Sunday, March 15, 2015

March Madness and Games-Based Learning: 5 Takeaways



This is a repost from 2013, shared to kick off March Madness. 

UPDATE: I've had some great discussions on this topic, and just for the sake of clarity...
1. "Games" can also be described "Learning Experiences". These experiences do not necessarily need to be confined to single "lesson" (or basketball game). They can take the form of quests, projects, etc. that evolve over many days.
2. I am not advocating that all games need a winner/loser.
3. For 2017, I'm picking North Carolina!

I love sports. Hardly a day went by when I was young where I wasn't playing basketball, tennis or something else.

I just returned from ISTE, hearing a great keynote from Jane McGonigal on the benefits of Games-Based-Learning. We're making progress (but still have a ways to go) in our attempt to create games that can be integrated into the classroom easily.

Sure, we can acknowledge that there will be adoption resistance by some schools and urge them to come on board. But we also need to acknowledge that we are not creating games that generate genuine, intuitive, widespread interest for teachers' use in the classroom while at the same time addressing the 21st Century skills we want to target. We are struggling to create games that link content to purpose. Until we do, we will only get early adopters and innovative teachers as consistent users of GBL.

There are characteristics of team sports that need to be better incorporated into the games we design for learning. These are the characteristics that make team sports so challenging and so rewarding for players - both in the moment and for their future.

We need to design game experiences that move beyond rewarding "right" answers with points and badges as the main goal. We need to start designing games with these five elements - present in almost any team sport, and sadly lacking from most classroom games.

If there are games out there that do all five of these (or even a few of them), please share. We need to recognize, honor, and PLAY these games!

1. Students need to create and regularly be able to adjust that creation to solve a specific problem. A basketball player is making multiple decisions every second. He is both planning and executing his creation in real time.

2. Students are simultaneously evaluating the actions of each other and making adjustments accordingly. Is someone shooting well? Get her the ball. Has the other team (player) changed there defense? I better adjust my offense.

3. The player's actions effect the entire game and all who are playing. 
When I decide to go for a steal, what happens if I miss? What will be the consequence? How will my teammates handle this?

4. The game is dynamic, constantly changing due to the actions of the other players and the outside factors. (coaches, referees ... aka: teachers)

5. Most important: There are multiple and competing goals with no right answer.  As a player within a team, there are multiple ways that we can strategize to try to win. That strategy is important and may change throughout the game. But in the quest to get a team victory, there are a hundred sub-plots going on. Should I shoot more if I feel like I can score against my defender?  What if I'm not my team's best shooter? Should I deviate from our planned offense?  What will my teammates think of me if I do this often? Is my girlfriend in the crowd... and what things could I do that might look good to her but harm my chances to have my team win?

A basketball game is multi-dimensional. We are individuals within a context of a community and those roles are sometimes confusing. If the classroom games we play are simply one-dimensional representations where there is a right answer and we want to try to find a fun way to have students arrive at that answer, we are sadly misrepresenting what the real world holds and missing out on a whole level of engagement and challenge. 

Give em a basketball instead.

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