The Safety Part of Game-Based Learning


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A brief preso of research-based ideas on safety and citizenship in digital environments and games at school

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  • So what does safety have to do with citizenship? This was a revelation to me back in 2007, when I first read it in the medical journal, ARCHIVES OF PEDIATRICS & ADOLESCENT MEDICINE. Learning how to be good to one another, learning social literacy is protective. [See also: “Digital risk, digital citizenship” <>.]
  • This was a task force I served on in 2008 - the Harvard Berkman Center ’s Internet Safety Technical Task Force, which released its report in Jan. 2009. These were its key findings of the– the results of a full review of the youth-risk literature in North America up thru 2008. So back to what identity, behavior, sociality and citizenship have to do with safety – bullying, harassment , anti-social behaviors are the most salient risk (still affecting only about 25% of young people). Now LOOK at that fourth bullet : it’s a child’s psychosocial makeup and home and school environments - what’s going on in a person’s head and a person’s surroundings that predicts risk to a much greater degree than any technology he or she uses – whether a game, a phone, a virtual world, a social network site, etc. Report: - see also “What’s wrong with Net safety ed … and what we can do about it” (
  • So the next task force I served on made a bunch of recommendations to Congress, but the two most important ones to my mind were to make digital citizenship and literacy instruction, pre-K-12 throughout the core curriculum, a national priority. This is baseline, universal online-safety education – but a whole lot of other things AS WELL! “ Citizenship ” is a blanket term for a whole lot of things – here are some of the elements I ’ ve picked up in the research and conferences in a number of countries. In many cases in THIS country it refers to good behavior online; in others it ’ s a new label for online safety (like fresh packaging for the same old product). But when you look at all the elements, it ’ s a WHOLE lot more than something that has come to invoke a lot of fear and misinformation. And – though there’s still no real consensus on its definition (probably because there shouldn’t be, because we’re all figuring it out as we find our way in this newly networked world) – it’s also not rocket science – doesn’t need hours of professional development or special classes. It mainly needs conscious practice in digital environments while we’re in the process of learning whatever the class is about. I do think it needs to be crowd-sourced by users, citizens, participants – how can citizenship be dictated , really?
  • What sort of infrastructure supports the practice of digital citizenship? These pillars have long undergirded classroom learning; now they can support learning in digital environments. Not in special courses sending the message that Net use & behavior are separate from everything else, but in core classes where t he classroom, a game, a wiki the Infrastructure – which includes a philosophy or set of values , e.g. Quest Atlantis’ s 7 Social Commitments that form the bases of creating together a community culture of respect. Practice – Citizenship is a verb ; the more opportunities young ppl have to practice citizenship online and offline IN SCHOOL, the better. Guidance /support/teaching/moderation – This role can be played by a teacher, peer mentors, and fellow classmates – together, simultaneously Agency – This one word describes the student-centric piece. I going to break this out in the next slide because it’s so important. This is the student-centric piece….
  • Prof. Scott Nicholson at Syracuse University took a year off from teaching to go to MIT and study what motivates people. What I learned from him is that the key to fostering learning or changing behavior (as we say in the risk-prevention field) is making the learning or subject MEANINGFUL. Meaningful games or work has intrinsic value. Gamification has extrinsic value. So meaningful, by definition, comes from a player- or student-centric approach. The 3 pieces of that are… Agency or autonomy. Some game designers refer to this as choice. Relatedness – the work needs to be relevant to the participant Competency or efficacy [From a citizenship & safety perspective… As I listened to Nicholson, I thought about findings by the Harvard University School of Education about a lack of efficacy young people feel when they encounter negative content or behavior online (see this). The GoodPlay researchers also found that youth feel their online activities and interests are inconsequential (think of all the studies that treat their screen time as mere entertainment – as at best a waste of time, at worst dangerous). I thought about how so much online safety messaging in our society has represented young people as potential victims rather than needed stakeholders in the wellbeing of themselves and their communities online. (]
  • It’s really hard – impossible, really – to teach swimming without a pool. Likewise, it’s impossible to practice digital citizenship or online safety without a digital or online environment. [Filters don’t really work anyway! See this:]
  • We citizens need to consider the benefits, I think. See also this about benefits of SEL( and much, much more reflecting on digital citizenship here:
  • From a fall 2012 report from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop in New York ( Socially and materially distributed cognition – coordinating people, tools, artifacts, and text across multiple multimedia, multimodal spaces Collective intelligence – jointly creating, sharing, and problem-solving online repositories of community knowledge and skills Collaborative problem-solving practices – problem-solving in knowledge networks, games, and project-sharing sites Multi-modal literacy practices – using specialized forms of textual, visual, ad aural modes of representation or combinations of them (multi-modal) for in-world social interaction genres of writing, and discursive argumentation Computational thinking – skills used to create programs and solve programming problems, with special concern for debugging, iterative design and large-scale computations like crowd-sourcing, and tagging Reciprocal apprenticeship – enculturating one another into valued practices and thinking Appropriation – sampling and remixing media content Transmedia navigation – following the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities (games, books, movies, cards, writing, drawing, etc.)
  • So to sum up, this is what I’ve learned from game designers fosters safety… Lighten up . Play and engage with our kids in social media. Have a little fun, let them play with being our tech support while we teach them life literacy in and out of media. Focus on the people involved in media experiences more than the media: Sebastian Deterding said in his keynote that “it’s the nature of a fun community to care more about the players than about the game. If we are having fun, we are caring.” Release control . “The more you increase control, the less you motivate,” Dr. Nicholson said after a year of studying motivation on sabbatical. Control by others tends to increase anxiety and stress and decrease trust. The aim, in any case, is self -control and intrinsic rewards, such as the joy of learning for its own sake. Support autonomy . “We do that when we offer meaningful choice,” Dutch PhD student Deterding said. Speaking to game designers, but I think also to the parents in the room, he added, that meaningful means “connected to players’ own goals, values, and identity” Create a safe space . Physical safety is a baseline need (game designers refer to Maslow’s hierarchy) but, where we’re talking digital spaces, game scholars stress psychological safety – spaces where there’s mutual trust, freedom to be silly, embarrass oneself, experiment with new concepts, fail and try again, etc. – that kind of safety is paramount to all kinds of learning. Model what we want to see . Remember this was a game designer and scholar talking, but for how many eons have we heard this in child development circles? Shared values more than rules . Rules are good, of course, but they work better when shared: “these are our classes or school’s or family’s rules.” And rules are better when they’re for creativity rather than control, like the artistic constraints that give the very necessary kind of definition that fuels creative problem-solving.
  • The Safety Part of Game-Based Learning

