EdGamer Special: On the Road at GLS!


This week, Gerry, half of the EdGamer team, took a trip to the Games+Learning+Society Conference (GLS8) in Madison, Wisconsin. This annual conference, in its 8th year, is the pinnacle event in the gaming and learning (education) world and features guest speakers and committee members such as Dr. James Paul Gee (ASU), Dr. Kurt Squire (UW-Madison), Crystle Martin (UW-Madison) and Eric Zimmerman (independent game designer) along with professionals from the gaming field, professors and students from ASU, UW-Madison, MIT and many, many more.

As I write this summary, I have just returned from my three day stay in Madison, Wisconsin for the 8th annual Games+Learning+Society Conference. To say that I need some decompression time is a massive understatement. I was swamped with so much food for thought (and belly) over the last three days, I am bursting at the seams. Let me first and foremost thank everyone involved in setting up GLS 8 and those who helped EdGamer get there, primarily: Crystle Martin (UW-M & hopefully future EdGamer guest), Dr. James Paul Gee (ASU & repeat EdGamer guest) and Dan Rezac & the EdReach.us family (who are always welcome to be EdGamer guests)!

What made this conference truly wonderful and unique was its excess in three categories: content and new knowledge, amazingly talented and personable people, and food and drink. Each of these three areas was extremely well represented and set on the backdrop of a beautiful and historical town of Madison. It was a conference I will do everything in my power not to miss in the coming years. If you are an educator and have any interest in gaming personally or educationally, you can easily find something for yourself or your classroom. If for some odd reason you can’t, the food and drink is second to none.

My three takeaways from #GLS8 (twitter feed):

1. Education in Torpor: Torpor is my new favorite word. I have to give credit to three presenters: Sonam Adinolf, Selen Turkay & Devayani Tirthali from Columbia College who gave a presentation called, “In Torpor, Not Dead: A Look at a Collectible Card Game that Sticks Around.” The presentation itself was incredibly interesting and was focused on a CCG (collectible card game) and its survival though non-print times, as well as its social and educational impact. I mention this to remind people that this is not only a video game conference; there was a nice representation of board and card games as well. My main takeaway here is not from this presentation (again, it was a great presentation) but instead borrowing from their wonderful vernacular to help illustrate a large underlying feeling at GLS8.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the word, torpor can mean either a short or long term deep sleep (similar to hibernation). Sadly, I think this word captures the state of education in our nation due in part to its dark undertones. Education is in a deep sleep, in torpor, but, fortunately, there are many new forces in field ready to awaken it. Many of the educators at the GLS Educators Symposium (GLSES), which was held on the first day of the conference, were upset with the current state of education and its largely unchanging curriculum and models. Do not get me wrong, these are not people that have been burnt out by education in the past. This conference is full of educational professionals: Ph.D. recipients, doctoral students, professors, assistant professors, graduate students and teachers from all levels. This is a group of educators who want change, and have come together to decide how to best facilitate that change. As opposed to simply complaining about the rigor mortis that is much of modern education, these professionals have joined forces to offer gaming as a possible avenue of clarity for some educational issues. Almost every educational professional at this conference will be the first to tell you that gaming is not the answer to all of education’s problems…nor should any simple solution be.

2. Assessment & Immediacy: Assessment is a hot topic issue for many districts around the country as they struggle with grading reform. The wonderful thing about gaming is that it excels in assessment (or its reaching mastery level for our new age assessors). The sentiments we have mentioned several times on the EdGamer program were oft repeated during the conference in multiple sessions. Games are simply more accurate, less prejudicial, and imminently faster at assessing than humans. Computers are also obviously more accurate and quicker with regards to data collection. There is something to be said for the acceptance of failure from a machine as well. For instance, when a game (computing machine) tells you that you have failed, you accept this, push past minor frustration and try again until you succeed (assuming good game design). I will agree that a good teacher can present failure to a student in a motivational way; however there are many teachers that lack the compassion to help students see failure as a step in a larger process of learning. Games are naturally good at that, and the conference was flush with new ideas on how we can use games to assess. From edutainment to hardcore gaming, there was no shortage of assessment through gaming, examples on everything from World of Warcraft, to Minecraft, to Math Blaster.

 3. Crap Detection: Ok, this is another borrowed term from yet another great presentation. Crystle Martin (UW-Madison) gave a presentation titled, “Crap Detection and Information Literacy in the Online Affinity Space of World of Warcraft.” Ernest Hemmingway is largely credited for the term “crap detection,” from over half a century ago, but as Crystle Martin brought up in her presentation, it is more relevant now than ever. As we begin to look past individual intelligence and start to think about seriously integrating (and assessing?) group or community intelligence, we begin to understand the new skill sets that students are going to need. We can listen to every argument we want (or don’t) about the relevancy of Wikipedia, but if you cannot tell the difference between getting information from a 4th grader’s blog and a professional or educational online source, your skills in today’s marketplace may be lost. One of the best and most repeated things I heard from the conference this year was we need to stop trying to force gaming on all students and teachers and start appreciating the skills that gaming gives certain students. Games and forums can present an avenue for students to help increase their ability to “crap detect,” or accurately analyze data.

 In summary of this point, instead of making gaming the lottery-winning answer to all of education’s problems, is let’s simply call it what it is. Gaming is a tool; a tool that is better used and received by some more than others. When we can agree that games should be viewed on an even pedestal in regards to learning techniques with modalities such as books or PowerPoint, then we will really be getting somewhere. This group of gamers and educators is not seeking world domination through gaming, we just want to make sure our voice is heard though research, data collection and powerful presentation with successes and failures in tow. After all, this is the group that learns from and is motivated to improve by failure, not one that accepts in and starts in a new direction.

To say that I was inspired or interested by what I saw at GLS8 would be inadequate at best. I was able to be part of an amazing community of people that celebrate learning through play and engagement…and enjoy arguing about the difference between the two over great food and drink even more. Forget cloud 9…I’m leveling up to cloud 10 and I am already planning my return to the Games and Learning conference! When does registration open for 2013?

Again, my tremendous thanks to everyone at UW-Madison, GLS8, EdReach.us and all of my new contacts for helping make this a great experience. This review was a snippet of the entire conference and a few brief highlights. It was not meant to give summary to all of its parts, which would be impossible without serious review of every great session I attended.


Gerry James




Check out Episode 56 of EdGamer for more review of the GLS Conference


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