Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What is Game Based Learning?

There are a lot of companies and people that claim to have great games for higher order thinking skills that are great for Game Based Learning (GBL).  Yet, even though they use the right words in their pitches, post, pintersets etc.. I am left feeling like Indigo Montoya in The Princess Bride: I do not think those words mean what you think they mean.

At the same time I wonder if I know what those words mean.  There are a lot of people who talk about what Game Based Learning is, and how to incorporate it in the classroom, but some of the messages I am hearing/reading are often conflicting and contrary to my understanding and/or personal philosophy around GBL.  Is there a widely accepted definition of Game Based Learning?

Here are some of the things I believe about Game Based Learning, and please add to my understanding or correct something that I don't represent accurately:
-Student lead
-Engages students in creative critical thinking skills
-Not just computer games
-educational without having to be "Educational" -if that makes any sense
-Games students can 'break' and remodel, revise, rebuild
(Here is where I would normally wax poetic about Minecraft, but you can just peek at the gamingeducators wiki I belong to with @MzMollyTL and @liamodonnell)

What I think I am seeing is more of lately is Gamification being called Game Based Learning.  I really think there needs to be more clarification here because the two concepts are very different.

Gamification (click for an infographic) -in my opinion- is like a sticker program for behaviour.  Students complete certain game labeled task, and get a reward in; badges, exp. points etc...  Sounds cool and often is.  What I'm afraid of is that with this kind of program students, with time, will see through the educational modification to their regular program and stop buying into what is being 'gamified'.  Students who do not have as many badges as their peers being among the first to opt out of the program.  I won't lie, I have often become a slave to gaining achievements in games I play  *cough* W.O.W. *cough,*  but after time, and seeing my friends out achieve me, I stopped caring.  Now playing Diablo III I see that there are achievements, and I do experience some satisfaction when I gain an achievement, but I don't really care, nor do I try to game in a way that will purposefully gain more achievements.

Honestly, as a teacher of close to 10 years I have not yet seen this type of modification work for a whole year, whether because of student rebellion against it, teacher burn out from having to administer it, or a combination of both.  That being said, I know there are wonderful educators who are able to overcome both the obstacles I mentioned above.  There are some great looking gamification programs that have been built by educators too. But I still don't think that makes it Game Based Learning. 

I do believe the two approaches to using games in the class is motivated by the same basic goal: to engage, motivate, and scaffold students so they can achieve more.  Yet the two have very different strategies for reaching their goals.  Kinda like the whole language vs. phonics debates.

Perhaps I am being a bit pedantic by stressing the difference I see between Game Based Learning and Gamification.  But honestly, I see them as two different animals.

So what is Game Based Learning anyway? Who should I read?  Where am I misinformed?

(Note: I used the word "scaffold" because I think it appropriate and just in case my friend @nodycer decides to read this.)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Happy Mother's Day (a little early)

When I played WOW there would be times when people would say to each other over Guild, or Barren's chat: "you play like my mom."  This statement was never intended to make that player feel good.  What I use to say to those insulting people in defense of the poor faildruid they tormented was: "you wish you played like my mom."

My mom has maxed out the levels, of all her characters, on every server she plays on in WOW.  She has even deleted some of her alts (characters) to make room for new ones on servers she likes.  She quests, raids and PVPs.  She is über. (In fact, I think of both my parents as the ones in this video:

My mom started gaming back when we had ColecoVision, but she really 'got into' games when we got the Nintendo and The Legend of Zelda.  However, the game that really hooked her into the gaming world was the computer game Age of Empires.  That was her gateway drug to the MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role-playing game).

When I was just out of university and my brother, sister and I were still living at home, there were 4 computers in the house.  (Which seemed kinda ridiculous at the time... and maybe still is for a family of 5).  I think it was my brother who first suggested that we all play Age of Empires together.  So we did.  I think Alan, my brother, thought he would dominate the game, crushing us under the strength of his armies.  Imagine his horror when our sweet, gentle mother destroyed all of his forces, farms and towns.

This became the theme to almost all the times we played together.  Sometimes it would be me, and my siblings with my mom, and sometimes my dad would take one of our places.  But invariably my mom would play, and dominate the game.

Every game I would think: "This is it!  This time I will beat her!"  Then after a 15 minutes I would begin to panic and have paranoid thoughts like: "Where is she?"  "It's too quiet." "Should I risk looking for her and attacking?  She is probably close by..."  Then I would hear the frustrated, anguished cries of my brother, sister or father echo through the house as my mom wipe the digital board with him/her.  Then the real panic would set in.  There would be is a few minutes of frenzied building up of my defenses before she came after me.  Then it would be all over. And she would continue on to her next victim.

We really should have known better; my mom was a natural at the game, and she practiced.  She had my dad downloading fan made scenarios to play, as well as making her ones to play himself.  What we should have done was bonded over our repeated trouncing, and joined forces against her.  But we stubbornly remained fighting in the style of: "everyone for themselves".  I think part of the problem was that we were physically isolated.  We played in different parts of house.  If we had Ventrilo or Mumble it would have been easier to coordinate our efforts.

My brother was so desperate for a win that he went so far as to find cheat codes to defeat her. And I think the essence of his actions was why we didn't join forces against her: we all wanted the glory of bringing down mom for ourselves.

Never happened.

That's my mom: pwning N00bs and taking names.

Hoping your mom is as über as mine!  Happy Mother's Day!