Mobile Learning: Game (nearly) On Texas

by Steve Guengerich

We spent a few hours last week at AMD’s 2nd Annual Game On! Texas conference to see what speakers and others had to say about mobile, education, and gaming.

AMD started the morning by announcing their foundation was granting nearly $100,000 to advance game development skills to the Boys & Girls Club of Austin and to Girlstart, another Austin-based non-profit focused on teaching science and math skills to young girls.

While there’s a lot to like about AMD’s taking the long view by promoting STEM (science technology engineering and math) skills with youth and getting a two-fer by teaching them basic game development skills along the way, we think they’re missing an opportunity by not emphasizing mobile.

For example, games from their signature collaborations, via the Scholastic partnership and Activate initiative, are either unplayable on mobile devices (i.e., the Flash games from Level Up) or ones that other kids would doubtful find fun. (More on that later.)

After the AMD Foundation announcement came the highlight of the day, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, introduced by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Justice O’Connor, during her fireside chat-style interview with Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith, spoke with enthusiasm, wicked good humor, and conviction (pun intended) about the opportunity to reach middle schoolers through games – “when they are not yet tortured teenagers” – to teach them subjects that matter.

In her case, she was advocating for iCivics, which was created in response to the dramatic decline in funding for civics and social studies in US public schools as an unintended consequence of the No Child Left Behind legislation of the 2000s, which focused funding on math & science.

Unfortunately, while iCivics’ Flash-produced games are clearly engaging on the web, once again they are currently unplayable on Apple mobile products. However, the @iCivics team tweeted that they “plan to have an iPad game out soon” though they didn’t signal if ‘soon’ meant next month or next year.

Other highlight speakers were for the day included:

  • Texas A&M’s Tim McLaughlin demonstrating the directory of high school and college game & interactive media programs, using Google Earth (although, guys, you really need to turn the directory into a wiki and not just distribute it in PDF form!)
  • A roundtable on game mechanics (aka, gamification) led by Rodney Gibbs of Ricochet Labs, the creators of mobile trivia hit QRANK
  • Another fireside chat, this time featuring Disney game producer Starr Long, with questions from Omar Gallaga, during which Starr made a few very interesting points:
    • Disney is aggressively working on games with an eye towards building strong cross-platform brands and characters, although Club Penguin remains the only game-first, original property that has managed to become a transmedia hit (i.e., toys, clothing, theme park features, etc.)
    • Disney is eager to extend their games niche beyond the pre- to elementary school range in which they currently operate and which is where Starr is focusing his attention – to a new generation of games that are both educational and as fun as Call of Duty or Angry Birds
    • Although Starr said he couldn’t talk in specifics about the games he is developing, It was very clear from the conversation that he was intrigued by (favored?) design aesthetics that include:
      • virtual worlds,
      • production values that are “good enough” while providing superior game playing experience (don’t have to be as high end as Call of Duty), and
      • true multi-player, social gaming (as opposed to the asynchronous style in Facebook ‘social’ games, for example) where kids get to play together and switch out different roles as they go, enabling accelerated loops of learning , where you can literally see them getting smarter, faster

For our part, we are looking forward to seeing: the advances in mobile learning from the GameOn Texas presenters’ companies; more mobile gaming topics on the 2012 conference agenda; and (on a personal note), a wi-fi network that works!

Posted By Appconomist

Comments are closed.