamified classroom was unsuccessful. Rather, it was a matter of having to make some critical changes in the middle of a class.

My sense of this is that younger students, by virtue of not having spent more time in conventional classrooms, will actually encounter less extraneous cognitive load in a gamified classroom than their older colleagues. The experience of my colleague Mike Irwin at Detroit's Henry Ford School for Creative Studies and the experience of the ClassRealm students speaks strongly to this.

http://www.southalabama.edu/oll/mobile/theory_workbook/cognitive_load_theory.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_load

Teaching in a Gamified Classroom Level 5: Theorycrafting Achievements

Level 5 - new rewards based on the ways I challenge myself. Now I know the ways I can push myself to higher and higher places.

Of the dozens of surprising take-aways from my first experience in gamifying my classroom was the ways in which an achievement system stimulated student learning. In previous posts, I discussed how I used a system of knowledge trees to structure content and doing trees to structure skills in ways that allowed students to build their capacities incrementally, in exactly the same way a player builds character skills in a game. In all fairness, some students found these systems highly motivating (the most highly motivated students who had the highest capacity for self-direction), but others found them overwhelming. I think this is because even though students were clearly able to understand the basic game mechanics that were in play in the class (every student had some experience with playing games structured like class), they had spent so many years learning in the 19th and 20th century classrooms that were their lot that they couldn't transition to a learning space that was centered on them.

But every student without exception found the achievement system motivating.

To get an "A" in America 3.0, students had to earn a certain number of points (earned by doing), demonstrate control over essential ideas (shown by earning levels in the knowing trees) and by earning 25 achievements. These achievements have been detailed in an earlier post. Suffice it to say, the achievements served three core needs that my class, and any gamified classroom, requires:

1. Inherent motivation - granting students special points for earning achievements and then making the earning of these achievements public was instantly motivating. I used the Schoology system to manage my classroom and whenever a student earned an achievement, I published that to the class' wall (Schoology works very similarly to Facebook). This proved to be powerfully motivating. More motivating still was the fact that if a student was the first in the class to earn a particular achievement, they earned a "class first" as well as credit for the achievement itself. The desire to earn "class firsts" was a big surprise for me - students were more into this than I anticipated.

2. Structure - I was teaching seniors and I left the decisions about what students would "do" in the doing tree to the students. Some found this overwhelming. The presence of an achievement system gave students who had difficulty with self-direction a sense of what they should do next.

3. Competition - literature on game-based learning points strongly to the need to have a competitive frame for game principles to motivate. Achievements seemed to generate a healthy, productive competitive frame in class without generating some of that negativity that sometimes connects competition to grading.

In the next after-action post, I will look at the question of cognitive load and why getting that right is critical to successfully gamifying your classroom.

Teaching in a Gamified Classroom Level 4: Theorycrafting Doing

Level 4 - new territory. We've figured out the basics (at least we think we have) but to this point, we haven't been put to the test. There's the road - out of our safe home. The road that leads to new places, new adventures and the real challenges that will push us to the limits of what we know and can do.

In my previous post, I discussed how theorycrafting (a practice gamers use to understand unstated realities and rules in videogames by vigorously studying data derived from playing the game) can be applied by teachers in developing gamified curricula. Specifically, I wrote about knowledge. In this post, I will expand on the idea of theorycrafting by looking at "doing."

In constructing the course my students experienced last semester, I was concerned not just about what students would know about America's history after 1970, but what they could do with that knowledge. When it comes to the notion that we live in a world where what knowledge is has fundamentally changed, I don't need to be convinced. I'm onboard. Having said that, I am not (and wasn't) arguing that there is no need for students to know anything. Rather, I am no longer interested in them knowing content for its own sake.

