Monday, August 8

24 Questions about computer games and education

  1. Are computer games inherently counter-cultural?
  2. Are some computer games bad for children?
  3. Do computer games herald a revolution in education?
  4. For a given curricula, where would one ideally use books? Where would one ideally use computer games/educational simulations? Given educational objectives, how do you support them with computer games/educational simulations?
  5. How can computer games/educational simulations augment existing curricula; inspire new curricula? Do computer games/educational simulations increase the types of content that can be learned formally?
  6. How can modding be used to better use existing computer games in formal learning programs?
  7. How can teachers/professors/trainers use existing computer games (as is) in formal learning programs?
  8. How can you create a marketplace for educational simulations?
  9. How do you create a computer game for education?
  10. How do you measure the effectiveness of computer games/educational simulations?
  11. How do you use a computer game structure to capture and model expert behavior? What then has to happen to make it an educational simulation?
  12. How does someone who grew up playing computer games learn differently than someone who did not?
  13. How much should an educational simulation cost? To build? To buy?
  14. Should educational simulations be fun, the way that a computer game is fun?
  15. What are educationally relevant artifacts from computer games/educational simulations?
  16. What does one learn from a computer game? What does someone learn from Civilization III? Grand Theft Auto? What are the new frameworks/vocabularies needed to talk about this new content?
  17. What is the impact of looking at computer game genres, as opposed to computer games? Do we need new genres for education, or are existing computer game genres sufficient?
  18. What is the relationship between production values and effectiveness?
  19. What should a professor do about computer games? What are early steps? What are later steps?
  20. What toolkits exist for an e-learning developer to quickly and cost-effectively make an educational game?
  21. When should an educational simulation be single-player/multiplayer/massively multi-player?
  22. Which computer games today are appropriate for formal learning programs?
  23. Which computer games today are worthwhile from an instructional/liberal arts perspective?
  24. Will educational simulations be to computer games what documentaries are to movies?


Stuart Kruse said...

In the spirit of your list of questions, a list of random thoughts and questions about games/simulations in learning - stream of consciousness follows...

1. For 'knowledge in the head' choose games/simulations, for 'knowledge in the world' choose EPSS, knowledge management and page-turners
2. Does NLP's modelling techniques offer a way to capture those special things that makes an expert and expert? Can the informationt that comes from this be distilled in a way that is transferrable to game models
3) Choose games over simulations when helping people learn rote facts - i.e. make rhearsal fun/challenging - involve challenge and the group
4) How important is 'treatment' or the richness of media to the power of games/simulations - do different domains require different levels of realism?
5) Is there a 'bridge' to help companies make the mental leap from the 'known' of simple page turning style e-learning to richer game/simulation style learning
6) Why isn't more e-learning targetted at helping competent individuals become 'stars'? Why does all training seem to focus on getting beginners to be competent?
7) How close are we to game 'engines' and frameworks that can then be tailored quickly to different situations/content
8) I wonder how important the 'details' of a particular domain/work area are - e.g. is it enough to do a rich simulation on general sales technique or is this only effective if you simulate selling in a very specific domain - how domain specific are these skills?
9) What is the lifetime of a simulation - how long before you are giving people practice/experience in an old/less effective method of doing something; how easy do simulations have to be to update
10) erm...end of Monday...brain now officially dead....

Mark said...

There is one piece in here that I don't want to get lost and which I may talk on at length in a post but the topic is modding. I don't want modding to get lost in the discussion of game-based learning and video games as just some other kind of technology or activity because it really represents much more than that.
Modding in the computer game world repressents the mainfestation of a realization of the part of game companies that if they "Let Go" over absolute control of their content, and in fact gave their users tools to edit that content - they could generate new sales of existing products, create rapid fan bases and perhaps even expose future employees by watching the development of particularly skillful mods.
The e-learning world, both consumer and producer, has a way to go to get to this realization.

Godfrey Parkin said...

Some good questions here. Way too many to do justice to, so I'll comment on only a couple.

"Are computer games inherently counter-cultural?" Whose culture are you talking about? To a non-gamer, they may be as threatening as rock 'n roll was to parents in the 1950s. To the digital generation, computer games are very much a component of the culture. (Except that 'computer games' are so last week... the console is where gaming, and a lot of social networking, is really hapening, because it is cheaper and a lot more powerful).

"Are some computer games bad for children?" Yes. So are some TV shows. And some diet sodas. And some fast food. And some urban air. And some popular music. And some education policies.

