Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Three Types

According to Moreno-Ger et al.'s article titled "Educational Game Design for Online Education," there are three ways to use games for educational purposes.

  1. Add multimedia to activities focusing on content (edutainment fits in here)
  2. Use off-the-shelf games like Sim City and Civilization
  3. Something between these two extremes where a game is specially designed to balance fun and learning

According to their further description, my games are closer to the first category, and have been labeled as "dead ends." I think this is arguable. I would have a very hard time justifying a game that is only 20% educational to a professor whose class I was teaching, and non-gamers wouldn't like this format if there was a very high learning curve. Furthermore, development of such a game would be light years out of my budget and technical skill.

I don't know any games that could easily be used for the second category in library instruction, but I don't think games in the first category are necessarily that bad when played in class. At least a librarian can start small and build on experience, and it's certainly more fun for the students than a worksheet.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Another Proposal Accepted

I was notified yesterday that my proposal to present at the Pennsylvania Library Association (PaLA) in October got accepted. I wasn't expecting notification until next month, and I knew the competition was tight. I'm really looking forward to using this as an opportunity to spread the word about gaming and instruction.

I have found a professor who is becoming more and more interested in games as a way to engage student learning. She's interested in developing a game for library instruction to get them finding historical materials in the library in different formats. Perhaps we can do this as a themed treasure hunt, where we break them up into four groups, have each group hunt down a document in various formats and direct them to a specific word or phrase in that document. Those words will be put together in a phrase. We can then have the four groups put their messages together to lead to some small prize like lollipops or popsicles.

The more I think about this game and its development, the more excited I am to collaborate with other people. I think the ideal situation would be to work with the professor closely in the game development, and in this case I would also want to collaborate with the librarian who usually works with this professor. Really getting the professor to buy into this model of instruction and offering their subject expertise is probably going to lead to the best game. I also always work best with other people to bounce ideas off of... I'm looking forward to the work cut out for me this summer.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Article Review: Designing and Testing a Web-Based Board Game for Teaching Information Literacy Skills and Concepts

Article Title: Designing and Testing a Web-Based Board Game for Teaching Information Literacy Skills and Concepts
Authors: Markey et al.
Journal: Library Hi Tech, 26(4), 2008, 663-681

I've thought of this article often since I stumbled on it a few months ago, but apparently never posted my notes on it. This is an excellent article to read to learn about all the things NOT to do when building library video games. This game had a large budget with money for the game development and offering large cash rewards to the winning team.

The game was incredibly long and labor-intensive. Players could save their progress and return to it. It was built to be played anywhere, but required players to look things up in physical resources, so it really needed to be played in the library. However, when it was required that players use physical resources, the game input was multiple choice, which allowed players to guess, and even if they were wrong, they could still continue the game.

Interestingly, even when the rewards for the winning teams were several hundred dollars, it was only when extra credit was offered that a large portion of the players became involved. I think this is an important lesson. There is no game that we could develop that students would rush to the library site to play. Games must be either done in as a captive audience, or be kept very short with a specific goal. And even then, it's useful to promote it to faculty as something that should be required as homework.

I feel bad that so much money went into a project that seems poorly planned. It's still support for my argument that librarians should build small-scale games, see what works, and build on them through their experiences and student feedback.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Book Review: Digital Game-Based Learning

Title: Digital Game-Based Learning

Author: Marc Prensky

Publisher: NY: McGraw-Hill (2001)

I read this a while ago, but was so overwhelmed by the amount of notes I took that I haven't typed them up. I'm going to condense what I originally wrote. This is a very long book, over 400 pages, but jam-packed with useful information. No wonder it's one of the most cited books in the field. It is oriented towards games in the world of business training, but still focuses on games and learning.

Studies show that fun in the learning process not only makes it more enjoyable, but also more effective. While we're still learning how people learn, almost everyone agrees that engagement is an important part of the process. Datillo & Kleber (1993), Hastie (1994), Middleton, Littlefield, and Lehrer (1992) all show how fun increases motivation for learners. When a person is having a good time, they are biologically more alert and memory is stimulated.

