Pre-play Rant – An Appeal to Game Developers and Distributors.

TLDR: Teachers who are considering making use of commercial games in their classroom: Be aware of the infrastructural obstacles that you may encounter. Game developers and distributors: Please set up systems to make it easier to purchase and use your games in a classroom setting without defying EULAs.

This blog will shortly awake from its slumber, as we will within the next few weeks commence playing Civilization 4 with an all new group of students. In my next post I will discuss how we have used our experiences from last year´s course to improve student output.

This post however, is just a rant. A rant about continually changing hardware standards, inaccessibility of software, and all those small, crucial details that one needs to be aware of when implementing games in your lessons.

In Norway High Schools all students are given a laptop computer to use for school. Up until this year we had a system where computers were handed out to students by the school. This ensured that all computers started out with the same system and hardware specifications.

This year, student computer policy was adapted. Rather than being handed a computer, students are given a stipend to buy a laptop of their own choice. The laptop must conform to minimum standards, but with that exception, they have the liberty to buy any computer they want. They also have the opportunity to choose whether they wish to make use of a Mac a Computer running Windows. In my class, 16 out of 30 students have Macs.

For our little project, this ought not to pose much of a problem. CIV 4 has been released both for Mac and Windows. We needed to go out and purchase some copies of the game and we would be good. Initially we figured we should go through a digital distributor. I have used Steam quite a bit personally, never having an issue. Click – Buy – Download – Play.

In my naiveté I assumed buying bulk would be just as easy. Not so. In order for me to buy the 20 copies I needed, I would need to set up 20 unique accounts, pay with 20 separate credit cards, and assign these to 20 different e-mail addresses. Out of the goodness of their hearts, the people of Steam will only allow me to set up one account an hour from the same computer. In the belief that Steam was interested in my custom, I made several requests to customer support to find out if there was any way they could make this process easier for me, but to no avail. Tried to find a simple way of doing this through other digital distributors, but it seems it is not only Steam that is unaccustomed with teachers wishing to buy in bulk.

Good old fashioned disk-copies would be the way to go. I am quite certain that in the months between October and December, I was in contact with every single Norwegian brick and mortar or online shop that sold games for Mac. None of them could supply Civ 4 for Mac. I did get a very helpful e-mail from a distributor in Sweden who was able to dig up 7 copies from (I assume) the bottom of a dusty old closet, but when I need 20, 7 copies does me little good.

Eventually I came in contact with a store in the UK that did in fact have all the copies I needed in stock. Exalted, I put in my order. Finally the games I need for this project are nearly in my hands! I could nearly feel the sensation of the plastic cases in my hand. But, no. This would not be done so easily. “We are unable to ship to your destination”. I offered to pay in advance for shipping and handling, but no amount of begging or cajoling would convince the store to pack my games in a cardboard box and send it to my exotic destination. I finally resolved this when a colleague was able to pick these up while at a conference in London.

Games in hand, I was able to relax. Yet, as it turns out today, my problems are not over. Minimum computer specifications as defined by the school district do not include CD-Rom drives. As I was handing out games today, I learned that the 10 students in my class who have a Macbook Air have no possibilities to read these disks. This was an issue with the machines we used last year as well, but while the PC version of Civ 4 can be played without a disk inserted, that option is not available for Mac.

So, here I sit, two weeks before this project is finally scheduled to commence, with a third of my students unable to play the game. My hope is that maybe there is a reader of this blog with a tech knowledge that I do not possess who give me any advice to proceeding without defying the end-user license agreement.

I want to end this post with an appeal to game developers and distributors: There is a huge untapped market for commercial computer games in the education sector. There is a growing number of teachers worldwide who want to make use of your games in their classrooms. There are as of now huge structural barriers that make it difficult for teachers to make use of your games in our instruction. I am convinced that whichever developer or distributor first comes up with an intuitive and simple distribution model for games, will be able to win a significant share. So, please. We want to use your games in our classroom. Lower the structural barriers, to give us the opportunity to focus our time on developing high quality educational resources based on your games. Everybody would win.

