Friday, February 24, 2017

Scholarly Critique: Abstraction Through Game Play

“Abstraction Through Game Play” by Antri Avraamidou, John Monaghan, and Aisha Walker examines the results of a real-world experiment in game play involving an 11-year-old boy from Cypress and the popular game, Sims 2. I sought out this type of example in light of the current affinity project our class is undertaking where do a deep dive into an active affinity space. Plus, with all of the literature we have been consuming around games and learning, I hoped to find some kind of real life case study or example to illustrate these concepts. Young 11-year-old Costas did just that!
As a brief overview, the experiment was designed to create a non-classroom, natural learning environment for the boy with as few restraints as possible. To implement the design, the video was accessed online in the boy’s bedroom and mediator was on-hand to guide the sessions. Costas qualified for the study in that he 1) had prior video game play experience, 2) had the ability to read and understand English, and 3) was perceived to be willing to express himself throughout the study. Costas played the game for a total of three hours over four different periods and was ultimately tasked with building two houses in the sandbox-style game. This was as close as the researchers could get to simply observing a child at play.

The data and analysis of the study provided ample evidence to support the authors’ focus: abstraction can be accomplished through game play. In this case, Costas primarily constructed a mathematical abstraction in order to build his houses, especially the second house which required construction under greater restraints (budget, space, resources, etc.). From the outset, Costas was adamant about maintaining symmetry in house while still trying to implement his desired features (like a swimming pool in the middle of the house). To do so, Costas continually ran into “problems” which he needed to use math to solve. As the authors point out, in this case, the artefact mediated the mathematical learning that was accomplished through game play.

The evidence provided by the case study is very compelling and the authors adequately proved their hypothesis. In the end of the article the authors note that the mathematical abstraction constructed by Costas was not scholastic or “privileged” mathematics as what is taught in a curriculum. Costas’ use of math was based on objects and shapes – as you can see the grid system laid out in the illustration. There weren’t any numbers present. This brings to the forefront some questions. In grade school we learn mathematical concepts in the classroom and then try to exercise those concepts through simulations (word problems). In this case study, I believe the reverse was enacted. Costas was initially tasked with a blind simulation (I say blind because he was not specifically told to learn something) and then subconsciously used math to accomplish it. Instead of a teacher as a mediator, the game/artefact was the mediator. One could say that comparing the knowledge in each area is practical versus conceptual. The question I have is would one benefit from the other? Which is a better format? If Costas were given numerical constraints such as building a specific sized house with particular dimensions and features, would he be able to learn the same scholastic mathematics that are taught in the classroom?

Articles like these, in my mind, prove that games facilitate or mediate learning. I think the next question might be to ask – what can we learn through games?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Learning Reflection


My understanding of games coming into this course, I admit, was very basic. I’m a big fan of games and play. I love challenges, puzzles, and being competitive. So when I think of games and learning as a topic of study, I simply think of the games I like to play in my personal life or I think of the games I played in the classroom. Thanks to scholarly analysis, my eyes have certainly been opened to the depth on the subject.

I think the biggest contributions to better understanding the relationship between games and learning have come studying the course readings, reading and commenting on other students’ play journals, and interacting via hypothesis annotation. My personal definition of analysis is breaking something down into its simplest pieces and then asking questions. The readings, thus far, have done exactly that. By breaking down the ecology of games, affinity spaces, and situational learning, the authors provide a different perspective on games and learning and give the subject greater dimension. Games are not just a tool FOR learning, but they actually represent a model of learning that drastically departs from traditional classroom education. This understanding shines greater light in utilizing or designing games as a way of instructing or allowing people to instruct themselves.

In addition, participating in writing and reviewing play journals showcases an important component of instructional: getting to know your learners. These journals are a great insight into how people play or react to play. And so far, the biggest takeaway from this activity is the insight that 1) not everyone plays the same way and, therefore, 2) there is more than one way to play a game.


Everyone loves games. Who wouldn’t want to use game play to learn or as a teaching tool? Oh, and message boards are for geeks…

These are some of the preconceptions that I had coming into the course and the more I learn the more those preconceptions are turning into misconceptions. And misconceptions are almost always due to a lack of information. I am quickly learning that games and learning is like the universe – it is continually expanding. And despite its vastness game play is not one size fits all. People engage in play or define fun in different ways.

The Network

When it comes to social media, I sheepishly admit this is an area where I struggle to find a foothold. I do see the value in networking online as well as the value of gleaning useful information. The problem I have, though, is I feel like social media is a breeding ground for people who are starved for attention – and sharing my thoughts to the internet is not really my cup of tea. Although my twitter feed contains several useful and insightful posts, those nuggets are mixed with political rantings and other trivialities. I’m not at all sticking my nose up at social media, I’m really trying to say that I need to change my attitude when it comes to this form of collaboration.

I do want to say, though, that the Hypothesis annotations have been a learning delight. What a brilliant idea! There is no better way to discuss a reading than in the reading itself. The annotations have not only spurred hearty discussion among fellow classmates, they have also been extremely helpful in clarifying, and in some cases, deciphering the author’s texts. Such a practice allows for greater understanding and comprehension – at least on my part.


If, as before mentioned, one size does not fit all, how can we successfully design game play that will engage a group of students, co-workers, etc.?

Although the answer is not yet completely known, the key is in the design. Much like instructional design models, it begins with analysis. This is important because it should preclude a designer in thinking narrowly about games and fun. More answer to come..


My biggest curiosity relates to my previous question – how can we design game play either as a learning environment or learning tool to engage a particular group.
As for affinity spaces, I’m curious, as I explore the Terraria affinity space, as to how this type of environment truly lends to learning – much like the texts suggest.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Scholarly Critique: Games as an Interactive Classroom Technique: Perceptions of Corporate Trainers, College Instructors and Students

I work in sales operations for a large security company. Sales operations is a lot like being a stage manager and the sales reps like the actors. However, in addition to a number of other responsibilities, I take an active role in training those sales reps in how to perform certain aspects of their job (I don’t think stage managers train the actors…). Sales reps can sometimes have personalities that make them difficult to train – big egos, low attention spans, complacency, etc. Therefore, with each new topic in this eLearning curriculum, I look for ways to more effectively engage and train.

I came across the article, “Games as an Interactive Classroom Technique: Perceptions of Corporate Trainers, College Instructors and Students”, in a search for games in corporate training. Although the article was published almost ten years ago, I found the authors’ study of interactive classroom teaching techniques between college faculty members and corporate trainers to be compelling. Their study consisted of two parts. The first part consisted of a survey among college faculty and corporate trainers to determine their classroom techniques and influences on teaching styles. Kumar and Lightner clearly place a focus on active learning versus passive learning approaches such as lectures or online learning. Their research indicates that interactive learning positively affects students, specifically adult learners, in memory, performance, social collaboration, and transfer of learning. They argue that games and simulations provide the perfect framework for active learning in the classroom. The second part of the study, five college faculty members volunteered to help develop new games that would replace lectures. After conducting the new game in the classroom, the five college instructors assessed the student learning and were interviewed on their experiences. In the first survey, data shows that corporate trainers utilized significantly more active learning strategies than college instructors. In the second part of the study, the five college instructors found increased student engagement and interaction through the use of the interactive game.

Kumar and Lightner’s findings are exactly what I would have assumed they would be - colleges focus more on lectures and corporate training uses more activities. The data adequately supports the notion that games can have a positive effect on learning, especially within the adult classroom. What the study did uncover are relevant questions around the social dimensions of using game play in adult learning. The college instructors felt in the second part of the study admitted to feelings of reluctance toward the use of games as well as some feelings of inadequacy in dealing with the formats. And, despite overall positive feedback, some students expressed that games in the classroom seemed childish or beneath them. Collective learning through interactive games does require engagement and “buy-in” among participants which may require breaking down social barriers or preconceived notions.

The study also brought to light several other questions relating to game play that, I believe, are launching points for further research. Foremost, the comments from instructors and students in the survey indicate that the actual design and implementation of the games influenced how they were perceived by students. This takes into consideration the delivery of such activities and how they can be most effective. In my opinion, I think many would agree that games are valuable teaching tools. The focus, therefore, needs to shift from the “why” to the “how”. My sales reps may be difficult to teach but one thing I do know is they love to play!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Play Journal #1: Seven Wonders

I am not really big into video games so for my first play journal I thought it best to cover what I do enjoy: board games (I’m sure I’ll delve into some video games in later journal entries). My siblings and I loved playing board games growing up. It helped that we’re all close in age so our ability levels were fairly comparable (except no one can beat my brother at Clue…not sure why). To this day, when we get together we enjoy gathering around the kitchen table with our favorite junk food and breaking out a game or two. For us, it’s more than just a game – it’s also a social component, which is a major component in playing board games. Amidst the strategy and decision-making, it’s fun to chat, laugh, and enjoy the company.

For Christmas, my wife got me a new strategic board game, Seven Wonders, which I had played only once or twice before. Seven Wonders is a card-based game with the theme being, you guessed it, the seven ancient wonders of the world. The object of the game is to get the most “victory” points, which one can accrue in seven different categories (the number seven is an important aspect). Here’s how the game goes:

Three to seven players are each dealt seven cards. Each player reviews their seven cards, selects one to acquire, and then passes the remaining cards to the left. Each card has a cost, either money or resources, which each player has been allotted. Once the cards are passed and the process is repeated until all the cards are used up. This is the phase one. Phases two and three are the same. At the end of the third phase, all the points are added up and the player with the most points wins. Each of the cards in one’s hand, at any given time, represent a way in which points can be accrued. Ultimately, there are seven different categories in which players can accrue points.
Seven Wonders is all about managing resources and creating a strategy for accruing points. Even though there are seven categories for gaining points, as you can imagine, it is virtually impossible to get the most points in every single category.

I really enjoy this game. I think what makes it compelling are the constraints. There are hundreds of strategy board games out there and all them have similar components: cards, points, money, etc. It’s the rules of the game and deciding how to be successful within those rules that provides a fun challenge. In addition, not only is one impacted by their own decision, they are impacted by the decisions of others. To win the game, players need to be aware of the situation of others (all accrued points are viewable by everyone), manage resources, and strategize on the fly. The design and flow of the game are intricate, well thought out, and very efficient. And depending on how many players are involved, the game should last no longer than 30 to 45 minutes. There is a certain level of unknown in that the winner is truly decided once the score is tallied.

I believe all board games provide learning experiences because they are life simulations. Especially in strategic board games, the scenarios encountered require critical thinking. All of these skills benefit players in real life. I believe most people agree on this point. I believe the real question of value is how we can take a game/concept, like Seven Wonders, and use it to accomplish a learning objective. An interesting byproduct of this game, is the fact that I now, for the first time, can name all the seven wonders of the world!