Cool stuff

December 1, 2008

I have been finding so many great tools tonight, and not through online searches.  Those don’t necessarily always take me where I hope to go, partly because I don’t know what kind of search terms to enter — or even what questions to ask.  This evening, I ended up going down a (really good) rabbit hole after reading today’s xkcd webcomic (“A Webcomic of Romance, Sarcasm, Math, and Language”).  As I often do when checking in with xkcd, I encountered a term I don’t know (“DRM”), looked it up on wikipedia (it stands for “Digital Rights Management”) and had suddenly found a set of terms describing a whole range of intellectual and aesthetic property issues I think are interesting and important.

The xkcd comic also sent me to a site called Free Culture News, and from there I found tons of great links and tools and resources, only some of which I’ve had a chance to explore so far.

Particularly interesting for our purposes, though, is the Free Software Directory with pages for games and education.  In particular, I noticed a few different links to tools, programs, platforms, whatevers for designing your own games.  Sweet!

I also came across an Online Educational Resource (OER) Handbook for educators on WikiEducator.  Among other things, it has a whole page of search engines for OERs.  Double sweet!

PEW study, and using simulations

December 1, 2008

Ava, I responded in particular to the same quotations from the study’s findings as you did: that, in response to “concerns that gaming might be prompting teens to withdraw from their communities,” the study found that adolescents who play civic games are more likely to be civically engaged in their day to day lives (and the study suggests that many adolescents do play such games: 76% report “helping others while gaming” — I wonder what that involves?).  I also really responded to the study’s discovery that so-called “civic gaming experiences” occur equally among teens regardless of such factors as family income or ethnicity. 

This second finding, about equal amounts of gaming activity among teens regardless of demographic, is particularly compelling, in part because it suggests that video games are helping overcome socioeconomic barriers much more quickly than public education.  This seems like a powerful argument for incorporating more gaming into education — and for funding greater and lengthier internet access through public libraries, where I imagine many low-income teens get most of their gaming access now.

I propose that we proceed from here under the assumption that many kinds of gaming can be powerful learning tools.  I’m sold on it, too.   I still remember vividly some simulations I did as an elementary school student in the 80s: these stand out to me as some of the most rewarding educational experiences in my life. These were done with slips of paper and big maps on the wall, but imagine how they could be expanded upon with all the collective resources and intelligence of the global digital community!

So, Ava, you concluded by considering some online gaming sources.  I checked out that link to, and agree that it seems mostly oriented toward adults.  I did find some cool resources through that site, though: American Public Media has a game called Budget Hero that allows you to try your hand at balancing the federal budget.  I gave it a whirl, and it wasn’t too hard, and pretty fun, and definitely gave me a clearer picture of what our President-Elect will be up against on January 20th.

Or back when I was a graduate student in literature, I was tangentially associated with people heavily interested in the pedagogical (and aesthetic) applications of digital tools in the humanities.  There’s a “game” called IVANHOE, out of the University of Virginia, that’s gaining increasing attention.  It basically just allows users to mess around with literary and critical texts, collaboratively making new meanings of them.  Although it’s certainly geared toward higher ed — wonky scholars and their wonky grad students — I bet something like this could be adapted for high school.

Knocking around the internet for awhile does seem to turn up some pretty cool-looking games (for example, Democracy 2 (“Could you keep enough of the population happy to win re-election, and still turn around the economy and deal with the national debt? Be warned it’s not as easy as it sounds…”).  But a lot of these cost money.  (Democracy 2 is $22.95).  So another thing to think about is how to either get companies who make potentially-educational games to provide them to schools for free, or how to get more funding so schools can buy them, maybe through subscriptions like many school libraries use to access research databases.

Wow, there’s so much to think about.  Educational gaming would make a good Master’s thesis topic….

moving Ava’s comment to a post

December 1, 2008

Hey, guys, I’m cutting and pasting Ava’s most recent comment into a post so I can see it as I reply to it….  Ava, hope you don’t mind.  Ava wrote:

Hey, Lisa.

I checked out the PEW study. Interesting results. I picked out few quotes that to me summed up the main points of the study:

“’The stereotype that gaming is a solitary, violent, anti-social activity just doesn’t hold up. The average teen plays all different kinds of games and generally plays them with friends and family both online and offline,’ said Amanda Lenhart.”

“…the survey indicates that youth who have these kinds of civic gaming experiences are more likely to be civically engaged in the offline world. They are more likely than others are to go online to get information about current events, to try to persuade others how to vote in an election, to say they are committed to civic participation, and to raise money for charity.”

