Friday, February 27, 2009

Article Review: Digital games in education

Gros, B. (2007). Digital games in education: The design of games-based learning environments. Journal of Research on Technology in Education 40(1), 23-38.

This article is a literature review on digital game-based learning and should lead to some great resources. DGBL stretches across many disciplines which each have their own focus and terminology, which make a comprehensive lit review difficulty. Research on DGBL in the field of education started to grow in the late 1990’s.

1st generation of educational games: called “edutainment.” This failed because the games were too simplistic in comparison to the commercial games. Also, the games were repetitive, poorly designed and did not support progressive understanding.

2nd generation: focused on the cognitive approach with the learner as the center of attention.
3rd generation: looked at the broader process of educational uses of computer games. This stressed the teacher as a facilitator who could provide the games with a social context.
(Egenfeldt & Nielsen, 2005)

The article goes on to talk about statistics of computer game users among children. Many studies have been done on the abstract learning effects, like improved mental rotation skills, ability to read iconic images, and divided visual attention/keeping track of multiple things.

Squire (2005) points out that the difference between e-learning and games is the focus on content vs. the gaming experience. Researchers think games don’t support “textual understanding” as much as other media, but do support: conceptual learning, problem solving, cooperation, and practical participation.

Greenfield (1996) found that games help learning through observation and hypotheses testing and that they “broadened understanding of scientific simulations.” The biggest disadvantage of games is the amount of time they take.

In author’s games, they strove towards learning environments that include 1) experimentation 2) reflection 3) activity 4) discussion

They found games to be most beneficial to less-advanced learners, though this is not supported in other researchers’ work. Little research has been done so far on how the knowledge gained in games transfers to other places.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Nobel Games

While helping a student on a reference question, I stumbled onto a large number of educational Flash games on the Nobel Web site. I've tested out a few, some are quite fun. The one on building plastic ducks actually answered a question that came up at a Mardi Gras party last weekend (as in, how could the plastic baby Jesus figurine be cooked into the king cake without melting?).

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A few more under my belt

This week I had three back-to-back freshman comp classes with two different professors. These classes were scheduled with only a week's notice, so I was limited to the changes within the Secret Agents game that I could do. Still, I think the changes I did do were effective. The first was to add a few animations to make it more game-like. These were simpler than I hope they will be in the future, and were very reminiscent of Carmen Sandiego. I changed the story from the students being secret agents that break into an information mainframe (the library) to an intruder has broken into the mainframe and the students (still rookie agents) have to get to the resources before he does and catch him. I also made the Boolean and truncation exercises interactive, which was lacking previously. I believe these changes were a leap in the right direction.

As my office-mate suggested after observing one of the games last fall, I followed the game up with a 10-question quiz using "clickers." I was able to save the results for my records, and make sure the students were leaving with a clear understanding of the basics. Two of the three classes had no problems with the quiz, the third class had two questions that required further clarification. The last question asked if this game was a fun way to learn about the library. 75% of the first class said yes to this question, 62% of the second class said yes, 53% of the last class said yes. This last class was a talkative group, and there was chatter that they didn't like having to physically get up and move around the library, otherwise they would have said "yes."

When doing a more traditional instruction session, you often feel like one class goes very differently from another. But as an instructor, that could have been because of you. I often feel that I improve the second time I have to do the same class back-to-back. However, the game stays constant, and the differences between the classes and even between each group continues to surprise me. The range of scores varies, the time it takes students to complete the game varies, and obviously their opinion of how much "fun" it was varies. Perhaps earlier classes were not as physically lazy as the last group, or perhaps their desire to be nice to me influenced their answer. Who knows?

I had another co-worker observing me today. She had further advice on how to make these more effective including clarity of questions and improving the introduction. We also discussed incorporating the librarian at the desk. I think I will have them go to "The Librarian" (code name, of course) at the desk to receive their next mission, which will be to find a particular print journal. This would associate them with an additional librarian and force them to locate the reference desk (which we call the Research Help Desk).

