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Learning Through Game Design: A Production Pedagogy

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Abstract: While recent educational research has focused on what/how people learn through playing digital games, there is less work focusing on what and how young people learn through game design and critical digital making. Drawing upon our own research and pedagogical interventions, this conceptual paper describes how digital gamemaking enacted through “production pedagogy” can leverage dynamic learning opportunities, enriching game-based learning research and offering critical alternatives to aridly disengaging forms of digital literacies instruction in schools. Production pedagogies are premised on the view that people learn best, and most deeply, through designing “networked” cultural artefacts that have use value, and that matter to their makers. Leveraging sociotechnical resources outside of schools, this approach to game design supports the acquisition of meaningful computational and critical literacies – from coding literacies and procedural logic to narrative and artistic competences, inviting students to open the “black box” of algorithmic culture and critically explore how these systems and mechanics can work towards a designer’s own purposes. Learners thus move beyond consumer-level technological proficiency to experience and enact creative producer-like dispositions. This approach to digital making involve learners in self-directed, interdisciplinary modes of situated inquiry, where actors collaboratively research, deconstruct models, and co-construct new knowledge and art as they create, “do things” with, and share digital games - interactive visual novels and critical empathy games, roleplaying simulations and non-linear multimodal narrative adventures. Here, we identify limitations in constructionist game making research and advance production pedagogy as a critical alternative to increasingly instrumentalized forms of 21st century “skills” learning. Addressing the pressing crisis of student disengagement today, we argue that production pedagogy can enable learners to reengage with and drive their own learning, both within and beyond formal educational spaces.
Learning through Game Design: A Production Pedagogy
Kurt Thumlert1, Suzanne de Castell2 and Jennifer Jenson1
1 York University, Toronto, Canada
2University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Oshawa, Canada
kthumlert@edu.yorku.ca
suzanne.decastell@uoit.ca
jjenson@edu.yorku.ca
Abstract: While recent educational research has focused on what/how people learn through playing digital games, there is
less work focusing on what and how young people learn through game design and critical digital making. Drawing upon our
own research and pedagogical interventions, this conceptual paper describes how digital gamemaking enacted through a
“production pedagogy” can leverage dynamic learning opportunities, enriching game-based learning research and offering
critical alternatives to aridly disengaging forms of digital literacies instruction in schools. Production pedagogies are
premised on the view that people learn best, and most deeply, through designing “networked” cultural artefacts that have
use value, and that matter to their makers. Leveraging sociotechnical resources outside of schools, this approach to game
design supports the acquisition of meaningful computational and critical literacies – from coding literacies and procedural
logic to narrative and artistic competences, inviting students to open the “black box” of algorithmic culture and critically
explore how these systems and mechanics can work towards a designer’s own purposes. Learners thus move beyond
consumer-level technological proficiency to experience and enact creative producer-like dispositions. This approach to
digital making involve learners in self-directed, interdisciplinary modes of situated inquiry, where actors collaboratively
research, deconstruct models, and co-construct new knowledge and art as they create, “do things” with, and share digital
games - interactive visual novels and critical empathy games, roleplaying simulations and non-linear multimodal narrative
adventures. Here, we identify limitations in constructionist game making research and advance production pedagogy as a
critical alternative to increasingly instrumentalized forms of 21st century “skills” learning. Addressing the pressing crisis of
student disengagement today, we argue that production pedagogy can enable learners to reengage with and drive their
own learning, both within and beyond formal educational spaces.
Keywords: production pedagogy, game design, critical making, game-based learning, constructionism
1. Making games: From objects to “think with” to objects to do with
Gamemaking as a vehicle for learning, while considerably less researched and written about than game playing
for learning, has for many years now been mobilized as a pathway to technological literacies and for
supporting, more generally, “21st century learning” aims. Digital game making has been positioned, by and
large, as a vehicle to engage students and to teach programming and computational literacies, for situating
digital learning in collaborative contexts, and for teaching digital skills valued as important to civic participation
and 21st century workplace demands (Papert and Harel, 1991; Kafai and Burke, 2015).
