Previewing the 2019 Gameful Learning Summer Institute

Evan Straub, Learning Experience Designer – Gameful/Connect

When I talk to people about gameful learning, frequently I hear skepticism about the idea of turning school into a “game” or into something “fun.” To consider what makes gameful learning so successful, we have to unpack why we consider games “fun.” Although we frequently associate a positive emotional reaction with playing a game, some games are more entertaining than others. Therefore, we have to reflect on when or why playing a game becomes enjoyment.

Ask a competitive athlete in the middle of a tough competition as to whether or not they are “having fun” at that moment. Most likely, they’re engaged with thinking about the game play, the strategy, and optimizing their physical performance within the competition that the idea of “enjoyment” is probably not the first idea that comes to mind. Instead, we talk about the experience of “challenge.” While challenge in and of itself is not generally considered pleasant (at least at the moment), it can make success extremely satisfying.

men and women sitting around tables with laptops listening to a lecture
Evan Straub, Learning Experience Designer, leading the GradeCraft workshop at the 2018 Gameful Learning Summer Institute

For example, consider a game that is based primarily on luck versus one based on skill. For example, compare the what it takes to win the card game “war” where winning the game is whoever happens to have the high card at that moment — to a game like chess which involves deep strategy to defeat an opponent. Winning at chess will most likely be more of a satisfying experience. Often, you will even hear a defeated player be grateful for the experience of playing a well-matched opponent; the challenge was the reward, regardless of the outcome.

Gameful learning is trying to capture that same experience. Learning should be challenging. Learning science research consistently suggests that we learn more when we are actively engaged in the topic and when the learning is appropriately challenging. Similar to how games encourage differentiated paths, we know that every instructor is a little different as well. Therefore, at the 2019 Gameful Learning Summer Institute, we are so pleased to highlight educators who are willing to share what they have learned in their own classroom.

woman working on a laptop and a man in the background onlooking
Attendees of the GradeCraft workshop at the 2018 Gameful Learning Summer Institute.

One theme that has emerged from our presenters is how to use role-play in the classroom. Naomi Norman, Associate Vice President for Instruction at University of Georgia, and T. Chase Hagood, Director of Division of Academic Enhancement at University of Georgia, are returning to talk about their use of “Reacting to the Past,” which puts learners in control of a situation, guided by historic texts. A similar session last year was incredibly popular so we are thrilled they are returning! Similarly, Nick Noel, Instructional Designer and Media Producer at MSU Information Technology Services, is exploring how educators are similar to “game-masters” and how tabletop role-playing games could be adapted for education settings.

We are also so excited to have Angie Romines, Senior Lecturer of English at The Ohio State University, presenting on how to create and use escape rooms as a collaborative pedagogy. Hopefully, an escape room is never a true authentic task, however Angie notes that success “can only happen when participants collaborate, bounce ideas off of each other, and get comfortable with failure.”  

Women at lectern giving a presentation to attendees of a conference seated at banquet tables
Erin Baumann, Associate Director of Professional Pedagogy at the Harvard Kennedy School gives the keynote presentation at the 2018 Gameful Learning Summer Institute.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our exciting keynote speaker, William (Bill) Watson, Associate Professor of Learning Design and Technology at Purdue University. His work with the Serious Gaming Center at Purdue University researches how games can create engaging and innovative educational opportunities at all levels of instruction.

Of course, there are many more opportunities for new ideas at the 2019 Gameful Learning Summer Institute. We hope that you will join us, feel challenged to take some ideas back integrate into your own teaching, and have fun.



Register for the 2019 Gameful Learning Summer Institute at the event registration page by Friday, July 5!

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