Category Archives: Academia

Meaningful Play 2014: “Games and Education. WTF?”

Safe for school version:


Yes, that’s right.

I started a one-year appointment as the Director for the brand-new Gameful Design Lab at Pepperdine this week, funded by a Waves of Innovation grant!

I’m in Los Angeles, where the locals inconsistently pronounce street names correctly in Spanish and horribly in Americanese.

I couldn’t find moon cake for Monday’s Moon Festival but apologized profusely to the full (super)moon.

The Gameful Design Lab’s main mission is to help people gain personal agency through gaming practice and game design. Games are systems to explore, experiences to empathize with. Exploring and creating systems is one way people can start to see the everyday systems they inhabit. This recognition is the first step towards rebellion, not settling for status quo, and gaining social mobility.

We’ll be working with faculty to make their courses more engaging through gaming, designing minigames for empathy and moral/ethical reasoning, and holding a ton of events and workshops/gamejams for Pepperdine as well as the larger LA area with an emphasis to target underserved populations.

Here’s a video of the pitch my main collaborator Victoria Stay and I did back in January to get the funding (skip to minute 35):

History of collaborative note-taking at conferences

I hear that the International Conference for the Learning Sciences (ICLS) this year actually has a social media planning group and they’re interested in how I did collaborative notes for past conferences. Yay!

If only there was interest when I was actually doing it in years past, but maybe the time has finally come for critical mass?

One of the main issues with taking effective collaborative notes is getting critical mass of people doing it so that all the sessions are covered. For that there really needs to be exposure, but my tactics usually were to just tweet the urls of the google docs (or etherpad back in the day), and it’s pretty surprising how few academics are on twitter, even for the kinds of conferences I go to…

Another equally (if not more) important issue is when the conference doesn’t have good wifi, which is also surprisingly very often… For as long as I’ve had an Android phone, I’ve been able to get around this by tethering my phone and creating an ad-hoc wifi network for anyone to join. Sometimes, though, even cell reception is bad, like in the basement of a hotel… ¬†This issue with access is even worse (for me) when the conference is outside the US, since I’m not likely to tether my phone with international data rates.

Besides taking collaborative notes, I would often also set up a backchannel (besides twitter, too), either through IRC or, like with GLS 2013, a private google doc with specific people I want to be more informal with (snarky, commenting on other things in our lives, planning dinners, etc.)… There’s definitely a research study waiting to happen about how conference goers manage their communication. ūüôā

If anyone is interested, here’s some of the collaborative notes from various conferences I’ve been to in the past few years:

Digital Media and Learning

National Association for Research in Science Teaching 2011

American Educational Research Association

  • AERA 2011 gdoc¬†which basically leads to the wiki that Stian created
  • the sad, sad AERA 2012 gdoc that isn’t populated at all since the conf was in Vancouver, making doing online notes pretty costly over cell networks, and because it’s AERA, the wifi sucked.

Computer Supported Collaborative Learning

Games Learning Society

  • Games Learning Society 2011
  • volunteered for GLS 2012, meaning I had no time to take notes!
  • at GLS 2013, I took notes with my Pepperdine students rather than with the conference at large, but I think this year I’ll make us all do open notes.

I’m teaching “Intro to Interactive Media -> Text-based and Adventure Games” this quarter!

And here’s a copy of the syllabus:

BIS236B Intro to Interactive Media -> Text-based and Adventure Games  (PDF)

Final syllabus for Intro to Game Studies

Ok. I added Zimmerman and Chaplin’s recent gamer manifesto, Koster’s rights of avatars, Murray’s joint attentional scene chapter (thanks Terry!), etc.

Here’s the final PDF (under Creative Commons license, so feel free to reuse and hack)!


I’m teaching Intro to Game Studies this quarter at UW Bothell!

and below is my first draft syllabus. I’m thinking I should expand the controversies and issues week to two or maybe even three… esp. given PAX proximity, being here in Seattle…

Continue reading I’m teaching Intro to Game Studies this quarter at UW Bothell!

HP Catalyst Academy grant: Crash Course on Gaming!

I’ve been selected as an HP Catalyst Academy fellow to develop a mini-course with Pepperdine University!