This furthers the point that games cannot be effective when they are solely computer-based. Students must interact with the physical library, and traditional instruction methods must be mixed with the technology based ones. Digital game-based learning in the library classroom can take the best of both worlds and use the advantages of each to create something truly spectacular. I think what I've done so far is really good, and with suggestions from librarians and students will one day become great.... though I will always require them to go up to the stacks to find their books!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Dream Chronicles

Despite having been playing with games for a number of months now, the only game I have completed is Dream Chronicles. I have dabbled in the "casual games" online, but this one held my attention better. You can play it for free for 30 minutes in the link I provided above, or buy it through that site for $20. I bought it at Target for $10 and felt it was worth every penny.

The best part about this game that I discovered was how simple the programming is. I can't re-create the beautiful graphics of the game, but there is little that I couldn't program to some degree of similarity. Each screen view is stable, so you can't move around within the world, and you don't have to program any characters that move other than very simple animations.

There is also an example of a dialog that determines the outcome of the game when you are in the greenhouse. I have been reading about dialog in games, but couldn't figure out how that could work. In this case, the plant talks and you have four choices of responses. That is as simple as programming a multiple choice question.
This is the style of game I based my plagiarism game on, which I'm still working on. I highly recommend it as a place for non-gamers to start. It's an inspiring game!

Big Games

I continue to be fascinated by the idea of "Big Games" as described by Gregory Trefly on the ALA's gaming Web site. The slides and audio are on that site, and the presentation is highly worth listening to. If you really can't listen to the whole thing, fast-forward to slide 45 and about 37 minutes into the audio presentation, but the earlier stuff is very helpful background info. This is where it starts to specifically discuss big games in libraries. Almost all of the big games revolve around four basic games:
  • tag
  • scavenger hunt
  • hide & seek
  • capture the flag
Libraries are great places because they often have many branches (lots of these games are in NYC), have collections, great spaces, content, unique identifiers (call no.'s & bar codes), referees (librarians/staff), tools (computers, copiers, wi-fi, etc.) and a place to display.He listed five undeveloped ideas for games that libraries could do:
  1. Secret Agent - based on the scavenger hunt. It involves secret meeting points, and avoiding detection (no running or disturbing people who aren't playing). Collect codes, and set levels so they know how they're doing when they "level up."
  2. Then/Now - this one interests me the most at the moment. In their example, they had old pictures of places around NYC from the library's archives, and the players have to go around and take pictures of how it looks now. I want to do this around campus.
  3. Rent control - the real real estate game. I don't understand this.
  4. Babel code - using the foreign language materials in the library to break codes
  5. Dewey's Demons - finding codes online or in the stacks to create and take care of creatures. I don't understand the details of this either.

To do one of these big games, look around your everyday world. Give normal activities goals, look for simple ways to track moves. Once you have a plan, run a test play (or he called it playtest) several times until it works, because it never works the first time.This presentation is definitely worth listening to, and I hope we can do the Then/Now thing with freshmen this fall.

Library Game

I came across an e-mail on one of my listservs that pointed to Ohio State's online library game called Head Hunt, that is meant to be an introduction to incoming freshmen and their families.

The game part is Brutus (the OSU mascot) is missing his head. For each part of the tutorial you complete (mostly trivia, some matching, one puzzle), you get a letter that helps you figure out where Brutus's head is.

I really like using the school's mascot as the central part of the game. That symbolically brings in the bigger picture of the campus and draws in a wider audience (what athlete or sports fan doesn't care about fixing the mascot?).

While at first I was annoyed by the different uses of multimedia (it first struck me as disjointed), I later came to appreciate the variety in the activities.

My biggest complaint is that I can't figure out where the head is because I'm awful at word scrambles. That has nothing to do with library skills, and it's disappointing to someone who completed all but the last step. I really want to know where the head is.

But the more serious criticism I have for this particular game is that it doesn't encourage discovery. There are no links to outside resources to help the user figure out the answer. The crossword puzzle offers "hints" that outright give the answer. This is something I'm really working on in my own tutorial.

Overall, I thought this was a good game, I just wish I could have finished it.

