Category Archives: Academia

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)?


Games, Simulations, and VWs for Learning syllabus (download)

Okay, this is the final version, for reals…

EDLT 728: Games Simulations VWs for Learning syllabus

Or as final as it can be before the course starts. Once it starts, it’ll be the Living Syllabus where we tweak it each week when new things appear or the realities of time hit us. 🙂

I threw it up under the Creative Commons share-alike, non-commercial license and posted it as a Word doc, so go ahead and (ab)use it to your heart’s content!


Draft 4 Games Simulations and VWs for Learning syllabus

Week 1, May 1-7: Why Games for Learning

Learning content vs. systems, projected identity, learning by/through design, theory of fun


Optional Readings:


  • Set up Guild Wars 2 account and join guild.
  • Create a Steam account.
  • Select and play a tabletop game with family or friends. Pay attention to social dynamics, game mechanics and balance, etc.


  • Browse The Hotness on Board Game Geek. Read reviews.
  • Introduce yourself, gaming history, and which tabletop game you played in the class forums.
  • Half the class writes reviews or synopses of readings and/or games. The other half responds.

Activities Related to Major Assignments:

  • Tabletop game design: Think of a tabletop game idea that addresses an area of interest for you and write a one-paragraph pitch.

Continue reading Draft 4 Games Simulations and VWs for Learning syllabus

Draft 3 of Games, Simulations, and Virtual Worlds for Learning syllabus

Games, Simulations, and Virtual Worlds for Learning

Week 1: Why Games for Learning

Learning content vs. systems, projected identity, learning by/through design, theory of fun


Optional Readings:


  • Set up Guild Wars 2 account and guild.
  • Create a Steam account.
  • Browse the Hot List on Board Game Geek. Read reviews.
  • Introduce yourself and gaming history in the forums.
  • Half the class writes reviews or synopses of readings and/or games. The other half responds.
  • Think of a tabletop game idea that addresses an area of interest for you and write a one-paragraph pitch.

Continue reading Draft 3 of Games, Simulations, and Virtual Worlds for Learning syllabus

Draft 2 of Games Simulations and Virtual Worlds for Learning course

Prob could use more on simulations and VWs…

Also, haven’t added everything, yet… After that’s done, I’ll have to cut a bunch of stuff since it seems like a lot to cover in 12 weeks. Much thanks to Alex Thayer… I grabbed a bunch of refs from his course that I was a guest lecturer in about 2 weeks ago. 🙂 Which reminds me; I still need to scour the web for other people’s syllabi and see if I can incorporate even more stuff that I may have missed.

Continue reading Draft 2 of Games Simulations and Virtual Worlds for Learning course

Draft outline for Games, Simulations, and Virtual Worlds online course

I’m teaching a course on games and learning during Pepperdine’s summer session. It’s an online course for masters students getting an ed tech degree who may or may not be completely new to the topic, so I’m throwing in as much as I can. 🙂

I’m pretty excited about it! Midway, the students and I will meet face to face at GLS and playtest their in-progress game designs.

Anyway, here’s the preliminary outline that I just threw together. It’s a lot to cover in 12 weeks.

  1. intro to game studies: definitions, magic circle, narratology v ludology, disciplines, art
  2. why games for learning: content v systems, computational thinking, ecology, projected ID, Theory of Fun
  3. game genres and mechanics, tabletop and digital: Board Game Geek, RPS, killscreen, Analog, Well Played
  4. survey of games, simulations, and VWs for learning: COTS v designed, GLS, MIT, Harvard, Indiana, ASU, UCLA, Irvine, UCSC, CGS
  5. game design processes: Aldrich, Schell, Kultima, Rogers
  6. user studies: engagement, flow, play testing
  7. play test during GLS
  8. mods, theorycrafting, memes: Elitist Jerks, Skyrim
  9. assessment: the big black box?
  10. studying gaming and gaming culture: ethnography, Coming of Age in Second Life, Leet Noobs
  11. gamification, badges, connected learning
  12. outstanding issues

I’ll be posting updates to the syllabus as I fill in details, assignments, readings, games to play, etc. to this blog, hopefully making the course design process as transparent as possible. It’s like a process painting but in course design form. Thoughts? Did I leave anything out?


IAmA This guy who did his PhD on WoW

I did an AMA on Reddit about my WoW dissertation after someone found it and posted a thread about it back in 2011, but apparently I never archived it, so here you go:

IAmA This Guy who did his PhD on World of Warcraft

(the best comment: “Do you find it odd that you are still a virgin?”)

and the original thread that found my dissertation defense videos on YouTube:

This Guy did his Ph.D. dissertation on The World of Warcraft