What is at the heart of the gamified classroom is this next step. OK - you know something. So what? What are you going to do with it? That is where the "doing trees" for this course came in. As a teacher of seniors, I thought that I could make the doing trees highly open-ended, giving the students the opportunity to make choices about what skills they'd like to demonstrate mastery of. There were two problems with this fundamental assumption: 

  • Capacity - some students, confronted with the number of choices I offered, shut down and needed regular guidance to make decisions. Some students were essentially paralyzed by having to make choices. Others did better with the notion of choice, but had to be cajoled to go outside their comfort zone.
  • Choice-Aversion - some students had what I can only call "choice aversion." Confronted with the requirement that they make decisions about how they wanted to demonstrate mastery, they would prevaricate between one, two or many. These students, once they made their decision, would treat their decision to write and deliver a speech or to make a Twitter feed as though it were a delicate and precious orchid. No intellectual rough-and-tumble here, which is what I was expecting and designed the course to facilitate.

 The same rules that apply to gamifying knowledge apply to gamifying 21st century skills. What do you want your students to be able to master over the time they're with you. In my case, I gave too many choices in too many hierarchies. It overwhelmed my students ability to make good choices. This reality was reinforced in my colleagues' work on gamifying their classrooms. Too many "doing trees" shut down student experimentation. This has to be balanced with a core concept in gamification - namely, that choice and self-direction is to be valued for its ability to generate flow in the learning experience. Not an easy task.

In my next post, I will discuss one of the key take-aways I had from my experience gamifying my classroom, namely, the critical role an achievement system played in bolstering student choice, self-direction and enjoyment of the learning game.

Teaching in a Gamified Classroom Level 3: Theorycrafting Knowledge

Level 3? We got this...now wait a minute...this doesn't make sense...what are we doing here? How're we ever going to get to that boss if we can't figure out what's at the heart of this level? What is this designer trying to do anyway? 

I just finished reading Bonnie A. Nardi's My Life As a Night Elf Priest, a sophisticated piece of ethnography in the emerging literature on cultures formed and sustained primarily in digital spaces, in this case, by players and guilds within the game World of Warcraft. In this book, she has a chapter on a practice within the game that players call "theorycrafting." She defines theorycrafting in World of Warcraft as "the discovery of rules that cannot be determined by play." (175)

For the purposes of creating a gamified classroom, it is clear that what both teachers and students need to do is to think like theorycrafters. This might sound straightforward. It isn't. It does speak to the fundamental questions that confront us as educators trying to make sense of 21st century change, 21st century curricula, 21st century skills and the Dan Pink / Ken Robinson challenge. Both Pink and Robinson speak about the need to infuse creativity into learning and I don't disagree. But at the heart of my teaching practice isn't creativity the way that Pink and Robinson might define it (though maybe I'm wrong here?), but rather the creativity that lies at the heart of sophisticated thinking. 

In an earlier post, I alluded to the practice, as I understood it at the time, of constructing a system of levels which my students would use to learn in a 21st century, gamified classroom. I was teaching a course called America 3.0, which attempted to confront students with critical questions about the history of this country in the last 20-40 years. I was partially successful, though not completely so. As the creator of the system of knowledge that I wanted students to explore, I was attempting to create precisely that - a system that built layer by layer, like an onion, to expand students' capacity not to know these levels (because that was only part of the story, and not the most important part - after all, students didn't earn any points for knowing things), but to use that knowledge to answer critical questions (in game terms - to slay bosses).

I was not, am not and won't be interested in the knowledge that students acquire for its own sake. Society has moved on. This isn't something I want to measure. Rather, what can students do with knowledge that they have or that they find? This is where the theorycrafting comes in. What lies unstated in the knowledge? What does the network emphasize or obscure? What's buried in there that needs teasing out? This is the work of theorycrafters in the game, and the work of theorycrafting within a gamified classroom.

As a teacher planning a course, I committed myself in the planning stage to not give students only one approach through the knowledge of America's history since 1970. This is an example of a "rule that cannot be determined by play." I was imparting to my students an experience that reinforces my belief that knowledge is systematic, interdisciplinary and networked. Moreover, by not giving students the currency of the realm, points, for doing work in the knowledge trees, I was emphasizing this quality.

