ECGBL 2013 – Porto

Porto-1

Now in its seventh year, the European Conference on Games Based Learning this time brought researchers and practitioners from across Europe (and beyond) to the picturesque town of Porto.

The conference always stands out for its participants and networking opportunities; but this year a ‘learning game competition’ had been added to the bill, which added some industry people as well as academics, making it one of the best yet for discussion and potential collaborations.

The papers themselves were a mixed bag: several presented a worrying return of the worst ‘serious game’ approach to learning games: designing basic subject quizzes with a graphical or gamified wrapper, with no pre- or post- evaluation of the approach. These hold the field back rather than helping to take it further.  But they contrasted with others which were truly thoughtful and provocative: great for filling the generous 30-minute slots with some detailed questioning and discussion.

Highlights for me were:

  • A ‘nuclear threat’ pervasive game used by Trygve Pløhn to teach action script programming, which sat alongside standard classes to apply the students’ skills to real life situations. What was most interesting was the way Trygve used real-life breaking news from Iran to adjust his story as it unfolded, engaging the students as he went.
  • Stine Ejsing-Duun and Thorkild Hanghøj presented a fascinating lens on pervasive games, looking at an example from a high school where children tried to ‘cheat’ the system to gain points or advantage: they posed the question – is this really cheating, or creativity? And presented theoretical axes to house the different examples of cheating/creative work they had observed.
  • Several papers focussed on using game design workshops for group training (teacher training, student group work etc.), which were all successful – the best ones based on rapid paper prototyping as described by Nathalie Charlier and Nicola Whitton (the MAGICAL project). Hanghoj, in another paper, focussed on carrying on the development after the design workshops, leading to a good discussion about transfer/reflection activities afterwards.
  • Anna Arici and Sasha Barab (of Quest Atlantis fame, from Arizona State University) presented their new Atlantis Remixed project, which uses Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein setting to teach students critical thinking, ethical and other skills through a compellingly designed game interface. What was more interesting still were the student and teacher dashboards they are developing to allow students to collect and describe their skills from various games/activities in one place; and allow teachers to track the development of pupils in real time.
  • I presented the beginnings of an investigation into the use of real contexts within learning games and activities, for which I gathered a wealth of material and comments from the audience members. I’ll present these ideas and additions in a future post.
  • Robyn Hromek, from the University of Sydney, presented her psychology-based range of home made games which she uses to help troubled children in Sydney schools. Based around psychology theory, the games were interesting in that they use very little competition, and instead focus on collaboration and helping other players.
Barrels in the Taylors Port Cellar

The Taylors Port Cellar

The first day ended with a leisurely walk through the picturesque streets and river bank of the city, culminating with a tour of one of the Port-wine manufacturer’s cellars and a meal/tasting session, which was a lovely touch and a little immersion into the local culture.

The second day closed with the results of the game design competition, which Atlantis Remixed deservedly won – with a hand-made and very clever Chemistry board game/activity ChemNerd from Jakob Thomas Holm coming second (especially interesting for its multiple events linking each stage of chemistry investigation – ending with a real live experiment). Third place went to Ian Hook and Roman Hodek of Lipa Learning, who presented their ambitious linked range of iPad games for 2-6 year olds.

All in all, I met some fabulous and fascinating new people, discussed some intriguing and important new and old approaches, and topped it off with a fine glass of port. Not a bad couple of days at all.

Game design winners: Holm, Barab and Hook

Game design winners: Holm, Barab and Hook

 

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