What is Playful Learning?
We invited teachers, educational researchers, and edtech specialists to our studio in Cambridge last Friday to preview Playful Learning, the free online platform we’ve been developing over the past few months (details here). With Playful Learning, we’re aiming to create a dynamic, playful online environment that will let teachers…
1. Discover good games for teaching a certain subject or concept
2. Access, configure, and remix what we’re calling “implementations” around these games (case studies of using them in a classroom)
3. Share and discuss their experiences with the rest of the community
…all this, while keeping in mind issues of curriculum, assessment, costs, training, time, and efficacy. We wanted to know, what stops teachers from using games in the classroom? And from our end, how can we make it easier for them?
The group debating the use of games.
From Drill and Kill to Playful Learning
Many of our participants reminded us of the reality of classroom constraints that teachers face, particularly the obstacles of class preparation, technical limitations, and short class times. Compounded by concerns that popular games may not address curriculum standards and that it would be difficult to prove their usefulness to administrators and parents, the group hadn’t seen games used too widely across the curriculum. What they had seen used in schools tended to leaned more toward “drill and kill” games in the style of Math Blaster — which, despite their insistent popularity, may not offer the play, exploration, and reflection we understand to be intrinsic to meaningful learning.
Still, cartoony interactive worksheets set in space are a baby step toward a broader movement of playful learning.
Considering metadata around games.
The Best Time to Learn is…?
We wanted to know what it would take to get teachers interested in a site like Playful Learning and in classroom gaming in general. We learned that many still had fond memories of games in the ‘90s like Oregon Trail, Sim City, and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Despite the games’ commercial roots, teachers built resources around them to some success. But with games today like Civilization V being such complex behemoths to learn — let alone to teach — many expressed their frustration with figuring out how to adapt them.
Surely, this would be the moment where the Playful Learning platform could swoop in and offer support. So we asked them what the breaking point would be, and this is what they told us: the times that they were most likely to explore games would be either when they receive new technology for their classroom or when they find the class is unresponsive to a topic.
With these touchpoints in mind, we broke up into pairs and embarked on an activity to prioritize and brainstorm metadata around games in order of its relevance to a teacher. This metadata ranged from simple under-the-hood facts like supported platforms to more subjective considerations like a snapshot of students’ impressions of the game. Soon the participants found themselves visualizing their own interfaces, grouping bits of information in various corners of the tables they were working on.
Designing an interface!
It’s back to the drawing board, as we take the important lessons from our helpful feedback team and integrate them into the next phase of designing the nitty-gritty of Playful Learning. We’ve been able to identify and correct assumptions about teachers’ and students’ needs, as continue our collaborations with teachers to draw out the problems of finding games to use in the classroom. It goes to show how invaluable continued usability testing sessions, discussion groups, and survey research can be in the iterative process of building an open educational resource like Playful Learning.
We’d like to thank our participants once again for their insights, as well as take the time to invite any interested readers to sign up for updates on our Playful Learning platform!
— Adam Mandeville and Michael Suen