The level 100 boss in the Culture Knowledge Tree read: In the transition from America 1.0 to America 2.0, major disruptions in social relations and "social truth" led to the widespread adoption and embrace of fringe cultural practices. In many cases, these fringe practices died out (Fourierism), but in other cases, they survived into our own age (Christian Science). Trace the phenomenon of cultural resistance to the mainstream and/or the emergence of cultural anxiety in the transition from America 2.0 to America 3.0, and speculate based on reason and sound evidence about the likely survivability of at least three cultural expressions in 2100. Embedded within this question are notions of the mainstream and notions of the fringe, the Braudelian sense that history is conducted over larger temporal frameworks than students conventionally study in high school history, that social truth might be mutable and that culture has a social dimension. None of these ideas are expressed in the knowledge tree itself.

As a teacher, I tried to construct a learning experience that embedded unstated questions within the questions themselves. My students were therefore confronted with subtleties of criticality that they wouldn't have been had I centered myself at the nexus of learning. I was to the side - my students were at the center, with the KTs that formed the core of their experience. Sophisticated students seemed to get this almost at once and then it became, for them, a part of the game and part of the learning. The less sophisticated students realized that there was something more going on, and if they were partnered with their classmates effectively, they got something from that team. All students were given the opportunity to explore knowledge in different modalities, which was one of the goals of the course development process.

As a teacher thinking about gamifying curriculum, think of these things:

  • What's The Network?: What will your knowledge trees look like and what is embedded within them? What rules of your discipline will inform knowledge? How will your students make sense of what you've constructed?
  • Who's the Boss?: Central to the theorycrafter's task is trying to find the rules that are not explicitly stated. What is the knowledge that isn't explicitly stated? How can you point students to that knowledge in your boss questions?
  • Where's The Truth?:  Theorycrafters are keen to unpack assumptions and test them. Can you think of ways to structure questions to specifically validate the theorycrafting impulse and, as an added benefit, reveal the perspectives hidden within your questions?
  • Why Should I Care?: Well constructed levels should give students the ability to see connections between discrete fields of knowledge. How you encourage them to build this network of understanding speaks to the fundamental task of 21st century learning.

Teaching in a Gamified Classroom Level 2: Students and Self-Direction

Who knew getting to that final boss would be so hard? Once we got out of the start zone, there were so many different directions in which we could go. Our team got sort of lost. It really took some effort, and the realization that that final boss wasn't going to kill himself, to get us on the road!

If you're a gamer, you know what I'm referring to above. Unless the game you're playing is rigidly scripted, any degree of the open sandbox can entice you to spend time noodling in the sandbox and less time working on the objectives of the game. There's really only one way to play Frogger. There are many, many strategies to playing a great board game like Acquire, but there's only the one rule set. A game like BioShock is meant to be played in a particular way, despite a certain flexibility of approach, because there's a master narrative. A game like World of Warcraft (or indeed any MMO) has no right way to play because, essentially, there is no winning it. As it goes with these games, so it can go with the gamified classroom. What are you trying to accomplish in terms of student experience. 

I will be writing another post with my colleagues Mike Irwin (who used gamification to teach middle school students) and Nick Holton (who used the method in a tenth grade class) in which I drill much more deeply down into this notion of self-direction and show some powerful student data on this point. When considering whether and how to gamify your classroom, be advised (and I think all three of us would agree here) that student motivation and student capacity for self-direction are things that will need to be high on your list of concerns.

Why does thinking about self-direction and student motivation need to be such an important part of your planning process? Because it figured prominently in all three of our classrooms. In my classroom of twelfth graders, I experienced the following qualities related to student self-direction that needed managing:

Obsession (or, get out of the sandbox!): Students with a high ability to work in a gamified classroom (as demonstrated by the quality of their leveling, their pre-class research capacity and their pre-existing critical thinking skills) could nevertheless find themselves suffering from the "sandbox effect." Becoming overly focused on one aspect of one level and getting stuck was something I observed many times in my students. Many of my early individual interventions were of this variety - helping students make decisions about what could "count" as an example of a particular level, rather than encourage them to stay fixated on one part of one level. This was probably a function of two qualities, one under my control, the other not. First, the way the level structures were assembled made it more likely that students might obsess about details (because the levels were loaded with detail). Second, high school seniors were probably more able to drill down than lower grade students and if their critical thinking short-circuited their decision making to some degree, it would look a bit like obsession.

