May 2012 Archives

Big Bang Star Wars Divide

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One of the more vigorous and interesting debates at last week's Game day wasn't about games but how important it was to see Star Wars. This may seem like a trivial pop culture debate, but it actually points to an interesting communication issue within educational gaming.

My History with Star Wars Mania

For the record, I HAVE seen Star Wars...many many times. I was about 9 when it came out so not only do I remember the movie from a relatively young age, but also the lunch boxes, the t-shirts, the trading cards and action figures, the special effects special and especially the disco version of the theme song. I also saw the Star Wars Holiday special, Gonzo dressed as Darth Vader on the old Muppet Show and may have even seen the Stormtroopers dancing on the Donny and Marie show.

As a result, not only did I learn all about the characters, but even my parents and aunts were forced to learn about them because we all went to the movie one July 4 when it was raining (best July 4 ever BTW). It was so huge that even if you never saw the movie, you had an idea of the key motifs (outer space, bad Darth Vader, good Jedi, etc).

My youth was so saturated with Star Wars, that many of us developed a habit of using Star Wars as a short hand for a lot of metaphors (e.g. Yoda=guru, Darth Vader=evil boss). Even the Reagan administration co-opted the term "Star Wars" for their system of military satellites able to shoot down nuclear missiles (until Lucas sued for copyright infringement).

I would compare it to having an idea what Survivor, CSI or Lost might be about without ever having seen an episode (that would be me folks - although I did get hooked on CSI: Miami.)

Alas though, it is no longer 1977 and it is no longer safe to assume that everyone has been equally exposed to Star Wars. Some of my students have expressed confusion about my point and concern that this might be considered required viewing in my courses.

And My Point Is...

So how does does my pop culture consumption relate to instructional design? For one thing, I have to re-think all my Star Wars references in class (sigh) or maybe update them to Harry Potter (yes!).

A more serious issue for the gamers is that EGC staffers tend to think in terms of other games (like Halo, World of Warcraft (WoW), Guitar Hero and other names that escape me because I haven't ever actually (ahem) played them. I would agree that If our instructors haven't played them, it may be a good idea to remember that when trying to communicate about gaming. It is noteworthy that many game authors do try to summarize plot points of the game when trying to explain their significance to education.

So maybe the key for me 1) think if that Star Wars or Star Trek reference is really important and 2) if it is, expanding my short hand a little more. And play more games.

On the Other Hand...

I don't advocate forcing anyone to consume media/entertainment they don't want to, but I have to confess that if I hear a lot about something and haven't watched/played it yet, I sometimes turn to Wikipedia for the answers. Very helpful and yet time efficient.

It has saved me many hours of actual TV viewing time while helping me understand and enjoy what those obscure references on the Big Bang Theory are all about.

Game Day Materials

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"Chocolate on Broccoli"? Or Cheese Sauce on Broccoli?

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By this Wed, I will have been lucky enough to both participate and present at two gaming events. What's been the winning meme so far? I think most of us would agree that it's "chocolate on broccoli" from Nathon Maton of Baxter Games.

Avoiding Matching Chocolate with Broccoli

The phrase is a warning that we don't want to slap on gamification on to a bad course and produce something even more something more indigestible (something like the examples given in the recent article Why Games Don't Teach by Ruth Clark.

Baxter Games and Jane McGonigal both recommend a deep gamification in which courses are turned into missions which can help students focus on higher order learning objectives like team play and strategic thinking. Clark, on the other hand, feels that games are best for low level "drill and kill". And some focus more one adding game like elements to basically make a course more fun to complete (play).

Maybe It's Cheese Sauce?

Which is the right? Maybe all three. I think the true power of games is that a game can reinforce many objective levels, depending on its design.

One of the most successful games at the Educational Gaming Commons, the Typo proofing game is essentially a "drill and kill", but a very effective one. There are elements of courses which are low level like proofing for grammar. But do you want your "broccoli" in the form of plain homework or would you like some musically animated cheese sauce? I know what the students said on the survey...

But that's not the only model the EGC has worked in. Another game focusing on different objectives was Sim Health and that was definitely not just "cheese sauce." In this gaming activity developed for a health policy course, students played a simulation game in which they tried to revamp the health care industry for a 16-year cycle trying to adjust for unexpected consequences.

This was an activity which teaches the complexity of balancing economic systems in a way no other activity could. And the key to its success was a debrief which allowed students to review "what went wrong" and what they could learn about health care policy. This could be done as a "simulation" too, but I think that's nitpicking.

Back to Learning Objectives

Whenever a discussion of the merits or drawbacks of any new learning technology or pedagogical approach comes up, I always think "What's the learning objective?" If a new tech doesn't fit the objectives, what is the point? But when the fit is right - magic happens. This has to remain the center of my pedagogical universe or I will get lost on a hopeless quest.

Oh and we should do some assessment too. ;)

Hazleton Gaming Presentation

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