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Final Evaluation

After 4 weeks of Game-centered learning crossing four subjects, it is necessary to reflect on whether this has been time well spent. Which elements of this unit have worked as intended? Which haven’t? What have our students learned from this experience?  Did they achieve learning goals? What, if anything, has been gained by this approach compared to more traditional learning methods? This unit was completed a couple of months ago; to what extent have our students been able to retain learning?

Overall we are quite happy with how this project panned out. Many of our students have stated in their post-project evaluation that they have gained a deeper understanding of topics covered, than they believe they would have through more traditional learning methods. This is the case even for several of the students who made clear that they had little experience nor interest in computer games at the onset of this project.

With regards to the written work the students completed during this project, students expressed that they found writing blog posts related to this project more motivating than their regular writing work. This has been my understanding as well. Even though this period has been more “writing-intensive” than normal, I have seen fewer late hand-ins and, I believe, a higher quality of writing than was the case both before and after this project.

In addition to the stated learning goals for this project, I strongly believe there has been a high level of diversity in students’ learning outcomes. When using an open-ended game like Civilization IV, we as teachers need to hand over much more of the control of progress and learning outcomes to the students. Though we have employed a good deal of directed play, where students are instructed to perform specific actions and reflect upon outcomes, I believe there is much value in letting students explore the game on their own, making their own inferences and drawing their own conclusions.

In contrast to a linear text, player choice may lead the students down multiple paths. Some students may focus their play on cultural development, others on achieving ideal diplomatic relations, economic development or military domination. Regardless of which paths students choose, our goal is to facilitate reflection as to how game concepts may be used to gain understanding of real-world processes. With directed play this is hardly more complicated than when the class reads a novel together. However when students are let loose to explore the many directions available to them, I will not always be aware of the experiences they have and the insights they gain.

As a teacher, releasing control like this was a challenge. Lesson time is a scarce resource, and it is of vital importance that this time is spent maximizing learning outcome. I had serious doubts about whether the value of potential learning through undirected play would outweigh the benefits of a more rigid plan where specific learning activities and goals were expressly stated. Yet, after having read students’ blogs relating the insights they gained in, and having discussed the relationship between the game and real-world processes that students identified independently of my participation, I am convinced that the value of their learning outcome outweighs my “need” to be able to oversee and document everything.

Even though we are quite pleased with how this project turned out, there is room for vast improvement next time we run a unit like this. Our biggest mistake is that we did not properly ensure that all students had sufficient understanding of how the game was played before using the game to work with specific learning goals. We experienced that by the end of the second period using Civilization IV, the vast majority of the class had gained a working understanding of the game mechanics and user interface. We had handed out the game before the autumn break, and many of the students had spent sufficient time on this in their spare time that they had little need of working with the basics during class time. It was our assumption that the remaining students would attain this same level organically through individual play and informal tutoring by their peers. This was true for many, but we discovered too late that there were 3 or 4 students that towards the end of this unit had not gained sufficient understanding of basic gameplay. Thereby these students were not able to use this game in their learning to the extent we had intended.

To ensure that all students are sufficiently capable of using this game for learning next time around, I believe the best way to go about it is to assign students comfortable with the game mechanics a formalized role of “master gamers”, tutoring those who are unfamiliar with games.

When asked whether they felt that the learning output from this unit was better, worse or as good as more conventional learning method, student opinions varied. About 30 percent of the class were of the opinion that their learning output was worse than more traditional methods, about 30 percent stated that learning output was about the same, while about 40 percent believed learning output was better than traditional methods. I do not regularly survey the class on the learning output they have from the various approaches I use in the classroom, so I couldn’t accurately say how this measures up to how other units would be assessed. Though if I should conduct surveys, I assume this would be a typical result for any method.

Using computer games in formal education to the extent that we did for this unit is controversial. I am thoroughly convinced that should I have wanted to run a project like this at many other schools, I would have gotten a flat out no. Yet, I believe that within not too many years, using computer games extensively in school will become mainstream.  We certainly have a way to go in refining this kind of approach, but as more young teachers who have themselves experienced the vast educational value games may have enter the schools, I am convinced that this medium will gain a prominent position in education.