Low Autonomy: The second problem comes with students who, for whatever reason, have limited experience with self-direction of any kind. There were a handful of students who understood how a game-based classroom worked (they could explain it, for instance) but never really developed much capacity to make decisions within it. It might be that they had only a limited interest in the course content (which I can understand), but it seems far more likely that what I saw was the manifestation of a childhood and adolescence lived under careful observation by parents and my colleagues and where students were not expected to make many decisions. So, when they were put into a learning environment that required decision making (and indeed, success came in large measure from deciding), they had limited capacity. Interesting is the fact that seniors had the most difficulty here, then the tenth graders and then the middle school students. A take-away for me is that the best time to train students to self-direct is probably middle school and that a gamified classroom is one of the very best ways to develop self-direction.

Inconstancy: There were some students who, when asked to work under their own direction, fell victim to laziness, indolence or who took the easiest route forward. I will be considering this point later in this series when I write about competition. I gave myself very few effective tools to manage student inconstancy. And there were examples where excellent students dropped to a lower common denominator when I would have anticipated that they would cause their groups to rise.

Poor Self-Awareness: Some students came to my classroom with a very low awareness of themselves as learners. They didn't know what they found interesting in American history, couldn't make connections between disciplinary branches within history (like between cultural history and political history), couldn't make connections between history and other disciplines and had poor research habits. Be mindful that these students came to their senior year with uniformly excellent grades in history. The problem seemed to be that those great grades were a result of my colleagues measuring very different qualities than I wanted to measure.

If you are going to undertake the gamified classroom in your own practice, make sure you've given some thought to these potential challenges. You'll be the better for it.

In the next installment, "theorycrafting" knowledge and skills.

Teaching in a Gamified Classroom Level 1: Formative Assessment

Once we were n00bs - rookies - green. Level 1; we didn't know all that much...we needed a lot of practice just to execute the basics. We progressed from start area to start area, doing what we needed to to buff our skills and improve. We figured out how to get the job done by ourselves and as a team. We had to keep learning, over and over again sometimes. Falling back, figuring it out. Step by step the bosses fell, but rarely on the first pass...and they were little bosses. The big ones were coming. And when we encountered them, they were challenging. Many of us fell; we wiped a lot. But we learned from what didn't work and again, we improved. At long last, we learned enough to progress to the final boss and with skill, knowledge, teamwork, collaboration and hard work, we prevailed!

 It's been a few weeks now since my first experiment in building a fully gamified classroom came to an end. Now that I've had an opportunity to consider the experience, both from my own perspective as a teacher but from the students' perspective (through interviews and discussions after the class ended), I have 10 take-aways that will help you as you consider gamifying your own classroom. Like any classroom experience, some things went quite well, others less so. These reflections come directly from these experiences. My philosophy of instruction is design-based...we're never going to learn anything about curriculum and instruction unless we're making research-based consideration of new approaches and learning how to "fail up." In this series of reflections, I will look at the following topics:

  • Level 1: Formative Assessment
  • Level 2: Student Self-Direction
  • Level 3: Theorycrafting Knowledge Trees
  • Level 4: Theorycrafting the Intregration of Knowledge and Skills
  • Level 5: Achievements
  • Level 6: Cognitive Load
  • Level 7: Thoughts on How Students Value and Perceive "Learning"
  • Level 8: Competition
  • Level 9: Scope, Timing, Scale
  • Level 10: Slaying the Boss

There's hardly anything about a gamified classroom that works the same way as a method or approach would work in a non-gamified classroom (constructivist or behaviorist). The single best reason to use a game-based planning model is in the area of formative assessment. We all know how important formative assessment is in understanding what one's students know and can do. We also know how difficult it can be to formatively assess. There is a long tradition in American education to focus our assessment efforts on end-of-unit or end-of-year summative assessments. Moreover, formative assessment is made harder the larger one's class is, the most complex the skill in question is and whether there are technology tools available to help the teacher conduct formative assessment. Formative assessment's purpose is to inform the teacher and the student on a class by class (or indeed minute by minute) basis as to their growth and performance. Very difficult to achieve.

