We have a number of current and ongoing projects, ranging from game design for learning to critical projects regarding the role of play and leisure in education. Here are just a few:

Affinity Spaces and STEM

We recently held a 2-day meeting in Madison, WI, funded by the National Science Foundation, to bring together researchers of online spaces and informal STEM learning to develop a research agenda for the future. Given the commitment to institutional, “informal” learning in the STEM space (museums, libraries, science centers, aquaria), how can we connect these with informal, interest-driven, and ad hoc communities that form online around interests? We are in the process of developing a white paper on this, and seeking additional funding for future projects in this vein. Students Joey Huang and Lucas Cook were involved in the two-day meeting.

Tinkering With Games

We were funded under a School of Education grant to utilize the Make, Innovate, Learning Lab (MILL) space toward understanding how learners play and tinker with games. We are focused in this project on physical, tangible games (so, board games, role-playing games, card games), albeit using digital tools to help facilitate the design of them. We are aiming to run a one-day game jam in the MILL in March of 2016. Students Joey Huang, Chris Georgen, and Lucas Cook are all involved with this project.

Narrative, Play, and Activity

We recently wrapped up a one-year study of “story games,” or rules-light role-playing games, funded by a School of Education Proffitt grant. This was exploratory study of how pre-service teachers (among others) engage with the rules of these games, which involve identity play, collaboration, and narrative construction. Preliminary findings indicated that pre-service teachers engaged fully in the games, but when asked to reflect on the designing instructional environments with these games, found themselves reducing the games to “bait” for traditional instructional methods. This unexpected gap between play activity and instructional design is intriguing, and we are exploring this result further. Students Chris Georgen and Lucas Cook have been involved with this project.

Competition, Games, and Learning

We are in the process of exploring how competition plays a role within gaming communities, looking at both tabletop games (e.g., competitive card games), digital games (e.g., massively online battle area games such as Dota 2), and critical play communities (e.g., “speedrunning” communities). We are interested in the ways that players negotiate both the designed elements of the games as well as the social communities around them when learning to play, as well as how instructional scaffolds are developed by community members. Student Lucas Cook has been involved with this project.

Beyond Simplistic Gamification

In previous work, we explored digital badges in online affinity spaces (Reddit, StackOverflow, and gaming forums). Currently, we’re exploring this from a design perspective — rethinking an online course on games and learning to include digital “badges” that have consequence within a game-like instructional environment. Sensitive to the problems with “gamification,” we are seeking to make game-like spaces within non-gaming instructional environments, not to increase motivation or engagement necessarily, but to provide students with meaningful choices and opportunities for students to craft their own individual paths for learning. Student Chris Georgen has been involved in the design.