Reflections on GLS 8.0 Conference

Professional Development, Reflections

“Games are not fun because they are games, but  fun when they are well-designed.”

Sebastian Deterding

It’s hard to digest all that I learned attending the Games, Learning, and Society Conference last week in Madison. It was a great experience attending a niche conference, particularly one that is out of my area of expertise. I learned a lot from the focused sessions and the rich discussions among a group with shared interests. And ultimately, those designing games for learning encounter many of the same design challenges that all learning designers do.

There’s not an easy or cohesive way to summarize the depth and breadth of the sessions I attended, but I walked away with some interesting ideas and questions to consider, particularly related to design of instruction and the contexts in which we deliver instruction. Some key thoughts:

  • From Reed Stevens Keynote: Does the learning happen between the player and the game, or between player and other people and cultural forms in the room? Does learning happen because of game elements, or because the learner is freed from typical instructional environment?
  • Also from Stevens keynote, but echoed in a few sessions: Players feel a sense of mastery in games that they do not in traditional instruction. Students feel they don’t know how to learn, and that hard work doesn’t lead to success in school. But they do feel that they can learn and work hard to master games.
  • There’s an inherent tension between formal assessment and game-based assessment. Formal assessment requires uniformity and fixed measurement of knowledge at a particular point in time, while a game is dynamic and learning can happen in the moment.
  • In a study of master teachers, Sean Dikkers found that expert teachers still worried about trying new tools and approaches, but they took risks anyways. When asked what type of training impacted their teaching practice, Institutional professional development was not rated as relevant, whereas personal development efforts (whether training or hobbies) were relevant and meaningful to their teaching.
  • Sebastian Deterding challenged the community in the closing keynote to broaden  the scope of thinking about game interventions deployed within systems to a gameful restructuring of the systems.

Taken together, a lot of these ideas point at the weaknesses in traditional institutions of learning, and how ill-structured they are to nurture the natural ability and desire humans have to learn. I come away with a renewed focus on the agency of the learner and the varying contexts for learning.


4 thoughts on “Reflections on GLS 8.0 Conference

  1. I’d love to hear more about the question you brought up from Reed’s keynote “Does the learning happen between the player and the game, or between player and other people and cultural forms in the room?” I really like the direction this is going since gaming has such a strong social aspect–I would argue, even for those who might not identify as they typical or traditional “social” person. I’m not sure what “in the room” refers to. Was he referencing learning games played in a computer lab context?

    I had spoken to others last year about GLS and would enjoy talking with you more about your experiences. Heard it’s quite an event. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for your comment, Kent. Stevens conducted ethnographic studies, watching kids play games in their homes and captured hours of video. He observed the various ways they constructed learning strategies to achieve in the game. An interesting example included a pair of brothers who, when they got to an easy/boring stretch of the game, would teach their little sister to play that part until it got more challenging, then they took over. His keynote is available here, titled: Thursday Keynote:

    I’d be happy to talk about the experience further – perhaps at LDSC?

  3. Thanks for the link Kate! I’m checking it out now. It looks like a lot of the sessions were recorded. I’ll have to watch those as well. I’ll look for you at LDSC for sure! Again, very cool topic/thoughts… many thanks.

  4. I like how more people are thinking about the ‘where does learning happen?’ question. I worked with a several faculty in the past that, for some reason, felt a game should be a standalone learning environment, where the faculty member can step back and let the game do the teaching. It was really troubling, especially how animate they were about this. I never quite understood why they felt so strongly about it, when every other aspect of their teaching has some form of facilitation on their part (lectures, lab feedback, test feedback, powerpoint, etc).

    I’m a firm believer that a game is just a another piece of software that may or may not help people learn. But if you add a skilled facilitator or instructor to a well designed game…now you’re onto something.

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