Easier to achieve, though, in the gamified classroom. Easier to achieve not by happenstance or good luck but by design. There are three reasons why you should consider gamifiying your classroom if you're interested in formative assessment:

  • The Nature of Levels and Leveling: Because the gamified classroom structures the ways in which students learn knowledge into clear and explicit levels, each of which builds on the other, it is incumbent upon the teacher and the student to measure student understanding much more regularly. There's no reason a student should move to level 2 until they have demonstrated command of level 1. In this regard, a gamified classroom works very similar to a game. Players make regular decisions based on the second-by-second feedback they get in game and they are required to demonstrate mastery of a particular piece of knowledge or skill before they're allowed to go to the next area.
  • Student Accountability: Let's face it. One of the challenges in building formative assessment structures in classrooms is simply how hard it is to manage an effective system. In a gamified classroom, students are personally accountable for their progress through the course and the curriculum. They need you, but they don't need you every minute. They need your guidance when they need it, not when you want to give it and they need you accessible. Rather than being a distant figure, in a gamified classroom, you as the teacher assume a role closer to that of Yoda or Gandalf - the older and wiser guide. The more explicitly you place yourself in that role, in fact, the more apt students will be to cast themselves as Luke Skywalker or Frodo - in short, as the hero.
  • Student Engagement: What makes gamers love gaming? The regular feedback I mentioned above. There's a real sense of achievement when you outrace your opponent and cross the finish line first or are the first person on your server in a big MMO to kill a big boss or accomplish an otherwise brutal task. The way that games give players feedback builds commitment on the part of the gamer to continue. The same is true in a gamified classroom. Students responded to the realization that they'd accomplished something when they completed a level, particularly a boss level.

In the next installment, I will look more closely at how the gamified classroom devleops student self-direction.

Design, Startups and the Question of Jobs (not Steve)

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From our friends at Visual.ly comes this fascinating infographic about the nature of Web 2.0 startups in the last five years or so. These companies are all, to some degree, on the cutting edge of American enterprise and represent key expressions of 21st century entrepreneurialism. Whether these companies will still be a going concern in 2020 is an open question, of course, because in an entrepreneurial environment, ideas are floated and tested in part to determine which ones work and which ones don't. The environment in which these companies do business (through mobile devices, tablets and other virtualized spaces) is also not especially well understood. A reality of America 3.0 is that these companies are increasingly seen as the engines of economic growth and development - the primary method by which this country will compete in emerging global markets and contexts.

But what do these companies do, exactly? While I am not even in the top 10,000 of most socially networked people in the country, I am no slouch. I know what about a half of the companies in the infographic do (go on - test yourself - how many of these guys have you heard of?) or at least what markets they are trying to shape, create or conquer. If you don't know what these companies are or what they're trying to do, and you're still in the workforce, you should be paying more attention because they may be telling you something about the future that you will want to know. Have a closer look at these companies, at particular one that you have almost certainly heard of - flickr (a photo-sharing hub). How many people does flickr employ? According to the infographic, less than 40. Think about that. Ever been on a full school bus? There were more people in that bus than there are in flickr's employ. If these companies are the future, or even part of it, how will the workers of tomorrow prepare themselves to compete for jobs when the companies most reflecting the spirit of the time employ, essentially, nobody. The great scions of America 2.0 like General Electric (287,000 employees) were both entrepreneurial and job-creating. Squaring that circle - how do we transform our economy while maintaining entrepreneurialism and job creation, when the companies of the future can get the job done with so few hands, might be one of the great 21st century challenges. 

Marvel Do Play Build Plan

What say you, friends?! The Daily Bricole hopes all is well and, ever so slightly, off-kilter.

MARVEL: I saw an extraordinary book at Diesel Books in Oakland this weekend. Moby-Dick In Pictures is an art project/literary event that should astonish. Matt Kish, the book's illustrator, has drawn lavish, detailed images based on each page of the 552-page Signet Classics edition of Melville's classic. 552 pieces of art in all kinds of different media. A level of commitment and work that should earn Kish many followers and  huge praise.

