Fusion 2013

Recently, some of our Learning Design and Technology staff had the opportunity to attend the Desire2Learn User’s Conference – Fusion – in Boston. Personally, it takes me a while to digest and follow up on all of the tools, techniques and tips learned, so a post or two or three will be forthcoming. The best part of it for me this year was the connections I made with other users and institutions.

The department also had the ability to send an instructor who presented at the conference. Karen Fletcher, Assistant Professor of Information Systems in our School of Business, was a part of a panel discussion and presented on Gaming Strategy. Fletcher is gamifying her University Seminar course in the fall of 2013. Fletcher is also one of the departments’ Technology Associates and is one of the thought leaders when it comes to teaching effectively with technology at Maryville. You can read more about Fletcher’s reactions and thoughts about the conference on her blog site.

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Game Based Learning: Unlock the Potential !

According to the Horizon Report (a yearly publication by the New Media Consortium (NMC) that details what they believe to be emerging technology trends in higher education), one thing to look out for in the next 2 to 3 years is game based learning.

I think that there is often a misconception of what exactly “game based learning” means. Some people take it as students playing “Call of Duty” as homework, and somehow relating this to learning objectives. What we need to understand, though, is that people are creating games specifically for learning. While these games are “serious” in nature, they are not the same as spending time playing Xbox all night. These games are usually created with specific objectives within the curriculum in mind.

slide-4-728Why should someone use “games” in the classroom ? Well, research has proven that they work (i.e. increase learning). For example, research shows that playing games “stimulate the production of dopamine, a chemical that provokes learning by reinforcing neuronal connections and communications.”

Games are found to have a large impact in three distinct areas: engagement, motivation, and problem-solving skills. I think it’s pretty easy to see why games have this impact on people.

In addition, if you look at the pedagogical applications of games, they actual hit on all levels of blooms taxonomy.


Due to these benefits, many universities are experimenting with gaming in the classroom. For example, the IE Business School in Madrid is using an in house created game called “10 Downing Street” to explore complex economic issues. In this game, learners take control of the British PM as he navigates economic policy. The students debate the merits of different paths they could take in the game, and see how it plays out.

Penn State launched the “Educational Gaming Commons,” as a group on that campus that explores how games can be used to “improve teaching, learning, and research.” They are creating games in house designed specifically for certain faculty to use.

Gaming Commons

Some of the games that Penn State has crated, that are FREE to use by anyone.

  • ECON-U: Players use economic principals to build and grow a fictional university. Teaches the following principal (great for ECON courses): elasticity, trad offs, supply/demand, costs, diminishing returns, scale.
  • Chem Blaster: Players are in a fast paced memorization game where they are expected to connect symbols, charges, and names based on the period table of  elements and 53 additional ions.
  • Time and Patient$: This game situates the layer as the head of a walk in clinic and forces them to make tough decisions about a number of different factors, including staffing, amenities, and overall policies in order to keep the clinic afloat. (Coming Summer 2013).

Gaming Commons 2

There are, of course, other initiatives of organizations and/or universities creating free to play games.

Games Learning Society (University of Wisconsin-Madison) has a few great games.

Virulent,” which gives you control of a virus as you attempt to infect, replicate inside of, and escape from the host cell. This teaches cellular biology principals.

Progenitor X” is a turn based game that takes place during a zombie apocalypse  You play as a group of scientist that are tasked with saving the human race by creating a cure. This will teach students relationships between cells, tissues, and organs.

Center for Game Science at University of Washington created one of the biggest success stories for game based learning in recent memory.

There game, “Foldit,” has players fold the structure of selected proteins to the best of the player’s ability, using various tools provided within the game. The best created are analyzed by scientists to look for “real world” applications. This has lead to a few major breakthroughs. In 2011, players helped scientists figure out the structure of an enzyme of an aids causing virus on 10 days….it had stumped scientists for 15 YEARS.

I think that we are just at the beginning of a game based learning adoption among higher education. I believe in terms of adoption, we are currently in the “Innovators” (see below) stage, but this could all change in the next few years as the technology improves. innovation curve

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Gamification: Does it Have a Place in Higher Ed ?

Gamification is coming to a campus near you !

Some of you may wonder, what exactly is gamification ? Well, simply put, gamification is the process of using game mechanics in a non-game context in order to engage users and solve problems.

For more on gamification, check out this TED talk below. Some VERY surprising statistics presented on how successful gamification has been in the classroom !

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