The Games and Learning webinar – it´s a wrap!

On the 8th of October, Yvonne Backholm from Experience Lab and I arranged a webinar on Games and Learning! Based on our own experiences and the feedback that has been sent to us, we are happy to say that is was a successful event! We had a constant current of about 60 participants throughout the webinar and an engaged group of participants discussing, debating and supporting each other in the chat.

As neither I nor Yvonne are prone to stay in the past, we have reflected upon what arrangements to keep and what elements to change when we arrange webinars in the future! Here are a few of our thoughts we would like to share with you. 

The mix of perspectives

Throughout the entire process; from coming up with the idea for this event to executing the webinar, the core idea was to bring professionals from different fields together. The participants were researchers, game developers, educators, health workers, students as well professionals with completely different backgrounds. However, what united all participants was an interest in games and learning and that was a great starting point for an informed discussion. I do believe viewing this shared interest from different perspectives helped facilitate the high engagement in the chat!

Screenshot from the webinar, myself to the left and Yvonne Backholm to the right.

The level of professionalism

We are happy to say that many participants gave us positive feedback on the arrangements! Originally, we had planned to host a seminar in Vasa, however, COVID-19 made such arrangements impossible so we postponed the event and decided to arrange a webinar instead. I had previous experiences of virtual conferences where I noted that it is difficult to remain focused during online presentation even though I did find the topic interesting. Accordingly, we decided to go with a more interactive setup with discussions rather than presentations. Based on the feedback we have received, that was a good call!

Although there will always be technical issues and surprises (like a Zoom update just prior to the webinar with different settings than before), we had the professional support of Simon Staffans and Anders Wik from ReThink who handled the technical aspects of the webinar. Yvonne and I had our hands full engaging with the speakers, keeping an eye on the chat for questions, making sure that we kept the timetable, checking if the next speaker was online yet; all while keeping a calm face… If you are planning to host a webinar, I highly recommend not doing everything yourself! Not only did our setup give us the possibility to focus on the content, but being in Experience Lab’s studio gave the webinar a little extra credibility. We could have hosted the event from our respective homes, but it would not have been the same. While I do appreciate the comfort of participating in international events from my home office, I did feel more professional as a host while wearing a blazer, rather than say my pajama pants. We have received participant feedback that stated that the event being hosted in a studio made it the webinar feel “more real”. I for one long for the days of face to face meetings, but in the meantime, we happily note this setup as a good alternative. 

It is not magic, but it can be great

Borrowing my colleague Mikko Meriläinen’s (postdoctoral researcher, Tampere University) tagline, games and learning is not magic, it does not happen by itself as it takes planning to implement in education in a constructive way. However, as discussed in the educators’ panel as well as repeatably mentioned in the chat by the participants, it can be great! Using games in education has the potential to raise motivation for students, including those that are not top performing. Games has the potential to engage students with myriad of topics, ranging from history to mathematics, from ethics to visual art. 

How do we choose the game to implement in our teaching? This question was something we covered in the discussion with two educators, Mikko Meriläinen and Minna Rimpilä (primary teacher, Vasa Övningsskola) and a question we came back to throughout the afternoon. During the events the participants shared their experiences on diverse titles, and I do believe that shared knowledge and collaboration is key! We hope that the educators participating in the webinar now has some insight into games that might be relevant for them.

Photo: ReThink/Gorodenkoff

Create games for the world you wish to live in!

During the webinar, one of the local game developers; Jussi Loukiainen (Managing director, Platonic Partnership), stated that game developers should create games that reflect the world they wish to live in. That responsibility was echoed by keynote speaker Iain Donald (University Lecturer, Abertay University) as well as in the discussion with two game developers, Kim Kupiainen and Marina Rocha.

In his keynote, Iain Donald discussed how warfare is portrayed in popular contemporary games and how this portrayal might affect the historical authenticity. Further, he noted that the context the game was developed in might affect how warfare is portrayed. Game developer awareness and responsibility was also something Mariana Rocha (Assistant Lecturer, Technological University Dublin) stressed as she pointed out the issue of math anxiety among young girls and how games with young women in STEM-fields as protagonists might function as positive role models. However, as Kim Kupiainen (Quality Assurance Junior, Critical Force) pointed out, it is easier to create a game that reflects the developers values in smaller companies and individual developers’ values might be lost in bigger companies. Therefore, I would say that discussions on company values are even more important when more people are involved! That way, certain biases might be discussed before they become part of the game; such as the issue of young white men creating games for other young white men.  

On a personal note, as all the speakers are in different ways part of my extended network, I am very proud of all of them as they have received a lot positive feedback on their input. Well done everyone!

Where are we going next?

During the event, I pestered our local game developers with this question, and in all fairness, I should attempt to give an answer myself. This entire post has in itself been a comment on games and learning, right now as well as in the future. However, I also wish to point out that with the current global situation, it appears that online or hybrid events will be dominating much of our professional encounters. Therefore, I try to pick up ideas on how to make events such as ours even more interactive while still being meaningful. 

Apart from the mix of perspectives, I believe that one of the reasons the participants were so engaged was that we created a webinar that encouraged interaction. In parallel to the Zoom channel where the event took place with a high level of activity in the chat, we also offered the participants a tool for peer to peer networking via a Slack channel. I borrowed this idea from the organizers of IGBL 2020 and made some adjustments. We encouraged the participants to briefly introduce themselves on Slack prior to the webinar so that they had an idea of who else might be attending. Further, by sharing links to other social media platforms, the participants could continue networking after the event. Additionally, we set up a specific channel on Slack for sharing resources, which we happily noted that was buzzing with activity both during, before and after the webinar. 

Unfortunately, not all participants could stick around for the final part the event where they got to talk to each other and discuss in smaller groups. The discussions ranged from esports and games and diversity to play testing and how to implement games in language and STEM teaching. Based on the summaries made be the group chairs, these discussions were informed and ranged from theoretical perspectives to practical implementation. The main critique we have received for the webinar was that the group discussions could have been longer. Someone mentioned that perhaps that the participants could have presented what they previously discussed in new groups, which I am sure could be an interesting setup. Personally, I have noted that networking and discussion function fairly well in Zoom provided that there is a given topic to discuss. Simply the command “Network!” does not work as well. However, we did notice that when professionals from different fields are engaged in the same topic, magic can happen!

We wish to thank those that funded the webinar and thereby made it possible: The Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland, Högskolestiftelsen i Österbotten and Svensk-Österbottniska samfundet. The webinar was arranged in collaboration with Novia University of Applied Sciences – R&D (Qvarken Game Industry, ReplyPlus), the IGDA Finland Vaasa Hub and Female Gaming Finland, the Centre for Lifelong Learning, förbundet Hem och Skola, Ehkäisevä päihdetyö EHYT ry and Kyrkostyrelsen. 

Once more, a huge thank you to everyone that participated and a special thank you to our speakers! 

And finally, a thank you on my behalf to Gavin Dunne, the man behind Miracle of Sound! His music has been great company during the pandemic and I am still rather star-struck that he allowed us to play his songs during the breaks. In case you want to hear ‘Commander Shephard’ just one more time, click this link!

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