Unified Game Layer For Education

Established: August 31, 2011

Supporting collaborations between major research institutions and Microsoft Research Connections, this program intends to build the foundations for a unified game layer for education. By instrumenting our everyday experiences, we can transform them into gameful experiences and, by doing so, provide the inputs for entirely new capabilities such as eportfolios, adaptive learning, and project-based learning.

We look forward to inviting you to the game!

  • Microsoft research has a long-standing commitment to games for learning, beginning more than a decade ago with our support of Henry Jenkins and the MIT Education Arcade through programs like Games to Teach and iCampus. This work complemented games research being performed by Michel Pahud, Andy Wilson, and other Microsoft researchers. More recently we founded the Games for Learning Institute, a consortium of 8 universities, 14 principal investigators, and a small army of graduate students whose mission is to find out what makes games fun, what makes them educational, and develop patterns to assist developers in the creation of effective educational games.

    One of those principal investigators is Professor Andrew Phelps, founding director of the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) School of Interactive Games & Media (IGM) within the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences at RIT. Andy began his experiments with games for learning as far back as 2003 when he created MUPPETS to teach computational thinking through 3-D graphics and animation. More recently, he and Jessica Bayliss began pushing the boundaries of games in the classroom by conducting an experiment to award experience points to students in lieu of grades. In collaboration with Elizabeth Lawley, professor of IGM and director of the RIT Lab for Social Computing and creator of the citizen heritage experiment Picture the Impossible, and Elouise Oyzon, associate professor of IGM, he began to develop a much more ambitious idea: create a “frame game” that wraps around the most common activities inherent to student life at RIT.

    The Goals

    • Develop a platform that deeply integrates with the school’s core student information systems in order to create gameful experiences for students that pervade their digital and analog lives
    • Use this platform and the resulting experiences to gather data on student activities, improve student motivation, and reduce attrition in the IGM freshman class.
  • Just Press Play

    justpressplaylogoOur first official project is Just Press Play, an experiment to craft gameful experiences for the students of Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) undergraduate programs in Game Design and Development and New Media Interactive Development. You can get an even deeper dive into the project by visiting the Just Press Play developer blog.

    The vision: We intend to build a pervasive game system that engages our students more fully (or, as McGonigal might put it, gamefully) in activities that will improve their ability to manage the college experience, help prepare them for careers in game development and new media, give them a sense of accomplishment and progress along the path to their goal of graduation, and provide them with a way to meaningfully demonstrate and record the variety of skills they have mastered.

    The goal: Our immediate goal is to develop a game-based achievement system that helps our students navigate the intellectual, social, and developmental challenges of their undergraduate experience, and provides them (and us) with a clearer picture of their progress. We are designing this system specifically for students in the School of Interactive Games and Media, but are cognizant that future development should take into account the need to adapt the content for other contexts and communities.

    Just Press Play pilot program launched in October 2011.

    The Future

    The Just Press Play experiment is an important first step in bringing gameful experiences to education, but it is only the beginning. Throughout the year we intend on announcing additional partnerships with other researchers and organizations to build out the foundations of a unified “game layer” for education. This layer is similar to the social layer developed in the first decade of the twenty-first century to support a unified representation of identity and social networks across websites and applications. The social layer is arguably complete with the creation of the Open Graph protocol and applications such as Bing Social Search. Now we need to begin work on another layer, one that will instrument our everyday experiences, transform these experiences into gameful experiences and, by doing so, provide the inputs for entirely new capabilities such as eportfolios, adaptive learning, and project-based learning.

    Intrinsic motivation is a primary goal of the game layer, but there are other benefits as well. Because a great deal of data is needed to power these gameful experiences, we are encouraging participants to instrument their digital and analog lives in a way similar to how Foursquare encourages players to keep track of the places they visit. This instrumentation provides entirely new insights into the worlds of students and educators. It enables large-scale longitudinal studies that span the many institutions of learning that we travel through over the course of our lives. It is the promise of true K-Gray learning environments to teach twenty-first-century skills and guide our students along a “hero’s journey” of lifelong learning.



Portrait of Donald Brinkman

Donald Brinkman