The Video Game Theory Reader: Theory by Design The Video Game Theory Reader: Books: Mark J. P. Wolf,Bernard Perron I thought it was time to share some of what I’ve been reading offline. I finally started this 2002 book, beginning, of course, with Theory by Design by Walter Holland, Henry Jenkins, and Kurt Squire.

Thankfully, this article does relate to my current KAM research. Even the purpose of the article oozed constructivist philosophy: “The opportunity exists for us to produce new forms of knowledge about this emerging medium that will feed back into its ongoing development” (p. 26). There were also echos of Dewey in their explicit commitment to humanism (p. 27).

The purpose of the Games-To-Teach project about which they wrote was to “encourage greater public awareness of the pedagogical potentials of games by developing a range of conceptual frameworks that show in practical terms how games might be deployed to teach math, science, and engineering at an advanced secondary or early undergraduate level” (p. 29). I’m still struggling to do largely the same thing at the OCDE. (Sadly, it seems that Games-To-Teach, which I had encountered earlier in my research, is now not online. However, it has been replaced by the Education Arcade.)

There is much in the article that relates to context-embedded learning… most importantly that games themselves must be “inserted into larger learning contexts” rather than to “operate in a vacuum” (p. 28).

When it comes to 21st century skills, particularly problem solving, “games also may enable teachers to observe their students’ problem solving strategies in action and to assess their performance in the context of authentic and emotionally compelling problems” (p. 29).

There is some allusions to Vygotsky’s ZPD as well. The authors suggest that

the best games can adjust to the skills of their players, allowing the same product to meet the needs of a novice and a more advanced student. Indeed, the concept of advancing in “levels” structures the learning process such that players can’t advance without mastery – something that curriculum- and test-designers have struggled to build into their work. (p. 28)

The article goes into quite a bit of detail into four concepts for educational games – Hephastus to teach robotics, Supercharged! to teach electromagnetics, Biohazard to teach AP-level biochemistry material, and Environmental Detectives, an augmented reality game that teaches environmentalism. (See more prototypes here.) Some of these concept are now playable games, as I witnessed at the Serious Games Summit in DC last November, and as I am learning in other articles I’m reading for my next paper. I will write more about those as time permits and I will of course post the papers when they are done.

Supercharged may be my favorite concept, as it places students in a world where they must learn the properties of electromagnetics to survive and complete the game, because

embedding challenges within the tool requires users to actively monitor their performance, observing, hypothesizing, acting, and reflecting. In additino to being potentially more motivating for learnings, engaging in such critical thinking processes is generally thought to be the basis of meaningful learning. As John Bransford and colleagues have shown, knowlege developed int he context of solving problems, is typically recalled better than knowledge learned by rote, and more readily mobilized for solving problems in novel contexts. (p. 37)

Perhaps most importantly, from the perspective of a former literature teacher,

the heart of the game is its dramatic force; rather than a lecture, the player is compelled by a visceral or an emotional logic. Rather than regurgitating context-free facts, the player must take the next step and utilize knowledge in tense, contextually rich situations. (p. 39)

Supercharged is an open-ended game, and thus facilitates inquiry-driven learning… and risk taking. The other designs focus more on the socially-negotiated elements of learning, with frameworks for collaboration and competition.

That’s a good morning of blogging for me. Now it’s back to outlining Dewey, Vygotsky, and Bruner…

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