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Using Civilization IV to Present Real-world Conflicts

The last week of our class’ work with this computer game, the students were tasked to utilize the game to present real-world international conflicts.

Normal gameplay in Civilization IV replicates concepts in international relations, but not actual events. However, by the use of player-made modifications and the in-game map editing tool (World Builder), students may set up a scenario that can emulate real world events.

Civ4ScreenShot0014

Screenshot from CivMod “Dawn of Civilization” – Created by Leoreth. Some students used this or other mods from CivFanatics.com when making their screencasts.

As you can see from the above picture, World Builder allows players to place and edit cities, resources, units and geographical features on a pre-existing map. Students may then take control of all actors in the game to demonstrate phases and key events of the ongoing conflict. By recording comments in a screencast, students can efficiently communicate their understanding of causes and consequences of the conflict.

For this task the students merely edited the map to such an extent that it could be useful for their screencasts. Next time I use this game with a class, I intend to set aside more time with this tool, and have them set up short multi-player scenarios. Thereby they will get the opportunity to visualize multiple possible outcomes of an event/interaction depending on the choices made by the various factions. I believe such a process will give students an even greater understanding of the complexities of international relations.

This is the task my students completed:

“In groups of 3: Create a screencast or photostory where you present and discuss a current international conflict.” 

  • Your presentation should discuss causes for this conflict arising as well as suggestions as to how this conflict could be resolved. You are expected to demonstrate understanding of the learning material from NDLA Social Science (Norwegian Site) and to utilize correct terminology in your presentations.
  • Start your presentation by defining how you understand the term “conflict” for the purpose of this assignment.
  • Screenvideo/Screenshots from Civilization IV gameplay should be used as an illustrative tool in your presentation.
  • Duration: 7-10 minutes
  • It will be up to you to decide which digital tools you will use to make your presentation, but if you require technical assistance from your teachers we reccommend using Camstudio, standard record function in Windows and Windows Moviemaker
  • Recommended resources (In Norwegian):
  • You may select an ongoing conflict from this list, or any other ongoing or recent conflict you find interesting (subject to my approval)

You will be given some time to work on this project during class hours, but you are also expected to put in a considerable effort outside class. I strongly encourage use of google docs or other collaborative webtools in your groupwork.”

The general consensus is that this was an engaging and enjoyable task. Several groups went above and beyond my expectations, truly immersing themselves in their chosen conflicts. In comparison with other visual aids, World Builder proved to be an amazing tool. I do not know of any other tool where students are able to illustrate complex concepts with such relative ease. The user interface does have some flaws, lack of an undo function being the most important one, but all in all it is a powerful tool for this purpose.

I will encourage some of my students to post their screencasts to the student blog (Norwegian only) in the next couple of days to demonstrate a few of the different approaches to this task. In the next few days I will also write a final evaluation of this lesson unit discussing the peaks and pitfalls we have encountered in this project as well as outligning how I plan to develop this lesson unit next term.

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Week 3 – Games, Blogs and Screencasts

Our students will shortly enter the fourth and final week of this project.

This past Monday, some of our students published blog posts on the topics following topics:

  • Gender and gaming
  • Game addiction
  • The potential of games as a learning tool

I’m quite impressed with my students’ level of reflection. I encourage you to have a look at their latest texts on the student blogs.

For the final period of this project, our students are working on two tasks that will be subject to summative assessment.

Firstly, they are working on new blog posts. This time around, the tasks are more deeply founded in learning aims from the Social Science curricullum, and they require a deeper immersion into the Civilization IV computer game. Half our students will be writing their texts in Norwegian, and the other half will be writing in English. I expect students will be ready to publish on Monday November 12th.

The blog tasks they are working on now are:

1. Civics

In Civilization IV, the player can select between ceveral different civics. Each of these may benefit, and/or disadvantage your civilization. Consider the games you have been playing: Which civics did you choose for your civilization? Why? How did your choices benefit or disadvantage your civilization? Imagine you were running a real country, would you have made the same choices? Draw parallels between the game and concepts we are studying in Social Science.

