Category Archives: gaming

2010 HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competition

The HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competition will soon be accepting applications. There’s good money to be secured for your projects and it’s open to South Africans. I was a judge for the competition last year and can confirm that they look for innovation from developing countries — so we should go for it!

2010 HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competition

We are pleased to announce that all information regarding the 2010 international HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competition—including detailed category explanations and guidelines, critical deadlines, application materials, etc.—is now available at www.dmlcompetition.net.

The theme of this year’s Competition is Reimagining Learning and there are two types of awards:  21st Century Learning Lab Designers and Game Changers.

Aligned with National Lab Day as part of the White House’s Educate to Innovate Initiative, the 21st Century Learning Lab Designer awards  will range from $30,000-$200,000. Awards will be made for learning environments and digital media-based experiences that allow young people to grapple with social challenges through activities based on the social nature, contexts, and ideas of science, technology, engineering and math.

The Game Changers category—undertaken in cooperation with Sony Computer Entertainment of America (SCEA) and Electronic Arts (EA),  Entertainment Software Assocation, and the Information Technology Industry Council—will award amounts ranging from $5,000-$50,000 for creative levels designed with either LittleBigPlanet™ or Spore™ Galactic Adventures that offer young people engaging game play experiences and that incorporate and leverage principles of science, technology, engineering and math for learning.

Each category will include several Best in Class awards selected by expert judges, as well as a People’s Choice Award selected by the general public.  The online application system will open on January 7 and will include three rounds of submissions, with public comment at each stage.

Please see www.dmlcompetition.net for all details.

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Beyond the computer lab: Rethinking ICT for education

Today I gave a presentation at the 3rd Annual Education Conference in Southern Africa called …

For the fortunate learners in South Africa who have access to a computer lab at school, they often only spend 30 minutes per week at these PCs. At the same time, up to 90% of youth have access to a cellphone. The argument of my presentation is that we — educators, researchers, policy makers and parents — need to engage with the full gamut of ICTs and digital media in the lives of young people when we think of their teaching and learning. It is the only plausible response.

Cellphones and (digital) gaming present opportunities — and risks — for learning. It is time to seriously consider the digital lives of young people — to exploit the concomitant opportunities and minimise the risks — so that the growing gap between their in-school and out-of-school experiences is narrowed.

Even in the computer lab, much more needs to be done to fully utilise the affordances of ICTs. Researchers from the University of Cape Town, Mastin Prinsloo and Marion Walton, present a bleak case study of how early literacy is taught at one primary school in Cape Town. They describe their observation of learners and teachers in the school’s computer lab in Situated responses to the digital literacies of electronic communication in marginal school settings (2008):

The teachers enthusiastically supported the use of this [pre-reading] software because it was consistent with their own ideas about how reading as a basic skill should be introduced: as a drill and practice activity.

Children encounter literacy in the context of the authority relations and pedagogical practices that characterize schooling in this setting.

The way they were expected to behave in school contrasts sharply with the potential of ICTs for children’s experimentation, self-instruction and individual choices and creativity

We really need to change this. If that is all we’re going to use powerful PCs for, then we might as well not bother.

Of muppets, literacy and ICTs

Yesterday I met with a team from Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organisation behind Sesame Street.

The Workshop develops innovative and engaging educational content delivered in a variety of ways  — including television, radio, books, magazines, interactive media, and community outreach. Taking advantage of all forms of media and using those that are best suited to delivering a particular curriculum, the Workshop effectively and efficiently reaches millions of children, parents, caregivers, and educators — locally, nationally and globally.

Sesame Workshop has been running for almost 40 years and is the world’s largest single educational provider.

In South Africa, Sesame Street is known as Takalani Sesame. The local production — aimed at ages 3-6 — develops literacy, numeracy and has a special focus on HIV/AIDS safety. Through it’s star character, Kami, the world’s first HIV-positive muppet, the show promotes HIV/AIDS tolerance and destigmatisation. Takalani Sesame has also run campaigns aimed at teenage youth and caregivers.

Takalani Sesame: Moshe, Zuzu, Elmo, Zikwe, Kami (Image: Sesame Workshop (c))

Takalani Sesame: Moshe, Zuzu, Elmo, Zikwe, Kami (Image: Sesame Workshop (c))

The TV and radio shows used to include snippets of all official South African languages. But according to Seeta Pai, Sesame Workshop’s director of international research, this was not an ideal approach: “Research showed that children would tune out a language that they didn’t understand, so it became counter-productive.”

