May 17th On-line Panel to Discuss the Role of Games in Education

This coming May, Excelsior College will be hosting a webinar on games in education.  I am extremely honored to have been chosen to be part of the panel that will get to discuss this topic and will hopefully be part of a team who can help determine and share what we can learn from using games in education.

While attempting to get a larger idea of who will be at this webinar, as well as the specifics of what will be discussed, I was very thankful to be able to speak with David Seelow, Director of Writing Programs & the Online Writing Lab School of Liberal Arts Excelsior College.  David gave great insight on numerous aspects of not only the symposium, but eLearning, games, and higher education as well.  The highlights of his interview include:

    • Discussion on the importance of exploring alternative learning methods that leave the traditional lecture mode of delivering material
    • Theories behind using games as motivators, methods of recognition, ways to engage social involvement and cooperative learning
    • Information on the topics and bios of myself, Ben Devane, Dr. Joey Lee, Professor Lee Sheldon, Dr. Tobi Saulnier, and finally, Clark Aldrich, the panel speakers
    • Seelow’s opinion on who will be attending the symposium
    • The symposium framework/agenda for May 17th

Interviews of the panel members that were conducted by Excelsior College will appear online in the college’s blog forum.  Mine should appear sometime this week!

For full interview read on.

1.    What are the highlights of this symposium and what can be learned from attending?

 The purpose of the symposium, “Games and the Curriculum: Towards a New Educational Model” is to explore alternatives to the traditional lecture mode of delivering curriculum and also propose new ways of designing curriculum that engage 21st century students. Public schools remain in a state of crisis wrapped up in the vestiges of the No Child Left Behind legislation and test taking mania engendered by those policies. Test taking thwarts teacher creativity and stifles student development. Higher education inherits the problems of secondary education and must find ways to engage and retrain students over the course of a student’s academic career. Furthermore, distance education has arrived and more and more traditional institutions are going online witnessed by the emergence of MOOCs. Online education demands more engaging curriculum sprung free for the lecture center’s professorial wisdom and what Paolo Friere called the banking model of education, i.e. the teacher deposits knowledge in a passive learner. Today’s learner must be a producer of knowledge and a critical thinker.

Games contribute to student development in learning in a number of new ways. Let’s begin with motivation. In Glued to Games, Rigby and Ryan evidence the motivating, near addictive power of games to attract and retain student attention. Students spend hours at a time engaged with video games. Wouldn’t we all like to see that motivation applied to course work and social problems? A second major principle of game based learning is the room for exploration. Games allow learners to fail in a safe environment and then learn from their attempts without the fatal consequences of failing a test. Related to this exploration, is the scaffolding built into most games. Early levels of a game tutor the learner in how to play the game. As the student moves up various levels of the game, the learner meets and exceeds progressively harder challenges giving the student progressively more achievements and recognition. This builds learner self esteem and reinforces motivation. In a sense, this game based design operates that educational psychologist Lev Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development” whereby students are pushed to their outer limits or stretched to learn to their fullest capacity. This principle contradicts the dumbing down of curriculum we so often see today. Learners like the challenge and the accomplishment of meeting a series of challenges.

Likewise recognition, when I watch a golf tournament I am preoccupied by the Leader Board posted around the golf course. Who doesn’t want to be recognized? It makes us feel good. What about fun? Games are a blast. How many students consider their classes to be an exhilarating experience? Many games developers like Ralph Koster have argued for the centrality of fun to the game experience, and I would like to see a curriculum infused with fun. We first learn about the world through play, why should we stop having fun when trapped in a row of seats in the classroom or stuck to our couch in an online class? The need to spring out of our seats leads to another fundamental principle of game based learning- projects and problem solving. Quest to Learn (, partial brain child of gaming expert Katie Salen now at Depaul University in Chicago, is a school in New York City based entirely upon game development and project based learning that has transformed education. Games, including puzzle based games, require problem solving and few skills better prepare students for the workplace then problem solving skills and strategic thinking.

Finally, I would mention social involvement and cooperative learning. On one hand games thrive on healthy competition, and, on the other hand, they often involve large social networks and group knowledge bases. As a professor, I often see students struggle to produce a few written pages, but you look at the public forums supporting World of Warcraft (e.g. WOWWiki, and you’d be amazed about how much knowledge learners produce for each other. Ideally, this knowledge is shared in an open, global environment and Excelsior College (  like other institutions, is committed to Open Educational Resources and the democratization or open access to learners worldwide.

These are just a few of the things participants will learn about and discuss during the webcast. Of course, the best thing about symposiums is the potential for new knowledge to emerge from the interaction of such superb panelists.