"Do computer games herald a revolution in education?" Maybe, but not necessarily in the direct sense of teaching-through-gaming. I think we can learn a lot from games about the motivation to learn, about structuring tests & rewards, and about using interactive media seductively. We used to have a mantra in the games business: a great game is easy to learn but hard to master. Maybe there is something in that for instructional designers to chew on.

"How can you create a marketplace for educational simulations?" "How do you create a computer game for education?" You have to make educational games fast and cheap to build, easy to modify, easy to access, and, of course, they must have strong immediate appeal to as wide a market as possible. Unfortunately, a lot of the things which make sims/games compelling is their context. In a flight sim, you learn to fly -- which in itself is a thrill, and the prospect of failure (crashing) is adrenaline-inducing. In the world of commerce, the contexts are not as immediately exciting -- figuring out how to balance a balance sheet just doesn't get the average pulse racing.

Clark Aldrich said...

Hi Mark!

I am so glad you are here. I believe you and I are going to disagree a bit on mods. Let's do it in your upcoming post on the topic!


Clark Aldrich said...

""Are computer games inherently counter-cultural?" Whose culture are you talking about? To a non-gamer, they may be as threatening as rock 'n roll was to parents in the 1950s."

Sure, but rock and roll never became educational, with the exception of schoolhouse rock!

Dave Lee said...

Great post, Clark. Laundry lists are great to "get the issues out on the table." But how do you begin to sort through them in any manageable way?

In this discussion of games and simulations are we only discussing games and simulations delivered through certain technologies? Introductory psychology professors have regularly used live-actor simulations (think teaching assistants, not movie stars) to startle a class before discussion of certain social psychology topics. Do such instructional techniques fit into this current discussion? Or are we framing the question more narrowly?

What are new questions and what are questions to which we already know the answers because they aren't truly new questions? For instance, decades of research has been done on the effectiveness of learning on one's own, in pairs, in small groups and in large groups. Let's be careful not to waste time reinventing the wheel just because it's now "single player" vs. "multi-player."

What can games/simulations do uniquely? Reading how to set a piton correctly while mountain climbing may be instructional, but I'm pretty sure that "experiencing" a 500' fall because I haven't yet learned how to properly identify crumbling rock versus solid rock would focus my learning a bit more.

Do we understand what type of game/simulation is best utilized in each stage of instruction? For example, a beautifully rendered simulation of walking through a rain forest might serve well as an introduction to a lesson on ecological dependencies, the exact same simulation would likely be a failure as an assessment in the same class.

What's the cognitive-load of a simulation or game? How much multisensory input can students handle in any given time? Do to the richness of experience they can bring to the learning situation, do instructors and content developers need to consider the "emotional-load" or the "physical-load" on the students? Using my mountain climbing example, a student who's read about using pitons, most likely, could move onto another topic rather quickly. But if I've just fallen 500 feet down a mountain, I'd think I might need to catch my breath, thank the stars I'm still actually alive, and otherwise pull myself back together before I'll be ready to move on to the next educational experience.

What about ethics and games/simulations? If it's only a simulation, would it be appropriate to place a student in a situaton in which they were being sexually harassed by an avatar? Or what if during the mountain climbing simulation a student has a heart attack because it's so real? Is the teacher liable for the medical expenses? the school/employer, the content developer?

What is the impact of teacher training and knowledge on adoption of games and simulations? Are instuctional games and simulations a juggernaut that simply predestined to become the future of education - so instructors better get with it or be left unemployeed? Or could the natural resistence to change that will arise in the teaching professions relegate games and simulations to the same dusty AV closet as video disks and classroom polling systems?

Oh, and what the heck is "modding"? (and why do we Americans insist on turning every noun into a verb?)

Psyae said...

I'll bite:

1. No. Sorry, but you used the word "inherently," and the implication of "all" when referring to computer games. Most certainly some developers have created computer games that were either intended to be or ended up being counter-cultural, but since computers and computer games are, for the most part, part of our culture (acknowledging the issue brought by previous posters of what culture you reference), and therefore cannot be inherently counter-cultural.

2. Yes. So are some movies, television shows, books, magazines, and chainsaws. There will always be something bad for certain classes of people. The real issue is what's to be done about it. We can ban everything we find "bad" or offensive. We can leave it up to the parents. Or, we can have some "happy" medium.

