Game Design For Education (LONG)

This week included a bit more work than I anticipated, but finally I’m back to working on the dissertation here at the tail end of the week. I’ve just completed a draft of the section on game design. Now I’m far from an expert in this area, but I’ve tried to cull from my notes some of the elements of game design that might be relevant to creating educational games. I’m excited to learn more in this are when I’ve finally completed the dissertation process.* In the meantime, I’m sure my second draft will be more well balanced.

So, back on April 18th I posted a “one page” overview of Game Design for Education. Below is the fleshed out version, as a word file. Please leave me your feedback in the comments if you check this out.

Game Design (LONG) – 76 KB Word Doc

References – 133.5 KB Word Doc

*Incidentally, it looks as if it’s going to be tough for me to make the October 18th deadline to graduate in the fall. I might be wrapping up in November and thus graduating at the end of Winter quarter… more like February 2008. :(

Video Games in Education (LONG)

Unlike the other segments I’ve been posting, this section covers the actual application of video games in the classroom, not the underlying learning theory. Back on April 17th I posted a similar one-page overview of Video Games in Education. This is the fleshed out version of that post, complete with examples, citations, and quotes. This long version is also different from the other long segments I’ve been posting because it’s more based on the presentations I’ve been giving than the formal notes I’ve collected. As a result I’ve included what formal citations I can, but much of what I’ve included is simply made up of examples I’ve come across in the last two years. I suspect I will need to return to this section and cite more of the material if possible later on… but I’ll wait and see what my committee thinks first… and what you all think. Here are links to the word doc and the updated version of my references, with a few new websites included:

Video Games in Educaiton (LONG) – 73.5 KB doc

References – 133.5 KB doc

Please let me know what you think in the comments. :)

Social Change (LONG)

Back on April 16th I posted a “one page” overview of social change (with respect to video games in a constructivist learning environment). I’ve now fleshed out that one page to about 10 pages (double spaced) for my dissertation literature review. I’m relatively happy with it except that I found no better way to organize it than by author. There just wasn’t enough overlap in what they each had to say… either that or my brain was just too tired to see it this time through. In any case, here is a link to the document and to the updated reference list:

Social Change LONG – 39.5 KB doc

References – 131 KB doc

If you are interested, please take a look and leave me a comment with your reactions or feedback.

Incidentally, this marks the completion of the core sections of chapter two, my literature review. I have a few more sections planned, but they are sort of ancillary. The remaining sections are on current uses for video games in education (this is based on my recent presentations and I’m not sure how much scholarly source material I’ll be able to include), video game design (conversely I have far too much information for this and will try to keep it short and focused), and organizational change (which is even more removed from the core focus of the dissertation, but which will be required if this is to be implemented in real schools). Hopefully each of these will be a relatively short section like the one I’ve posted today. If so, I should be done within a week.

Then there’s chapters 1 and 3… and tying it all together into a formal proposal. :)

Role of The Teacher (LONG)

Back on April 13th I posted a “one-page” overview of the role of the teacher (with respect to video games in education). Over the weekend I finished fleshing out that portion of my literature review with quotes and citations. I seem to be getting better at outlining down to the level where I need to only compose a paragraph or two from my notes. As a result I think this section both holds together well and provides several bite-sized stand alone passages (which might later re-appear as blog posts). It think it also holds together better than some of the longer sections I wrote earlier. In any case, here is a link for the word doc (and for the references).

21st Century Skills LONG – 58 KB doc

References – 138 KB doc

Double spaced this section is about 16 pages. If you decide to read it (or skim it) I’d love to hear back from you in the comments. :)

21st Century Skills (LONG)

Back on April 12th I posted a “one page” overview of 21st Century Skills (with respect to video games in education). This week I finally fleshed out that section of my literature review. Though it is a bit long at 18 pages, it is one of the better organized sections I’ve written because the framework provided by the enGauge 21st Century Skills served as a fairly specific outline for me to follow.

For the time being, I don’t think I’ll be taking the time to break this up into individual posts, but I’ll share the entire word doc incase anyone is interested in reading it – or incase someone is searching on this topic in the future. Of course, if you check it out, I’d love to hear any feedback you might have. Also, I’ve once again updated the reference list.

21st Century Skills LONG – 55 KB doc

References – 138 KB doc

Reflection and Metacognition (LONG)

Back on April 11th I posted a “one page” overview of Reflection and Metacognition (with respect to video games in education). I’ve now fleshed that out, and happily it’s not nearly as long as some of the other sections I’ve written recently. However, this is primarily due to the fact that I had noted fewer resources in my outliner rather than due to any self-editing efforts on my part. In any case, I’m relatively happy with it, though some of the sub sections may be moved around or combined with other parts of the paper in the end.

