Written by Kurt Rutter (TCC 2017 guest blogger)
Dr. Peter Leong is an Associate Professor at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s College of Education’s Department of Learning Design & Technology (LTEC). Dr. Leong has extensive experience in the development and delivery of online courses and distance education.
The first topic was about the persistent myth of video game addiction. What may appear to be an addiction to online virtual worlds and video games turns out to be unsupported, that is, video games are no more (or less) addictive than any other activity or behavior. I think part of this is a tendency to undervalue social interaction in virtual worlds and to mistake engagement for addiction. That said unsupervised play is, well, unsupervised.
What is evidence does support is the premise that carefully designed games can help learners master psychomotor and critical thinking skills through collaboration and independent learning which involves problem-solving as individuals and in teams.
Examples of gamification in education presented by Dr. Leong demonstrate the potential for engaging learners in a wide variety of disciplines from history to English, ESL, language learning, and math. Another aspect of gamification is the use of virtual worlds to enact simulations that are not possible in the real world such as virtual field trips to locations around the world, famous museums, and historical events.
The structure of gamification can vary from fully immersive to an adjunct that integrates with other classroom work. Games can be semester-long or just a week or two depending on the needs of the class, schedules, and the subject matter. An education course can become a quest for knowledge, with leveling and badges. Students can have avatars and character traits for role-playing. Or a course can be an embedded into the real world.
For example, Windward uses gamification for an introductory college course that first-year college students take. The purpose of the course is to not only orient the student to the campus but to build community and a sense of place at Windward.
My personal favorite was using Minecraft to teach mathematics, planning, budgeting, and environmental science all rolled into one in order to design a zoo. This project, led by Shane Asselstine, demonstrated the power of virtual worlds embodied within a gaming platform. Minecraft.Edu, a derivative of the commercial Minecraft platform, is an educational version of that gives teachers control over the game.
Shane has worked extensively with Minecraft in K-12 education, as well as for graduate students learning to teach with Minecraft. I worked with him briefly in a graduate course and developed a sincere respect for kids who survive and thrive in this virtual world.
The final project discussed was a community development project to bring homeless children and their caregivers together to learn to collaborate and learn together.
The presentation demonstrated that a wide array of options exist in gamifying a classroom, a week in the semester, or a community outreach project. Far from video games being addicting, the evidence points to the use of well-structured gaming as a valuable educational tool that engages learners. Careful design is critical to ensuring that the rich environment provided by virtual worlds enhances the embodied learning experience as or more effectively than real world face to face environments.