UConn Hosts Inaugural Frontiers in Playful Learning Conference

After a year of careful planning, the Two Summers Educational Technology program at the Neag School of Education and the Digital Media Design (DMD) program at the UConn School of Fine Art have co-hosted the inaugural Frontiers in Playful Learning conference from 1-3 June 2022.

The three-day conference drew approximately 55 in-person attendees from across the United States (Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Florida, Ohio, Virginia, etc.) with additional national and international attendance through livestreamed sessions . Most attendees were academics and graduate students from research universities, but some very dedicated K-12 teachers and industry professionals also made time to attend.

How it all began

Organized by Stephen Slota, who holds two faculty positions in the UConn Learning Sciences (formerly known as the Cognition, Instruction, & Learning Technology program) and DMD programs, the idea to host Frontiers came about after a series of conversations between playful learning researchers. who felt lost during the pandemic. “While there are several other events focused on game-based education, we wanted to target game-based teaching and research and game-based higher education in particular,” Slota said.

“Bringing together a small group of interdisciplinary experts that are closely related seemed like a good first step,” Slota remarked.

The UConn Two Summers educational technology program (among the Top 15 in the United States according to SuccessfulStudent.org) has become a nationally recognized center for research in playful teaching and learning, in large part due to their frequently quoted (2012) Education Research Review meta-analysis Our Princess is in Another Castle: A Review of Trends in Serious Gaming for Education and (2017) edited volume Exploding the Castle: Rethinking How Video Games & Game Mechanics Can Shape the Future of Education.

“What’s great about the community is its cross-disciplinary nature, which creates touchpoints that can’t be reached by focusing on just one discipline or role.”
— Assistant Professor in Residence Stephen Slota

“We recognized that our unique status positioned us to revitalize and organize the field around a set of common goals by welcoming teachers, researchers and designers to the UConn campus as part of our community of practice” , noted Slota.

In addition to re-engaging game and game-based instructors and scholars, Slota and other Frontiers participants have sought to explore ways to enhance their individual and collaborative efforts. For some, this meant finding co-researchers and co-authors; for others, it was a matter of finding complementary skills that could facilitate the design work.

“What’s great about the community is its cross-disciplinary nature, which creates touchpoints that can’t be reached by focusing on just one discipline or role,” Slota said.

Caro Murphy delivers the keynote address for the Frontiers in Playful Learning conference. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Slota)

What the presenters and attendees thought

Anecdotal comments indicated that attendees felt Frontiers was a “huge success” and that they seemed “impressed with the smoothness of the event, especially since it was the first time the event had been held.” .

Slota quickly acknowledged and credited Juliet Kapsis, the representative contact through University Events and UConn Conference Services, for her assistance. “She went above and beyond to work with various departments, programs and people in the year it took to bring Frontiers together.”

According to a presenter, Trent Hergenrader, assistant professor of English at the Rochester Institute of Technology, “What I liked about Frontiers is that everyone was interested in the teaching process through the use different types of games; to leverage deeper learning for our students.

“In other words, he focused on games as educational tools for higher education and, more specifically, games that provide particular ways of teaching and learning (rather than focus only on how to use or create learning games),” he added.

Another presenter, Evan Torner, associate professor of German studies and film and media studies at the University of Cincinnati, felt that the three days he spent at Frontiers in Playful Learning were “among the most productive” . [he’s] experienced in [his] career.”

“It was a healthy combination of presentations, discussions, post-mortem, ideation and play,” Torner said.

Tori Wagner ’20 MA, an incoming UConn learning science doctoral student and former Staples High School (Connecticut) physics teacher, has benefited greatly from her connections with established experts and other up-and-coming playful learning professionals.

“The conference was a fantastic combination of cutting-edge research presentations and informal discussions across various disciplines.”
— Incoming PhD student Tori Wagner

“The conference was a fantastic combination of cutting-edge research presentations and informal discussions across various disciplines,” Wagner said. “It was informative to gather insights from those outside of my standard STEM circle. I’m excited to continue learning and working with the talented scholars I’ve met as we contribute to the growing number research on games and education.

Roger Travis, associate professor of literatures, cultures and languages ​​at UConn, was also complimentary about Frontiers. “We all know games teach, but conferences like Frontiers help us understand how we can use this limitless power to engage and educate.”

Summarizing a widely shared perspective, presenter Wendi Sierra, assistant professor of game studies at Texas Christian University Honors College, observed, “With such a rich and diverse group of people, the conversations were amazing and I came away with so many new ideas. As a result, my list of books to read, games to play, and things to try in my classroom is (excitingly) overwhelming.

Results and future plans

Thanks to the unanimously positive feedback, Slota concluded that “there was an agreement that we should continue to host Frontiers in Playful Learning on an annual basis”, and he felt that “the most important outcome was networking”.

“That’s the wonderful thing about bringing together so many passionate, hard-working academics—caring about topics that we spend all of our personal and professional time thinking about,” Slota explained with a smile. “Not only have we met in person people we had only ‘seen’ via videoconference for the past three years, but we have also cultivated friendships that have already led to new scholarly discourses and new endeavors. publication.”

Many presenters and attendees are already looking forward to another Frontiers, including Torner, who recommends “anyone interested in games and learning to consider attending next year!”

Slota acknowledged that limiting attendance to less than 100 people allowed them to encourage one-on-one interactions during and between sessions, which turned out to be “one of the best decisions we’ve made.”

The organizers plan Playful Learning Frontiers 2023 will run from May 31 to June 2, 2023. They will introduce minor changes to session formats (including a peer-reviewed game track for the demonstration of board games, cards, role-playing games and video games ). Still, attendees were “so pleased” with the first go-around that organizers will focus on “simply expanding an already solid infrastructure”.

Visit the conference website to learn more about Frontiers in Playful Learning, including an archive of session photos and recordings.

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