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Game-Based Learning in Action

How an Expert Affinity Group Teaches With Games


Matthew Farber

How are expert educators using games in their classrooms to give students agency, while also teaching twenty-first century skills, like empathy, systems thinking, and design thinking? This question has motivated Matthew Farber’s Game-Based Learning in Action: How an Expert Affinity Group Teaches With Games showcasing how one affinity group of K12 educators—known as "The Tribe"—teaches with games. They are transformational leaders outside the classroom, in communities of practice. They mentor and lead newcomers to game-based learning, as well as advise game developers, academics, and policymakers.

Teachers in "The Tribe" do not teach in isolation—they share, support, and mentor each other in a community of practice. Farber shares his findings about the social practices of these educators. Game-Based Learning in Action details how the classrooms of expert game-based learning teachers function, from how they rollout games to how they assess learning outcomes.

There are plenty of lessons to be learned from the best practices of expert educators. These teachers use games to provide a shared meaningful experience for students. Games are often the focal point of instruction. Featuring a foreword from James Paul Gee (Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies, and Regents’ Professor), this book comments on promises and challenges of game-based learning in twenty-first century classrooms. If you are looking to innovate your classroom with playful and gameful learning practices, then Game-Based Learning in Action is for you!

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Chapter 9: Games as High Quality Curricular Materials


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Many view educational technology as a tool to support learning, not the focal point of instruction. The mantra of educational technology is that one should not teach PowerPoint; rather teach students how to lead presentations using tools like PowerPoint. A teacher may use iMovie to teach students digital storytelling or concepts relating to remixing media. The idea is that any technology could be substituted, such as Windows MovieMaker or any other video application.

Unlike most educational technology tools, members of The Tribe were observed using some games as the centerpiece for their instruction. In this sense, games—like books, videos, and film—became “high-quality curriculum materials,” enabling students to access curriculum (Darling-Hammond, 2013, pp. 14–15). In other words, games were used as “digital texts” (Shaffer, Nash, & Ruis, 2015, p. 10). With digital texts, teachers continue “to play the role of tutor and explicator, helping students make sense of their mediated experiences, selecting additional experiences, and weaving together a coherent curriculum from an increasingly large array of choices” (Shaffer et al., 2015, p. 11).

I spoke to Mark Chen in March 2017 about how games can be read like books. Chen is a game developer, part-time lecturer at the University of Washington, Bothell, and he wrote the (2012) book Leet Noobs: The Life and Death ← 145 | 146 → of an Expert Player Group in World of Warcraft. Chen likens his attraction to...

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