Games and Learning: 13 Principles from James Paul Gee

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About this Class

There is a lot of hype about learning games. In education, hype can result in a lot of products and buzzwords, professional development courses and online sites. This course is designed to take you deeper.

To do so, we are going to go to James Paul Gee, currently a professor at Arizona State University and a founder of the Games+Learning+Society research community.

By the end of this 30 minute course, you should be able to:

  • Describe how GOOD games lead to GOOD learning

  • Judge the quality of games that claim to result in learning

  • Reflect on your own teaching practice and borrow some ideas from games.

The videos used in this course were produced by the University of Wisconsin - Madison under the direction of Kurt Squire and Constance Steinkuhler.

In this course we will discuss a set of 13 principles of good learning that are seen in well designed games.

  • Empowered Learners

  • Problem Based Learning

  • Deep Understanding

In good learning, the learner must know that what they do matters, that they have agency.

Games make you an agent in a unique way. Each player uses the rules of a game in a unique way through every action they make In effect, the player and designer are codesigning the performance of a game session.

As an extension of games being good at supporting learning agency, good games make sure to support different types of players with their unique styles of playing the game. Very well designed games even invite players to try new styles and new approaches - to learn in a new way.

A learner has every right to ask, “Why do I need know this? Who uses this? Why would I want to do this?”

Games under stand this. They give you a role and a goal. They invite you to try on new identities with new skills goals and possibilities.

Games allow you to manipulate the game world in very fine way. This leads to a connection between the player and the player’s in-game character.

Schools often focus on memorizing facts and not solving problems. In this lesson, Gee suggests that we should create learning environments where we USE facts to SOLVE problems.

As designers, we need to design problem sequences so that early learning equips the learner to tackle increasing challenging problems. In games, this is a matter of level design.

A problem leads to learning if it has challenge, but can be accomplished. Well designed problems are at the edge of the learners “regime of competence,” right on the edge of what they are capable of doing.

The cycle of expertise is made of a challenge, practice that produces new knowledge/skills, and eventual mastery.

Information is effective if it is given just in time (JIT) and on demand.

Just in time means:

  • You get it when you need it.

  • You get it when you can use it.

  • You get it when you can see how it applies.

On demand means that the learner knows they need to learn something and asks for it.

The learner is overwhelmed if the system is too complex. A fish tank is a simplified system that contains only some of the factors found in the system it represents.

A sandbox is an opportunity to explore within a safe place without any danger. Before you demand a learner to be assessed and “level up,” they need time to explore.

We need to put skills under a goal or strategy. The learner isn’t simply learning and practicing a skill for it’s own sake, but toward a larger goal of solving a problem.

Most of the hard problems in the real world contain large, complex systems, the relationship between many variables.

Games area set of interacting rules that interact to give rise to an effect. Good players make a model of the game system in their head. Games are a form of model based reasoning and a core way to teach system thinking.

In schools we often assume that the ideas we teach can be communicated through words. Gee suggests that meaning is actually made through actions, goals and experiences.

While verbal meanings are good for passing tests, situated means are the basis of problem solving.

Teachers and game designers are both designers of learning. Games can be a wonderful tool, but not the only tool. We must ask ourselves how we can design good learning across tools and approaches that support engaged, deep, problem based learning.

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