Reflections on Games-Based Learning 2010

#gbl10 The word that popped into my mind at the end of the conference was 'inspiring'. That's good. There's a chance that when you've believed in and seen the efficacy of games for learning, for many years, that you can become harder and harder to please until you reach the point where nothing excites you. The technology is exciting, obviously, but more exciting than that is what people are doing with it.

Screenshot from Patient Rescue, a game for trainee doctorsI took the opportunity to look at so-called 'serious games', as I'm familiar with the school-based work that's going on, so my viewpoint will reflect that a certain extent.

How did the conference stack up against my 14 criteria for conferences ?

#1 Fresh air and daylight

Not much of that, I'm afraid. I spent most of the time in artificial light and in darkened rooms. At least the breaks were long enough to be able to nip out and get some oxygen. But this, of course, is more a reflection on the venue than the conference itself. The Brewery, where the event was held, is a very pleasant environment. Just no daylight in several rooms.

#2 Can we move now?

Some of the sessions did seem a little long, but the long breaks compensated for that I think. At least, I didn't feel that my blood had stopped circulating!

#3 Where are the kids?

There were 10 year-olds showing off their programming skills at the 2Simple stand, and at least one person I know brought his son along. However, as far as I can see there were no children physically in evidence as part of the programme. Fortunately, two or three speakers included video clips of youngsters playing and reflecting on games. I think that's important.

#4 Plenty of 'down' time

This was an excellent aspect of the conference. For example, the lunch break was so long that it was possible to go for a walk and still have time to eat lunch and talk to people. The terminology used was good as well: 'socialising' and 'reflecting'. At many conferences, there is a relentless torrent of 'stuff', and hardly any time for reflection. This was different.

#5 Good speakers, on good topics

No complaints about the topics, but some of the speakers could do with a few lessons in presentation. For example, why did two speakers assume the audience could read print and diagrams that had obviously been designed to be read on paper? Or were we expected to bring telescopes? And since when has it been acceptable for speakers to address the audience with not just one hand in their pocket, but both hands in their pockets? Is that how you speak to people you respect?

Fortunately, some speakers were excellent, in terms of both content and style of delivery, and all speakers had great content to share. I've come away with a lot of information to process, and a lot of information that will be useful in my work, which is what I'd hoped for. So overall, I'm pretty satisfied.

#6 Let the people speak

As well as plenty of time for networking there was usually time for questions after a talk. Also, the seating was 'wedding style' with gorups of tables so people could converse with each other. There were two ' unconference ' sessions, Mirandamod   (# mmgbl in Twitter) and Teachmeet . Unfortunately, they were both on at the same time, which I thought was a great pity.

#7 I wanna be connected

The wi-fi was excellent, and the Twitter stream great fun. There was a Twitter game too, which I didn't take part in, and the tag to be used was made clear (#gbl10).

#8 Who else is here?

It was nice to meet lots of people I know and quite a few I didn't. I was not able to find a delegate list, but in these days of data protection legalities perhaps conference organisers are reluctant to take chances. The Twitter stream is always a good way of finding out who else is around too!

#9 Decent accommodation

Well, I can't complain because I stayed at home and commuted each day. Someone I know stayed in a new hotel for half-price. There are always good deals around throughout the UK.

#10 Lots of choice

There were three main strands, and you could mix and match, on each of the two days. The only time I thought choice inappropriate was that between Mirandamod and Teachmeet , as I've already said.

#11 Post-conference information

Well, the Twitter stream is still going strong at the time of writing (#gbl10), and the conference website should have links to lots of videos of the talks next week.

#12 If you're going to advertise, tell us

Well, I suppose that if, as I did, you go to sessions on serious games you have to expect advertising. I have to say, though, that one or two talks felt like just one long TV advert. Happily, there was plenty of good content too, so perhaps we can regard the talks as ' advertorials '. I'm not complaining, just observing.

#13 No text please

There was a lot of printed material for the taking. I just wrote down their website addresses. There were CDs available on some stands too.

#14 Start and end on a high

Well, the conference got off to a good start with a nice video and thumping music; the talks were good too! The closing keynote, by Jesse Schell was superb. And it was great to have the prize draws afterwards, even if I didn't win anything! Graham Brown-Martin certainly knows how to organise a conference.

Over to you

I'd be interesting in learning how you found the conference, and the 'wow' moments for you. If you like, contribute a paragraph or two to a forthcoming newsletter, described in the next paragraph.

I'll be writing about the conference, or certain aspects of it, in greater depth in the special Games issues of the Computers in Classrooms newsletter , due out in April. It has a great line-up of contributors and lots of interesting information and reviews.