Thoughts on: Authentic Learning Experiences Through Play: Games, Simulations and the Construction of Knowledge – Lisa Galarneau

Galarneau, L. (2005) Authentic Learning Experiences Through Play: Games, Simulations and the Construction of Knowledge. Proceedings of DiGRA 2005 Conference: Changing Views – Worlds in Play . Vancouver, BC: DiGRA

I think I might have me a little gamelearner crush here – Lisa Galarneau has managed to make coherent all of the little half-finished thoughts and ideas that I’ve had fluttering around my mind and make a compelling argument not only that games are good for learning but also that you need to apply a sensible pedagogical approach if you want to make them work.

(Yeah well duh perhaps I guess to the second part but she offers up a few pretty good ideas as to directions to take and gaming aspects to focus on in the process which gave me a few a-ha moments (a-ha eureka, not a-ha take on me)

The focus of the paper is slightly more skewed towards simulations than the FPS genre (though these aren’t mutually exclusive) but it still seems rather helpful, given that it “examines the design of authentic learning experiences as a way of thinking about the appropriateness and unique potential of games and simulations in a range of educational and training settings.”

She gets that “Games and simulations are only as effective as the pedagogical approach that is employed in their design and development. Furthermore, their effectiveness must be measured against their learning objectives and methods selected vis a vis the needs of the resources learners. Unfortunately, this is not often the case”.

Galarneau sees drill-and-practice type games as having their place – “Wrapping “boring” content in a trivia or shoot-em-up game format might make materials that need to be memorized a bit easier to “swallow”. Likewise, repeated engagement with interactive drill-and-practice environments provides the repetition that may be needed for learners to memorize and retain certain types of content. Just as I have argued previously, “the first step towards constructing one’s one knowledge is being open to the experience of learning. An unmotivated learner is simply incapable of taking enough interest in something to engage in the process of construction”

She does feel generally however that games taking a more constructivist or connectivist approach to learning by providing authentic game/simulations which offer richer emotional experiences.

“So while part of the motivation may stem from novelty effects, competitive enjoyment or the stimulation younger generations have grown accustomed to, the best types of engagement stem from the learner’s enjoyment of a more effective learning experience, one that puts them in control and encourages active participation, exploration, reflection and the individual construction of meaning.”

Galarneau recognises that forming knowledge consists of more than the simple ability to recall facts, it’s about being able to apply those facts to new situations.

I devised a slightly dorky formula to express my understanding of the knowledge creation process a while back – {context (information + relevance) activity} + (past experiences) => meaning + reflection => knowledge.

=> should be taken there to mean leads to.

A learner who can recite every bone in the human body cannot necessarily diagnose a problem with a given bone, nor know how to splint one in an accident occurred. Even if taken through a number of steps necessary in splinting a bone, it’s unlikely that a person would do it correctly without having experienced it either first-hand or vicariously, by observing another person in the learning process Lave and Wenger refer to a ‘legitimate peripheral participation’ . “

I’m not 100% clear on whether seeing someone performing this task a few times on video would count or not – or perhaps even better as a 3d animation which they can rotate their view around – but this does suggest to me that using video cut scenes in a game (particularly the FPL could be an option – the 3d animation idea would be great but far beyond my current capabilities)

I’m also thinking (still) that an OHS game could be a good option for the second FPL prototype. (The first being based around language). It has simulation qualities including the ability to be hurt by workplace hazards although I’m not sure how to get the player to fix hazards (maybe they have an OHS magic wand?).

A game focussed on fire drill / evacuation procedures might be another idea worth contemplating.

Galarneau takes a relatively connectivist view of learning, which is an area that I’ve been interested in but haven’t found a lot out to date. She makes a pretty good fist of defining it.

Emerging ideas about learning are beginning to suggest that learning is the act of making knowledge tangible through action, or what George Siemens refers to as ‘forming connections’ between islands of knowledge

Given this definition of learning as connection-forming, then all learning must result from experience, for experience underlies the process of forming said connections. In this regard therefore, effective learning is a redundant statement. If one has learned, the experience has been effective. The question therefore becomes, how can we design experiences that allow learners to experiment with knowledge in context, encouraging them to form connections by experiencing a wide range of experiential possibilities around any given piece of information?”

I like virtually all of this but don’t accept that ALL learning would result from experience – if for no other reason than my personal dislike of blanket statements. There is no way that I can experience the First Fleet landing but I know they did it in 1788 (as far as it is possible to know these things)

I think that emphasising the importance of providing learners with experiences related to the content is a big thing though.