2.    Can you give further insight to as why you are excited about the speakers/panelists?

Yes, Excelsior College is thrilled to have such a distinguished mixture of experts from both the corporate and academic world to talk about game based learning. I can only touch on a few areas these experts will speak about. Let me start with your own expert Jon Aleckson. Jon’s model of micro collaboration in MindMeld ( is a model for 21st century thinking. In online learning, collaboration is critical. The professor is no longer the be all and end all of the college learning experience. At Excelsior Colleges, our online courses require at a minimum the close collaboration of instructional designers, subject matter experts, and program directors (we are kind of like project managers).  Hopefully, Jon will speak about the indispensability of collaboration in online game development.

Ben Devane, a leader at the Digital Worlds Institute (DWI) at the University of Florida (, is a young innovator with many creative ideas. For instance, he currently runs a special project teaching middle school students programming skills used in game development. The involvement of higher education in the public school system is a great leap forward in preparing our kids for the future. In terms of higher education, Ben has been involved in a Gaming Against Plagiarism initiative. In this initiative, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, librarians played a critical role in content development. Plagiarism is a national epidemic and an innovative approach to plagiarism prevention is something most people want to hear about.

Speaking about public education, Dr. Joey Lee teaches at Columbia University’s Teachers College in the Games Research Lab, the country’s premier teacher training college ( Dr. Lee leads two fascination projects that employ games to teach real world problem solving skills. One project involves motivating students to become scientists and the other “greenify” project helps students use gamification skills to address climate change.

Switching back to higher education, Professor Lee Sheldon, is co-director of Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)- one of the nations leading game design programs. Lee is a true pioneer in games and higher education. At Indiana University he first developed an entire course based upon a game. In other words the course is managed like a game. He has extended this work at RPI and recently published a tremendously innovative book entitled The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game (

All progressive educators will be keen to learn about Lee’s successful experiments in transforming the classroom experience.

Back to the corporate side of things, Dr. Tobi Saulnier, CEO of 1st Playable Productions, LLC ( in Troy, New York is a tremendous entrepreneur and leader of women in business. Tobi is currently working on a very low budget writing games for Excelsior College’s Online writing Lab. This game will be housed on the Owl but downloadable for mobile devices and integrated into a pilot study with five community colleges. This is a step toward the design of games to support the need for improvement in student writing across the country.

Finally, and, in some ways, most importantly, our expert moderator is Clark Aldrich. Clark is a leading national force in online learning (e.g. Learning Online with Games, Simulations, and Virtual Worlds: Strategies for Online Instruction), the design of simulations, and a genuine voice of education reform (see the Unschooling Rules Project). In addition to his extraordinary work in education, Clark has been a long time leader in corporate training. I want to point out that when I say curriculum and education, I also refer to training curriculum in both the corporate and military worlds. Workforce development and military training are vital components in the country’s overall educational purpose. Clark brings a national reputation to the symposium.

3.    Why should people attend this year’s Excelsior College symposium addressing the role of games in education?

I believe I have answered this in my extended response to your previous question. In summary, people will learn a variety of innovative ways to reinvigorate the curriculum at all levels of the education system. These ideas are cutting edge and point to the future of 21st century learning.

4.    Who do you expect to be there this year?

Ideally, I would like to see a large cross section of people from the education and gaming world. I certainly expect all faculty and administrators interested in distance education and online learning, advocates of the Open Educational Movement, instructional designers, and progressive faculty interested in new teaching strategies and pedagogy. I also hope to see a number of creative minded students both online and in person. Finally, I hope to make some initial inroads into a corporate audience interested in cutting edge training models and maybe some military education specialists who have long been supporters of simulations as learning tools. Eventually, I really want to bridge the public education audience and professional development administrators. Perhaps, next year we can aim for a small international audience.

5.    Any additional information you may want to add?

Only that Excelsior College, like all our panelists, is committed to Open Educational Resources and the global sharing of knowledge in a cooperative fashion. We all know that the great universities like Stanford, Harvard and M.I.T. are now involved in sharing resources but we want to show even small colleges can make large contributions to education.

6.    Could you describe the tentative schedule/bullet points of the topics you will be discussing?

I would like to suggest we adhere to the original design of symposiums articulated by Plato thousands of years ago. A group of distinguished experts address a common topic in a limited time frame. The discussion is spontaneous and flows like an intelligent conversation. I would expect, such a vibrant conversation will touch on some of the topics I alluded to earlier:

    • How to reinvigorate the higher education curriculum
    • Game Based Learning Pedagogy
    • Games and educational reform
    • Best Practices in curriculum design
    • The future of online learning
    • The value of collaboration
    • The classroom as a game

Managing eLearning is written by the Blog team at Web Courseworks which includes Jon Aleckson and Jillian Bichanich.  Ideas and concepts are originated and final copy reviewed by Jon Aleckson.