Reflection and Metacognition (LONG) – 40 KB Word Doc

References – 132 KB Word Doc

This is only about nine pages double spaced, so it is a bit more friendly for a quick read. If you check it out, I’d love to hear back from you in the comments. And thank you again to everyone who has been commenting along the way. I have a bit of a backlog to respond to right now, but I really appreciate the feedback. :)

Socially Negotiated Learning (LONG)

Back on April 10th I posted a “one-page” overview of Socially-Negotiated Learning (with respect to video games in education). Last week I finished fleshing out a long version of this section. Like the Context-Embedded section, this one is quite a bit longer than it needs to be… and a bit too “quote heavy.” Also, I think it is even more loosely held together than the other sections. I expect the final version will be somewhere in between the coherent “one pager” and this longer version.

In any case I’ve previously posted the long versions of Motivation and Engagement, Context-Embedded Learning, and Inquiry-Driven Learning. Now, here is the long version of Socially-Negotiated Learning:

Socially Negotiated (LONG) – 94 KB Word Doc

References – 128 KB Word Doc

The context-embedded section I broke into “bite sized” chunks as a series of posts over the last two weeks. I’m not sure if I’ll take the time to do that with the Inquiry and Social Negotiation sections. I will either plow ahead with the reflection and metacognition section, or else go back and start rewriting (and shortening) some of these existing sections. In any case, I feel the need to stay focused.

Context-Embedded Learning Part IX: Role Playing

This is part of the Context-Embedded Learning section of my dissertation lit review. This section really doesn’t stand up to my enthusiasm for this subject… yet.

Role Playing

One particularly powerful strategy for supporting this sort of identity development is to facilitate true role-playing experiences for students, in which each student takes on a specific role within a cognitively immersive environment. Story telling, especially in conjunction with student role-playing, can also be a powerful tool.
Jonassen, Peck, and Wilson (1999) discussed “Role-Playing on the Web” (p. 33) and the creation of web-based simulations and games; they were especially interested in the promise of new technologies to allow even “elementary students [to] build simple to complex microworlds” (p. 33). Role-playing appeared again in their discussion of visualizing with technology when they suggested that students might “role play press conference(s)” (p. 66). This theme recurred yet again in their treatment of learning by constructing realities with hypermedia, where they shared a handful of examples of “anchoring instruction in hypermedia learning environments” (p. 92), which provide a scenario for the student to explore and play.

Jonassen, Peck, and Wilson (1999) also mentioned the promise of text based MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons, and later Multi-User Domains) and MOOs (Object Oriented MUDs) as a powerful role-playing context for students (p. 140), where students can “can assume a virtual persona different from their real-world persona” (p. 141). These environments were also associated with “facilitat[ing] dialogue and knowledge building among the community of learners” (p. 200). Although “children enjoyed opportunities to choose their own paths through the environment, with some eventually learning to construct their own rooms and environments” (p. 141), there were some potential drawbacks to the use of these games in education; “boys seemed to show more interest than girls… [and] older children (11-14) participated more than younger children” (p. 141). Modern Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) are direct descendents of these early text based games, and may share some of the same potentials and drawbacks.

Jonassen (2003) also this compelling vision of MUDs in the classroom, a vision that applies as much or even more so to modern MMORPGs:

“Imagine, for instance, a MUD in which a student is placed on the main street in a small community in colonial America, with the option of entering stores, blacksmith shops, pubs, jails, homes, and other buildings of the period. Inside each building would be descriptions of the people and artifacts it contained. Students would make decisions and express their choices, to which the MUD’s characters and objects (and other students) would react. Imagine, too, that teachers and their classes could work together to develop new buildings. This option (which is often provided in MUDs) could be great incentive for research, collaboration, problem-solving, and other high-level activities.” (p. 104)

These environments (MUDs or MMORPGs) also make natural microworlds, which Jonassen (2003) is still concerned with. Central to his philosophy is his belief that “transfer of learning, particularly higher order kinds of learning, requires well-developed mental models” (p. 190) and that “in order to construct mental models, learners must explore and manipulate phenomenon, observe the effects, and generate mental representations of those phenomena” (p. 190). This can occur in MMORPGs if they adhere to the four essential characteristics of a microworld, as Jonassen interprets Papert:

• “simple to understand
• reflects generic characteristics that can be applied to many areas of life
• presents concepts and ideas that are useful and important to learners in the world
• reflects syntonic characteristics, which allow learners to relate prior knowledge and experience to current phenomenon being studied” (p. 191)
Jonassen later added the following:
• “Provides a meaningful learning context that supports intrinsically motivated and self-regulated learning
• Establishes a pattern whereby the learner goes from the “known to the unknown”
• Provides a balance between deductive and inductive learning
• Emphasizes the usefulness of errors
• Anticipates and nurtures incidental learning” (p. 193)

In addition to the above, MMORPGs, like other games in general, “can embed cognitive, social, and cultural factors within the environment… which can help learners transfer skills from play and imitation to real situations that they will experience” (Jonassen, 2003, p. 191). Those that allow user creation within the game environment can tap into the idea that “the creation process is an important component of learning (Papert, 1980), which is supported with students constructing their understanding of a phenomenon in a microworld” (Jonassen, 2003, p. 197). Jonassen also points out that “as is the case with most instructional design projects, the people who learn the most are the designers and developers, not the target audience” (p. 191). With respect to virtual reality environments, which modern MMORPGs provide, Jonassen also suggests that active decision-making in the environment “gives students the feeling of participating in a real-world environment, and also transforms learning into exploration” (p. 205).

