SXSWORLD November 2012


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Inside the GlassLab: Where Proof is Added to Games-based Learning by Michael Trice tive word is proof. A solution might have creativity, innovation, and star power, but unless it can show the metrics, that solution won't get much traction in Washington D.C. In fact, a lack of proof lies at the heart of why games have been slow to enter American public schools despite local successes. As the Executive Director for Th e Institute of Play, Salen knows about these local successes from her own experience with game- based education in public and charter schools in New York City and Chicago. Now, she is determined to show that game-based learning can indeed go hand-in-hand with solid, reliable assess- ment. To that end, Salen has helped found Th e Games Learning and Assessment Lab (aka GlassLab) as part of the Institute of Play. games could provide key tools for friendly learning environments. For Salen, understanding that good designers don't shoot the player while he or she is learning off ers a key insight into why companies such as Valve and EA are masters of level design. Yet, when it comes to federal education initiatives, the opera- A t the 2012 SXSW Interactive Festival, game designer and animator Katie Salen spoke about her passion for usability in education by explaining how industry experts in video The GlassLab hopes to utilize students enthusiasm for gaming. Katie Salen "GlassLab is intended to produce new types of game-based assess- ment that will be used by schools, after school spaces, and potentially in the home space," Salen explains. "So it is design and development and R&D; we are interested in creating game-based products that also operate as assessment." "Our products," Salen continues, "provide information to learners gathered some impressive early supporters. Th ose partners include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Electronic Arts, and the Entertainment Software Association. and teachers about how that particular user is doing as a way to help them get better at whatever competency or set of competencies they are working on. So we wouldn't call them educational games, but games with learning and assessment embedded within them." Th at focus on assessment provides the crux for why GlassLab has 22 SXSW ORLD / N OVEMBER 2012 tunity to focus on a wide range of products. "Over the fi rst three years, we'll be looking to produce four to six game products that will be made available in a really broad way to teachers, to students, to parents. Within the fi rst year, we're hoping to build, prototype, and playtest with teachers and students some subset of those products. We also plan to produce at least one white paper in the fi rst year." But the new GlassLab, which offi cially opened in June, is not only about producing assessment tools. Salen wants it to be an open learning environment as well. To this end, the Lab will host a series of what Salen calls "conven- ings:" "Part of what we want GlassLab to do is bring together people who have been doing interesting work around game-based learning or games for social impact or seeking assessment in computational envi- ronments to provide a space for shared learning. So these 'convenings' will be another kind of product from the Lab." With this focus on creating a cooperative lab space, it should come as refi ned scope. For now the target is limited to a few grades according to Salen: "We're looking at middle school to early high school as our target age group: 7th, 8th, 9th." Salen explains that this limited scope off ers the GlassLab an oppor- However, assessment presents challenges, and the GlassLab has a no surprise that Salen sees the GlassLab as a way for private industry to assist with improving education: "From a game development perspec- tive we're looking to partner with not just AAA publishers, like EA and Valve, but also very interested in independent game developers like a Filament games or a Zynga. "As well, we're interested in people coming out of academic insti- tutions and developing games as part of a research project. So we're interested in people and companies with a commitment to the learning space, but perhaps it's a new commitment to this space. But also we'd like for them to have some type of IP already developed that they would allow us to work with and development new assessment products around." ■ UNION SQUARE VENTURES / CREATIVE COMMONS COURTESY OF THE INSTITUTE OF PLAY

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