Article Review: Gaming & Learning

Authors: Spiegelman, M. & Glass, R.
Article Title: Gaming and learning: Winning information literacy collaboration
Journal: C&RL News
Year: 2008
Pages: 522-525

I'm a little disappointed in this article, but I'm finding that's usual for articles written on gaming and instruction. I'm finding much better information from books.

This article is all over the place, mixing the value of professor-librarian collaboration, with the value of integrating Web 2.0 tools to enhance classroom learning, with the value of educational game-like activities to learn research skills. The Web 2.0 part includes mostly having students contribute to wikis and blogs. They mention having attended the SUNY Conference on Instructional Technologies, which I'm interseted in looking into.

The games had nothing to do with technology and were active learning techniques with the game aspect being having teams vote for the best results. The games were as follows:
  • The Dead Mathematicians Hall of Fame: Students got in groups and researched a famous person in the field of logic. They had to write an acceptance speach from that person's point of view, which required some research. The class voted on the best.
  • Grateful Dead Scientists Game: The students had to research a famous scientist and create a course that person might have taught. The votes come in the form of registrations for courses the students would like to take.
  • History of the Times Game: Students use the New York Times Historical Backfile to find an interesting story or ad, then vote on best results.

Other things I want to look into are Jenny Levine's "gamer ethos" in her article from Library Technology, and Friedman and Booth's "cultures of play."

Since reading this article, the head of the writing center and I added the voting idea into our activity of discussing four plagiarism scenarios with freshman composition classes. The winning team gets either extra credit points (if the professor is willing) or they each get a $1 gift certificate to the campus cafe. This does add a valuable element to the activity, and while they aren't the only people to suggest voting, this is where I got the idea.

NPR on Gaming in Museums

In January, NPR had a story on gaming in museums. I found the enthusiasm of the museum visitors fascinating, and continue to be fascinating by "big games" that aren't on the computer.

Book Revew: Library 2.0 & Beyond

Title: Library 2.0 & Beyond: Innovative Technologies & Tomorrow’s User
Edited by Nancy Courtney
Year: 2007

This book focuses on various Web 2.0 technologies in libraries, but here I will only focus on the chapter that deals specifically with games.

Chapter 9 on learning from video games by David Ward
This had some great stuff in the section on “Games as an Education Tool.” I think most library educators agree that straight-out lectures don’t work anymore, you have to get them active. Video games involve learning; the players have to learn to solve problems and will spend hours doing so. We should use off-the-shelf games or make our own that get students simulating the research process to give them practical albeit virtual experience. The definition of a “video game” is:
  • visual digital information to 1+ players
  • takes input from players
  • processes the input according to programmed game rules
  • alters digital information based on input

He writes that you don’t need to use actual video games, just characteristics of the games, where players learn by doing and discovering… a.k.a. “active learning.” You must keep telling to a minimum, to allow for discoveries. Allow them to get feedback from environment to inform them for their next action.

Focus Group on Games

Last november I organized a focus group of students to help me brainstorm ideas for developing my instructional games. In exchange for their help, I made them chicken Marbella (my favorite!), mashed potatoes, and chocolate fondue with fruit.

I had 8 or 9 students from the Creative Arts Society (CAS) show up, and it was sooo much fun. I wish every focus group could go so well. They actually enjoyed the games as they were, which amazed me. They loved the "Secret Agent" story. So here are some of the ideas and suggestions they came up with... and I did encourage them to say whatever came to mind.

