It's no secret that a lot of kids would rather play the latest videogames than do homework. But many academics don't think that's such a bad thing. Indeed, the fourth annual Games+Learning+Society Conference will host hundreds of professors, graduate students, game designers and teachers interested in engaging kids who can't get enough of Civilization, Rock Band and, yes, even Grand Theft Auto. The conference is July 10 and 11 at Monona Terrace.
"The whole concept of the field is we're trying to get kids to learn something, anything at all levels," says Sean Michael Dargan, who coordinates the conference for the UW-Madison School of Education and the Academic ADL Co-lab.
The conference is open to secondary school teachers and students. However, online registration is required and, unless you're one of the lucky scholarship attendees, the registration fee is pricey. Once through the doors, attendees will rub shoulders with academics and game designers from as far away as Hong Kong, England and Singapore.
Predictably, some of the sessions are a bit abstruse. On Friday, those who understand the jargon will knuckle down to "Virtual Incivility and the Deconstruction of Person in Simulated Worlds." On the other hand, many talks and panels deal directly with the skill sets demanded by particular games and focus on creative ways to incorporate the same skills in an educational setting.
Dargan says the academic dialogues are sure to excite the experts. But he admits that the coolest things at the conference are the games themselves.
"People can talk about using Dance Dance Revolution as a gym tool," he explains excitedly. "Then they'll get up and go across the hall and take off their jackets and play Dance Dance Revolution. One of the ballrooms will be set up with a big arcade of 15 games on giant plasma-screen TVs. It's going to be pretty intense."
Games+Learning+Society isn't the biggest or best-known confab of its kind. But Dargan says that, thanks to the work of the UW's Kurt Squire and former UW professor James Paul Gee, Madison has become a power spot for education-oriented gaming research. As a result, more and more researchers are drawn to this event.
"I'm on a growth arc for the next three years," Dargan says. "This year we're going to have about 400 at the conference, possibly 425. Then it'll be up to about 500 next year. I don't have Apple or HP involved this year, but I'm talking to them."
See glsconference.org for more information.