Gaming is ‘bright spot’ in Wisconsin education, department official says
What was once a far-off idea is becoming commonplace in Wisconsin, where the state ED is actively encouraging educators and game designers to work side-by-side to develop educational games for in-school and out-of-school settings, an official says.
Additionally, partnerships with institutions of higher education and grants provided by the state help teachers receive the necessary professional development to integrate gaming in the classroom and to shift their role to “advisors” when students are tasked with developing apps and games for the purpose of acquiring analytical thinking and other skills, said Janice Mertes, assistant director of instructional media and technology and digital learning for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
Some stakeholders said they believe the Every Student Succeeds Act, Pub. L. No. 114-95, under Title IV, will create an even wider opening for more innovative ways to engage students using high-tech gaming tools and help them learn subjects like computer science and programming.
As ESSA implementation continues, Mertes said, the SEA is in discussions about which technology integrations can enhance instruction, although it appears Wisconsin considered gaming long before the law was enacted.
The Dairy State is home to the Games and Learning Society, a group of veteran game developers who research and create commercial-quality games for use both in and out of the classroom.
Moreover, the WDPI sponsors the Games and Learning Society Conference, held annually at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education for over a decade, she noted.
“Part of our job [at the department level] is to gauge where things are going and have our content specialists talk about it,” she said.
The state’s digital learning plan recommends game-based learning as part of curriculum and assessment, and it points to instructional and gaming resources provided through organizations such as Illustrative Mathematics, iRemix, Institute of Play, and Quest Atlantis.
“Those professional learning resources, and those individuals and organizations, are helping to foster the idea that games can be involved in curriculum selection and creation,” Mertes said. “We have a lot of schools that do gaming … as part of their curriculum, as well as summer enrichment programs.”
During the recent State Educational Technology Directors Association leadership summit, Mertes called gaming a “bright spot” in her state and part of a “reconsideration of what type of content” is useful for teaching and learning.
‘Low barrier of entry’ “The gaming systems already have some of the best learning analytics attached to it, so [the department is exploring] how do teachers use some of those gamified concepts to enhance achievement and to increase the ability of students,” she told attendees while motioning to Danielle Burnett, a former teacher at a Title II school in rural Arkansas who is currently the principal learning architect for GameSalad.
Burnett said gaming, and specifically game design and development, has a way of teaching kids certain concepts and topics that lectures and textbooks can’t.
What’s more, games offer a “low barrier of entry” and easily hooks students who are traditionally underserved in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects, she said.
“We’ve got a predominantly white male technology workforce, and the AP computer science classes are also predominantly white male enrollment,” she said. “[On the other hand,] everybody plays games on their phones, so they can see the connection from what they’re doing on their phone and what [they’re] programming.”
As a teacher, she taught courses — Intro to Mobile Applications at the ninth- and tenth-grade levels, and Computer Business Application starting in seventh grade — using GameSalad’s drag-and-drop game development platform. It is designed to teach fundamental computer science without requiring proficiency in coding, she explained.
— Emily Ann Brown covers education technology and STEM education issues for LRP Publications.
October 25, 2016
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