2. Diplomacy

Which kinds of international agreements can one enter into in Civilization IV? Which factors decide how succesfully you are able to conduct negotiations? Is the way diplomacy is represented in the game an accurate simulation of how diplomacy is conducted in the real world? Why, why not? Draw parallels between the game and concepts we are studying in Social Science.

3. Power

Define the term power in international relations (In English this part is essential as ‘power’ in English is an even broader term than ‘makt’ is in Norwegian). How do states in Civilization IV exert power over each other? Relate this to the concepts of Charismatic/Ideological power, economic power and military power. Refer to real-world examples in your text.

In addition to this, the students will also be making digital presentations/screencasts where they will be using the game to illustrate real-world conflicts. I’ll present this task in my next post.

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Elevblogging – Skriving for mer enn vurdering

Mandag i forrige uke satt vi i gang elevene våre med dette prosjektet. Elevene har over de siste par dagene blogget om de forventninger de har til prosjektet, og hva slags erfaringer de har med spill. Vi har opprettet en norsk og en engelsk blogg hvor elevene vil ha muligheten til å publisere tekster og oppgaver knyttet til vår bruk av Civilization IV.

Jeg er overbevist om at bruk av blogg kan være meget fordelaktig for elevenes læring. Jeg opplever at når elevene føler at den viktigste funksjonen med en tekst er at den skal bli lest og evaluert av en lærer, er det mange som sliter med motivasjonen. Mitt mål som lærer er å gjøre skriveprosessen så meningsfylt som mulig for elevene, slik at de kan motiveres til å prestere sitt ypperste. Når tekster publiseres på en blogg som blir lest av et større publikum tilfører det mening til elevenes skriveprosess.

En utfordring relatert til blogg som metode er at i mange tilfeller vil følelsen av å skrive for et større publikum være en illusjon. I en digitalisert hverdag hvor uendelige mengder informasjon og meninger om alle mulige tema  fortløpende blir gjort tilgjengelig, er det dessverre slik at i de fleste tilfeller vil ikke synspunktene til en gruppe 16-17 åringer være spesielt interessante. Om vi ønsker at elevenes tekster skal være av interesse for hensikter utover vurdering, må tema for disse tekstene ha en bredere appell.

Bruken av dataspill som et verktøy for læring i grunnopplæringen er et nytt felt. Det er foreløpig få eksempler på bruk av spill i skolen i det omfanget våre elever skal bruke dette. Vi føler oss rimelig trygge på at dette er et emne som det er interesse for også utenfor vårt klasserom. Dette er et område hvor våre elevers synspunkter kan være verdifulle også for andre, og er derfor et velegnet tema for blogging.

Neste sett med blogginnlegg blir publisert rundt 29. oktober. Elevene jobber nå med følgende oppgaver:

1. Når et spill i Civilization er vunnet eller tapt, kan spilleren velge mellom å avslutte spillet, eller “Just one more turn”. Hvilke kvaliteter/sider ved et spill er det som gjør spill avhengighetsdannende? Kan film, bøker, andre medier være tilsvarende avhengighetsskapende, eller er dette noe som er unikt for spill. Vis gjerne til presentasjonen til Spillavhengighet Norge i teksten deres.

2. Hva kan man lære av spill? Mange unge og voksne tilbringer mange timer spillende spill. Er dette ren underholdning/tidtrøyte eller er det annet utbytte man kan hente ut av å spille? Bruk eksempler fra dine egne erfaringer med Civilization IV og/eller andre spill.

3. Spill og kjønn. Er det slik at dataspill er et medium først og fremst for gutter? Hvordan er spillvanene til gutter og jenter like og forskjellige? Hva er typiske jente/guttespill? Kan disse spørsmålene belyse hvorfor vi valgte CivIV framfor andre spill når vi bestemte oss for å bruke spill i undervisningen.

Oppfordrer lesere til å ta en kikk på elevbloggene, og legg gjerne igjen kommentarer.

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Student Blogs – Why and When?

