Episode 13: Katie Salen Tekinbaş and Kurt Squire on Ready Player One and game-based learning

This week, we wrap up our series of conversations inspired by Ready Player One with a consideration of the current state of research on games-based learning. I can think of no better thinking partners for exploring the past, present, and future of games in education than Kurt Squire and Katie Salen Tekinbas, two old friends, both there at the start of a movement to harness games technologies and design practices for learning, both now on the faculty of the University of California-Irvine.

Kurt and I worked together years ago on the Games to Teach Project (Later the Education Arcade) at MIT. We were initially funded by Microsoft to do a series of thought experiments into what genres and what content might represent sweet spots for the use of games-based learning in higher education. Soon, we ended up prototyping a range of games and games-related practices which were tested through school-based and after-school programs. Kurt went on to join the education faculty at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and now at the Informatics program at Irvine, where he has become part of the Connected Learning Network. He has remained a leader in this space as the former director of the Games, Learning and Society initiative and as the author of Video Games and Learning: Teaching and Participatory Culture in the Digital Age (2011) and Games, Learning and Society: Learning and Meaning in the Digital Age (With Constance Steinkuhler, 2012).

Katie Salen Tekinbas was also there when it all began, an important early scholar who co-authored Rules of Play (2003) with Eric Zimmerman, which became THE textbook for games studies classes around the world, and co-edited The Game Design Reader (2005). She was the Executive Director of Institute of Play, a nonprofit organization which uses principles of games and play for social good. An early recruit for the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning initiative, she helped to design and launch Quest to Learn schools in New York City and Chicago which made game design principles central to their curricular design.

Colin and I sat down with them on the UC-Irvine campus for a free-wheeling conversation, which touched on everything from simulations games for teaching history to the rise of e-sports as a high school activity, and along the way, they shared what Ready Player One gets right — and where it misses the boat — in terms of our current understanding of how games and play may become learning opportunities.

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