My previous post discussed some of my personal highlights from the gaming mega-event PAX Australia. In this post, I’ll segue from PAX to the one-day Education in Games Summit that rounded off Melbourne International Games Week.
As it turned out, education was the bridge between these two events. One of the final panel sessions at PAX was “Digital Games in the Classroom”, featuring a few faces that would pop up again the next day at the Education in Games Summit. These included Professor Kurt Squire, two young student game developers Anvitha Vijay and Benjamin Sampson, and moderator Steffen P Walz, alongside Christine Evely (ACMI), Nick Hagger (Robot Circus), Kate Cooper (Clifton Hill Primary School) and Paula Christopherson, a Curriculum Manager at the Victoria Curriculum and Assessment Authority.
I didn’t take many notes during this session, but there was lots of vigorous nodding, and prodding Dan at key moments to say “Look! They’re saying exactly what we’ve been talking about!”.
We were especially impressed by Paula’s impassioned discussion of intentions of the Victorian Digital Technologies curriculum, and the general tone of the panel’s discussions, which underscored – from multiple perspectives – how well game design and game culture can align with the intention for empowering young people to become confident creators, rather than simply consumers of digital technology.
There were also a few moments of interesting audience interaction. At one point, people from the audience mentioned games that had been particularly affecting for their own learning or perspective on the world. Later, a teacher asked for advice about how to approach digital games in the classroom if the games her students liked were inappropriate in the classroom due to their adult rating. Panellists and other audience members were eager to chip in, and the fact that all these discussions could have gone on much longer was a good sign. At the end of the session, there was much milling about in conversation. The PAX organisers were literally switching the lights on and off in an effort to herd us all out the door.
And so, to dinner! Our dinner group exemplifies that “small-world network” thing that happens when you’re in a slightly out-of-mainstream field. Joining Bron, Dan, me, Kurt, and Marianne was Ivan Davies from Riot Games, who’s been doing very interesting work to support the development of young people’s positive sportsmanship behaviours in competitive online gaming. We’d been talking on the phone over more than a year and finally got to meet in person at PAX, and it was his bright idea to all go out for dinner. The six of us currently live on three different continents, and we’ve variously met through Twitter, or at other games in education conferences, or through each other. What this shows, I guess, is that people who are interested in games in education want to find and connect with each other. Whether you’re a teacher, a researcher, a game developer, a tech developer, or a community developer, or something else, if you’re interested in games in education, there are other people out there who will be interested in what you’re doing, and will want to help.
The next morning the Education in Games Summit kicked off at The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI). My note-taking was a bit hit-and-miss and I couldn’t go to every session, but if you’re curious you can check out the full programme here.
Highlights from the morning included Kurt Squire’s keynote, which illustrated ways that games can provide a means for engaging kids in being active, productive participants in society, including learning how to understand and take action on issues of local importance. He and his colleagues have done heaps of great work in this area – you can get a sense of it from the Games, Learning, and Society website. I’ve followed their work for a while so was familiar with some of their projects and games, (for example, Citizen Science), but it was cool to learn about ARIS, “a user-friendly, open-source platform for creating and playing mobile games, tours and interactive stories”, which Kurt said had been used already to make 10,000 games. I immediately thought of some teachers in New Zealand that I reckon would be interested in exploring the potential for this to support a deep and rich place-based education approach.
We also heard more from Anvitha and Benjamin. It was great to see young people as speakers, rather than being spoken about, which is more often the norm at education conferences. Both presented confidently and candidly about their own self-directed learning journey towards becoming exceptional young game developers, and in Ben’s case, the creator of a game-sharing platform. They also did a good job of fielding audience questions, including a slightly awkward question about how “normal” they were compared with their peers. I think everyone recognised that these two young developers were particularly confident, capable, and focussed, so perhaps what the questioner was trying to get at was whether or their opportunities and drive to follow their passion and interest/talents could were as readily available to other young people. This is a good question and an important one, especially in terms of equity: Are all young people in a position to discover and develop their interests and talents in the digital domain, or are there existing inequities of access, support, or opportunity that we need to address in order to make this possible? This question isn’t necessarily one for Anvitha or Ben to answer, but they did have some great advice for teachers on how and why to support students to learn through coding and game design.
Later in the morning Vicent Trundle from ACMI talked about their GamesNet programme , an interesting little project that gives gifted and talented students across Victoria to collaborate online and in person to produce their own videogames, working in teams and with support from industry mentors. He also discussed more generally thoughts on the importance of developing “a healthy game literate student and school community”. This was followed by another panel session on “The future of games in the curriculum”. After lunch I attended two great talks by two of the panellists. The first by Rebecca Spink, an assistant principal at Aitken Creek Primary School, and creator of a non-profit organisation called Code the Future which connects developers with educators to help students learn how to code, and the second by Narissa Leung, principal of Campbells Creek and Guildford Primary Schools. Both told rich practice stories of game design in their primary schools, with the added bonus of being thoroughly grounded in learning theory. I was madly tweeting from this session, tagging Leanne and dg back in Wellington every minute or so. (Leanne later informed me it was perhaps a little too much, but I didn’t want them to miss out on the great stuff their Australian counterparts were saying and doing).
While I was at these talks, Dan, Marianne, and Ivan were at a “Make your own Game Jam” session, first getting some advice and tips from Giselle Rosman, the executive producer of Global Game Jam, and then actually doing a rapid-fire game jam with teacher/developer Paul Taylor. Here’s the result – a playable boardgame, with a theme relate to climate change, called “I want to Bee Leave”.
I missed some of the afternoon talks due to the need for a fresh air/mental processing break, but returned in time for another student showcase – the finalists in the Victorian Schools Apps and Games Challenge, followed by the closing keynote from Annabel Astbury, head of digital education at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), on the potential and possibilities for VR in Education.
The day finished up with some social mixing and mingling, which was a good chance to meet some of the people that I’d not met during the day, and to hear about some of the other sessions that I didn’t get to. Because there were three parallel sessions happening during the middle part of the day, it was impossible to see and do everything, but what I got from the day was certainly useful and inspiring.
All in all, the trip across the ditch was very worthwhile, and it was great to meet and connect with some Australian colleagues. I hope that in future years we can develop and strengthen these connections!