As part of the “Follow ECGBL online intiative” I am going to report on (a few of) the interesting discussions that went on in the first part of today’s ECGBL related PhD Master class on “The educational potential of computer games”. The PhD Master class was arranged by Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen and Patrick Felicia. I invite the other participants to contribute to further elaborations and reflexions on what went on during this class. I would also like to invite everyone else to contribute with your thoughts on these matters.
Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen presented three themes:
- Problems and challenges
- What is a good learning game?
- Example of Global Conflicts developed by the company Serious Games Interactive
1. Simon mentioned that Seymour Papert (1998) commented on the ‘perfect marriage proposal’ between great motivational tools (games) and learning challenges. However, the challenge remains that we still need better examples and case studies
Problems of edutainment:
- Little intrinsic motivation: lot of extrinsic motivation through rewards
- No integrated learning experience
- Drill-and-practice learning principles rather than exploration
According to Simon, edutainment games still have their space, but there are a lot of other things you can do, and a fundamental critique has been: lack of coherence between play and what should be learned. Edutainment works for some forms of knowledge and some target groups e.g. in some areas of skill-training in math.
Simon referred among other to a 2006 report on Educational games . Historically speaking, already in the 1970s the first experiments with educational games were conducted, but especially since the turn of this century we may speak about the beginning of a Serious Games movement.
2. Simcity, Spore, Bully, Civilization 4 – are these learning games?
Where can we find the balance between a good game and a good learning game?
Simon suggested that any game is actually structured like a learning mechanism.
One of the participants commented that for some a computer game may be categorized “a toy”.
Simon listed some fundamentals of computer games and learning games (another word for these matters), and suggested that a fundamental challenge often is that when the focus on learning increases, motivation tends to decrease.
I noticed that Simon tended to look at games as platforms and he was speaking about what you do “in the game”. Even though Simon acknowledged that the context of course has a lot to do with what happens with games. Still, Simon argued that:
“A good learning game”: provides immersive, realistic & meaningful environments…
3. Global Conflicts was presented by Simon as an example of a serious game where the developers (i.e. Simon) have been trying to incorporate the fundamentals of computer games and learning games listed by Simon. Furthermore, Simon stated that Global Conflics was developed partially inspired by Kolb’s learning cycle. Simon placed the strength of serious games between “Active Experimentation” and “Concrete Experience”.
This presentation led to a long list of interesting questions. E.g.
- What about the differences between game and learning goals, and between game matters and subject matters?
- Is this about being immersed into a platform or about a learning experience which transcends the (serious) game?
Patrick Felicia took over from here, with his speech on “Improving GBL research: issues and challenges”. His concerns were among other with:
- how to find a valid theoretical framework that explains learning and motivation in video games?
- how to combine both learning and motivation
Referring to Suzanne de Castell & Jennifor Jensen (2003): “Without play, education becomes a force of compliance, not intelligence”, Patrick introduced video games (more broadly) as providing manifold educational prospects e.g.:
- A starting point for debate
- To allow players to appreciate a situation from different perspectives (e.g Bullying)
- Experience dangerous situations in safe environment
In Patrick’s speech it became clear that video games can be viewed as bringing about many important options for learning: Active learning, exploratory learning, constructivist, by doing, meta-cognitive, positive and negative reinforcement, PBL, situated cognition. Also, Patrick mentioned Vygotsky‘s concept Zone of Proximate Development.
Overall Patrick presented Game Based Learning (GBL) as ”a flexible and effective medium”…
Referring to examples of studies, Patrick stated that in spite of GBL apparently being a flexible and effective medium, we (as researchers) are still facing many challenges. To Patrick, the most pressing point is that in spite of investments: We still need to maximize its impact. He sees different urgent matters e.g.:
- Need further empirical evidence
- Consider GBL in relation to the environment in which they are employed
- Design should account for a wide range of resources and flexible learning
- consider differences between individuals
- Design should include tutoring systems – ensure / track users’ learning
In order to get on with this, Patrick called for a multidisciplinary approach. One that includes:
- Educational theories
- Curricular approach
- Instructional design
- Educational psychology
Furthermore, Patrick saw a need to focus more on helping and training instructors and make obvious links with the curriculum and schools.
One of the participants, Stephan Stephensen (CEO Mingoville A/S) pointed out that this is also a matter of “return on investments”. Patrick had already argued for including the many different stakeholders (e.g. teachers, students, developers etc.) into research and development. I found that this particular point was very interesting and tied in with some of the central concerns I had when attending this morning.
To me the very concept of return on investments is very central. I found today’s speeches interesting, but I also lacked concrete references to educational situations and game-playing situations as well as mergers between these. Furthermore, today’s session once more reminded me how important it is that ‘we’ do not forget about PEOPLE in actual situations when ‘we’ do research within this field. There were no people in today’s slides.
The thing is, that when ‘we’ try to state the universals of these matters, we become in great danger of ignoring the specificities and heterogeneous constitutions of the (serious) games, educational situations, and stakeholders’ situations around the world.
Mingoville’s CEO pointed out to me, that he found it very useful to have these overviews and boxes of the qualities of serious/educational/learning games. This, of course, is true.
I guess that we have to find a balance between the nice-to-have universal guidelines to working with GBL (that Patrick and in a sense also Simon) is searching for, and the (to me) important focus on the concrete specificities of what it means to actually become engaged with serious games.
What I liked the most about Patrick’s presentation was his end remark, that there are a lot of rumors but not much evidence that prevail about GBL. And actually the very concept of Game Based Learning remained somewhat a mystery throughout this part of the Master class.
I believe that this is a huge challenge for future researchers to engage with. But also, that this of course raises the central question of what is “evidence”?
It appeared a bit odd to me, that Simon’s approach was a sort of platform analysis and Patrick encouraged more experiments.
My response would be: we need more ethnographic studies of the moving phenomena of (serious) games, as well as the emerging mergers between these and the shifting educational situations around the world.
Mingoville is currently looking into some of these matters by working on the development of what Stephan Stephensen calls: working on different learning platforms for their game based learning programmes (e.g. Mingoville and Mondiso): multi-mouse access, mobile access, interactive whiteboard access…
I furthermore want to add to this, that we need to take into account the shifting materialities of (serious) games and educational situations. These are of fundamental importance to the actual serious realizations of games in the world.
Another employer from Mingoville A/S, Morten Iversen also commented that both the speeches were based on the premise that (serious)games/GBL were platforms to enter. However, as he commented, in Mingoville they are trying to develop experiences, and they do not necessarily involve being immersed into a game.
This comment was very much in line with my own approach to this matter. I fully agree, that what is needed is to look more into the nuances of engagements, and to not look at serious games in themselves (while still overlooking the many game constructions), but how they be-come in concrete experienced situations. This leads me to another point. Both Simon and Patrick were referring to schools and curriculum. However, the market is much broader and manifold (they of course agreed on that). The market might not be schools, and there is no one/the curriculum to refer to.
Stephan also commented that in Mingoville A/S: we talk a lot about narratives…. I do not hear you talking about…
My reply to this interesting comment is, that while GBL research tends to talk about storytelling/narratives of the game, I would encourage looking more into the manifold storytelling that transcends the (serious)games and comes in many different forms.
Overall it was a very interesting morning.