  • Have laser tag in the library and when you find certain library resources, you get several seconds of immunity.
  • If you want the students to be more active, you could have a central, physical place to get maps and other resources.
  • Add "Your mission, if you choose to accept it..." message to the secret agent theme. Along that line, I think I'll add "this message will self destruct in 5 seconds" and then an explosion animation.
  • Add video clips and sound clips from James Bond, Carmen Sandiego, Q (the Bond weapons guy?), or Frankenstein for the monster game
  • Allow teams to choose a name
  • For freshman orientation, do a themed (pirates?) scavenger hunt. Could involve points, keep score with tokens, passbook, or big board to award prizes at end.
  • Again for orientation, split each cluster of students into groups, each group with a different color of handouts. Each color will be a different track, where one clue will lead to the next.
  • Reminisced about the "Temple of the Hidden Monkey" where contestants had to build monkey statues while avoiding guards. In this case, library staff could be guards that deduct points if they catch students running.
  • Involve having them get video clues in one of the screening rooms
  • Have some kind of lock box they're working to open, which will contain small prizes like lollipops at the end (going along with the secret agent theme)
  • They liked the Web evaluation part of the game, they called them "real and fake sites"
  • Have the "correct site" unlock something (I don't remember the context here)
  • More on databases, they wish they had known about them earlier
  • They were excited about "Choose Your Own Adventure" type games. I've done simple HTML games along these lines, there is potential for more here. They particularly focused on scholarly vs. popular journals here... we went off about turning in a paper based on articles found in Vogue :)
  • They really liked the idea of animating the Boolean operators sequence. Right now it's tutorial-like, but eventually I'd like to give students AND & OR buttons where pressing on those buttons will rearrange objects that fit the search (like only the spies wearing yellow coats AND red pants).
  • Could make author-themed games, like Poe (ravens, grave yards, tombs by the sea, beating hearts, pendulums, etc.)
  • They think we can assume students have cameras with them, esp. on cell phones. Could use those for photo scavenger hunts.
  • They thought the ideas of Big Games were really cool. I told them about juxtaposing maps of campus or Williamsport with some other map and asked what map? They suggested Gotham (if it exists), Narnia, Middle Earth, or Eragon

Games I need to look at:

  • "Escape from the Basement" (series of places to escape from)
  • "Myst" - puzzle game where you have to click on objects
  • "Escape Artist"
  • "Trapped" - this involves talking to characters you meet, which determines the outcome of the game
  • "Oblivion" - there has already been discussion on how people could reorganize this game for their own needs. They suggested talking to a student named Ian Shepard (a.k.a. "Shade").

Book Revew: Changing the Game

Authors: David Edery & Ethan Mollick

Title: Changing the game: How video games are transforming the future of business

Year: 2008

Overall, the majority of this book was not very helpful to me. However, that does not reflect on the quality of the book, rather its focus being more for businesses than education. It is very similar to Digital Game-Based Learning by Marc Prensky (2001), which seems to be one of the most important books in the field.

Here are some useful tidbits I got out of the book. Microsoft wanted to get its employees to voluntarily do bug checking on Vista, and turned it into a game (details not provided and obviously one must question its effectiveness!). The Army's online recruiting game has been unbelievably successful, you wouldn't believe the figures presented on this. Google has turned image labeling into a game.

Games are growing at double-digit rates while the movie industry is slowing down and the music business is actually shrinking. World of Warcraft made $1.1 in 2007 alone.

Everything in life can be seen as a game, the key is just to harness the properties of games that make them appealing. Business has rules, referees, "high scores," levels of progression, cheating, and teamwork.

"Games are compelling because, at their best, they represent the very essence of what drives people to think, to cooperate, and to create. Learning is not "work" in the context of a game - it is puzzle-solving, exploration, and experimentation." (p. 4-5).

They have posted the games on their Web site:

Grand Theft Auto is considered a "sandbox game," meaning the player can chose to ignore the given mission and just explore the virtual world.

"The best games keep players constantly teetering on the brink of mastery, even as they employ new twists and challenges to force players to rethink the lessons they have already learned." (p. 105).

According to Bill Ferguson, traditional educational games (which have been wholly unsuccessful) contained only 80% of the learning as traditional education, and only 20% of the fun of a regular game. He thinks this should be swapped, so that the games are 80% as fun as regular games even if you have to sacrifice a good deal of the learning. People should WANT to play the game.
Sun Microsystems hired Enspire Learning to create "Rise of the Shadow Specters" to share company information with new employees who telecommute. Sol City has been invaded by aliens and you have to clear each of the five parts of the city by finding certain artifacts relating to the five aspects of the company that they wanted to portray.

Games don't appeal to everyone. If you're going to make one for employee training, always offer a traditional alternative.

