Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Innovate Online - Accelerating Games

Jones and Kalinowski in their new article in Innovate Online suggest that as games today are having trouble penetrating the classroom because they can't in many cases fit the explicit needs of the curriculum without modification or addition. To this end, they are proposing a community form to share learning objects that would help align the content of a game (or it's modified derivatives in the case of game engines) to local standards. I'm not a big fan of the "learning object" game, and this may run into issues with copyright and IP, but in essence it's more or less a means of collecting lesson plans and associated files that relate specific games to specific curricular objectives. There are already lesson plan sites online (eg Lesson Plan Pages, 2Learn) that have the lesson plans, discussions and the like without being bothered by the "learning object" framework. What I'm seeing as being the real problem is not that there are teachers who want to use games in the classroom but can't. It's that there is no time (mentioned in another context by Jones and Kalinowski) to deal with games in a proper manner. Unless the games can be brought literally into the classroom, there is no way that every student can have access and to get to the really interesting parts of the game that would actually have some teachable material, it can take a considerable amount of time. A solution to this is that the game can be played as a class to save on resources, but it would still have to be done in 50-80 minute blocks of time. If we really want to be able to get kids interested in learning again, we have to get rid of (or at least modify) the scheduling of classes in the secondary levels to allow for longer project to be undertaken. If (for example) a student has Math, Science, English in the morning followed by Social Studies and Option in the afternoon, there are at least four "modes" that the student has to be in through the day. That is true for the "real world" you have to switch modes - but it doesn't ever really happen that at 9:45 you have to switch from Science to English. In the real world (as in many games) the shift is subtle because. in the real world, I would argue that you are doing "science and related" in the morning and "humanities and related" in the afternoon as you work on projects (for example, I'm working on database stuff for the rest of the day after I post this, but that database will call on Math, Art, Language Arts and likely some Design as well. I don't think that I'll do each for only 30 minutes before moving to the next). I know there are some schools out there that are working toward project based learning (Montessori et al) but the majority are still in the Victorian Factory mode of education. After all that, I think Jones and Kalinowski are onto something good - I remember the discussion at SITE and likely with enough people behind it things will change and there will be additional sites like Prensky's GamesParentsTeachers to help. But until there is money to be made in curricular games, I think we'll be stuck doing add ons, they also acknowledge this themselves:

However, as promising as this proposed project appears, there are nevertheless several major challenges facing its implementation. First, the project is still in its infancy, and so many of the project details, such as the shape of the online environment and the sources of funding, are still unknown. Second, just because the online environment and learning object repository are built does not mean people will use them. It will take strong advocates, both in print and at conferences, to support and promote the need for such a project. Third, gathering interested educators may be difficult since they tend to work in isolation and do not necessarily have the resources to attend academic conferences around the world. In this case, grassroots efforts by researchers, such as communication with educators in online gaming discussion forums, will be needed. Fourth, just like with educators, grabbing the attention of gaming developers will be a challenge. Starting with smaller, more approachable game developers by way of online gaming forums and conferences will most likely need to be done in order to convince larger game developers of the potential value of the project.
But maybe in the end that is the better way to go. If teachers encourage games that are amenable to being used in the classroom, those games will sell better and through the dollars of the millions of children that they impact, the educational elements may become a selling point of the game. I don't think it will ever outsell a game that is flaunting the more base cravings of young gamers, but it will keep larger companies like EA willing to take chances on people like Will Wright, it will keep Sid Meier doing things with Firaxis that celebrate the way that history can be recreated and lessons learned while at play. Enough for now... time for database... Technorati Tags: