It's been four years since my last Games+Learning+Society (GLS) conference and it's been a thrill to return. GLS is one of the best conferences that focuses on learning and education and a great place to meet leading scholars in the field.
Although I missed a significant portion of the conference, I have some thoughts to share:
- Hall of Failure: It's a near unanimous consent that this is a great addition to this conference, and a feature that other conferences--large or small--could benefit from. These are panels that focus specifically on "failures," however you choose to interpret it. The scholars were all refreshingly and brutally honest about why their attempts failed and it was a great opportunity for them to share their learning with the audience. As all researchers know, things can and do go wrong, but we almost never come out and admit it. Instead, we'd rather glean through all the successful moments and focus on that. Not only does that skew the results, that's a lost opportunity to learn from our mistakes. The session I attended included talks by Mark Chen, Eric Klopfer, Jason Haas, Lindsay Grace, and Carlton Reeve. If I had to pick one aspect of GLS 7.0 that I enjoyed the most, it would be this.
- Gamification: I missed the main talk on gamification, but from what I can tell, there are mixed feelings about its merits. I still need to read more about this in order to comment intelligently on it, but I gather that one of the reason gamification "works" is that it doesn't really do any harm. In other words, it's likely that 90% of the time it does nothing for the learner, and 10% of the time it motivates those who are already motivated; but it never really causes people to learn less. So, if you only focus on the positive (as many studies do), then it would appear mildly successful. The problem, then, is not with gamification itself, but with people who think that gamification alone is enough. Anyway, I'll have to give this more thought in another post.
- Unexplored tensions: One thing about conferences is that, sometimes, the conversation stops just when it gets interesting because your time has run out and the session is over. Maybe the speakers talk among themselves after, but you're not always privy to those conversations. In this case, I noticed that there were two groups that needed to speak directly with each other: 1) those who found out that hard way that "reality" is boring and cannot be turned into a good game and 2) those who believe that games can teach "reality" (or some aspect of it). To be sure, there's some middle ground. For example, maybe games don't have to reflect reality visually but can still embody some aspect of it, such as some underlying process; but that's a notoriously difficult balance to find. That's probably why it's relatively easier to design a game that teaches real STEM concepts because those are more straightforward to simulate than fuzzy concepts such as "historical thinking." Maybe there should be a session or two that put a practicing teacher, a game designer, a graphic designer and a content expert on the same panel and have them talk directly to each other.
- Conference pampering: GLS is, by far, the only conference that keeps its attendees well-pampered and fed throughout. No brown bag lunches with dried wraps or you're-on-your-own-for-dinner. They treat you like royalty at GLS and it's incredible. Having been to so many conferences, I really appreciate this, and I'm sure the other attendees do as well.