DO: The Art of Manliness (a fantastic blog you should be reading) offers these 10 ideas for excellent autumn season dates on which to take your partner, friend or, well, date. 

PLAY: Can't really get my brain around this one. Perhaps you crazy kids can tell me why Megamash is awesome? I know it is! Tell me why!

BUILD: Kids spend years of their lives (and faculty spend their entire careers) in some of the crappiest buildings ever erected by a civil society...yes, I'm talking about the architecture of American schools and the built environment of education. Often appalling, generally dispiriting, sometimes so bad as to be the single reason why teachers leave the profession (don't get me started - the data are there). And when we could build like this instead! Just look at this extraordinary school in Merced, California. More $$ please!

PLAN: I don't know that we need a revolution, but the last decade has certainly made clear that big, radical, transformative change is coming in one way or another. Read this article about peer-to-peer banking, and you'll see that in a democratic society, we still have lots and lots of power.

Say Do Read Learn Watch

Trying something sort of new here, building on these Top 5 things I've been doing. I'm an inveterate museum goer and blog reading is, in a way, similar to the experience of going to a museum, in that you never quite know what you're going to experience when you walk in the door. I hope The Daily Bricole is sort of like that - a bit of this, a bit of that and at least once, a bit of "what, what, what?!"

SAY: Your word of the day is welkin, from Old English welcn meaning "cloud." Welkin means "the vault of heaven" or "the sky" used literarily. World Wide Words has a nice discussion of the word and its connection to a famous Christmas carol. How all the welkin rings with the sound of angels!

DO: I do love The Minimalists and so should you. Cutting everything down to the basics...in this installment, minimalizing exercise...do only those things you enjoy. Great advice!

READ: Aron Nels Steinke's graphic novel Neptune. A short read and a lot of fun, narrated by a grade-school age girl doing a little "who I am" to her new classmates and spinning a yarn about her cool dog, Neptune.

LEARN: From our friends at io9, 10 cool classes you can take right now for free!

WATCH: An excellent, recent TED talk from Lauren Zalaznick about the history of television and how that maps to cultural and social change.

It Isn't the Game, It's the Gamification, Part 2

This is the second part in a two-part response to "How Video Games Are Changing Education," an infographic from Online Colleges. Read the first part here.

Online Colleges' infographic makes an alluring, but ultimately unhelpful, argument for educators interested in building gamified curricula, gamified assessments and gamified classrooms. It goes off-track in its busy, fluid middle by seeming to make an argument that the games it cites (like SimCity, Zoombinis or Brain Age) are the best tools upon which learning might be based. I would be careful before asserting that these games have the capacity to teach the complex skills assigned to them in the infographic (and which I discuss in part 1).

Moreover, I am not convinced that these games in-and-of themselves move us closer towards creating empowered, critical thinking 21st century citizens capable of solving the complex problems American and global societies face. Elsewhere I have shared my educational philosophy, but I can cite three main ideas from it here. The purpose of education is:

  • to give young people the capacity to identify and solve any problem to which they might want to devote themselves.
  • to give young people the capacity to make dignified and dignifying life choices confident in their self identity.
  • to participate effectively in democratic society.

Do games do this? Like the infographic suggests, games might help contribute to these objectives. But the games are not the important part of the story, really. Dig deeper! What is it that these games share with each other? What makes the experience of playing Civilization V, Angry Birds, The Sims so rewarding that people spend millions of hours doing it? Strip away the games and what are you left with? The metagame if you will - that which is part of the game, but beyond it. That which derives from the game, which you can use in the game, but isn't really part of the game. Far more important than the games themselves is this metagame, the gamification that these games can inspire us to bring to our classrooms and schools.

We have to use games as source material for understanding gamified curricula and the gamified classroom. They can inspire us to structure students' learning experiences in radically innovative ways. Thinking carefully about the games that we play and how they function as games, we can reach out to students in ways that they would understand intuitively on the metagame level, reinforcing commitment to learning without relying on the potentially dubious value of the games themselves. After all, as great as World of Warcraft is as a game, I really have no interest in helping students learn how to master Inscription, solve a puzzle at the end of an epic quest line or find that last piece of awesome loot. But the game theory embedded in the game itself? That can power lots of classroom experiences if it can be understood.

