Games and Simulations (Birds of a Feather)

Unfortunately I don’t have an image for this gathering of forward looking minds at NECC. Also unfortunately, it seems this BOF session was considerably smaller than last year. The organizers, Greg Jones and David Gibson (of simSchool and the Global Challenge Award), had planned to discuss starting a new NECC SIG this year, but scrapped that from the agenda given the small turnout. Still, this was a dozen people with amazing stories in one room to talk about the future of games and simulations in education.

David Gibson mentioned an upcoming book on Games and Simulations and Online Learning, a collection of research that he edited with Marc Prensky and Clark Aldrich. I’m definitely looking forward to that. David is also especially interested in unobtrusive assessment, which sounds like a good way to approach assessment, whether in a game or a traditional classroom. We also discussed a paper Greg had written. Other names that came up throughout the session included Chris Dede at Harvard, Saha Barab at Indiana University, Eric Klopfer at MIT, and Ron Stevens at UCLA.

We discussed serious games to some degree and had a good discussion about the challenges of development. We spent a lot of time talking about the issues related to having students and teachers design their own games, and covered modding (including Neverwinternights and MIT’s Revolution Mod). Someone also mentioned a program called car2ouche for programming games. There was also a suggestion to use Agent Sheets to do spread sheet simulations, or else something called Squeek.

One lady was running a STAR schools grants which focused on gaming – mostly on handhelds. I’ll keep my eye on those grants. There was some discussion of games for at risk math students, and then talk of a korean pda that differentiates content for kids based on their learning styles. They always have the option of choosing their preferred style, or the styles other people are choosing.

We got to the point where we recognized that this is a broad topic… and we questioned how to we help teachers get started. I suggested that a wiki aimed at an audience of teachers might not be a bad idea. Perhaps a beginners list-serv would help, too… something like what Steve Hargadon is doing for teachers beginning with Open Source.

The topic of aligning with state assessments came up, as did the question, “can we ignore assessment?”

I’m not sure the relevance, but I made a note regarding the shodor foundation, which teaches computational science, and their program, stella.

The end of the session was dominated by a participant (and educational game developer) from Taiwan I think. It sounded like he was doing some great extracurricular stuff with students there, but I think we were all biting our tongues at times (and I wondered if he knew where he was) because he kept saying over and over that we shouldn’t spend money on computers in schools – that schools were fine and we should leave them alone. You don’t hear that very often, particularly not in the largest gathering of educational technologists on the planet.

Sadly, though I thought I could catch the end of the CUE reception after this, I pretty much missed the whole thing, including all of the announcements. In retrospect, I think this was shortsighted in terms of the missed networking opportunity, which was not outweighed by the quality of discussion at the BOF session. Still, I’m glad I got to meet David and Greg and some of the others there – and got to see some new familiar faces.