The Games+Learning+Society Playful Learning Summit started today with an excellent keynote address by Dr. Dani Herro. Dr. Herro, an Assistant Professor of Digital Media and Learning at Clemson University, got everyone up to speed by defining Connected Learning and giving a brief history of the movement. She then transitioned into the current state of gaming including statistics about who the average game player is and what they are playing. The talk then transitioned into connecting research to practice including examples of educators and organizations effectively using the techniques covered earlier in the talk. You can access her presentation via slideshare.

The first workshop I attended, titled Building a Gameful Classroom, was presented by classroom teachers who have successfully implemented game scoring and feedback mechanics into their rubrics using an open source web-based application called Queso (they’re looking for beta testers!) This is a great opportunity for Pittsburgh educators to experiment with incorporating game mechanics into their classrooms and potentially have a hand in shaping a new piece of classroom technology.

For the second half of the day I split my time between two sessions.  During Learn with Portals: STEM Education Through Gaming, I observed educators creating levels with the Portal Puzzle Maker. There was some great discussions taking place about planning out learning objectives to match up with the levels that are being created. Teachers could make use of this tool by asking students to create levels to illustrate their mastery of a subject and then challenging them to play each other’s levels. The educational versions of Portal 2 and the Puzzle Maker are free tools for educators to use and can be found at www.teachwithportals.com.

Virulent arcade game / Photo: Lucas Blair

Virulent Arcade Game

The other session I attended, Game and App Design to Teach Computational Thinking in High School, included tutorials of programs like Unity and MIT App Inventor and discussion centered around the usefulness of these tools in the classroom. Several people asked what metrics exist to assess the effectiveness of these kind of platforms on learning; an area that everyone agreed needs more work. Other attendees found the programs useful for building soft skills like effectively collaborating with teammates.

To finish up day one I stopped by the educational game arcade and played with an arcade machine full of games created by students.  One of the games, Virulent, a 2-D game where you play as a virus trying to infect the human body was very well made.  The game mechanics matched actual biological mechanisms to ensure the player’s actions reflected what actually takes place in the human body.  I will cover more games from the arcade after each day of the conference.

An excellent first day at GLS 2013!