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Computer games during the summer

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Interested reader Trent asked:

The only question that I have is how would this be used outside of the classroom? I know of several way that it can be used in the classroom, I am trying to focus on Visual Data Analysis outside.
For example, how can kids learn using gaming during the summer.


I answer here:

Your question deserves a lengthy response, and I am short of time at the moment. However, I hope to point you in the right direction.

Games are educational in different ways. I think the best way to use computer games to learn is through guided instruction. For example, a teacher would present an idea, students would spend some time in the game world exploring a specific idea or concept, and then the teacher and students would construct meaning from the experience through some sort of discussion or project.

There are other people (who are much smarter than I), who argue merely playing games is educational - Google James Gee for some thinking on this topic. To be honest, there are different types of games, different types of learning, and many different ways we define "educational". It get's a little tricky, but you get the idea.

So to specifically answer your question, games could be used during the summer with a mentor or guide to help guide the student as they play. This is a key point in my opinion - if kids "just play" then any measurable academic achievement will be hard to come by. However (and this is important) there is a hell of a lot more to learning than what we can measure on some test.

In your question you specifically ask about visual data analysis. All games represent their "worlds" visually and graphically. In Eve Online, there is a little green sphere that represents my shield power, and another the represents my hull strength. I've sadly watched many times as these little green graphs have turned yellow, and then red, and then I learn about floating through space.

So here's an idea: pick ANY commercial off the shelf game, and pick apart it's UI. I would ask my students:

1. what is this graphic representing?
2. how is this graphic convey meaning?
3. why is this graphic in the specific space it is in?
4. how does this graphic change?

And then, once your students have begun to see behind the curtain of the game UI,

ask them to redesign the game UI using some free tool and explain how their choices represent meaning graphically.

oh, and by the way, if you're serious about visual data, you need to grok Edward Tufte. Really. I'm not kidding. go to one of his conferences. It will be the best $300.00 you have ever spent on professional development.



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