Lucas Blair wraps up Games+Learning+Society conference coverage

The 2013 Games+Learning+Society conference comes to a close as Lucas Blair wraps up his coverage from Madison, WI.

Dr. Constance Steinkuehler, Co-Director of GLS and Associate Professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison, keynoted the final day of the conference. During the talk she spoke of her experiences as a Senior Policy Analyst at the Office of Science and Technology Policy and described her vision about where the industry should go. She began by discussing the atmosphere that has made the movement possible, attributing our government’s involvement to a tech savvy administration that was willing to open up public data to drive innovation and the casual games scene which has made being a “gamer” a socially accepted pastime. Dr. Steinkuehler also covered the benefits of video games that got the White House interested in exploring the medium:

  • Games have a huge reach.
  • Games are models and simulations that create worlds.
  • Games provide the architecture for engagement.
  • The positive impact on cognition and behavior.
  • Games provide data which can be mined and provide additional value.

She also stressed that in order to facilitate the creation of the types of games that can really make a difference, we need an innovation ecosystem. Dr. Steinkuehler said an innovation ecosystem must include federal agencies, academics, the games industry, and philanthropists.  She wrapped up the speech with a call to action concerning what steps our community needs to take:

  • Play each other’s games
  • Collaborate
  • Get all of our games in one place with shared infrastructure
  • Share our successes and failures.

The first session I attended was a fire-side chat with Ben Sawyer, co-founder of Digitalmill, Inc. and the Games for Health Project, discussing the state of the field. He covered a wide range of topics and what we can improve upon. He first addressed the need for broader visions and research agendas that will help to create an ecosystem. The second topic he covered was a need for more “stars” in the industry that can be held up as the standard. Currently we have no metrics to assess this. Sawyer then addressed health games, neurotheraputics, and using games for behavior change during the middle of the session. He feels that we need to create games that address health preemptively and instead of treating sickness. These games must be for everyone and they must scale to affect multiple issues. He also stressed the importance of long-term goal setting and driving future orientation. He finished with some points that echoed sentiments about the learning games ecosystem shared earlier in the day by Constance Steinkuehler. The points addressed the need for more indie developer support, the high cost to building games, and the need for more collaboration between developers and researchers. This issue of the infrastructure and ecosystem seemed to pop up in multiple talks during the conference. Everyone is in agreement that we need to put more effort into this area and I expect Pittsburgh to be a great example of this in the next few years.

During the second session of the day, Mobile Theory and Design, I listened to an excellent overview of the use of augmented reality in the classroom. The speaker reported that augmented reality will be widespread in classrooms in the next 4-5 years. There are however some barriers that must be overcame for this technology to make it into schools. The first barrier is the lack of research on the subject and concerns about skills transferring.  The second issue is finding enough funding and devoting enough time into the implementation of the technology.

The final speaker of the day, Dr. James Gee filled every seat in the auditorium with a fire-side chat entitled: What Videogames Have to Teach Us Ten Years Later. Gee did not limit the conversation to the current state of education and extended the discussion to the state of the world. The session was driven by audience questions so the conversation touched on many subjects. The most important takeaways for me were:

  •  We are here to change the paradigm before we are killed by the paradigm.
  • We need to stop lionizing individual intelligence and start to emphasize on collective intelligence.
  • The worst educational product ever made is a text book.
  • Forget the technology ask what learning has to be accomplished.
  • Don’t recreate the problem with books by trying to do everything with games.
  • Playing games is experimental science.
  • School cannot be about creating jobs in a society when there are no good jobs

Attending the GLS conference this year was an enlightening experience. Many speakers had great things to say and to think about for teachers, administrators, game designers and industry insiders alike. The future is bright for education, with innovation happening constantly. It will just be a matter of keeping up with the technology and finding its positive effects as educators to make it effective for our students.

For those interested more in the conference and its contents, a number of videos and slides of the week’s sessions can be found here.

Published June 19, 2013