We kicked off this project with our students this past Monday, and over the last couple of days students have been publishing blog posts about their experiences and expectations here (English) and here (Norwegian).

I believe that writing for a blog can be an excellent learning experience for our students. I find that when the main purpose of a text is to be read and assessed by a teacher, many students struggle with motivation. When students know that their texts will be published and read by a wider audience, it adds a sense of purpose to the writing process.

One challenge related to using blogs in education is that in most cases the sense of writing for a wider audience is artificial. In a world where unlimited amounts of information about pretty much any topic is published on a daily basis, the opinions of a group of 16-17 year-olds are in most cases not all that interesting. If we want our students to get a real sense that the texts that they publish are interesting for purposes beyond assessment, the topics of those texts need to have a broader appeal. The use of computer games in formal education is a fairly new field. Certainly, there are few examples of projects where computer games are used to the extent we will be doing over the next couple of weeks. We are also quite certain that this is a topic there is interest in reading about. This, we believe, makes our project particularly well suited for student blogging.

The next series of student blog posts will be published on the 29th of October. Students will be writing texts based upon the following assignments:

  1. When a game of Civilization has been won or lost, the player may choose to either end the game, or for as many times as (s)he likes, play “just one more turn”. Which attributes are of a game causes the game to become addictive? Can movies, books or other media be equally addictive, or is this an attribute unique to computer games? You may consider the presentation by Game Addiction Norway that we attended last week when you write your texts.
  2. What can we learn from games? Many children and young adults spend a considerable amount of time playing video games. Is this pure entertainment/waste of time or are there benefits that can be had through gaming? Use examples from your own experiences with Civilization IV or other games you have played.
  3. Games and Gender. Are computer games a medium created/played first and foremost by boys? How do gaming habits of boys and girls differ? Are there any similarities? Can these questions shed light on why we chose CivIV rather than other games, once we had decided to use games in our lessons.

 

I encourage readers to visit, read and leave comments on the students’ blogs.

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Civilization IV og læreplanen i samfunnsfag

Det er flere  konsepter fra Civilization IV som kan benyttes for å fremme elevers læring. I denne bloggposten kommer jeg til å vise hvilke læringsmål fra læreplanen i samfunnsfag vi kommer til å dekke i dette opplegget, og hvordan de relaterer til spillet.

Læreplanen i samfunnsfag for VG1/VG2 er inndelt i fem hovedområder: Individ og samfunn, arbeids- og næringsliv, politikk og demokrati, internasjonale forhold og kultur. Hver av disse inneholder mellom fem og ni kompetansemål som elevene forventes og oppnå i løpet av året.

Spillet kan være delvis relevant i forhold til flere av disse hovedområdene, men det er særlig i forhold til internasjonale forhold spillet kan være et hensiktsmessig læringsverktøy.  Følgende kompetansemål ligger under hovedområdet internasjonale forhold:

“eleven skal kunne

  • definere omgrepet makt og gje døme på korleis makt blir brukt i verdssamfunnet
  • forklare omgrepet globalisering og vurdere ulike konsekvensar av globalisering
  • gje døme på internasjonalt samarbeid og beskrive Noreg som internasjonal aktør
  • gjere greie for FNs arbeid med fred og menneskerettar og forklare FNs rolle i det internasjonale arbeidet for urfolk
  • gjere greie for EU sine mål og styringsorgan og diskutere Noreg sitt forhold til EU
  • bruke digitale verktøy til å finne døme på ulike typar konfliktar i verda og presentere ein aktuell internasjonal konflikt og forslag til å løyse konflikten
  • gjere greie for årsaker til at somme land er fattige og somme rike og drøfte tiltak for å redusere fattigdom i verda
  • gjere greie for kva som kjenneteiknar internasjonal terrorisme og reflektere over årsaker til terrorisme
  • diskutere samanhengen mellom økonomisk vekst, miljø og berekraftig utvikling”

Udir.no

Jeg kommer her til å spesifisere hvilke kompetansemål jeg planlegger å dekke i dette undervisningsopplegget og gi en kort beskrivelse av hvordan spillet kan kobles til kompetansemålene.