Six key elements of games:
  1. Rules
  2. Goals/objectives
  3. Outcomes/feedback
  4. Conflict/competition/challenge/opposition
  5. Interaction
  6. Representation or story (it stimulates emotions)

Video games & other technologies have deeply and physiologically changed how younger generations learn. We no longer learn linearly; our brains are programmed for speed; we are image-focused; lack patience if payoffs don't come quickly enough; see real-life (work) similar to games (achievement, winning, beating competitors).

While our brains have changed, our education system hasn't. Current models focus on content and use the tell-test method. Younger generations see themselves as doers and creators rather than empty receptacles for content. Why have things not changed? Partly money, partly because we don't really understand what's needed, partly because of a it-sort-of-works-so-doesn't-need-fixed attitude.

Game formats with the widest appeal include detective games, adventure, puzzle and strategy games. The hardest thing to build into a game is reflection and critical thinking, which can be built into an instructor-led debriefing after the actual game. As is stated in other posts, educational games need to strive for fun first and content second.

Having outrageous and humorous examples and options in games are important when striving for fun.

Examples mentioned in book:

There is a lot more to get out of this book, but I wanted to boil it down to the best highlights for the sake of this post.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Book Review: Games that Teach

Title: Games that Teach: Experiential Activities for Reinforcing Training

Author: Steve Sugar

Publisher: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer (1998)

I was helping a student find some books on training last week and this book showed up in our catalog. Of course I couldn't resist, and I'm so happy I found it so serendipitously in our own collection! This will greatly help me move into purely real-world games. The majority of the book is a set of instructions for 26 activities that can usually be scored to move it beyond "activities" into the realm of "games."

In the introductory sections of the book, the foreword author talks about how much modern trainers are using games to reinforce training. Effective training games must be relevant, flexible, and have the optimum balance of chance and skill. Too much chance makes the game pointless, and too much skill "reduces the game to an anxiety-provoking test."

Because so much rests on the audience's reaction, every time you play a game, even with the exact same content, the game will be different.

Most of the games involve being asked trivia questions with either some non-educational event before or after to add to the fun of scoring.

Game 1: Best Shot
Set up a target and give each team a laser pen. Set up a shooting line. Have each team shoot towards the target, the one who is closest gets asked a question. If they are right, they get two points, if wrong, they lose two points. Another version is #13: Hoops, where two baskets are set up on near and far ends of a table. Correct answers are worth 1 point if player misses basket, 2 points in near basket, 3 for the far basket. Incorrect answers are always worth 0 points. A version of that is #7: Deadlines, where each team will estimate how many questions they will get right on a given topic. If they get at least that many, their final score will be the estimated number squared, if not, each correct answer is worth two points.

Game 2: Beyond Tic-Tac-Toe
Two teams take turns answering questions. Right answers let them chose a square. They can occupy the same square. At the end of the game, each team tallies up how many three-in-a-rows they have. Highest scoring team wins.

Game 3: Bumper Stickers
Give each team slips of paper and markers and have them come up with a slogan or bumper sticker based on what you just learned. Can vote on best if desired.

Game 4: By the Numbers
Give each team of 6 players a die and each player is assigned a number. For each question, have the team roll to see who will answer. The team with the most points at the end wins. This ensures the whole team is participating in answering questions. A similar game is #6: Conversations, where players or teams write their answers on the top half of a piece of paper, then put their names on the bottom half and turn that into the front. Leader draws these out and calls on that person or team to read their answer to the group.

Game 5: Classify
Read or provide statements that must be categorized. Put up at the front of the room. Reward team with the most correct answers. This game could be of use when we talk about popular and scholarly journals.

Game 8: Deep Six
Teams roll die, then answer question. Each correct answer earns the number of points shown on the die. When a six is rolled, team answers one last question and is done. Only a six loses points if they answer wrong. Set a time limit, like 3 minutes. Another version if this is #10: Gauntlet, where each team has a score sheet numbered 1-12, and rolls a pair of dice. They can choose to cross of the whole score or each number shown on the dice. If they get the answer right, they win that many points. Play continues until one team cannot complete their turn.

