What can you learn from games anyway?

I love video games and I love the lessons that they can teach to kids. So what can we learn? Well obviously a game geared towards math can teach a kid math but that is not what this post is focusing on. What I want to focus on are the FIVE MAJOR skills that you can learn when playing video games such as League of Legends, World of Warcraft, and Minecraft (keep in mind that not all games do these things so you need to be selective):

  1. You will lose. You cannot always win and games teach you that you will lose. I believe this is great because in today’s watered down culture we give kids trophies for trying in addition to winning. Games do not work that way. You only get the prize if you win. This is an important lesson that needs to be fully understood by kids so they know that they need to work hard to win in life.
  2. Problem solving. You will learn to problem solve. You don’t like losing? Guess what, you need to keep playing and practicing to get better just like real life.
  3. Teamwork. This is a skill that kids learn in sports. You cannot win a game by yourself. However, not all kids play sports. If a kid does not play sports I would definitely make sure they learn teamwork from a very young age and multiplayer games are a great way to accomplish this.
  4. Communication. You have to communicate with your team virtual in games. This is a great skill as many jobs are now virtual and you need to communicate with team mates, a boss, and clients in a virtual environment. You will learn how to greet, sign on/off, and online speak in general.
  5. Your imagination is the limit. Games like minecraft allow you to build and construct. Literally your imagination is the limit. This teaches kids to invent and create things that are not there. This thinking outside of the box is a skill that managers want and a skill that innovators like Bill Gates have.

League of Legends in the classroom?

lol

As many of you know, I am a huge fan of League of Legends. Its a game I play several times a week, if not more. Lately, I have been seeing LoL clubs forming on campuses (there is one at UNCW) and courses about this game. So can this game be used in k-16 education and how?

Can it be used?

It’s definitely a game that could be used in middle grades and up. However, there is not content in the game. Its a MOBA (Massive online battle arena) game where two teams face off to capture a base. But it could be used to teach skills. If you are unfamiliar with the game, think of it like a virtual game of capture the flag. But to answer the question, I absolutely believe a game like this can be used in middle, high, and college grades. But how? For what? and Why?

What?

It would be used to teach skills – teamwork, communication, and problem solving strategies. The game is set up to be played 3v3 or 5v5 so students would need to learn to work together on a team, fulfilling various roles, in order to win the game. You have to work together or you lose. You also need to communicate. This includes chat, voice, and signs (pings). You would need to learn to play the game, read the chat box/type in it, and talk at the same time. Additionally you need to learn strategies, which include solving problems that may change throughout the game. This is a skill that could be taken into corporate settings. Its a skill I have trouble teaching my graduate students so the fact that this game (or similar) can teach it is very helpful. In this way, the game is like real life – you work on a team, you communicate well, and you form a strategy to win. If you do not do it well or not as good as the other team, you lose. And you can keep trying until you do figure it out.

How?

First you would need the game, which is free, computers, and internet. You would also need microphones. Additionally, you would need to make sure students played custom games. You would not want them playing with strangers because when there is a game with millions of players, there are people who will swear and do other things like causing you to lose on purpose (called trolling). Thus custom games would be a must. So you would need either 6 or 10 people to play each game.

Why?

One simple reason – motivation. The game is fun. Why not play a game like this instead of doing another reading case study where students might learn these skills? My philosophy is that I should be making learning as fun as possible so it doesn’t feel like school. I want learning to be fun. I also want students to take learning seriously and if they could take this game seriously then the learning part would come naturally.

 

 

How I replaced Blackboard with 3D Gamelab

In today’s college classroom the LMS is commonly used to manage, track, and facilitate the learning process for both face to face and online learning courses. Most colleges currently run the Blackboard LMS, which is a very good LMS that is designed to meet the needs of today’s faculty. However, I personally have found Blackboard to be a bit dull because it’s used so often and I love to experiment with new things. So I learned about a new LMS called 3D Gamelab which was designed to function like a gamified LMS. Obviously given my interest in games and the fact that I teach a gaming course I was intrigued to find out more. So I got a copy and tested it for 3 semesters. I tested it in 5 courses during the Summer 14-Spring 15 semesters for my Instructional Technology graduate students.

What is it? 3D Gamelab is an LMS that is geared towards gamers. It functions just like blackboard and others but has some different features. For instance, badges, awards, and experience. There are no grades in 3D Gamelab. There is experience. So students rank up levels and earn experience as they complete assignments. This experience is then translated into your grade.

Assignments. Assignments are called quests. So each time a user logs into your course they see the quests that they need to complete. These can be big assignments – like here is your final project or small tasks like a quest asking users if they read the readings for the day. I found using it to have students confirm that they read the syllabus and such to be very valuable (something other LMSs do not really allow you to do).

Badges, awards, achievements. You can set up badges, awards, and achievements in the LMS. Badges are for skills that the students acquire, awards are awards for completing assignments and such, and achievements are for completing tasks. Technically all 3 can be used for the same thing if you wanted. I assign badges for skills such as being a beginner in HTML. These badges can then be transferred to the users Mozilla Backpack, which is awesome. I use the awards and achievements for things like completing an assignment, earning a rank, etc.