The mini-course is an online 4-week course for educators about STEMx related topics (the x is all the extra stuff around STEM: communication, coordination, collaboration, creativity,… mostly c words apparently).

My course is on gaming culture and practice and how gaming and playful attitudes encourage critical thinking, agency, and STEMx related literacies. The basic idea is that teachers need to play games in order to use them or structure their classrooms around gameplay effectively… well, dur. But this is a chance to play a bunch of games with peers, reflecting on practice, hanging out with online gaming communities, and creating Let’s Play videos targeted specifically for teachers!

Being developed here: Crash Course on Gaming

BoardGameGeeks Unite! – micropresentation at GLS 2013

After CCA and CGSA in lovely Victoria, BC, I went off to Madison, WI for Games Learning Society 9 and Computer Supported Collaborative Learning. Yes, that’s 4 conferences in 3 weeks. I’m tired.

(And I could have easily strung in Games for Change, International Society for Technology in Education, and maybe even International Communication Association and/or¬†Origins. And I could’ve gone to Feminists in Games in Vancouver before CCA/CGSA. That would’ve been 9 conferences in 5 weeks. I feel like such a loser. There’s always next year, I guess. June is a crazy month for conferences…)

Here’s my first pechakucha (20 slides, 20 seconds each on an autotimer) talk for it:

GLS was crazy awesome, as usual. They brought back Hall of Failures, rebranded the pre-conference educators symposium (as Playful Learning Summit), and kept the fun micropresentation and Well-Played sessions.¬†It’s cool seeing the conference organizers play around with session formats to make for a better experience. Reminds me a lot of the similar push at DiGRA two years ago (and I assume again this year). There’s so much of a festival feel to it now that I’d almost suggest ditching regular paper presentations altogether. (I didn’t go to any regular sessions.)

One interesting thing is that a lot of learning scientists were there this year since CSCL was happening also in Madison right after GLS. A common comment I got from CSCL folks was that some of the rigor wasn’t in the research presented. Personally, I focus more on ideas, theory, innovations, so it didn’t bother me much. The main criticism I have of CSCL is that it’s *boring.* I don’t mean the research isn’t exciting; often it’s really great stuff. I mean that the traditional format of paper presentations where people speak in monotone or read their bullets just doesn’t do it for me anymore, so I’d take the excitement, call-to-action, rants-and-raves feel of GLS any day. If I’m interested in criticizing your research methods and findings, I’ll do it by reading your papers where I can closely look at those things. A presentation, imho, should convince me that it’d be worthwhile to read your papers.

hastags: #gls2013, #cscl2013

I started collaborative notes for GLS (with my awesome Pepperdine students who were there with me!) and CSCL:

Yes, all my current Games, Simulations, and Virtual Worlds for Learning students were there with me! They’re in¬†Cadre 18 of Pepperdine University’s Ed.D. in Learning Technologies program.¬†We play-tested the tabletop games that they’re all making for the course’s main assignment!


Death by Chocolate-Covered Broccoli and Massive Meltdown – talks at CCA, CGSA 2013

Big shout out to Kelly Bergstrom¬†(probably the *coolest* friend I have, @kellybergstrom) and Florence Chee¬†(grats on Loyola, Flo!, @cheeflo) for inviting me to be on a panel with them, Chris Paul¬†(no, not the bball player, @real_chris_paul), and Thorsten Busch (no one pronounces his name right, @digitalethics) for the Canadian Communication Association and the Canadian Game Studies Association (which I’m having a surprisingly difficult time finding a current url for…) about current issues in game studies. (How many links can I embed in a sentence?) It was a supreme honor to be on a panel with such luminaries, and I hope attendees got out of it as much as I got out of it.

