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Players, professors dabble in digital games

by Andrea Bennett
A player explains how his game works to one of the attendees at "Players and Professors," an event held at the San Francisco Exploratorium. (Photo/Leonel Diaz Jr.)
A player explains how his game works to one of the attendees at "Players and Professors," an event held at the San Francisco Exploratorium. (Photo/Leonel Diaz Jr.)

Education scholars converged with Silicon Valley game designers, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists in late April for “Players and Professors,” an event sponsored in part by the American Educational Research Association, the Goldhirsh Foundation and SRI International.

More than 125 people visited the San Francisco Exploratorium for interactive demonstrations and dialogue about digital learning, held during the annual meeting of the largest education research organization in the United States.

“It was a really engaging event,” said Zoe Corwin, research assistant professor at the USC Rossier School of Education, who organized the event. “One thing that came through was that it is not just about technology; it’s about how we engage with technology, and it’s the critical thinking and activities facilitated through the technologies.”

Digital media, new media literacy and online learning experts from a number of universities attended the gathering. Guests took part in game demonstrations by education technology startups, including Collegeology Games, which was developed by USC researchers. Other game demonstrations were provided by the Exploratorium, SRI, wiiscience, MaKey MaKey, Kidaptive, Newton’s Playground and Root-1.

Large poster boards throughout the space posed questions, and attendees were encouraged to respond by adding their thoughts on Post-it notes. Guests pondered such questions as “How are digital innovations best sustained?” and “What are the major barriers to tech-related adoption for low-income consumers?”

“We had a few people assigned as ‘instigators,’ who would interrupt the activity to offer their thoughts around one of the questions and prod others to contribute their ideas,” Corwin said.

Among those leading the informal discussions were Tracy Fullerton of the USC School of Cinematic Arts and Brendesha Tynes of USC Rossier, James Paul Gee of Arizona State University, Milton Chen of Edutopia, Alan Louie of ImagineK12, Russell Almond of Florida State University, S. Craig Watkins of the University of Texas and Ken Weber of Zynga.org.

Corwin said that with the growth of educational games, it is critical that game designers work with education scholars to maximize the learning process.

“We wanted to bring people who don’t normally talk to each other in the same room to brainstorm, and share information and ideas,” she said.

USC researchers showcased Mission: Admission and Future Bound, the two newest online games in the Collegeology Games series. Mission: Admission, a Facebook game that takes players through the steps of getting into college, has attracted 2,000 users online. Future Bound is designed to show middle school students the pathways to success and how decisions they make before high school can impact college and career prospects.

Corwin and project collaborators Fullerton, chair of the Interactive Media Division at the School of Cinematic Arts, and University Professor William Tierney will use feedback from the “Players and Professors” event to plan an even longer and more targeted event for gamers, entrepreneurs and education technology experts this fall.

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