Game 9: Find Points
Have players find information in reading based on clues, some clues will be worth more points than others.

Game 10: Got a Minute?
Introduce four rules of brainstorming:
  1. Don't critique others' ideas
  2. Build on others' ideas
  3. Go for the greatest number of ideas
  4. Do get outrageous, it's easier to tone down than create anew

Leader reads prompt at front of room, team has 60 seconds to come up with as many ways to answer statement as possible. Results are compared, one point for duplicate items, five for unique items. Continue for the desired number of rounds.

Game 12: Headlines
Give teams a brief headline, then give them 10 minutes to write a story for that headline. They can use all available resources.

The second half of the games will appear here shortly, but I recommend getting the book for the additional instructions, game sheets and score sheets.

Games that Teach: Part 2

Game 14: Margin for Error
Have teams guess a numerical figure, such as an estimate of the population density for a projected test market. Give the team who is closest 10 points, the next team 5 points, the next team 2 points. Give them a minute to re-do their estimate and rescore.

Game 15: Message Board
Create a message board (sample on page 103) and cover it up with pieces of paper. Teams have two get an answer correct to remove a piece of paper. After removing one, they get a chance to guess what the message is. I guess this is a little similar to Wheel of Fortune.

Game 16: Nothing Ventured
Very similar to Deep Six, but without ending when a team rolls a six. If they get a question incorrect, they lose the number of points shown on die.

Game 17: One Potato
Played in pairs. One player is "odds" and one is "evens." Before each question, each player will show one or two fingers, totalling 2, 3 or 4 fingers between the two of them. Correct answers will earn the team points, but more points go to the partner who is "even" if the team produced 2 or 4 fingers, or to the "odd" person if there is a total of 3 fingers. A variation of this is #18: Penny Wise, where partners are "heads" or "tails" and play with a cup and three pennies instead of fingers.

Game 19: Pop Quiz
Paper cup is placed in the center of the table where everyone can reach it. A question is asked, the "buzzer" is whoever can get their hand on the paper cup first. If he/she gets the right answer, he/she earns one point.

Game 20: Question of Identity
This is a form of 20 questions. There is a mystery object and players get a general clue. They then have to ask "yes" and "no" questions of the leader, who records the questions. Each question is worth one point, each guess is worth one point. Correct answer gets 5 points deducted from score, object is to have as few points as possible.

Game 21: Shape Up!
Each player receives a piece of paper with part of a shape. They have to find the participants who have the other pieces that complete the shape and are the same color. When they complete the shape, they have to start the task written on the shape. They have two minutes to complete the task. Example shape appears on page 140.

Game 22: Six Pack
Six categories of questions are posted at the front of the room. Leader rolls die to determine which will be read. Teams have a minute to discuss answer and give group answer at the end of that time. Correct answers earn one point, incorrect lose one point.

Game 23: Stretch Mark
Leader reads a problem statement. Teams have 3 minutes to propose solutions to the problem. The first solution is worth one point, second is worth two, third worth three, and so on. So seventeen solutions would equal 153 points.

Game 24: Test Match
This seems to be the exact same as #7 Deadlines.

Game 25: Tic-Tac-Two
Almost identical to Tic-Tac-Toe, but the center space requires two questions answered correctly. Stop when one team gets three in a row.

Game 26: Top Dog
Players asked to make a list (like Red Light Challenges on Cash Cab, or Family Feud). Each right answer is worth one point, the most highest-rated answer is worth six points. For example, what are the top-ten-best-selling U.S. magazines? They have one minute to answer. Sample play on page 164.

Reminder: The book provides tips on how to adapt each of these to the audience and more details than I am providing on each game. It also contains sample plays, instructions for players, supply lists, game sheets, and score sheets. The "index" has suggestions for games based on audience size and object of play (icebreakers, creativity, etc.).

