Keramidas (2010): Immersive Learning in Game Design

Kimon Keramidas argues that Gee’s classic text on the lessons that video games have to bare on teaching and learning is incomplete. While we learn about the cognitive experience of gamers, the book does not prescribe methods for educators to design curricula based on gaming principles. As his thesis for “What Games Have to Teach Us About Teaching and Learning: Game Design as a Model for Course and Curricular Development,” he states, “This paper will argue that the schema and elements that game designers use in creating games can analogously be used as frameworks for reconsidering the structures of classroom experiences, syllabi, and even program development” (Keramidas 2010).

I found his discussion of teachers as designers from Salen and Zimmerman’s Rules of Play most interesting. “Just as the best games are only effective in attracting and maintaining the attention of players if they are well-designed, the best learning environments will be created by designers who take seriously the task of creating a context for students to decipher meaning through participation and immersion” (Keramidas 2010). Teachers are responsible for creating a learning environment in which all signs, feedback, and experiences reinforce a learning objective or culture. Whether teachers are intentional or not, everything that occurs in their classes sends a message. While educators have written much on participation and its various forms–individual, partner, small group, whole class–I have not encountered much discourse on immersion. What does immersion look like in the classroom? How do the physical environment, learning activities, and assessments contribute to an immersive learning experience?

My thoughts are that immersion parallels with discussions of authentic learning in education. Here, authenticity refers to the learning activities and writing that mimics the work of professionals in the discipline, ie. thinking and writing like a historian, or reading scientific articles in a biology classroom and writing lab reports. Yet, immersion also makes think of something else. An immersive learning experience indicates coordinated, sustained focus on a topic. When do we create the time and place for sustained focus in schools? When do students have the opportunity to experience “flow” in their thinking, reading, writing, or other problem-solving?

In my Composition classroom, I lament that I do not schedule enough time for individual application of a learning objective. I recognize the need for sustained practice of discrete skills. The famed charter school administrator Doug Lemov describes strategies for skill-building in his book Practice Perfect. I disagree with several features of no-excuses charter schools, but their systems for data management and designing specific learning activities to focus on narrow learning targets is notable. In the era of project-based learning, skill-building activities are often derided as put-dated “drill and kill.” Yet, what do we make of the simplistic, repetitive maneuvers of Tetris-type and Bejeweled matching games? We practice an isolated set of skills until we master them and move up in difficulty. Isolating skills is a strategy that special education teachers learn in order to modify lessons for students with a range of learning needs. It seems to me that this is an additional feature of game design that leads to its popularity.

1 thought on “Keramidas (2010): Immersive Learning in Game Design

  1. Hi Kahdeidra, thank you for this provocation. This reading had much resonance with Kimon Keramidas’s teaching style as I experienced at the ITP Skills Lab he led with Prof. Mandiberg in “Producing and Planning a Project”. As you point out, KK ascertains the “shortcoming” in Gee’s argument, of Gee not providing a “how to apply” the educational “capacity” of video games to pedagogy. And I was also struck by these two features of this reading:
    1) When KK identifies Gee’s argument’s shortcoming he writes that this “disappointed [him]” i.e., KK.
    2) The parallel of the “good design” principle as a feature of both good video games and teaching/learning TO other fields that also employ design–industrial design, architecture, furniture, automobiles, etc. in which “good design” creates high quality products and experiences, whether in an ergonomic chair, sexy Ferrari, video game or on a syllabus.

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