Galarneau suggests a general structure for such games:

“Place the learner firmly at the centre of the learning experience, encourage him or her to take an active role and make sure that the learning situation is not abstracted from reality, but is placed directly in a real-world context, either physically or virtually. This environment may or may not include other learners, or it may simulate the responses and behaviours of other individuals. Though some structure will be in place, the learner will not progress entirely linearly, as with traditional content, but will play in this environment, encountering both success and failure along the way. Failure may, in fact, be the most critical aspect of this play” (my emphasis)

The importance of failure is something I haven’t considered enough but I can see instantly how important it is – I hadn’t factored it into the Exploring the CEE game I’ve been designing (forever), which means that the the player’s options are limited to do it right or do nothing. I wonder how far we can take failure – in an FPL context it suggests that the character/player dies and has to begin again, if it was a third person perspective game this could be made quite spectacular but trickier perhaps for fpp – unless we used a cutscene animation which shifts to 3pp to show the player dying. (Or we could take a lighter, more humourous approach with a waaaap waaap waaaap waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah type sound effect. )

Galarneau discusses the value of failure further:

“Roger Schank, among others, has championed the idea that failure is a critical component of learning. This is an area where games and simulations shine, affording a wide range of possibilities, or failure-states, given a wide range of player actions… The simulation is only limited by its designer’s intent or resources to play out a wide range of possibilities that contribute to a learner’s ability to recognise the patterns that emerge from his or her actions. As Schank explains, these failures can offer unexpected benefits when it comes to learning. ‘Simulations that evoke real emotions become real memories. A failure is a failure and whether in a simulation or a work experience, if it feels real, it helps us learn’ “

She identifies three important elements to any learning game – pedagogical elements, simulation elements and game elements. “Pedagogical elements wrap the other elements in a directed learning context, providing a theoretical basis, assessment and opportunities for reflection. Simulation elements refer to the components that make the simulation executable, be it a simple branching simulation or more complex game-like simulation. Game elements, on the other hand, refer to the aspects that are simply there to make a game fun: competition, reward, discovery etc.” Finding the balance between these three elements is the key.

Galarneau values the simulation elements highly, believing that they offer learners opportunities to “flex their capabilities. And in the process, they may also learn to be more flexible, handle greater ambiguity, manage resources and solve problems, all difficult to measure but easily recognisable abilities afforded us by play in physical and virtual environments”.

The discussion about experience and authenticity has given me half a thought about another potential game subject – still only half a thought mind you – which is for the building materials subject within the building design area over here. Making use of different materials in the buildings (wood/concrete/steel/etc) and putting them in different environments – the students need to discuss which materials are best suited to which spaces, perhaps through a multiplayer representation of the teacher who acts as some sort of gatekeeper?. We could also make use of soundeffects to represent walking through the respective spaces.

Something to chat to the teacher about anyways.

Galarneau finishes with a brief discussion of two simulation products that she was involved in producing – one for building/carpentry students Christchurch Polytechnic (and it’s so good to see a paper that includes VET) and one for mental health professionals. Both emphasise relevance to the learners day to day activities and having them actively involved in the decision making process of the activity. Galarneau does appear to support video/animation as a means of “legitimate peripheral participation”.

She also developed a branching simulation for the mental health professionals providing feedback on the outcomes of different techniques for scenarios with patients. She took on board the thoughts of George Siemens in this instance:

Connectivism is driven by the understanding that decisions are based on rapidly altering foundations. New information is continually being acquired. The ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital. The ability to recognize when new information alters the landscape based on decisions made yesterday is also critical [12]”

How to put that in a game I’m not so sure but I agree with the concept.

One hugely significant benefit of both of these solutions is that they allow assessment to be built right into the experience. Educators and trainers can log learner progress though the resources in order to see what decisions they make, whether they improve over time and how long they take to achieve the tasks. This type of assessment is much more capable of evaluating learning than traditional summative assessment that generally only tests the ability to regurgitate information, often well out of context. “

She finishes with an observation that I feel is highly relevant to learning in a VET sector.

“Authentic learning experiences of the sort described in this paper are most relevant to situations where the learner needs not only to learn something, but also needs to learn to what contexts the information or knowledge is most relevant.”

Awesome, awesome paper.

This entry was posted in activities, activity, education, elearning, experience, first person learner, game design, information, simulation, Uncategorized, VET and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Thoughts on: Authentic Learning Experiences Through Play: Games, Simulations and the Construction of Knowledge – Lisa Galarneau

  1. Pingback: Bookmarks about Soundeffects

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