Another detour to the shores of Lake Mendota

I’m here in lovely Madison, along with such luminaries as Jeremiah McCall (I was lucky enough to catch up with him over a beer [well, more than one] last night) at Games+Learning+Society 9.0. Before happy hour, yesterday, at the Playful Learning Summit that kicked things off this year, my colleague Steve Slota and I did our “Build your own practomimetic course” workshop, and our participants came up with:

  • a course in which freshman composition students save the world by playing characters who have to travel in time to persuade the powers that be that penicillin is worthy of adoption
  • a course in which high-school civics students save the world by playing kids who are fed up with their parents’ failure to do anything about the world’s problems
  • a course in which middle-school financial literacy students save their futures by playing characters who have just graduated from college only to have their parents tell them that they’re cutting them off. 

Certain things have remained the same over the four years I’ve been lucky enough to attend GLS: the beer is ever fine and plentiful, the food always puts every other conference to shame, and the passion to get game-based learning right is evergreen, though the disagreements about how to do that also persist, and make the almost-always sunny days all the more invigorating.

Certain things have changed. The session-formats have been fine-tuned to provide more opportunity for pushing the work forward through conversation. An emphasis on off-the-shelf video games has (thankfully, to my mind) given way to an emphasis on Jim Gee’s founding purpose of understanding and putting to work what makes those games great.

Above all, for me, veterans’ eyes’ brightness at the unlimited potential of games for learning has given way to a narrowing of eyes, and focus, and much more talk of learning objectives and transfer. Gamification is still a big word here, but most often in collocations like “Beyond Gamification.” The Hall of Failure sessions appear to be here to stay, and this morning the amazing Constance Steinkuehler will be moderating a panel about meta-discussion of the field.

To encapsulate: the transfer problem persists. But we all have ideas to solve it, and we come to the shores of Lake Mendota to share, and to fight, and to drink. We’ll get it right. Just you wait and see.

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