This is my third TLT and each time, it's been that ideal mix of fun and techno-intellectual-geekery. This year, like the two before, the brain-sparks began with the keynote speaker and this year's was Jane McGonigal who talked about games and learning. Wait,
strike that. She didn't just talk about games, she got us up and out of our chairs with a game of massively multi-player thumb wrestling
Games for Reality
As with previous TLT keynotes, there were a couple of points that really resonated with me. One of these came when she was describing the high levels of engagement that tend to happen with kids and games, that is, an engagement level we, as educators, don't typically see enough of among our students. As a follow-through to this dilemma, she challenged us with a compelling question: "Can we do anything with this parallel track of engagement [i.e., games]?"
This question took on added significance when she shared a brief series of statistics that showed the amount of time that people spend playing games. From here, she shifted to talking a little bit about her own experience in game design. Two of the memorable examples had to do with games that were contextualized in the sphere of "real-world" problems. The underlying purpose seemed to be in part aimed at rebutting the often-heard claim about video games scoring high in the fantasy category but low in reality. Upping the reality score, she showed clips from two games that depicted scenarios very much grounded in the complexities of "real life." One was from Evoke which challenge the gamer with complex missions such as responding to a water crisis or severe food shortage. The other was Find the Future which was a game that asked kids to explore the New York Public Library in a particularly different kind of way. Scattered throughout the library were various artifacts that were marked with QR codes, which the students could then scan with their mobile device and then write a short piece that had something to do with that thing they just discovered.
Gaming the Curriculum (but in a good way)
As usual, choosing my fav TLT sessions presented its own set of challenges because nearly all of them were dialoging about issues of interest to learning designers, educators, and technologists. In the spirit of the keynote, I went to one on "gamification" in the classroom. Because terms like "gamification" can become easily over-used, the opening speaker in this 3-person presentation (Chris Stubs) explained that its similar to rewards programs where people can leverage points through the level or extent of their participation. He added that this doesn't mean that gamification is always about having fun, as can sometimes be the perception when people first hear the word 'game', but it's about using it as a foundation for building engagement.
To illustrate, another one of the speakers described a game she used in her management class where she used gamification to stimulate more engaging discussions. More specifically, she noticed that the online discussion threads in her class seemed to do little more than satisfy the minimum requirements and so she game-ified it by challenging the students to rank or vote on the best and worst posts, and the authors of the winning posts would then be awarded tokens which they could apply towards things that they themselves valued such as requests for extension on deadlines and the like.
Hat-tip to the geeks
Since techno-geekery plays a very visible role in this symposium, it seems only appropriate to wrap up this post with a little note about one of the tech tools. This year the TLT folks incorporated a mobile app called Guidebook that made all those essential conference activities incredibly easy to skim and navigate. Want to add a session to your calendar? A single tap was all it took. Want to see a detailed map of the conference floor? Ditto. Want to see Twitter activity or what people are posting in other social media arenas? Just tap. I hope that app makes a repeat-appearance in '13.