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.