I’ve waited a week to mull over the Games Based Learning 2010 conference I attended in the rather impressive surroundings of The Brewery last week.
I was there to co-present a new approach to games based learning for higher education with Simon Brookes from Portsmouth University (more of which later), but approached it with more than a little trepidation. The conference (in its second year) is organised by a private promoter, and supported rather prominently by industry partners. This proved only slightly worrying/irritating, the main irritant being the central prominence of sponsor logos behind all of the keynotes (slides, and in the case of Jesse Schell, the speaker themselves demoted to smaller screens at either side). Otherwise, Graham the promotor and his team were enthusiastic and enabling.
The other worry was the broad spread of the conference: drawing talks/attendees from industry, politics, media, and education from all sectors (primary to higher ed). This proved both limiting and inspiring – limiting in that big questions pertinent to certain sectors moved no further on than age-old issues (for example, ‘what is a game’ and ‘games are not evil’ reared their heads repeatedly) whilst many discussions died before they could begin due to the audience spread. Inspiring, though, in that the papers and discussions which followed provided a number of different viewpoints/approaches from the various sectors, and helped spark ideas from left-field and possible collaborations.
Myself and Simon were speaking in a mini- ‘alternative reality’ section, preceded by Kris Rockwell (Hybrid Learning). Kris’s talk highlighted many of the aspects we hoped to pull together in our paper, giving the section a coherent feel. We had a few seconds to get into our white scientist coats (courtesy @jobadge) – and presented our approach to Alternate Reality Games in education as epistemic frameworks (after Schaffer, 2005) which I’ll write about here soon. The session as a whole went well, with good questions for Kris and ourselves.
I spent most of the conference in the separate strands – particularly the whole-day Research strand on the Tuesday. Not too much research in evidence, unfortunately, although there were some good case studies across a range of disciplines and sectors.
Of the keynotes I caught, a mini (friendly) political sparring between Tom Watson and Ed Vasey saw the former upstage the latter with his enthusiasm for games and education; Alice Taylor gave a comprehensive overview of the upcoming projects the innovative Channel 4 Interactive arm are working on (including pirates, explorers, image manipulation and a fabulous sex education game where one takes charge of a platoon of ‘privates’); and Derek Robertson and one of his primary school Heads Gillian Penny gave an energising account of off-the-shelf games use in Scottish schools.
Two keynotes stood out though: the first from Matt Mason, author of The Pirate’s Dilemma was thought-provoking and engaging: Matt describes some simple ideas and facts, but they form a powerful and persuasive (though not, surprisingly, particularly subversive) message – feedback between piracy/copying and originators provides a creative loop – and a useful heuristic for approaching game- and course- design. The second, from Jesse Schell, was delivered by video link – but proved to be the most engaging of all. Jesse proposed that game/course design should follow the four aspects we most like in modern life: beauty, customisation, sharing and reality. Drawing on some themes from the opening keynote of the conference, Jesse proposed that designs come from a hybrid of skills – artists working closely with technicians, for example. It’s well worth catching (base of page).
Two quick final notes: the catering at the otherwise excellent Brewery was a bit sparse: small slightly odd portions at lunch, and a distinct lack of biscuits; but this was more than made up for with the free bar at the evening event, and some great food, beer and discussion as a result.
Shaffer, D. (2005). Epistemic games. Innovate 1 (6). Available: http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=79 (accessed April 8, 2010).