This is Anthony (aka best bud):
We were playing this:
And we were talking about these:
We focused on SMP 1 (making sense and persevering) as well as 7 (find /use structure). Mostly 7. Anthony and I are from the Sega and Nintendo generation. Beyond a tech ninja, volleyball all-star, and just an awesome guy, Anthony is a video game connoisseur in its truest form. There have been many a late night where we would stay up around the context of a video game, but it’s not just because we have to get that next achievement, or finish the level. Instead it’s the conversation.
I always enjoy our discussions that break down the elements of engagement and strategy of a game. As he and I were reminiscing on the design of a game as old as DuckTales, his wife Maira simply commented, “I don’t see it.” I immediately pictured the student in the classroom with the blank stare that says, “I don’t get it.” Learning is about structure. Those that can master the game identify and then manipulate this structure. We noted how a game often has predefined mechanics, and it is up to the user(s) to learn and then apply said mechanics. If you are in the world of education you should be seeing the correlation at this point. I’m not saying that video games = learning. What I am saying is the design structures built into gaming could teach us a lot about engagement and learning. One could find plenty of discussion on this following the twitter feed #gblchat or #gamefication.
Anthony and I discussed how clever design of an interactive experience allows the user to identify relationships of objects, and then progressively learn more about such relationships in order to use them toward advancement. One of the games that is entirely dependent on this learning process is Portal. A player has to identify how to use a simple set of tools in varied combinations to accomplish tasks. Questions like,
- Does it matter the order in which I travel through these rooms?
- Is there another way I can use this tool?
- What will happen if I ______?
- Why is that platform there when clearly I can’t get to it right now?
- I can see an item through the window, but can’t reach it yet. When will I come back to it?
- Why do I need to get that item?
- Can I use the items in combination such that an entirely new outcome is possible?
These are questions that a user intuitively asks and rarely articulates. Such analyses happen so fast that most hardly bother to even out words to the thoughts. The amateur simply play point and shoot while looking at the flashy colors and listening to the cool sounds. In similar fashion the amateur student just comes with the simple tools and plays the game of school on Easy. He/she might maintain low scores along the way but it doesn’t matter because you can often reset the level or maybe even purchase a power up for $.99.
The gamer/student progressing in his/her skill and performance takes advantage of the clues hidden within the game and exploits them. The learning experience appears more like a puzzle worth solving, and the experience becomes self guided at times. Those that excel in school aren’t better at memorizing formulas and passages. The strong student is the one that can identify structure and use it.
For some teachers and learners though, this game of school is out of date, too simple to play, and tedious like no other. We as educators need to take a bigger interest in the design of our game. Not just the standards and outcomes, but the structure that guides the path of the user. So where do we start? I suggest following some tips from Dan Meyer.
Really, you should. GO now and read it.