On Friday afternoon this last week I joined about 200 or more other people at the LDT Expo 2012—an annual event of Stanford University’s Learning, Design and Technology Master program—where more than 20 student teams exhibited their innovative projects around innovative approaches to learning. The huge crowd, which apparently is not unusual for these events, reflects the high quality of the student projects. You can read more about the event and find summary descriptions of the projects here: http://suse-ldt.stanford.edu/content/expo-2012
Perhaps not surprisingly, especially to those watching what is happening around hot learning and education trends and developments—as I hope all entrepreneurs interested in education and learning are doing—many (I counted at least 6) LDT Expo projects were in the games- or play-based learning domain. Since most of the Expo projects seemed to be targeted children, K12 or younger, the use of games and play makes good sense. It is well known that games and gaming principles can help motivate learners and create greater high level of engagement. This holds not only for kids, as Cisco and other companies have also used games or “gamification”—a term that has become increasingly common in the popular literature even though many in education are not very fond of it—to achieve greater engagement.
Use of games is not really new, but in recent years they have been finding greater interest and use, as growing number of educators are either interested in exploring use of games, or researching their potential role and effect in learning. Foundations like the Gates Foundation are funding growing numbers of projects or research centers and initiatives that focus on game-based learning. Recently, Bill Gates himself made it clear that games hold significant potential benefits for use in schools—see http://bit.ly/NVUATc.
While the jury is still out on the true effectiveness of games in improving learning (and some of my SRI colleagues in the Center for Technology in Learning are not yet convinced that most current uses of games are very effective)—and which situations and contexts are most appropriate for games to be useful—many educators or administrators have not been waiting around. In one case, a whole school—Quest to Learn (Q2L)—based in Manhattan was set up in New York City in 2009 with the intention of using gaming principles to achieve more effective learning. The school originated from the vision of a nonprofit called Institute of Play.
Although it is fair to say that we still have a long way to go before we know when games can be effective in improving learning, and how to best design effective learning games, growing number of game-based startups and research projects are emerging. One friend of mine—Michael Carter, Twin Learning LLC (who has extensive experience in designing and building games for learning)—is currently involved in an EU project in game-based learning. According to Michael, the Playing for Interculturality project “aims at creating an innovative social game that promotes apprenticeship of intercultural competences of European adults, motivating them to take an active role and interact with other users, boosting digital socialization and media literacy in parallel.”
The interest in academia around gaming is illustrated by a recent, local game-based learning initiative at San Jose State University (SJSU). The initiative currently involves a number of departments at the university, and intends to examine a wide range of issues around game-based learning, and will include the design, development and use of video games and other digital/virtual games. A mid-August workshop with university academics and invited guest speakers will share perspectives and insights and provide input to the SJSU initiative. Since I will am one of the workshop participants I will report in a future blog post as the initiative evolves.