Serious Educational Game Online l Thinking Worlds l Virtual Reality (Via Chris Brannigan.) I will try to keep this post to a reasonable length, but I had a very exciting conversation yesterday (via Skype) with Chris Brannigan of Caspian Learnig, creators of Thinking Worlds:
Thinking Worlds™ is an incredibly versatile and globally unique educational games authoring engine. This game allows you to play, edit, create and even share games with other members of the Thinking Worlds™ community. Thinking Worlds is based on well researched and proven learning principles and has already been used to develop highly engaging games in many subject areas.
Chris explained that their work with commercial off the shelf games (particularly Civilization) led them to realize that only the advanced learners were doing the sort of higher order thinking and seeing the sorts of benefits touted by Marc Prensky, James Paul Gee, and Clark Aldrich, among others. I’ve noted something similar in the past. I know I get a lot out of even bad games, because I’m thinking about the design and thinking about my thinking, but in conversation with students I find that they are not approaching games on this metacognitive level – they definitely don’t think they’re learning, and that’s not ideal. Also, unless a teacher is providing the structure outside of the game, students are not necessarily drawing accurate conclusions from the content and are not necessarily exercising sophisticated thinking skills. (Among others, Kurt Squire writes about the importance of teacher mediation of students’ understandings of games they play, too.) For the most part, a commercial game like Civilization doesn’t make any effort to include such scaffolding.
So one driving idea behind the Thinking Worlds engine is to embed thinking processes (or scaffolding for higher order thinking) into the game engine. Thinking Tasks can provide structure for inquiry or for activities such as comparing and contrasting. Facilitating student reflection is also important to them. The games capture data which can then be used to identify trouble areas – and then new scenarios can be designed to address those thinking skills.
Another important goal (which sets them apart from other game generation systems in my mind) is that they aim for a user base of ordinary teachers and students. I haven’t been able to try it myself yet (my test PC is running Vista right now), but Chris shared that teachers will not need programing or scripting skills to make this work. He warns, though, that they do need a deep knowledge of learning. :)
You can download a Beta version of the authoring tool and the player today, and there is already some content available on their site that you can play – or amend (mod). Amazingly, they are also testing this in something like 3000 schools in the UK and around the world, including approximately 1200 schools in Northern Ireland, where it sounds as if this may be a big part of a significant curriculum overhaul.
I want to remind readers that my source here is just my conversation with Chris, but I’m excited to discover this product (he emailed me earlier in the summer), to finally learn what it can really do, and to hear that it is already being so widely tested.
I expect you’ll be hearing more from me on this, but if you are interested, don’t wait to get your hands on the Beta and try it out. Incidentally, Chris shared that if possible they want to keep the authoring tool and player free for educators (if they can find other revenue sources), and that regardless of the final costs, the community will always be allowed and encouraged to share content. Good stuff. :)
Thanks to Chris for making the call. I look forward to corresponding with him further. If any other readers are interested in communicating with him, let me know I’ll connect you via email.