eLearn Magazine, Education and Technology in Perspective published What Makes a Good Learning Game? Going Beyond Edutainment in February of this year. The author, Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen, outlines components in useful buzz words for non-techie educators and the sleek-edu-geeks alike to quickly evaluate the utility of the tons of “learning games” out there when looking for meaningful ways to integrate technology and curriculum. The buzz words stay with you, and I can see them crossing my mind as I type ready to shoot them down with my semantic knowledge; ready, set, here we go.
1. Substantives – the signifiers and signified – the nouns that set-up the scene,
2. Verbs – the things learners have to do to meet the challenges and get the rewards,
3. Problem-solving – the challenges have to be interesting, and if I may add my two cents, culturally relevant,
4. Rewards – the rewards must definitely be culturally relevant,
5. Feedback – I remember an old mentor always used to say “Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent.” So be weary of games that do not offer corrective feedback if the educator is not present., and
6. Alignment – while Egenfeldt-Nielsen doesn’t explicitly say to look for games that are tied to standards or even lesson objectives, I am. If a game has all the first five components without this last one, you might as well just flush your professionalism down the toilet and admit you’re using gaming to baby-sit your class.
That said, Egenfeldt-Nielsen validates drill-and-practice games describing them as a “sound learning principle”. I use drill-and-practice games aligned to standards and lesson objectives in order to pull small instructional groups for more support toward mastery. (Boy, o boy, a traveling tablet lab would be nice!)
Both drill-and-practice and mission-based games can be used to get that much closer to the Holy Grail of buzz words in education today individualized and differentiation. So let the games begin!