Friday, April 17, 2009

Book Review: Got Game

Title: Got Game? How the Gamer Generation is Reshaping Business Forever.

Authors: John C. Beck & Mitchell Wade

Publisher: Harvard Business School Press, 2004

The focus is on the difference between the baby boomers and the gamer generation, how each approaches the workplace, and some suggestions on bridging the generation gap.

One has only to look at the impressive sales numbers to see how important gaming is. In fact, more children have regular access to video games than have computers at home. "Game Boy and PlayStation aren't just a faintly embarrassing part of the economic landscape; they are a central, defining part of growing up for many of millions of people (6)." When video games started becoming really popular in the early 1980's, it really changed the attitudes of the children who grew up with them. The gaming generation is people 34 and younger (and since this is 5 years old, we'll say people under 40). Even people of this age group who didn't play games heavily during childhood have been affected to some degree. "Video games ultimately grew so pervasive among and exclusive to youth that they became the defining experience for an entire generation (59)."

Traits of video games:
  • you're the star/center of attention
  • you're the boss of what happens, you're no longer a passive consumer, you can manipulate the story
  • you're the expert
  • you can experience violence without really getting hurt
  • you are encouraged to rebel, be a hero, and bond with people who share your gaming experience
  • there's always an answer
  • everything is possible
  • things are "fair"
  • trial & error are almost always the best plan
  • things are (unrealistically) simple
  • young people rule
  • the only real limiting factor is your willingness to keep going

Studies spanning between the mid 1980s to the present have found gamers had improved cognitive skills in visualization and mental maps; improved visual memory in children as young as four; process information in new ways (leaping around rather than thinking linearly). Few technologies have been more taken for granted and more ignored by older generations.

The authors conducted a large survey of those in the gaming generation and those who were older and found drastic differences in their attitudes about risk, achievement, value of experience, and their own capabilities. "[Gamers] really seem to believe that the world is their video game (45)." Our world is "interrupt-driven," so being totally immersed in a game comes as a welcome break. Games ask one fundamental question: "What do you want to do today (65)?"

Traits of gamers that affect the workplace:

  • They are committed to professional excellence. This often comes off as being arrogant. Gamers are more likely to say they are "knowledgeable."
  • Gamers believe winning matters and see competition everywhere.
  • Gamers are more likely to care about the organization they work for.
  • True multi-tasking probably isn't possible. Studies continue to show that the brain can only do one thing at a time and must switch between multiple activities. But gamers are used to switching a lot and can switch between tasks more quickly.
  • They're used to living in the "N-Dimension" (as opposed to a two-dimensional world), they love being immersed in data and this is valuable in many industries.
  • Gamers expect high rewards for the value they create (though it's not necessarily monetary).
  • Gamers are more likely to prefer pay and bonuses based on performance rather than a set salary (this increases in both age groups according to how much they report to play games).
  • Gamers are motivated by skill, competition, rewards, and sensory excitement.
  • They value heroism more than power, money, or even love. Monetary rewards are important, but secondary to serving the greater good, personal challenge, and playing an important part in the organization.
  • Games prefer learning and working through trial and error. Games, such as business simulations, can teach basic principles much better than a college degree in some ways.
  • The authors feel gamers have the potential to make great managers and CEOs.
  • They're global and self-educating, learn from peers rather than authority figures, learn needed skills usually right before they need it, and prefer hands-on training.
  • Gamers have a "relentless drive to make things better (160)."

To harness gamers' potential, managers should tap their instinct for heroism by framing tasks as opportunities and providing opportunities for public praise or failure. Don't judge gamers to quickly on their attitudes (in comparison to how baby boomers were judged by elders for length of hair or choice of dress). Use the game generation's "selfish" drives to inspire them to great performance by appealing to their pride. Don't dismiss gamers' ability to concentrate. Help your employees work together across the generation gap.

