Big Ideas Coming from the Workshop

  1. Games have huge potential for geoscience education. They is good evidence from learning theory that games should make good learning tools and there is data showing that they increase motivation and in some cases learning. A major strength is the ability to promote collaboration and collaborative learning. Both playing and building games have big potential. With the advent of 'Second Life', Google Earth, and the NASA MMO we are entering a time of unprecedented opportunity.
  2. There are many challenges surrounding the development and use of games.
    1. Games, especially big MMO games are expensive and time-consuming to build. Constructing novel games (as least as that task is currently understood) is well beyond the resources of individual faculty who are the traditional assemblers of the learning experience. Who will build these educational games of the future and who will fund them?
    2. The underlying landscape also changes quickly. The technologies involved become obsolete and the expectations students bring with them are continually pushed by their experiences with commercial games. This can lead to a continuous pressure to follow the latest technology/tool/opportunity in developing new games rather than really refining existing educational games.
    3. There is a lot of work still to be done to clarify what sorts of games offer what sorts of educational payoff. This includes PR work to dispel broad misconceptions that lead to the notion that "educational game" is an oxymoron (games as things that are violent/trivial/recreation for kids). This likely also includes understanding ways in which some students are turned-off by the use of games as well as more substantive research into the particulars of what makes some games effective at helping some people toward some educational goals. How do we make sure the motivational elements that make recreational games compelling are leading toward appropriate learning in games with explicit educational intent?
    4. Games as a topic is probably too broad a scope around which to work. So the development of a common vocabulary/common understandings that lets us narrow our discussion to that part of the field that is really most critical to education will be an important step in making progress.
    5. Games can be won using only trial and error. We have a strong interest in moving students to higher order strategies and in making their conceptual understanding explicit (verbal?). How do we structure games or students interactions with games such that they are compelled to move beyond trial and error.
    6. Many current game technologies are unable to offer the level of detail or accuracy that is needed in some educational setting. Recreational games often simulate reality with just enough accuracy to suit their entertainment needs. But in learning situations having physics that is 'close' or a virtual outcrop that 'seems real at first glance' may not be enough, and in fact may be detrimentally misleading.
  3. On-line games present many opportunities for educational research and evaluation of student learning. In addition to embedded assessments in a game, the use of 'student pathway' assessments would allow us to explore the linkages between knowledge, decision making and action. In a virtual enironment game, students position tracking, interactions with other students through chats or twitter, relative time on task measurments and other steps students might be taking could document the learning pathway for analysis. These studies are time consuming and a good design with clear research questions and underlying theory would be critical.
  4. Games don't have to be either on-line or the complete instructional environment. Use can range from mini games that support other aspects of instruction in a class structured by the professor, to a complete immersive environment in which the instructor serves as a coach or mentor.
  5. Key aspects of games are goals, rules, and scoring. Sometimes games involve collaboration as a key element. In contrast, a key aspect of on-line environments is their ability to support collaborative learning and collaborative work. These strengths can be exploited independently or brought together in collaborative games that support learning.
  6. Two kinds of games that have important educational uses are
    1. Mini-games such as interactive applets. These games can be used to build a skill, develop intuition, show the relationship between variables, or illustrate a concept. They can easily be integrated into a lecture or other instructional activity and are realtively low cost/investment to make.
    2. Complex, multiplayer, open-ended games. These games have tremendous potential for teaching complex relationships, systems thinking and higher order thinking. They can also be structured to promote collaboration. These games are expensive to create and require a major change in the method of instruction. Students have very high expectations for the quality of these games. Opportunities to collaborate with gaming companies, hooks to allow scientific extensions onto existing games, and other collaborative strategies will be critical to making progress with these games.
  7. Recommendations
    • Faculty should consider games as an instructional method
    • The role of games in the CI program at NSF should be considered
    • Geoscience community should experiment with high end technical games as they are becoming part of the fabric of our students lives.