While I haven't written much about it recently (hence the reason for this re-boot), for the past four years (!), I have been looking at the value of game-based learning techniques in the intelligence classroom. While I am still a strong advocate of game-based learning approaches for intelligence professionals generally (and intelligence analysts in particular), my outlook, having actually used these techniques in the classroom, is a bit more nuanced and less naive than it was a few years ago.
I started by looking at several years worth of data in a series of posts I called Teaching Strategic Intelligence Through Games. Published in 2010, this is still one of the most popular series of posts I have ever done.
My goal then was to improve the ability of analysts to see deep patterns in disparate and largely qualitative data sets relevant to problems of strategic importance. My primary approach to this goal was to use what I think is the most powerful aspect of games - the implicit learning that accompanies them - to improve student performance on real-world problems asked by real-world decisionmakers.
Nothing that has happened over the last two years suggests that the initial conclusions were wrong. I am firmly committed to a game-based learning pedagogy in teaching strategic intelligence analysts because it works. Students simply are able to do strategic intelligence much better, much faster, when I combine traditional concepts in strategic intelligence with appropriate games.
My most recent round of strategic projects (completed in February) merely reinforced my beliefs. My students performed so far above their nominal level of expertise that it makes my nose bleed. The questions they were asked were some of the most difficult I have ever encountered and yet, in every case, a collaborative nimbleness of mind emerged in each team such that they were able to not only effectively answer the challenging questions posed to them by real-world senior decisionmakers but also push beyond the limits of the requirement and exceed expectations in useful and inventive ways.
Most of their success is attributable to their hard work and dedication but I have always been fortunate enough to have hard working and dedicated students. I remember the old days, however, when I often had good and sometimes great projects. Now I can consistently anticipate great and oftentimes extraordinary projects on increasingly difficult questions.
Unfortunately, students appear to be less "happy" with this game-based approach than with a more traditional lecture/discussion model and this, too, has persisted throughout the years. Don't get me wrong; they don't hate it (at least not all of them) but, like elite athletes engaged in high intensity interval training, my students seemingly can both acknowledge the value of the exercises while becoming cognitively exhausted at the pace and difficulty of them.
It would have been easy to ignore this modest but noticeable decrease in student satisfaction. After all, the learning outcomes were significantly better. While this is the most important thing, of course, it is not the only thing and I began to explore reasons why student satisfaction with a game-based approach were lower than with a traditional lecture/discussion model. It appeared to me to be counter-intuitive and, frankly, to fly in the face of much of the game-based learning literature.
This led to my second series of posts on the topic which I have called The 5 Myths of Game-based Learning: A Report From The Classroom. It is too long to summarize but the parts I have completed are listed below:
Part 1: IntroductionI have not finished this series but intend to do so over the next several weeks.
Part 2: Myth #1: Game-based Learning Is New
Part 3: Myth #2: Games Work Because They Capture Attention
Part 4: Myth #3: I Need A Game That Teaches...
Part 5: Myth #3A: I Want To Make A Game That Teaches...
Recently, I have been distracted with my third major excursion into game-based learning and intelligence - the starting of my own games company. This effort has been all-consuming and promises to get more so with the launch of my first game, Widget, tomorrow.
The goal for now is to explore the kind of intelligence that can explore entrepreneurship (ENTINT as I call it). Hopefully, I will soon be launching some games designed to take advantage of what I have learned about game-based learning and apply it to specific intelligence concepts such that I can better teach intelligence with games rather than merely through them.