Gamers have learned that failure doesn't hurt. They focus on what they did wrong, what they could have done better, and how to get to the next level. They're not reckless, but they are more comfortable with the right kind of risks than previous generations.

The authors of this book are not of the games generation. They post the traits of gamers in either a neutral or positive light, recognizing the negative view that many older generations have of "them." It is a little strange as I am fully a part of the games generation and recognize many of these traits in myself even if I was not a heavy gamer growing up. Their research findings and conclusions are convincing and the writing is easy to read. Overall, I believe this is the best book on gaming I have read since James Paul Gee.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Hero's Journey

I need to come up with a better title for this blog (suggestions welcome) because Google Alerts can't find references to this blog with such a generic title. But I have been alerted of some great sources that don't reference me. Today, I was alerted to the CALC Keynote speaker for 2008's slides on Slideshare. The speaker was Alice Robison of MIT and the presentation title was Videogames at the Library?! Using Games as Learning Tools. I regret that it does not include audio for the presentation, so I'm making as much sense out of the slides as possible.

One interesting thing she points out, and that I just recently found in the book Got Game I'm currently working through, is the idea of gamers seeing themselves as a hero on a quest with obstacles, puzzles, and problems to overcome. This is something I am pondering for use in the classroom. I may put together either a presentation or a game that presents the researcher as a hero on a quest for next year using images from popular video games. This may be a good way to bring games into the physical world. I could provide the story to the entire class, then present each obstacle and let them work through that in groups.

Another thing that Dr. Robison points out is that gamers are willing to seek help through forums and walk-throughs, and are willing to share what they know and tutor others. This is something that is a frustration for nearly every reference librarian. If we could somehow use games to get students to ask questions from "experts" in addition to learning from each other, this could be a major breakthrough in reference.

Friday, April 10, 2009

"Activity" vs. "Game"

As I read about games in the virtual and physical world, and ruminate on my upcoming presentation, I started to wonder what determines if something is an "activity" or a "game." Most good instructors come up with great activities for the classroom, and some of them are very engaging. But what pushes an activity that extra inch to become a "game"?

Just as I clearly formed that question in my brain, I came across Jesper Juul's definition of a game in Karen Collins' Game Sound: An Introduction to the History, Theory, and Practice of Video Game Music and Sound Design. His definition includes:
  1. Rules
  2. Variable & quantifiable outcomes
  3. Player exerts effort to influence outcome
  4. Player feels emotionally attached to the outcome

I think the first three parts could describe an activity or a game, but it is the last one that distinguishes between the two. Engaging students mentally is one thing, we should all try to do that. But sometimes I think we will want to engage them emotionally, to make them feel a strong desire to do well. And that makes a game.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Focus Group - Part 2

Last night I invited my gaming students to come back to the library to talk some more about games. This time I made them crepes rather than a whole meal, and that seemed to be a good incentive. I took a picture of the group, which I will upload here soon.

One of the students was a writing tutor, and spends a lot of time at the Academic Resource Center on the 3rd floor of the library, which currently houses our print periodicals collection. She says she sees many scared, bewildered students who wander into the tutors' space to ask how to find an article or journal. She proposed having an online game just for finding journal articles and using ILL. They got excited about this game having an Indiana Jones type of theme, and it could be called "Raiders of the Lost Journal" or some play on the movie.

They suggested having a game for each of the major intro classes, esp. intro to psychology, and intro to sociology.

One student lamented the fact that other librarians (nationwide) weren't getting into this. He's in a program where his professors bring him into the library for every class. A game would make it more pleasant for those students who already know all of the resources, while at the same time, bringing other students who don't know this up to speed.

We talked a little bit about (live) Zombie Tag, and they suggested I play the video game Left for Dead. In this game, you can choose to be human or a zombie. (I've since learned that they play Zombie Tag at Elizabethtown, a librarian at a workshop I'm currently at has said she'll put me in touch with the head zombie tag person).