“The study also found that these civic gaming experiences occurred equally among all kinds of game players regardless of family income, race, and ethnicity. These data stand in contrast to teens’ experiences in schools and others community situations, where white and higher-income youth typically have more opportunities for civic development.”

After reading the study summary, I’m sold on the value of gaming. I’ve participated in simulations that were really great for my learning. My students play video games for fun during their breaks, and the activity is extremely social. They watch each other play, discuss strategy, and negotiate whose turn is next. My husband and his friends have been playing Civilations socially for years. After college they scattered to the four winds but each week they have a standing date to meet up on the internet and play together. They’ve each gotten more involved in history and sociology as a result. So I’ve seen some of these positive effects that gaming can have. (There are negative ones too–it can be really addicting.)

In my own classroom, we don’t play video games, but we have done some simulations, and they’re great. The kids get really into them and seem to learn a lot (depending on how transparent the simulation is). I’ve designed simulations in the past and they are really time consuming. I’m guessing that there aren’t a lot out of ready-to-go games out there right now.

I checked out the site which writes about different kinds of video games: educational, political, for advertisement etc. There were some interesting examples of educational video games being talked about on the site. There is a flood plain management agency that is putting out an RFP for a flood plain management simulation, and National geographic is involved with a video game about archaeological expeditions. A lot of the games on this site actually seemed more for adults than kids. I didn’t see anything that I could use in my classroom. At this point, I’m interested in learning some video game development platforms to start writing some simple games myself.

video game study

November 14, 2008

The Pew Internet & American Life Project reports on a new study about teen gaming, conducted on about eleven hundred 12-17 year olds.  The findings of the study call into question many common assumptions about gamers: “Contrary to the notion of the lone gamer playing violent video games, the study reveals that game playing can incorporate many aspects of civic and political life and is social, nearly universal, and encompasses a variety of genres, including racing, puzzle, action and adventure games.”  Here’s a synopsis of the study’s findings, with relevant links, including to the study itself.


November 12, 2008

Here are some ideas I have about how to structure our interactions on this blog, and about possible topics, sources, and tools to consider.

First, structure: I think we need some kind of schedule, although I’m open to counterarguments.  My suggestion is that we follow the same timeline every week: the week’s reading is posted by, say, Friday (although once we decide on topics maybe all the readings for the rest of the term can go up at once, and we can supplement with additional stuff as interests arise as we go along); and then we all agree to read and respond by, say, Monday, and to respond to one anothers’ responses by Thursday?  Something like that?  And maybe we could find ways of bringing in other respondents: experts who’d be willing to participate, or friends, peers, and/or students of ours who might have something interesting to contribute.

But basically: read and respond by Monday each week; respond to one anothers’ responses by Thursday.  Does that sound okay?

Now for topics.  I’ve been doing some preliminary research to familiarize myself with some of the issues that are out there.  My suggestion is that we agree now on a topic for each week, and then I and whoever else is interested will post some interesting, provocative links and/or pdfs to read for that week.  OR we could pursue one topic, or a related set of issues, the whole time.  I’ll list some of the topics that interest me, and then maybe each of you can respond by indicating what you might be interested in discussing, and adding to the list if necessary.

Here are a few critical conversations going on “out there” that I’m interested in learning about and participating in (not exhaustive).  I’ve put asterisks next to the ones I’m especially drawn to, but I’m flexible. It probably goes without saying that I’m not necessarily arguing FOR any of the following concepts; at this point I’m just interested in the issues they raise and the conversations they engender. 

  • educational value of video games, including Second Life*
  • “digital citizenship” (including issues of civic engagement, resonsibility, safety, connection to the global community, and a number of other concepts)
  • teaching collaboratively (with other classrooms) through digital technology
  • risks and benefits of digital technology in the classroom (i.e. the “real world” education vs. virtual education debate)
  • the present and future of education policy (vis a vis digital technologies, obviously)*
  • gendering of digital education (past, present, and future)
  • digital education and the idea of “post-identity” (i.e. post-race, post-nation, post-gender)*
  • how the “born digital” generation (sometimes defined as people born 1980 or later) may be fundamentally cognitively different from preceding generations, and implications for education
  • for-profit vs. public education in new technologies*
  • open-source software and intellectual property rights in the age of digital collaboration and mashups*

So, reactions?  Since there are three weeks left of school (I think), plus finals week, maybe we can come to a consensus on three major discussion topics, then reserve finals week for more general reflecting on what we’ve read and discussed, and that conversation’s larger implications….?

What do you think?