3. Yes. Read "Everything Bad is Good For You," by Steven Johnson.

4. I believe all curricula should involve a combination of book reading and computer gaming /simulation. The question of "where" is answered depending on what course is being taught. Generally, though, the books should come first, then gaming/sim, then books again. As an example, when I learned any subject in college, I first read a few chapters in the text; then the professor would lecture and clarify all the things I had trouble with; and, if I were behaving, I would re-read the text and end up saying "ooh, now I get it." Books / sims / books could replicate that iteration / clarification / recognition.

5. Games/sims could put the student in places not normally accessible, such as a science lab, another planet, or back in time. One of the best sims I've ever encountered was a chemistry program that allowed the user to manipulate atoms to form molecules in an environment the user could adjust (temperature, etc.). Try doing that with foam balls and wire.

6. Modding. To briefly address this question, I'd say that modding would allow an instructor to fine-tune a game/sim more effectively to teach a particular curriculum.

7. Vs. As Is. This is where instructors who aren't familiar with games might need a liaison who can perceive the benefits of certain games in a learning environment. For example, take most MMORPGs. They have a virtual economy, which could help an economics professor. Learn and deal with the market! At a lower level, most games have some questing aspect, which is just another form of puzzle-solving.

8. First, find out what's already popular and what makes it popular. For instance, Sid Meier's Sims games, throughout the ages, have maintained a tremendous amount of popularity, and thus a good (majority?) share of the sim market. Then, try either to create a sim that's equally marketable, or just sell your sim to Sid Meier.

9. You start with a game, and later infuse it with something educational. If you do the reverse (depending on your target audience), you will likely fail. Make the "learning" part of the game take place in the background, but still be effective, and you've got a real winner. Ultimately, it's vitally important that after "playing" the game/sim, students review the educational aspects of the game with an instructor, else anything gained from playing will be lost.

10. Using the scientific method, you could take groups of students and give one group a classic education without game/sim, and the other group with. Then, over the course of their entire education, evaluate which group makes the best progress/grades, etc. Then, take it further and track each student throughout life to determine if there is an overwhelming correlation between game/sim learning earlier and quality of life later. Good luck finding the funding for that, though.

11. Skipping for now.

12. The same way someone who grew up with a father as a mechanic tends to know more about cars than someone who didn't. Games broaden the learning horizon in "virtual" directions. The world is progressing exponentially toward everything being electronic (banking, filing taxes, creating a travel itenerary, communicating, negotiating, ad infinitum). Those people who have learned to deal with things in a virtual environment will not only fit in better in the world, but will influence the world to become more electronic. [I know I didn't quite answer the question, but hopefully there's something of quality in there]

13. Build? I have no idea. Buy? If by an educational institution, it should be licensed at a discount so that every student will be able to use one. If it's a sim that deals with a single subject within a single "grade" of school, it should run no more than about $20-50 per "copy." There are so many aspects of licensing and cost analysis, that it would be impractical to address them here. I believe you'd need to address those issues in another post where those more familiar can comment.

14. I could say, "If it's not fun, then don't do it." But I'm not that naive. I admit there are many aspects of education that, by their nature, cannot be "fun." However, they should keep a student's interest, and be as captivating as possible, considering the subject matter. If it's also fun, then doubleplusgood.

15. Define "artifacts."

16. Civ: micromanagement; economics; the fact that no matter how much energy you put into planning, something could go terribly wrong and ruin it. GTA: economics; social interaction; although you have the ability to choose (in game or real life), there are consequences, and you have to live with them (albeit in the game temporarily). I must add here that this is a great opportunity to "mod" a game to make it more "realistic" and learning enabled. In a game like GTA, the player develops a character, finds money, items, and does odd jobs around a city, mostly criminal. Ultimately, the police will try to stop the character, but in the default game, the consequences are minimal--loss of money, time. Mod the game to lose the character entirely, and it creates frustration from the player--having all the time spent building the character up all gone to waste. However, note that the game should also be modded to provide alternatives to criminal activities; e.g., if someone in the game wants your character to rob a bank, the player can choose to have the character inform the police instead. [Skipping framework/vocab]

[Skipping the rest for now.]
I hope this helps some.

Godfrey Parkin said...

"Sure, but rock and roll never became educational, with the exception of schoolhouse rock!"

It sure taught me a thing or two... and still does :-)

(Actually, I'm only semi-facetious: like gaming, popular music is both a reflector and influencer of popular culture; I learn a lot about the world from it. I don't have to like music that is popular to be able to use it as a window to cultures that I no longer understand as an "insider". The same is true of games, though I'm still pretty much inside of those!)