Let’s Have Edu Gamathons, Not Just Gamification

This past weekend, I had the unique opportunity to serve as a teacher mentor for the Austin Education Game Jam, hosted by Globoloria, Atlassian HipChat and Skillpoint Alliance. This “Gamathon” event challenged development teams to create high-quality, commercially viable video games that were content focused while also empowering learning through more meaningful and engaging experiences.

From a spectator standpoint, it was interesting to see teams, with most having only met that day, thinking about what gaming in education could be and then making plans to create that experience. Each group, bringing their own experiences as student learners and entertainment content creators, took great care to think about how game design supports learning and in what area could great impact be made.

Watching each game come to life was an education in and of itself with the most powerful being the moments that we saw developers “googling code” or looking at a quick youtube video to learn how to do some small part in the game. We are all still learners, right? There were also moments when, without thinking, a connection would be made to a childhood learning experience.

“I cringed at the thought of making a game about math because I was never good at math”

“I learned a lot more about the subject while I was making a game about it”

It was in those moments that I had my greatest “aha moment”…

We NEED kids doing this…designing their own games for learning…and yesterday!

Engaging the educational game industry to help drive innovation in learning is certainly critical but involving the diverse expertise of students and forward thinking educators can only drive more successful outcomes.

With that said, watching a room full of developers completely immersed in collaboratively designing, building and learning reminded me of the power of project based learning which then led to a few thoughts…

  • Kids will be empowered learners if they are a part of the creation process and even more so if they are the creators.
  • As Joseph South, with the Department of Education Office of Edtech, pointed out…The key to engaging kids lies in the developers that have mastered the art of capturing their interest. We shouldn’t be communicating that games have zero value. We SHOULD be learning from these game designers.
  • Gamification, in the sense that it exist in education, isn’t the same as immersive learning through gaming.
  • Project based simulation of real world tasks isn’t the same as badges for behaviors.

I have always loved gaming and found myself connecting to the games of my adolescence and why I loved them. I learned to solve problems and in doing so developed parts of my brain that I didn’t even know existed. It wasn’t just about garnering points, it was about doing so in such a way that the embedded skill was second nature.

We know that coding is important and globally we’ve bought in to the idea through our participation in “hour of code”. Now we need to have deeper discussions about next steps and how that looks.

As a person who spent hours on end mastering the moves of every single Tony Hawk game, becoming a digital guitar hero, earning almost every top career path in The Sims, beating my daughter in Dance Dance revolution, spending hours playing Angry Birds while also embedding the game in math lessons and finally understanding football through John Madden…I am exceptionally excited that Entertainment gaming is joining these discussions.

Where do we go now?

Well, we collaborate to drive innovation with students being the driving force.

Can you imagine how we can deeply impact learning?

I can only hope that at these events in the future that race and gender diversity isn’t left on the table in the name tags of the people that didn’t show up. I’m hoping that we/they at least signed up because we need women and people of color in these discussion too. Unfortunately, this event was absent of both of these.

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