The whirlwind that has been my life since the last day of school continued with a vengeance this past week at GLS 4.0. It was a conference unlike any other for me personally, the most academically-centered, mentally rigorous, casual yet intense, exhilirating and exhausting two and a half days I’ve ever experienced.
The event began for me with Peggy’s arrival at my house the night before. She got to meet my family and we were able to get an early start the next morning. Travelling with someone makes things SO much easier! It especially helps when your travel buddy is a good friend, too.
Peggy is probably, along with Sarah Robbins, one of the most recognizable educators in the metaverse. See for yourself: check out Peggy in Real Life and Peggy as Maggie Marat in Second Life. Proof positive came via Lucas Gillespie, who, also on his way to GLS via Philly, recognized Peggy in the airport. It was just the first of several amazing connections we’d make at the conference.
A couple of short airplane rides later, we found ourselves walking the town square in Madison, Wisconsin in search of lunch. We found it (and Lucas!) at an Irish pub just blocks from our hotel. The food was great and the weather was even better, cool, sunny, breezy, just perfect. Jeremy Koester joined us at the end of lunch.
The afternoon eased into the evening and we made our way to the educator’s pre-conference evening workshop where we got to meet fellow Pk-16 scholars, conference organizers including Moses Wolfenstein and the rest of the talented GLS crew of volunteers. A box lunch for dinner and some great conversation later, and we were ready for the main event.
350 or so of us enjoyed a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, potatoes, biscuits and gravy, fueling up for the day ahead. The Opening Plenary Panel featured James Paul Gee, Cory Ondrejka, Katie Salen, and Kurt Squire and Constance Steinkuehler. They kept their comments brief and sent us on our way.
Thursday’s program was as expected jammed with great workshops; I tried, pitifully, to live blog my session, only to discover David Warlick was already on the job. We would be in many of the same workshops and so I decided to join forces with him and participate in the CoverItLive sessions he started, which worked well.
I really, really wanted to hear James Paul Gee and Cory Ondreka et. al. so I chose Room F which featured:
- Beyond Games & the Future of Learning (by J. Gee)
- We’re Not Done Yet: Questions Shaping the Futures of Virtual Worlds (by C. Ondrejka)
- Competitive Fandom in Action: How Fantasy Baseball Is Really Played (by E. Halverson, R. Halverson)
As good as that session was, I find myself wondering how Creating a Culture of Critical Game Designers in Elementary Classrooms & Clubs went. I’m hoping it somehow makes its way onto the webcast page (it’s not there now.) That was the obvious choice for me given my role but I have to admit I was a little star-struck and let that influence my choice. We have Scratch installed on the computers in my lab and I think this is going to be the year we dive in and give that a try. Plus, there’s always a chance we could start an after-school club. Hmmmmmm…
I followed that session with this slam-dunker:
- Epistemic Network Analysis: Assessment for the Digital Age (by D. Shaffer)
- Assessing Game-Based Literacies: The Role of Task Constraints on Strategic Meaning Making & Within Gamestar Mechanic (by A. Games)
- Studio Thinking & Game Design (by K. Sheridan, K. Clark)
This workshop was the epitome of my learning experience at GLS. The first presenter (Shaffer) presented research into Epistemic Network Analysis (draft paper, PDF). Imagine a system that quantifies evidence-centered design, “a framework for developing assessments by systematically linking models of
understanding, observable actions, and evaluation rubrics to provide evidence of learning.” (Shafer, et. al.. 2008). Watching him explain the theoretical foundations of the model, its mathematical operation, and its predictive capability, I was blown away. Impressed that I could actually follow his logic and understand the model conceptually, it felt like I was watching a system that was YEARS ahead of its time, something that would someday be common in classrooms across the country. That, to me, was the essence of GLS: two days surrounded by visionary scholar-practicitoners who are spending their lives researching how technology (and games in particular) can transform teaching and learning.
But you already knew that this conference was not just about research but also serious play. This is the first of many shots of the Gamer’s Lounge in my photostream. This huge arcade-style room featured every major gaming platform known to man (and several other less-familiar ones), comfy couches, and gigantic plasma LCD monitors. The place was HUMMING throughout the conference with people stopping in to experiment, learn and play whenever the opportunity arose. It was fun to try games myself, and see friends play, and to think it was actually part of cutting edge research on teaching and learning. The most fascinating part for me was overhearing the conversation amid the gameplay … not advice on how to level up or defeat an adversary, but observations about how the elements of a particular game conveyed subtle meanings or presented learning opportunities either individually or in groups. Just incredible.
My presentation for Friday’s panel went pretty well, though I took a bit more than my allotted 10 minutes, and in hindsight, I know exactly what content I would have cut out. I was very fortunate to have Peggy Sheehy in the audience to answer questions about Ramapo Islands, which was easily half of the content I featured in my talk. The other half dealt with our Teen Second Life after-school club, which was part of the U.K.’s Schome Park project. The standing-room-only audience was forgiving, attentive, inquisitive and friendly. A terrific group.
Ok, gotta wrap this up. As great as the conference was, I find myself wishing I’d taken more photos, blogged more sessions, and spent more ‘down’ time in the gamer’s lounge. Missing the Thursday night dinner was tough, but necessary, as David Warlick and I got down to business in preparation for our own conference coming up this week, NJELITE.
GLS totally exceeded my expectations in every way. It’s a shame I won’t be able to attend next year; they have moved the event up one month and that means I’ll still be in school. That means one more open PK-16 scholarship spot, so if you’re reading this, make a note NOW to watch for the announcement, and SEND IN YOUR ENTRY! You’ll be glad you did!