Notes from Day 2 at Games+Learning+Society

Little Bird Games founder, Lucas Blair, continues his report from the Games+Learning+Society conference in Madison, WI for Day 2.

The second day of Games+Learning+Society 9.0 got off to an informative and controversial start with keynote speaker Steve Schoettler, co-founder of Zynga. During the talk he discussed some of the struggles Zynga had early on and reviewed his biggest lessons learned from his time there. Schoettler’s five takeaways from Zynga were:

  • Think big
  • Test all of your assumptions
  • Provide players with continuous feedback
  • Focus on metrics
  • Use analytics to motivate, engage and personalize

Towards the end of the talk, the speaker included a slide and a few comments that painted teacher’s unions in a negative light. This was received about as well as could be expected from an education conference and the time allotted for questions was dominated by the contentious topic.

The first session of the day was entitled “Beyond Badges & Points: Gameful Assessment Systems for Engagement in Formal Education.” The term “gameful,” for anyone hearing it for the first time, is now being used interchangeably with “gamification,” or the use of game thinking and game mechanics in a non-game context in order for increased engagement and enhanced problem solving. The session included speakers who have successfully implemented gameful assessments into their classrooms. The first speaker, Kate Fanelli, shared her experience implementing a system she created called MathLand. Kate’s creation runs on Queso, a piece of open source software that was featured during yesterday’s blog post. Playmaker School was also featured during this session, a program which serves 6th graders utilizing gameful mechanics, as well as learning through play and making. Another interesting technique used at the Playmaker School is having students participate in live action role playing where they take over the role as the teacher. Speaker, Lee Sheldon, the author of The Multiplayer Classroom, discussed his experience using techniques like allowing students to make up their own lessons and creating student guilds where they share rewards.

The final speaker of the session, Barry Fishman, discussed an open source project currently being used at The University of Michigan called Gradecraft. The program is a game-inspired Learning Management System that is currently undergoing testing in several university courses and was described as not being a game in and of itself, but instead being the board, the spinner, and die that the game takes place on. Its current features include: Badges, Teams, a student dashboard, and an Interactive Grade Predictor for students. One interesting future study will be asking students how they think they will perform in a class and tracking their accuracy.

University of Wisconsin campus / Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

The second session of the day, “Dancing with Learning Objectives and Game Mechanics”, featured speakers sharing lessons learned from some of their most challenging projects.  Some of the interesting takeaways from the session were:

  • Don’t get hung up on a genre for your game too early in the process
  • Ask why people are not learning with the current system and make your game fill the gap
  • Finding the right SME (subject matter expert) is everything

The third session of the day was a continuation of the gameful mechanics presentations from session one. The first speaker, Michael Donhost, discussed a game-like design model that gives teachers the ability to structure learning in the same way games are designed. The model is structured with three parts: wonder, play, and make.  The speaker also felt that teachers needed less structure and more freedom in the classroom. I believe the students could benefit from the same thing. Another speaker during the session discussed a study performed by Selen Turkay, Charles Kinzer, and Sonam Adinolf which discussed the effects of customization on MMO (“massively multiplayer online,” such as World of Warcraft) game players. The study tracked players in the Free-to-play MMORPG Lord of the Rings Online. Important takeaways included:

  • Relatedness Satisfaction being facilitated by socialization in games
  • Competence satisfaction is facilitated by unlocking new skills and leveling mechanics
  • Autonomy Satisfaction is facilitated by quest choices and customization
  • Mastery of Controls is the gateway to player engagement

Finally, the day wrapped up with a cocktail hour and poster presentations, leaving attendees with plenty to think about and lots of excitement for the next day.

Published June 13, 2013