Army general Paul Gorman used an off-the-shelf game called "Neverwinter Nights" to promote teamwork among his soldiers. Harvard developed "Everest" to do the same thing among MBA students. In these types of games, each player on the team plays a role and receives the appropriate information for that role, which is not the same as the info given to the other players.

Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) - good for teaching how to handle unusual events.
Google posted two puzzles on billboards as a help-wanted advertisement for engineers. They figured only the best would figure it out and apply, and it would give applicants an idea of what it would be like to work there. L'Oreal has something similar for its business offices.

The authors warn against tying important real-world rewards like bonuses or promotions to these games. They can promote cheating and pollute the environment. Don't label anyone as "losers."

I have made the book seem like a random compilation of fact tidbits, and there is more useful stuff in this book. I have just either seen it before, or it doesn't fit what I'm trying to do with video games. The best book for this is still James Paul Gee's What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy, which has a stronger educational focus. But I got some great quotes to use from this book and I think if a reader needed some advocacy, theirs is very effective.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Book Review

Title: Advertising 2.0: Social Media Marketing in a Web 2.0 World

Author: Tracy Tuten

Published in 2008

While most of this book focuses on the marketing potentials of Web 2.0 tools, there is some information on games as advertisements that I found interesting. This post will focus on those parts of this book.

Today, some of the most valuable advertising methods are practically free. They're no longer one-way messages. They engage and interact with their audience, brands invite consumers to participate. Brands must strive to make their messages personally relevant to consumers. One way of doing this is through games.

The book does not contain many examples of the techniques it describes. One example is when Chrysler sent out a quiz "game" asking "what is your travel personality?" A number of companies and bands have successfully used advergames to market a product or album. Nine-Inch-Nails hosted an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) to promote an upcoming album. It was pretty intense and started with their European tour t-shirts having certain letters highlighted, which spelled out "I am trying to believe," which led fans to go to" which had clues to continue the game. Everything was mixed between online and real-world. A thumb drive was intentionally left in a concert bathroom that just had one track from the upcoming album followed by static. Players used high-tech software to unscramble the static to find a hidden message... obviously players must cooperate to share all of this information. The game was reported to be a success.

Games can be turned into Facebook applications. I quickly checked this out and you seem to be able to turn a .swf (Flash) file into a widget on Widgetbox. I assume this is easy, but haven't tried it yet.

Brands should strive for high levels of "stickiness," which is "the degree to which the message inspires action." Games can be a successful way to market because they have a high amount of stickiness and most Americans play some type of video game, even if it is just "casual games." Brands are also sponsoring games, or placing ads within major games. Games can be as
simple as Chrysler's "what is your travel personality" quiz, which was supposedly successful.

Overall, I thought this was an excellent book. It does not provide very many examples, but it does describe enough material that was new to me to spark many ideas. It is intended for for-profit institutions rather than specifically for libraries, so a library reader will have to adapt the information to a non-profit setting themselves. The book is careful to note that before a brand dives into any of this, it must commit to high quality and must "embrace" all consumer opinions, good and bad. Each chapter ends in a list of questions a company should ask before getting involved with this type of marketing.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Goal of this blog

I am starting this blog to keep track of the literature on digital game-based learning (DGBL) and the efforts that libraries and educators are taking to further explore this avenue of active learning in the classroom.

I will specifically be focusing on instructional games. Gaming in libraries is very popular in the literature and dialog of libraryland. However, the majority of these focus on off-the-shelf video games that are more entertainment-oriented than education-oriented. Many public libraries are doing great things by offering video game lending, spaces to play the games within the libraries, and gaming events. These games are educational in a sense that players must learn many things to progress in the game and are very willing to put in the time and mental energy to do it. However, playing the latest version of Halo or Grand Theft Auto will not improve the information literacy skills of our students.

The games I am most interested in are those that try to tap into the joy of learning that video games inspire. I have had moderate success with my own games and am very interested in what other libraries are doing. I believe we have only scratched the surface of games' potential, so this is what this blog will focus on.

