Adapting Commerical off-the-shelf (COTS) Games?

New educational game titles (explicitly subject or curriculum focused) are constantly entering the market.  Historically, educational game titles have taken mostly drill-and-skill approaches.  In contrast, we’re now increasingly seeing a shift towards the development of games with situational and constructionist learning models.  

Another option is the adaptation of COTS games originally developed for commercial entertainment to address the needs of learners. 

Some of the challenges in using COT games include:

  • Identifying the relevance of a particular game to curriculum; alignment of game goals to learning goals
  • Amount of irrelevant content or functionality in the game which takes up lesson time
  • Lack of functions capatible for class structures; e.g. ‘save’ function to resume at prior play
  • Lack of time for teachers to familiarize themselves with the game and game mechanics
  • Lack of necessary technology power or capability to run the game title
  • Unscalable purchasing options; per copy vs. school/class license
  • Violent content or cultural representations that reinforce stereotypes
  • Difficulty of measuring the effects of using the game on learning

Some of these challenges can have design solutions — like creating support materials, mappings to curriculum standards/requirements, pre-set scenarios for teacher adaptation, built-in asessments, adjustments to interfaces. 

Absent the ability to easily manipulate the flow of COTs games, some of the best applications I’ve observed has been using COTs as an engagement hook.   Many of these entertainment games have rich digital assets that can be used to stimulate discussion, writing, and collaboration.  

Some of these games also offer the tools and “space” for players to experiment with a problem in a sandbox.  Massively multiplayer online games (MMOG) can offer a platform for multiple users, group activities, and content creation. 

Highlight of a few examples for inspiration:

  • Consolarium was established to explore the world of computer games and their potential impact on teaching and learning in Scottish schools.   Interestingly, their initial pilots focused on bringing familiar platforms like the wii, Nintendo DSs, and SonyPSPs to teachers.   Their site hosts several videos and case studies sharing their experiences, such as this project using Myst to enhance children’s writing.  Over on its associated blog there are also comments on more current work like this teacher building off of Wii game Endless Ocean.
  • Global Kids  has done some amazing work with kids in Second Life.   Related to classroom learning, I’ve had the chance to observe the pilot Science and Sustainability course they developed at a high school in Brooklyn (short videos below).   No kids were skipping classes where they could design hybrid cars. 



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