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Katie Salen on Game Design and Learning

posted: 8.13.13 by Traci Gardner

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about gaming and education recently. In particular, I’m interested in how the underlying structures of game design might apply to the writing classroom. Katie Salen, from the Institute of Play and the Quest to Learn school in New York City, inspired my previous posts aboutbuilding relevance in a writing class and gaming the writing process.

The students Salen works with at the Quest to Learn school range from sixth to twelfth grade. The curriculum focuses on game design. Students design games as a way to learn subjects like math, science, and language arts. Late last month, Edutopia shared this video, which gives an overview of Salen’s work at Quest to Learn:

The classes at the school are based on a straightforward design:

[K]ids are dropped into complex challenge based context, that they have no ability to solve at the beginning of ten weeks. And then that ten week structure, what we call a mission, is broken down into a series of smaller challenges, that scaffold and really engage that kid in learning how to do something that will allow them to solve that complex problem.

This idea can easily scale to the college classroom by changing the “complex challenge” students are asked to complete during the course. In the video, Salen describes how one group of students is working on a translation project to shift Aesop’s fables to a live, 3-D game. Given the necessary technical resources, a similar translation project, with more sophisticated goals, would be equally useful at the college level if it fit the course.

If you are interested in this approach, I recommend the Institute of Play’s Design Pack: Games and Learning, released last month. The document explains the parts of a game how games are designed to help students learn, and how educators can design games for the classroom. My favorite page of the document is the Appendix: Game-Like Learning Principles (p. 49), which outlines seven principles of game-like learning. I keep returning to these principles as “rules” or goals for the writing classroom. Soon, I hope to recast the principles as a sort of User’s Manual, inspired by Michael Michaud’s post earlier this year, but that’s a post for another week.


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One Response to “Katie Salen on Game Design and Learning”

  1. Mike Michaud Says:

    Hi Traci…thanks for the plug! I look forward to your next post and would love to talk more about the User’s Manual if you are interested! 🙂 (