I told them that the Freshman Dean is interested in this idea of Big Games to use for orientation. So we spent a lot of time talking about orientation, though they focused on the library orientation moreso than the entire campus. I will point out right here that freshman orientation in the library is not my project, but I didn't want to put any constraints on their creativity. Even if the other librarians are not interested in turning orientation into a giant, silly CSI spoof, I could use this for classes.

They remembered library orientation as being full of chaos and confusion. They were completely overwhelmed and didn't learn anything because of it. One student suggested splitting the activities over two days, or pushing it back a week or two away from all of the other orientation activities.

Then we got into the murder mystery theme. What if each group of freshmen come into the library and see a body outline in masking tape on the floor. We can say a librarian got killed (the librarian part was my suggestion, but I have got to think of the implications of that) and they have 15 minutes to solve the murder. Then we started bringing in CSI themes. During the instructions, a student could do a Horatio Cane spoof, saying in a deep voice, "A picture is worth a thousand words... unless it's one word... murder." This is something he had done and posted on YouTube, complete with The Who playing at the end.

They were all very eager to be a part of this as we were brainstorming. They want to come back to school a day early to volunteer.

We agreed the sillier, the better. In the end, we thought an encyclopedia could be the murderer. We could bring in a video element as a clue, have it play in the screening room. Perhaps it could be a security video. We talked about ways to make a Web site be a witness. Three or more people could be in a line-up, with signs or t-shirts labeling what type of site they are. Some would be databases, others places like Wikipedia. The students could then interrogate them and determine their credibility. The basement could be the morgue. There could be some kind of anatomical puzzle that when assembled, forms another clue.

They really want a campus-wide event to celebrate National Library Week. They know it can't be this year, since it's in a week, but we could organize something for next year. I brought up Banned Books Week. I asked them if they would be interested in a game where I hung pictograms around the campus, I'd probably have to provide some type of map, and each pictogram's solution would be the title of a banned or controversial book. All of the correct answers could be entered into a raffle for a small prize. We had a great time imagining a poster of a bunch of grapes with a face, on it's knees in agony (Grapes of Wrath). We could get English and education students involved.

They suggested I talk to Geoffry Knauth who is a computer science teacher, about some Flash problems I'm having. I really need to find a go-to person for Flash and ActionScript who would be willing to answer questions in exchange for home-made food. Geoffry may or may not know anything about ActionScript, but he might know people who do. The also suggested checking out some popular developers' forums and e-mail the creators of similar Flash games online.

They brought up the idea of getting the librarian at the reference desk involved in the real-world part of my video games. This is something I had already been planning for next year, so I was happy to hear them mention it. I asked the one student who had been in an actual class where I used my monster game for instruction if it made students feel any less likely to seek me out at the reference desk. He didn't think so, but that triggered a discussion of why students are afraid to approach librarians. The students felt personal relationships with librarians are really important, and will make students feel more comfortable asking questions. At orientation, perhaps we could share silly facts about each librarian, and have them match up which of us fits each fact.

They suggested for my plagiarism game (I forgot to have them give me a better title for it!) to change the mouse cursor to cross hairs since you're trying to kill the goblins. They think it's okay that it is essentially a trivia game because the packaging of it is so much fun. They're really excited about this one.

Some other games they recommended I check out are Syberia (probably not spelled like that), which is Myst-like, and Dracula's Last Sanctuary which was available at Wal-Mart. The Dracula game sounds less complex (Myst is over my head), and I like vampire stories, so I think I will check that one out next.

Overall, it was a very productive night. I think the information I got from this group will not only be helpful for my games, but for other aspects of the library as well.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Big Games for Orientation?

We had a Teaching Effectiveness meeting last night, where the Freshman Dean said she would welcome any new ideas for freshman orientation. After the meeting, I told her about Big Games. I still don't know the mechanics of how this would work, but she was very interested. I just sent her a few links about them, and we'll see what happens. Perhaps we could even do something small/short this coming year and see how it goes.

The new director of career services is also interested in the idea as a way to get freshman and sophomores thinking about careers early. Hopefully I will find someone who wants to witness Come Out & Play with me in June!