Now each TV and radio show is fully recorded in 9 of the 11 official South African languages. The new “applied language approach” is better because, “educationally, it is sound to give children a cognitive and language foundation in their native tongue,” says Seeta.

So, what were we meeting about in New York? Sesame Workshop, and the relatively new Joan Ganz Cooney Center, have always sought to use media for educational purposes. In the 1960’s, the notion of using TV for education was radical. Today, that same radical approach is needed when we consider ICTs such as cellphones, video games and even modernised versions of the bioscope (as used by Sesame Street in Bangladeshi slums) for education.

Sesame workshop has already run literacy campaigns, aimed at parents, using cellphones (see Learning Letters with Elmo), created a pilot virtual world called Panwapa, has a YouTube channel and a series of podcasts.

But what about Africa? At the meeting we spoke about what possibilities the media and ICT landscape in South Africa, Nigeria and Tanzania, present for teaching literacy and numeracy. Sesame Workshop would like to conduct an on-the-ground feasibility study of ICT access, as well as survey existing educational interventions and content, to inform its future work in these countries.

Future projects could leverage the full gamut of media, including TV, radio, mobile, CD-ROM and even cheap plug-and-play TV games.

The Shuttleworth Foundation will certainly keep the conversation going as it is in line with our desire to focus more on Foundation Phase literacy and numeracy.

EU study endorses games for learning

The article Video games encourage creativity is interesting, not because of any new findings in the study that it describes, but rather because the study was commissioned by the European Parliament Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection and that it endorses games as good for learning.

It’s always encouraging when governments take a mature view on video games, when they recognise “the benefits and no definitive link to violent behaviour.”

The study calls for more parental involvement — this is obvious and necessary.

Brainstorming an ARG

Last week I held a brainstorm at the Shuttleworth Foundation to generate ideas for an educational alternate reality game (ARG) for youth in South Africa (SA).

In the world of learning games, as ARG is a good fit for SA because players don’t need sophisticated equipment, e.g. XBox or PlayStation, to play. Reading the newspaper or being able to receive and send an SMS can be enough to get involved.

ARG brainstorm

As far as I know this will be the first educational ARG in Africa. Attendees included Vincent Maher (who heads up social media at Vodacom), Alixe Lowenherz (education, curriculum and e-learning expert), Danny Day and Marc Luck (game developers), Barry and Patrick Kayton (of Bright Sparks) and Graeme Comrie (advisor to Hip2b2).

While the ARG idea is top secret right now (:-) I can tell you that it’ll involve mobile phones (which cross-media experience in SA wouldn’t). Watch this space in the coming months!

The educational value of fiction

In a recent paper, a research team from Manchester University and the London School of Economics (LSE) makes a bold and very interesting hypothesis: that fiction, such as the novels The Kite Runner and The White Tiger, is a legitimate way for people to understand global issues like poverty and migration. It is usually the domain of academic reports and policies to cover developmental concerns.

In a Telegraph article, Dr Dennis Rodgers from Manchester University’s Brooks World Poverty Institute explains that fiction “does not compromise on complexity, politics or readability in the way that academic literature sometimes does.” He continues: “And fiction often reaches a much larger and diverse audience than academic work and may therefore be more influential in shaping public knowledge and understanding of development issues.”

The paper argues that Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner has “done more to educate Western readers about the realities of daily life in Afghanistan (under the Taliban and thereafter) than any government media campaign, advocacy organisation report, or social science research.”

The paper offers the obvious caveat: that fictional works should be read alongside (not instead of) formal research “as valid contributions to our understandings of development. In this way, literary accounts can be seen – alongside other forms – as an important, accessible and useful way of understanding values and ideas in society.”

Why is this particularly interesting? For educational purposes, the value of fictional representations is legitimised. I’m not thinking of books though, but rather digital and cross-media representations, such as video games or alternate reality games (ARG). We are constantly trying to engage young people in current affairs that affect their world — this is one way to do that.

For some time ARG designers have been trying to understand the educational value of the games (we already know they are highly engaging for some players, but what are they learning?) This paper gives credence to the belief that the game play, when embedded in real world situations and stories (at which ARGs excel), is a legitimate context for learning. I think that when the game play is then tied back to reflective discussions in formal contexts (such as in the classroom), the learning is even more powerful.

“Computer games can build skills”

An article on games and learning that appeared in the Business Day on Fri, 26 September, with some quotes from me, Alan Amory and Danny Day. Most of the facts are right :-)