Grading. This is something that is both good and bad. It’s great because when I log in I can see what needs to be graded and students can see where they rank compared to the rest of the class. Also if students did not get a 100% on my assignment I return it to them and they will need to recomplete it for credit. The disadvantage is that you can’t give grades other than perfect. So if they got an 80% the only option is to send it back to the student to redo until they get a 100%. This is how games work which is why its set up like this however this makes it difficult for instructors. This works fine for my graduate classes which are project based and I rarely have students that do not get A’s. But this would not work for my undergraduate students who do not turn in perfect work, turn in things late, and do not always get A’s.

Price. It’s relatively inexpensive. The cost is around $100 a year per instructor for all of your classes. So trying it was a no brainer.

Usability. In my opinion is very simple to use and set up. However, I am a ‘techie’. I noticed that my older students tended to have trouble navigating and always seemed to ask me for help. This is not something I experienced with Blackboard but I did with 3D Gamelab. I think if the company offered a really good interactive tutorial that this problem would be solved. My younger graduate students had no issues.

Student reactions. My students loved it. They really liked it. There were a few glitches here and there but overall it was a good experience. They really like the badges and loved the experience/ranks/quests. The comments in their reflections were that it was different and was fun to use. However, they also noted that while they really liked this they thought that if it was used by the university for all of their classes they would probably lose interest quickly and just think it’s dull like they believe Blackboard is.

My recommendation. Try it out. It’s a lot of fun. It’s different. Your students will like it. It’s worth the money.

How will I use it in the future? I have decided that I will use it for two of my courses – gaming and project management. Both of these courses are set up as competition/gamified courses so it will work well. I am going to use blackboard for my other courses as I want to mix things up and I don’t want my students getting sick or tired of any technology in my classes. So variation is best.

Gaming in the classroom

I was recently interviewed on gaming in the classroom by WHQR radio. It was about a teacher implementing classcraft in their classroom. You can read the full interview here

Here is the transcript:

In a Wilmington classroom, students transform into some surprising characters—healers, mages, and warriors. WHQR’s Isabelle Shepherd reports that a virtual game is preparing fourth grade math students at Alderman Elementary School for the realworld.

Toth: “Alright, let’s take a seat real quick because we have a busy day.”

Students: “Yay! Yay! I like busy.”

Classcraft is a role-playing game, designed to be used as a classroom management tool. By working game mechanics into an educational setting, the virtual program has real world consequences and rewards for students.

Brian Toth, the math instructor at Alderman, recently implemented the game in his classroom.  He’s currently the only teacher using it at the school.  Toth becomes the Game Master in Classcraft.  When his students answer hard questions and do well on homework assignments, he can grant them experience points, which kids can use to cast spells.  These spells are rewards for the students, providing various perks, such as going to lunch early, using their notes on a test, or protecting their teammate from damage caused by bad behavior. Damage hits can lead to consequences like silent recess.

According to Toth, Classcraft takes up minimal time—about three minutes at the beginning of class and one or two minutes at the end when he totals up the students’ points.  The day’s lesson begins with a random event.  Toth says this engages the students immediately:

“They sit there, they cross their fingers, because some of the random events are positive, some of them are negative where people can lose health points or people can lose experience points. So, they never know; it’s just a random event.  They look forward to that at the beginning of the day. Right after that, they get to use their spells that they can get from leveling up. So they all raise their hands and I’ll go one by one, and they can use a spell, whatever spell they have. So they’re looking forward to that.”

Toth: “We are going to, uh, do our Classcraft stuff first. So we’re going to do our random event of the day. Alright, ready? 3, 2, 1… Human Shield: A random player takes all the damage for the class but gains 300 experience points.”

Students: “What? Yay! That’s a good one. That’s a good one.”

The random event does more than help focus students. It teaches them a life lesson. That’s according to Dr. Raymond Pastore, a UNCW professor who researches computer-based tools and gaming in education:

“Well, it teaches them that things aren’t always going to be equal, that there are random things that are going to happen. And that’s no different than real life. And that’s what happens when you’re playing a game. Sometimes things are going to happen that are out of your control, that are unlucky, and what it teaches you is, “How do I deal with this? How am I going to come back from this?”

Patrick Harrison, the technology assistant at Alderman, has a tattoo of an autobot from Transformers on his arm. He says he’s seen this life lesson about bouncing back play out in the classroom:

“There’s one student that is a perennial complainer that got silent recess as his random event.  It spun up, that’s what he got.  Even him, as a kid that will complain if you look at him funny, he just sat and was there for recess, and didn’t complain, didn’t get upset, just did it.  Later, he said, ‘That’s part of the game.  That’s how it works.’”

Individual rewards and consequences are just one component of Classcraft.  In order to succeed in the game, the whole team has to work together.  Instructional technology professor Pastore says Classcraft promotes cooperation, which is valuable in a corporate context:

“If you go into any corporate, large company, any Fortune 100 company and you ask them how important teamwork is, it’s going to be at the top of the list, way at the top of the list because playing politics, learning how to deal with people, learning how to pick up the slack for people is huge. Learning how to communicate with all kinds of people is a huge skill that, I don’t want to say it’s not taught, but it’s only taught through teamwork and experience.”

But students will inevitably move on to classes without Classcraft.  Will they still be motivated to succeed without the game?  Harrison says it’s like any other strategy teachers use; they just have to hope that some of the lessons stick:

“That’s your hope with anything that you’re teaching. Any teacher has got their methods and their ideas and their things that they’re going through, that they’re pushing. And all that we can do is hope that some of it will sink in.”