These two conferences were back-to-back during Canada’s annual Congress, which is sort of a massive gathering of all Canadian humanities and social science associations to simultaneously hold their annual meetings at the same place. It was crazy awesome. The dorm room at University of Victoria really sucked, though.

hashtags: #cca2013, #cgsa2013

Anyway, below’s my portion of the panel for CCA, a presentation called Death by Chocolate-Covered Broccoli: A Case Where Gamification Killed Gaming Practice, on how rating fight performance, adding guild achievements for raid progression, gearscore, etc. — IE, rewarding particular activities (IE, gamification in its worst form) — led to the destruction of my WoW raid group. I basically gave the same talk at CGSA (but delivered and covering slightly different things since the audience were gamers), titled Massive Meltdown, but I’m not including the slides here, since they’re almost identical…

Normalized practice will always marginalize (AERA 2013)

Last week at the American Educational Research Association annual meeting, I co-facilitated / presented at a workshop on Understanding Inequalities in Digital Media and Learning. The other presenters were Betsy DiSalvo, Justin Reich, Nettrice Gaskins, and Katie Davis.

You can read good summaries by Justin and Nettrice:

And here’s the concept map that we created based on the workshop activities:


Like Justin, I don’t normally use the term “digital divide” when I talk about the landscape of inequalities to DML. Actually, I don’t even normally differentiate DML from non-DML issues. To me, it’s all about different ecologies of practice and how educators need to prepare students to be adaptable and capable of achieving in different settings. I see the broader landscape of practice / policy as filled with a bunch of different competing groups that have contentious values. These groups all vie for dominance (sometimes intentionally, sometimes obliviously). IE. One could probably say I’ve got a Gramscian view…

But part of that is because of what I presented: stuff from my World of Warcraft studies. In Leet Noobs: The Life and Death of an Expert Player Group in WoW, I talked about how the group I studied developed expertise with the game and learned new sociomaterial practices to find success in a new team activity. To become an expert means doing the things that experts do (rather than just knowing the things that experts know), and that means access to expert practice is of utmost importance. But during my studies, WoW practices were changing at a rapid pace. What was considered legitimate changed. It was very dynamic and emergent.

Here’s the handout I prepared in case you want to read this all in bullet form:¬†NormalizedPlay¬†(pdf) and the slides:

The thing is, the group I studied initially started this new activity together because they were all friends and wanted to continue hanging out and having fun. They didn’t actually care much about how far into the activity they got; it was mostly an excuse to hang out. As the game community’s norms about what constituted expert play changed, and as the group I studied learned new ways of improving their play efficiency, new ways to coordinate, new tools to incorporate into their network of gaming, etc., some of the players began to focus more and more on progress and efficiency as the goal of playing. IE, they became expert players (or more precisely, their expertise changed with the game’s definition of expertise), but this was in tension with the glue that held the group together. The group fractured and died in a fiery meltdown. Former friends bickered over performance and used the expert tools to surveil each other’s efficiency.

What’s this mean?? Any profession or learning community will develop new ways of doing things better. Better = more efficient. This narrows legitimate practice. But that’s a good thing, right? We don’t want a medical doctor or engineer who “does things differently.” Yet, at the same time, the group I studied were friends! They liked hanging out with each other. Were they playing the game wrong? Part of the problem is that Blizzard, the makers of the game, seemed to embrace this new push into number crunching and efficient play. They started ranking groups by their progress and later on even introduced an achievement system to reward certain actions. My former group would have never gotten an achievement for “hanging out.”

And so I added a post-it to the workshop’s activity that read, “How do we design interventions that do not delegitimize existing cultures?” Make everyone read Freire, I guess… /shrug

I guess all this is to say that there’s a lot more at stake than the simple construct of the “digital divide.” Progress always leaves someone behind. Forming and reforming new ways of doing things will always marginalize someone. How as educators do we minimize this as much as possible, and when do we sit back and realize that the costs may not outweigh the benefits? How do we recognize when to intervene and in what ways?

Also, completely unrelated, in thinking about today’s realities of DML, I keep thinking about MOOCs and other newfangled initiatives to reach a wider audience. MOOCs are great and all but, as Justin presented during our session, they’re not really helping address inequality. They may be reaching some people who weren’t previously being reached, but the majority of MOOC students are those that already do well, have gone to college, etc. MOOCs help those who have a natural tendency to learn. Shouldn’t we focus instead on helping people develop that spark? Help them become self motivated, self directed… rather than assuming everyone is (by pushing for solutions that only serve them)?