definere omgrepet makt og gje døme på korleis makt blir brukt i verdssamfunnet

En vesentlig del av dette spillet er interaksjonen med ledere av andre sivilisasjoner. For at spilleren skal få tilgang til nødvendige ressurser, teknologiske nyvinninger og handelsruter er hun nødt til å ta del i diplomatiske forhandlinger med andre sivilisasjoner. Utfallet av disse forhandlingene er til stor grad avhengig av det relative økonomiske, militære og kulturelle maktforholdet mellom sivilisasjonene.

forklare omgrepet globalisering og vurdere ulike konsekvensar av globalisering

gjere greie for FNs arbeid med fred og menneskerettar og forklare FNs rolle i det internasjonale arbeidet for urfolk

Forutsatt meget gunstige forhold, er det mulig å beseire spillet selv med et minimum av samhandling med andre nasjoner. Men i de fleste spill vil de ulike nasjonene til økende grad bli avhengig av hverandre som handelspartnere og militære allierte etterhvert som simulasjonen nærmer seg moderne tid.

gje døme på internasjonalt samarbeid og beskrive Noreg som internasjonal aktør

Spilleren har mulighet til å ta del i bi-laterale og multi-laterale avtaler og traktater med andre sivilisasjoner (handelsavtaler, militære allianser og ikke-angrepspakter, boikott etc.). I de senere stadier av spillet kan spilleren også velge å vedta bindene FN-resolusjoner på områder som menneskerettigheter, tilgang til det internasjonale markedet, og  forbud mot utviklingen av masseødeleggelsesvåpen.

bruke digitale verktøy til å finne døme på ulike typar konfliktar i verda og presentere ein aktuell internasjonal konflikt og forslag til å løyse konflikten

Spillet gir elevene muligheten til å simulere ulike former for globale konflikter. Når spilleren får en forståelse for hvilke geo-politiske omstendigheter som leder til konflikt (og ikke minst hvilke omstendigheter som leder til resolusjon) kan denne også anvendes i analysen av reelle konflikter.

gjere greie for årsaker til at somme land er fattige og somme rike og drøfte tiltak for å redusere fattigdom i verda

I Civilization IV er ressurser fordelt ulikt på spillebrettet. Stater som har sitt utspring i områder med verdifulle ressurser og prioriterer utvinning tidlig vil gjennomgå en raskere utvikling enn andre. Økonomisk vekst og populasjonsvekst stagnerer kjapt i stater som unnlater å bygge infrastruktur (veier, jernbane, irrigasjon etc.). Spillerne vil også oppleve at valg av politisk og administrativ styreform, samt vilje og evne til å samhandle med andre stater vil påvirke sivilisasjonens velstand.

gjere greie for kva som kjenneteiknar internasjonal terrorisme og reflektere over årsaker til terrorisme

Tidlig i spillet vil eleven møte på “barbarer” og bosetninger som ikke er tilknyttet en sivilisasjon. Disse kan til en viss grad forstås som analogier til moderne ikke-statlig terrorisme. I senere stadier av spillet vil faktorer som sult og fattigdom, forurensning, autoritært styresett og utenlandsk okkupasjon føre til utilfredshet i befolkningen. Om spilleren ikke tar grep for å begrense dette, kan innbyggerne komme til å gjøre opprør.Det er flere paralleller som kan trekkes mellom disse fenomen og årsakene til terrorisme.

diskutere samanhengen mellom økonomisk vekst, miljø og berekraftig utvikling

Gjennom hele spillet vil eleven måtte gjøre prioriteringer knyttet til disse spørsmålene. Spilleren må vurdere behovene til sin sivilisasjon både på kort sikt og på lang sikt for å lykkes. Noen valg kan gi umiddelbare fordeler, men kan forårsake framtidig katastrofe. For eksempel vil det å bygge kullkraftverk i alle sivilisasjonens byer drastisk øke produktiviteten på kort sikt, men på lengre sikt vil det føre til omfattende forurensing, misfornøyde og syke innbyggere.

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