"Information wants too be free. Information also wants to be expensive. Information wants to be free because it has become so cheap to distribute, copy, and recombine---too cheap to meter. It wants to be expensive because it can be immeasurably valuable to the recipient. That tension will not go away. It leads to endless wrenching debate about price, copyright, "intellectual property", the moral rightness of casual distribution, because each round of new devices makes the tension worse, not better" - Stewart Brand

Bob Hawke once informed us that there would be no more child poverty by the year 2000. Later on, Dr. Kemp suggested that national standardised testing will help ensure that there will be no illiterate eight year olds by the year 2001.

Learning occurs and learning theories develop in a political and economic framework.

This influences everything. Yet at teacher IT conferences there is usually little discussion about politics and economics and how they constrain us. What is the thinking going on here?

"Can't change it, too hard"
"It's just part of the inevitable division of labour - teachers teach, students learn, politicians run countries, etc."
"Humanism: as teachers we strive to help others, stay away from the tawdry"

Yet, looking at the big picture, political economy is the dog and education is the tail. So let's welcome those who make a political and economic analysis of the education system.

Educational Games: How purchaser attitudes and markets influence design by Sylvia Martinez (on site)
Many educators view school-age students’ attraction to video and computer games with envy. “If only we could harness the power of video games in education…”, some say, with a wistful expression. Some equate the attraction of the game to the computer, and hope that any educational experience that occurs on a computer will somehow capture that magic. Some delve deeper, designing extensive educational simulations that adopt conventions of popular game design and expensive production values merged with educational content.

This paper, written by an educator who also designed video games and computer software for the home and school markets, evaluates attempts to harness the lure of these games for educational purposes. The paper offers an analysis of why the nature of video and computer games is antithetical to traditional forms of school curriculum, content and assessment. In addition, both consumer and school markets are explored to explain why there are so few successful educational games so that we may find ways to encourage the design of educational games that provide compelling, immersive educational experiences

Discussion of Sylvia's paper

I think it's a basically correct and insightful analysis of consumer and market forces on educational game development for the mass market - and the difficulty or impossibility of achieving this.

One frustration is that important differences in perspective emerged only at the end of the Cairns ACEC. I would love to see a debate between Sylvia and some of the pro-COTS position papers (Mark Piper, J.Gordon, V.Chandra, see tony's blog for links) that were presented. Such a dialogue might further deepen our understanding of the benefits and difficulties associated with the use of COTS games

WRT the phrase "traditional forms of curriculum" and the mandating of content in curriculum. In Australia at least there seems to be a massive tug of war within government going on at the moment about the type of curriculum that will become mandated. The Federal Coalition is stressing standards and back to basics. Some State Governments are developing more process based approaches, eg. VELS. In some Australian states huge battles have erupted over curriculum issues. See the PLATO site in Western Australia. While this battle continues it's not clear in Australia that content is king. The situation maybe different in the USA, I'm not sure.

Much of the focus in Sylvia's paper is based on defining "success" as reaching that mass market and succeeding commercially in those terms:
... it is daunting to grasp that success would require changes in the retail environment, a change in the current content-based assessment focus in schools, or need to rely on massive funding and patience from non-traditional sources of funding for game development and dissemination

I'd be interested to find out more about companies that are bucking the trend, such as Manifesto Games. I blogged about them in October 2005: death to the games industry

The last paragraph in Sylvia's paper is encouraging and I'd see that as the place to start further discussion:
The best news is that if we accept that non-traditional publishing is required for revolutionary educational game design, designers do not have to feel constrained by current rules. Freeing educational game designers from mandated curriculum, outdated assessment practices, and mass-market cartoon characters may be the only way that educational games can make that paradigm shift—creating the marriage of fun, engagement and academic legitimacy that innovative educational game designers envision
(Bill, Oct 18)

Summit on Educational Games
"... the Federation of American Scientists, the Entertainment Software Association and the National Science Foundation convened a national summit on educational games on October 25, 2005 ... brought together nearly 100 experts ..."

Tony posted this to the Games In Learning list, it originated from Vincent Trundle of ACMI, but for some reason the link didn't work properly (for me) initially - I got it to work by cutting and pasting

I note at the outset that there is no mention in this research paper of Game *Making* in school - a major omission

It's a 53 pp pdf but worth reading at least the 4 page summary at the front. Here is a summary of the summary:

Many video games require players to master skills in demand by today's employers

There are several attributes of games that would be useful for application in learning
  • contextual bridging
  • high time on task
  • motivation and goal orientation, even after failure
  • providing learners with cues, hints and partial solutions
  • personalisation of learning
  • infinite patience

There are differences between games for education and games for entertainment
- must be designed to achieve desired learning outcome
- must be built on the science of learning
- must be designed for those who support, augment and monitor player progress

A robust program of research and experimentation is needed ...

High development costs in an uncertain market for educational innovations make developing complex high production learning games too risky for video game and educational materials industries

Several barriers inhibit the markets for educational games
- market fragementation
- the need to aggregate markets
- schools unwillingness to abandon text books
- negative attitudes by some parents and educators
- unproven efficacy to achieve today's educational standards

The need for data to demonstrate that game based learning is as good as or better than traditional methods

Many of these issues are critically addressed by Sylvia Martinez in her paper on this site.
(Bill 28 Oct, 2006)