Article Review

Author: Adcock, A.
Year: 2008
Article Title: Making digital game-based learning work: An instructional designer's perspective
Journal Title: Library Media Connection 26(2)
Pages: 56-57

This was a very short but useful article. Digital game-based learning (DGBL) uses a combination of:
  • Play theory or learning through engaging play
  • Problem-based learning
  • Situated Learning Challenge

It's important to keep the game from being too confusing or too hard. I've been seeing this in several other cases of library instruction games (i.e. ASU's Quarantined). You also need to give the students continuous feedback and scaffolding.

*DGBL should also be avoided on its own, instead it should be used with other methods such as a verbal introduction and a debriefing/review session. Students should be given the chance to practice what they have learned in the game as much as possible.

This also points me to another resource I want to hunt down: Lave & Wenger's Situated Learning.

Book Revew

Title: What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy
Author: James Paul Gee
Published in 2003
Cited by 1,088 in Google Scholar

I just finished this book last night and I highly recommend it to any librarian, whether or not you have any interest in video games. It is more about how people learn and why video games engage people more than traditional education systems do. It discusses active learning, critical learning, and is closely related to or even part of inquiry-based learning.

Gee has a background in theoretical and social linguistics. The book is heavy on theory after a lot of reading and playing games. However, even for people like me who don't always get theory, it's easy to read and there is much to learn from him. Indeed, I took eight pages of notes, but I will condense them for this post.

A "semiotic domain" is a set of practices that communicate distinctive types of meaning. You can learn facts without learning a new semiotic domain. This involves a) learning to experience the world in new ways b) potential to join this group/affiliation c) gaining resources to prepare for future learning in that and related domains. These three things make up active learning, but you can go beyond active learning to critical learning. This involves thinking about the domain at a "meta" level as a complex system of interrelated parts, and how to innovate meanings within the domain.

Identities are very important to learning. Students bring in their identities including what type of learner they are (i.e. "I'm not good at science), you strive to make them see themselves as a type of mini-scientist or historian (etc.), and there's the relationship/transition between the two. This is like a gamer's real-world identity, the virtual identity, and the relationship between the two. This last one is called the "projective identity," and is how you project your real-world identity onto the virtual identity, or how you project your past identity onto your identity as a scientist. If the learner can get to the projective identity, they learn they have the capacity to make the virtual identity part of their real-world identity. He points out this is more magical than any video game. All learning involves taking on a new identity.

Video games are good at creating "psychosocial moratoriums," which are important to learning. They are spaces where the real-world consequences of mistakes are reduced while they learn how to move or interact with the new material. Learners must be enticed to try, put lots of effort into learning, and achieve some meaningful success. Video games offer lots of opportunities to practice, while schools don't. This practice is often repetitive, but it forces players to apply knowledge to new situations (called "transfer"), and punishes players who have a "routinized mastery." Learners should always be required to operate at the outer edge of their resources, that way the tasks will be doable, but very challenging.

Good games offer and accept multiple solutions to each problem. Players get clues, make hypotheses, test them out, then reform their hypotheses and apply them to new situations. This is how they form patterns, which is what all learning is.

Practice needs to be carefully mixed with overt telling. You can't just let the students go off on their own and expect them to learn. You can do this by periodically assessing their progress, give feedback/lecture, then let them continue.

Learning is a very social activity, just like gaming. While seeking patterns, a person asks other people, reads books, interacts with tools/technologies. They usually share what they have learned, eventually with a group. Otherwise that person has no way to know if the patterns they have formed are real. who will normalize or police their views if they deviate too far from the norm of the group. When there is a disagreement, there is a dialog (more social sharing of information). This interaction and ability to use tools is important in the real-world, yet our schools test what's in the learner's brain rather than what they can do when the use the tools.

Good video games not only allow for consuming, but producing as well. Players can modify worlds, create maps, post on online bulletin boards, and communicate tips and opinions.

Instead of saying video games are a waste of time, we should be looking into why people will spend so many hours learning how to play a game without feeling the same enthusiasm for school. In video games, "hard" is often good, while "easy" is often bad. The argument in this book isn't that good things are necessarily being learned, rather that good learning often occurs during video game playing.