Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Serious Games

The Serious Games listserv occasionally flares up with some wonderful writing. Debra Lieberman recently posted about the contrast between games being used in a larger instructional context and stand-alone educational games. This is wisdom that should be shared, but I can't find an archive online, so I'll paste it in here:
  • If the game is assigned by a teacher, there is less pressure to make the game so entertaining and instantly gratifying that players will want to play it during free time. If students must play it as an assignment, the game does not have to compete with high-production-value commercial games for their attention.
  • The assigned game can be a lot more difficult than the learner is comfortable with, it can require a greater amount of sustained effort than leisure-time players may be willing to invest in learning, and the range of difficulty can be wider since it is assumed the classroom teacher or coach will be teaching more skills and content than the game itself provides.
  • The game does what it does best, and other kinds of classroom learning or coached learning do what they do best. The game does not have to teach everything since it is part of a larger curriculum.
  • The game can be designed to pique curiosity, motivate information-seeking, question assumptions, encourage discussion...just to get students more involved in the topic so they are ready to learn more in the classroom or coaching setting. Here again, the game is not expected to teach everything.
  • The game can be an environment for learning and rehearsing skills, while the classroom can provide hands-on experiences and new ways to apply those skills.
  • A human teacher or coach has an interpersonal relationship with the learner, and may provide emotional support, caring, enthusiasm, encouragement, role modeling, and a social context for learning. The teacher can read the learner's emotional state and can adjust the lesson accordingly.
  • Other learners also provide a social context for learning. Classroom-based lessons can be designed to encourage social interaction among students while they are learning, and this can be related to a game they had been assigned to play.
  • A game need not be played during class meeting times. Students can be assigned to play a game at home, and then come to class or the coaching situation for hands-on learning, application and rehearsal of skills, group discussion, field trips, and many other learning activities that do not involve playing a game.
I like all of these points, particularly the idea that games don't have to contain entire lessons or cover whole sections of learning -- they might work best motivation and interest-building in a topic. So instead of having students "live" in SimCity for a whole unit on urban planning, why not use one component of the game in one class to get things rolling, then revisit it later for comparison?

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