Posts Tagged ‘Mingoville’

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The educational potential of computer games

October 19, 2010

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:

  1. Problems and challenges
  2. What is a good learning game?
  3. 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.

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4th European Conference on Game Based Learning (ECGBL)

September 6, 2010

This year’s ECGBL will be held on October 21-22 at the Danish School of Education, Aarhus University (Copenhagen, Denmark). It is not too late to register!

Considering the many interesting titles represented among the accepted abstracts, I think that it is going to be an interesting conference. I will be presenting a short positioning paper and poster with the title “Alternatives and Passages: English Teaching, Learning, and Mingoville”. In this paper I present (too briefly) the Science and Technology Studies inspired methodology and four analytic strategies that I engage with to study enactments of passages between English teaching/learning and Mingoville.com ‘in the world’. The contribution of this paper is to the further development of research strategies that include emerging enactments of an educational game/virtual world as an educational alternative in heterogeneously constituted everyday ways of living.

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Serious games and educational cultures

August 16, 2010

I guess it’s about time that I reveal in more details what my current research is all about… 🙂

My postdoc is part of a research project called Serious Games on a Global Market Place involving researchers from several Danish universities (i.e. The Danish School of Education, Aarhus University, The IT-university, University of Southern Denmark, and The Technical University of Denmark) and among other Danish serious games developers (e.g. Mingoville A/S and Serious Games Interactive). The KINO Programme Committee under The Danish Counsel for Strategic Research has supported the research financially.

My subproject is titled: Educational Cultures and Serious Games on a Global Market Place. The project focuses on following engagements with English education and the netbased virtual universe/serious game called Mingoville.

Mingoville.com is by its developers described as a “second language online-based course featuring fun English learning games, grammar, songs and more” for children. (YouTube videos about Mingoville)

Mingoville exist in 33 languages and registration in countries around the world is free except for Denmark. In 2005 Mingoville was developed by delc (Dansk e-learning center) as part of a Danish competition in developing new types of digital teaching materials for primary school in Denmark. The competition was led by the Danish Ministry of Education, and Mingoville was then developed for and targeted 3rd to 4th grade pupils and beginning English teaching and learning in Denmark.

Mingoville Classic (today “Learn Now”) was launched in 2006 and in June 2009 a Mingoville virtual world (today “Play Now”) for kids was launched in addition. Mingoville has (according to the developers) more than one million users across the world.

 

One example of the wide distribution and possible influence of Mingoville on English Education is an initiative (spring 2009) lead by the Portuguese Ministry of Education which distributed small laptop computers for all children in primary schools in Portugal. Mingoville is provided as a link among the programmes on all the laptop computers.

Another example is Chile. July 2009 Chile’s government launched an initiative associated with their ambition to digitalize the nation. In Chile approx. 2 % of the population speaks English. This is by Chile’s government considered a problem because English is considered a central foreign language on a global market place. In Chile a central problem is that they cannot generate enough qualified English teachers. One subproject of the government’s recent initiatives is therefore focusing on language and supports English teaching. The initiative is a partnership between educational institutions, companies and the government. The English project consists among other in educating English teachers in Chile in teaching English with Mingoville.

Also in Denmark more than 500 schools have been registered (by the Mingoville developers) as users. 

It may in a sense be viewed as something new that teaching materials developed in one country may become distributed and engaged as actors in variations of contexts of engagements all over the world. The big question of course is in which ways does Mingoville partially engage and become partially engaged as an actor (if it does) in English education? 

A huge challenge in the project is to engage with the manifold construction sites for Mingoville. Project Educational Cultures and Serious Games on a Global Market Place attempts to open up a relational study of different partially coexisting (dis-)engagements with Mingoville, and the associated entanglements, realizations and movements of Mingoville and English education. The study follows circulations of Mingoville as a partially existing (in a sense ephemeral) phenomenon multiple, which cannot be easily described in any one comprehensive way. To follow the circulations of Mingoville should here be understood as following Mingoville as an emerging and shifting form that becomes partially contained by and partially contains English education (if it does) in heterogeneous ways as it is moved around.  

The subproject must be viewed in relationship with the overall Serious Games Project and its aims.

My work is inspired among other particularly by STS/ANT researchers Bruno Latour, Marilyn Strathern, John Law, and Annemarie Mol.

In relation to other subprojects in the Serious Games on a Global Market Place other qualitative and semi-ethnographic studies have been conducted in Danish primary schools in 2007-2008. Furthermore a pilot study was conducted during a week in Portugal in April 2009 at a primary school.  These have focused on research initiated attempts to engage Mingoville in English teaching, and the effects of these.

My empirical gatherings consist of ‘online and offline’ studies of Mingoville as it is developed by Mingoville A/S in an office in Copenhagen, together with empirical gatherings in schools, homes, municipalities and governments ‘in the world’. 

Quite concretely I try to follow the movements and emerging circulations and establishments of Mingoville inside and across these manifold contexts of knowledges and engagements. Except for the fieldwork in Portugal (conducted with an experimental outset in a ‘would-you-like-to-try-Mingoville-in-your-classroom-approach’), my fieldwork takes point of departure in researching everyday (dis)engagements with Mingoville and include:

  • Mingoville in Mingoville A/S

 

  • Following everyday school activities and particularly English lessons with(out) Mingoville in a 7-9 grade special education class in Denmark

 

  • Following home education/teaching/training with Mingoville in two homes in Denmark and one home in Norway

 

  • Following (together with my colleague Bente Meyer) English with(out) Mingoville in grade 5 and 6 in a Finnish school 

 

  • Following (together with my colleague Bente Meyer) Mingoville into private homes of pupils in grade 5 and 6 in the Finnish School

 

  •  Telephone conversations with a number of schools in Denmark that have in one way or another (dis-)engaged with Mingoville

 

  • Following Mingoville (and other virtual worlds /virtual universes/serious games for kids) online