Quantifying the Impact: An interview with Dan Norton
October 09, 2014
iCivics Teacher Council Member Joe Schmidt interviewed Dan Norton a founding partner and CCO at Filament Games who specializes in crafting educational game design
documents and storyboards that originate from learning objectives. Here is their conversation on game based learning:
How did you get involved in creating games used for game based learning?
About nine years ago, I worked as an interactive designer at an online resource center in Madison that eventually partnered with the UW-Madison organization GLS (then called GAPPS). That group was studying the effects of games and education and we got to work with them to get involved in game based learning. Combining what I had learned and my lifelong interest in games it was a natural fit.
Three of us saw an opportunity to make games that embodied the contemporary research about good games and learning, so we started Filament Games, and here we are today!
What does gamification in teaching mean to you?
I think as a term, it doesn’t just mean a development of reward system to what you are already doing. I don’t believe that this [misconception] works and research tells us that just adding incentives doesn’t work. If you are going to use games in the classroom, then you have to think about what you are adding as intrinsic rewards. You have to develop ways of expressing learning objectives that have intrinsic values to them. You can’t just add a reward to a boring lesson plan and expect it to work. For example, with an egg drop activity, there are Newton’s laws and engineering practices embedded in that activity, but there is a context with those objectives that allows students to be engaged and creative in the learning. When you look deep enough into almost any lesson, you should be able to find the intrinsic motiving ideas for that lesson, that [motivator] can be tied to a gamified lesson plan.
What do you think are the benefits of using games to help students learn?
There are a bunch of them. Games do a great job of helping more of the underserved students. It is a different way to address literacy and hit different learning objectives. Filament looks to use games to help express: Identities- asking you to take on a role inside the game, allows different perspectives; Verbs- working towards a completion of a task; and System Thinking Rules and Principles- having to working within a set of rules. These are all different ways that teachers are already looking to engage students.
How do you see game based learning evolving in the coming years?
I think what game based learning is good at is
providing authentic assessments. Games are the perfect way to assess learning objectives compared to taking a test. In the future as we work towards more complicated assessment, I think that games will continue to evolve as the exemplar model of assessments that should be used.
What is your best example of how game based learning affected an individual/group/class?
Just about in every user test we do, there are always a couple students with a learning disorder or that traditionally underperform in the classroom and we see that they pull out all of the stops to play the game. To try to pick just one is hard, because just about every time we have tested games, the students that seem to shine cover such a wide variety of student types.
How would you respond to someone that says, “They are not learning, they are just playing games”?
I would counter back that every game has value and the part of what we consider “fun” is just part of a learning cycle that takes place. Games are naturally a learning engine. When we no longer have fun, it is because we no longer find value with it. Play is just an open learning environment and that is something that all living things do as part of a learning process. The word “fun” is really just a code word for a learning in a game, and if that game is designed in such a way that the “fun” problems are aligned to learning objectives, we can create truly valuable experiences.
If you could tell teachers one thing about using iCivics games in their classroom, what would you say?
They shouldn’t just see iCivics as an arcade of cool Civics games, but rather as a robust and flexible curriculum that allows a great context for teaching civics far beyond the computer screen.
Joe (@madisonteacher) is currently in his tenth year of teaching and is a dedicated life-long learner that works to support social studies teachers in his district. He is looking to change the world one student at a time, and continue to look for ways to connect students and classrooms to the world around them through a variety of learning experience.