So, what are the game principles embedded in these games' metagames that we might use to gamify our classrooms? Here are three ideas.

Self-Direction: One of the great qualities of all of these games is that they are under the player's control. The pathways forward, whether they lead to a win or loss, are the player's responsibility. Gamified curricula will lean towards an epic win if they are structured to give students control over the pathways they follow as they learn how to think critically, process information and solve problems. Furthermore, curricula that embeds self-direction into the day-to-day work encourages student ownership and the ability to manage projects.

Make It Count: Great games have ways of acknowledging player successes, particularly if they have an online or multiplayer component. I have found that the achievement system I set up in my America 3.0 class this year is one of the things that has gone better than expected in gamifying that course.

Make It Doable, But Only Just: Every game in the flow chart has this at its core - it can be played, but at the beginning of the experience, it's really hard! Surely if you've played Tetris at some point you know what I'm talking about. Translate that into your classrooms and your curricula. And don't be afraid to dial back the challenge if you've got it pegged to high.

 

It Isn't the Game, It's the Gamification, Part 1

This is the first in a two-part response to "How Video Games Are Changing Education," an infographic from Online Colleges. 

video-games-are-changing-education.jpg

Have you seen Online Colleges' infographic about how video games are changing education before? Easy to understand, visual and accessible, it nevertheless paints only a part of the picture that should matter to someone interested in gamifying classrooms, curricula and education.

The infographic argues that video games enhance student skill development in six areas: problem solving & negotiation, judgment analysis & strategic thinking, communication skills & networking, narrative skills & transmedia navigation, non-linear thinking patterns and improved attention, vision & cognition. Some video games will certainly help learners (be they K-12 age or older...video games aren't just for kids!) in these ways, though I would argue that all sorts of games might do this, not just video games. Moreover, in some cases, non-video games would do a better job of teaching these skills than video games would. For instance, there's really no better game than "Diplomacy" to help students understand and develop their problem solving, strategic thinking and negotiation skills. But this masks a essential problem in the argument and in the development of the gamified classroom; this problem is manifested in the second section of the infographic.

Part 2 of the infographic presents dozens of video games interconnected through a complex "tube map" that suggest relationships and benefits that aren't really there. I'm not sure, for instance, how far you can reasonably push the argument that Minesweeper is a "logic" game. I love Sid Meier's Civilization series of games but the one thing they are not is a "history" game. I can offer no argument whatsoever that Sim City, another game I enjoy, is a game that develops "communication" skills. Games are never required to serve an educational purpose. When they do, however, so much the better! Minesweeper, at least nominally, can help with problem solving and judgment analysis. Civilization is a great game for developing improved attention and strategic thinking. My experience of Sim City always seemed better if I was able to break out of conventional thinking into non-linearity. But at the end of the day, this "tube map," and the facts and statistics that follow it, present more problems than solutions for educators interested in game-based learning when we discuss GBL with our colleagues and the general public.

So, what should we do?

  • Focus on the Learning, Not The Games: We all agree that games are cool! We love playing them! But that doesn't mean that I as a teacher, am ever going to offer Civilization as a substitute for learning history. Ever. Rather, my responsibility as a teacher trying to gamify my classroom is to investigate how Civilization works and incorporate THAT into my classroom. How does it motivate? How does it create the flow-state that's at the heart of game-based success stories?
  • Experiment Thoughtfully: I argued above that Diplomacy is a great game to help students develop their problem solving, strategic thinking and negotiation skills. A lesson about how diplomacy and diplomatic systems in Europe prior to World War I contributed to the war's beginning would definitely be enhanced by playing a few turns of Diplomacy. But it wouldn't make much sense if the game took place before students had some kind of sense of what the game was simulating.
  • Believe: Ample and growing evidence strongly endorses the game-based learning approach to curriculum development, graduation requirements, classroom structure and management, student-centered learning and the creation of learning experiences. It is to these ideas that I will turn in the second part of this series.