More recent game scholars add a great deal to Jonassen’s work. Squire and Jenkins (2003) suggest that “games encourage role playing, which can… help students… to adopt different social roles or historical subjectives” (p. 28). For example, Jenkins, Klopfet, Squire, and Tan (2003) discuss the prototype Revolution, which “builds on… the value of combining research and role-playing in teaching historyu, that is, the game offers kids the chance not simply to visit a ‘living history’ museum… but to personally experience the choices that confronted historical figures” (p. 9). Shaffer (in press) concluded that by playing his epistemic games “students developed useful real-world skills and understandings in computer-supported role-playing games” (p. 3).

The use of story in role-playing games can be a powerful tool for providing an emotionally meaningful context for student actions. As Grodal (2003) wrote, “video games are… the medium that is closes to the basic embodied experience” (p. 139). He went on to explain that in games the story is “developed by the player’s active particiation, and the player needs to posses a series of specific skills to ‘develop’ the story, from concrete motor skills… to a series of planning skills” (p. 139).

Squire (2003) subscribes to the view that “interactive digital storytelling should emerge as a legitimate art form in the upcoming years, and video games seem to be paving the way” (p. 9). Holland, Jenkins, and Squire (2003) believe that “the heart of the game is its dramatic force; rather than a lecture, the player is compelled by a visceral or an emotional logic” (p. 39). Echoing core constructivist philosophy, they also note that “rather than regurgitating context-free facts, the player [of a role playing game] must take the next step and utilize knowledge in tense contextually rich situations” (p. 39)

Naturally, such learning does not require a computer. Shaffer (2006) shared the example of The Debating Game, a face-to-face roll playing unit in which “students step into the roles of debaters and judges and play by the rules that define those roles” (p. 25). He notes that like Dungeons and Dragons, a pen and paper (tablet-top) role-playing game, “The Debating Game is a fantasy role-playing game… in which players take on the roles of debaters and judges to inhabit an imagined world in which they are making judgements about the morality of historical actors and about the skill of their own peers” (p. 25).

The importance of role playing with respect to learning in video games will be addressed in greater detail in a later section.

Providing a context for learning is an important element of a constructivist learning environment, but that context is much more powerful if it provides students with opportunities for inquiry.

I’m seeking feedback on this writing, so please let me know what you think in the comments.

Context-Embedded Learning Part VIII: Indentity

This is part of the Context-Embedded Learning section of my dissertation lit review. It seems to me there should perhaps be even more of Gee in here…


As students develop situated and distributed understanding within a learning context, they are essentially exploring an identity within that context – a way of acting and thinking that is specific to the context and problems at hand. Constructivist educators purposefully and explicitly support the development of educationally beneficial identities by their students. Some modern constructivists strive to help students develop professional identities that may be useful in their adult future, particularly professional identities that emphasize sophisticated or innovative ways of thinking, doing, and problem solving.

Shaffer, Squire, and Gee (2005) believed that “the virtual worlds of games are rich contexts for learning because they make it possible for players to experiment with new and powerful identities” (p. 106). Shaffer articulates this well, with respect to his epistemic games:

“the ability of students to incorporate epistemic frames into their identities (or portfolio of potential identities) suggests a mechanism through which sufficiently rich experiences in technology-supported simulations of real-world practices (such as the games described above) may help students deal more effectively with situations in the real-world and in school subjects beyond the scope of the interactive environment itself.” (Shaffer, in press, p. 19)

Gee (2003) was most interested in the way that good games can facilitate learning by requiring players to take on a new identity and form “bridges from [their] old identities to the new one” (p. 51). He felt that “all deep learning – that is active, critical learning – is inextricably caught up with identity” (p. 51), and he tapped into the tradition of Piaget’s little scientists when he offered the example of “a child in a science classroom engaged in real inquiry, and not passive learning, [who] must be willing to take on an identity as a certain type of scientific thinker, problem solver, and doer” (p. 51). This concept he extended to the many roles that students might play in good role-playing video games, which he reported made him “think new thoughts about what [he as a player] valued and what [he] did not” (p. 56). He suggested that game designers and teachers “need to create a game-like biology world in which learners can act and decide as certain types of biologists” (Gee, 2005, p. 85) in order to help students become “authentic professionals [with] specific knowledge and distinctive values tied to specific skills gained though a good deal of effort and experience” (p. 51). Gee felt that good games can facilitate learning that “involves taking on and playing with identities in such a way that the learner has real choices” (p. 67).