    1. 1. Yes! Safety inGame-Based Learning Anne |
    2. 2. Confirming common sense “Youth who engage in online aggressivebehavior … are more than twice aslikely to report online interpersonalvictimization.” – Archives of Pediatrics, 2007
    3. 3. What we now know...from youth-risk research:Harassment & cyberbullying = most common riskNot all youth are equally at risk A child’s psychosocial makeup & environment are better predictors of online risk than the technology he or she uses No single technological development can solve youth online risk
    4. 4. Elements of digital citizenship• Access & participation (“civic engagement”)• Norms of behavior ("good citizenship”)• The 3 literacies of a digital age: digital literacy, media literacy, social literacy• Rights and responsibilities• A sense of belonging or community online
    5. 5. The pillars of citizenship learning • Infrastructure • Practice • Guidance • AgencyPhoto by Julian Turner
    6. 6. The 4 pillar’s strength thA student-centric approach that fosters… • A sense of competence • Autonomy or agency • Relatedness or relevance
    7. 7. Get the ‘pool’ into school!
    8. 8. Benefits of citizenship • Digital, media, and social literacy • The safety and support of community • Citizens’ self-awareness as stakeholders in social well-being, agents for social change • Practice in collaborative problem-solving • Opportunities to co-create the social norms of social media and a networked world • Opportunities to exercise leadership • The enjoyment of its rights
    9. 9. Some of the literacies from social media use• Socially and materially distributed cognition• Collective intelligence• Collaborative problem-solving practices• Computational thinking• Reciprocal apprenticeship• Appropriation• Transmedia navigation
    10. 10. For good game design & greater safety • Lighten up • Release control • Support player/learner agency • Create a (psychologically) safe space • Model what we want to see • Set shared values (not just rules)