Citing Gee, Shaffer (in press) identified three levels of identity that can be developed in a game: “the real identity of the player… the virtual identity of the character or role the player has in the game… [and] a third projective identity, which is the kind of character the player wants to be in the game” (p. 19). He also discusses the importance of developing possible selves in a game; “possible selves give form to a person’s hopes for mastery, power, status, or belonging, and to a person’s fears of incompetence, failure, and rejection” (Shaffer, 2006, p. 158). With his epistemic games, Shaffer aims to “give adolescents new possible selves that are based on authentic experiences with innovative thinking that matter in the world” (p. 158). This experience can also extend to selves that are impossible in the real world. As Lahti illustrated, “this becomes a safe way [for players] to try on being a different race or sex” (p. 168). Steinkeuher (2006a) studied the nuanced development of such new identities in MMORPGs in particular (both in and out of game identities), suggesting that MMORPGs too might be a medium in which students might develop meaningful new identities.

I’m seeking feedback on this writing, so please let me know what you think in the comments.

Context-Embedded Learning Part VII: Situated and Distributed Understanding

This is part of the Context-Embedded Learning section of my dissertation lit review:

Situated and Distributed Understanding

Learning that happens within a microworld (or other authentic context) is what constructivists consider situated learning, and allows students to develop a situated understanding of the skills they are developing and problems they are solving. Bruner (1996) believed that all knowledge is “always ‘situated,’ dependent upon materials, task, and how the learner [understands] things” (p. 132). Duffy and Jonassen (1992) also explained that constructivists “emphasize ‘situating’ cognitive experiences in authentic activities” (p. 4). Phrased another way, they believed that “we must aid the individual in working with the concept in the complex environment, thus helping him or her to see the complex interrelationships and dependencies” (p. 8). It is significant, especially in terms of microworlds and educational technologies, that they point out “the context need not be the real world of work in order for it to be authentic… rather, the authenticity arises from engaging in the kinds of tasks using the kids of tools that are authentic to that domain” (p. 9).

In the constructivist tradition, Gee (2003) argued that learning involves situating (or building) meanings in context, and that “video games are particularly good places where people can learn to situate meanings through embodied experiences” (p. 26). He highlighted examples in which “the player (learner) is immersed in a world of action and learns through experience, though this experience is guided or scaffolded by information the player is given and the very design of the game itself” (Gee, 2005, p. 59). Gee (2003) understood that “meaning and knowledge are built up through various modalities (images, text, symbols, interactions, abstract design, sound, etc.)” (p. 111), which video games can provide in spades.

Many scholars believe that video games and simulations can provide environments in which such situated learning can occur. Shaffer, Squire, Halverson, and Gee (2005), for example, stated that “the virtual worlds of games are powerful because they make it possible to develop situated understanding” (p. 106) and that “video games take advantage of situated learning environments” (p. 108). When discussing the new ways in which a student engaged with her world after playing the epistemic game Madison 2200, the authors wrote that “this is situated learning at its most profound – a transfer of ideas from one context to another that is elusive, rare, and powerful” (p. 109). Later Shaffer (2006) wrote about a journalism class (J-828) that inspired the epistemic game; “As the situated view of learning suggests, novice journalists in J-828 learned by becoming members of a community, and they came to see themselves as members of the community by learning to do things that members of the community do” (p. 148). Dede (2005), too, found that learning situated in virtual environments and augmented realities was important because of the capacity for transfer of learning to real problems. Steinkuehler, who studied MMORPGs specifically, was also interested in “the situated meanings individuals construct, the definitive role of communities in that meaning, and the inherently ideological nature of both” (p. 17).

Just as they may provide students an opportunity for situated learning, many microworlds (and other authentic contexts) offer opportunities for students to developed a distributed understanding of skills and problems. Unlike in traditional testing situations, students do not need to memorize all of the answers to their problems and information required in the learning context. They can call upon tools and other individuals within the context to aid them in their efforts. As Bruner (1996) expressed it, intelligence is “not simply ‘in the head’ but [is] ‘distributed’ in the person’s world – including the toolkit of reckoning devices and heuristics and accessible friends that the person could call upon… intelligence, in a word, reflects a micro-culture of praxis” (p. 132). Gee (2003) considered this one of the principles of good learning that many good video games do well; in good games “thinking, problem solving, and knowledge are ‘stored’ in material objects and the environment” (p. 111).

I’m seeking feedback on this writing, so please let me know what you think in the comments.