If there is a unifying narrative in this research on learning through game design, that narrative has been
thematically informed and methodologically shaped by constructionist theories advanced by Seymour Papert
over three decades ago: theoretical work and practical models which signaled opportunities for student
engagement and learning through interacting with, and building, digital artefacts (Papert, 1980), digital games,
and “cybernetic construction kits” (Papert and Harel, 1991) – what Papert famously called objects to think with
(1980). In this work, Papert summarized constructionism as a hands-on means for “building knowledge
structures”, where learning “happens, especially felicitously, in a context where the learner is consciously
engaged in constructing a public entity” (Papert and Harel, 1991, p. 1).
Since Papert’s foundational work, numerous research interventions have taken constructionist theory as their
point of departure, moving gamemaking research questions in a multitude of directions – from how game
making might support STEM learning (Vogt et al, 2016), cognitive skills development (Akcaoglu and Koehler,
2014) and mathematics learning (Ke, 2014) to questions surrounding student motivation, digital skills, and
basic literacy-learning outcomes (Owston et al, 2009) or how students might translate previously learned
content knowledge into game form (Prenksy, 2007).
Here, constructionist-based game-making research studies tend to focus less on dynamic, socially-situated
dimensions of making and sharing games, emphasizing instead technical skills development and more
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traditional curricular objectives: aims and purposes which, to some extent, attenuate the educational vision
Seymour Papert elaborated, long ago, in Mindstorms (1980). Indeed, since Papert’s early work, constructionist
theories – and educational policies more generally – have been increasingly subsumed by standardizing,
means-ends discourses, where digital making in schools is (re)positioned, more conventionally, in terms of
“equipping” students with technical skills and “preparing” them for “participation in the STEM-related
workforce of today or the future” (Vogt et al, 2016, p. 2). Against the backdrop of a neoliberal “performativity
culture” that pervades nearly every aspect of education today (Kanellopoulos, 2016), constructionism and
digital making in schools is, we see, frequently domesticated by “instructionist” (Papert, 1980b) processes,
instrumentalized “skills” learning, along with uniform assessment and accountability measures, which
anticipate in advance what is valued, and what can be done, in and through making.
At the same time, we suggest that Papert’s own cognitivist framework, and those developed by later
constructionist researchers, in part contribute to this instrumentalized “schooling” of constructionism: namely,
by articulating a curricularized understanding of the “good things” (Papert, 1980b) that students are to make
and learn and, alongside that, a highly contained, politically clinical view of “the social” and “the public”
understood largely by Papert and his adherents as a school sociality, classroom collaboration, and a “real-
world” public limited to peer-sharing within schools (Papert and Harel, 1991). Consequently, the learning
outcomes associated with maker and constructionist environments are largely constrained by curricular
objectives, by prepackaged/corporate “construction kits”, and by the assessment ends of schooling systems
ends and aims which may have little to do with the purposes of learners and makers themselves. Here, so-
called authentic student-directed inquiry and artefactual making can, in schools, too easily be recuperated by
“templated” processes and disciplinary content learning – knowledge making and artefactual design dis-
connected from purposeful acts of cultural (re)design.
Further, by implication, we see an increasingly impoverished understanding of student agency in schools
today, not simply in relation to constructionist making, but also in relation to wider matters of “the public”,
and to meaningfully agentive participation in computational, symbolic, physical, and sociotechnical worlds in
and outside of schools. Here, we suggest that constructionist making in schools is subject to a unique form of
“hauntology” (Derrida, 1994), where the spectre of “instructionist” teaching, critiqued by Papert (1980b) long
ago, returns to remediate, and managerially attenuate, what passes for “constructionist learning” in much
contemporary educational theory and maker practice. This is markedly important in educational contexts
where digital competences are promoted in relation to economic aims/outputs and entrepreneurial innovation
while, at the same time, critiques of society-technology impacts are obviated in the name of instrumentalized
skills learning and vague affirmations about civic engagement.
In this paper, we first provide a brief history of constructionist game-making research in schools, identify
problems with “making”, and then describe an approach to digital design and game making that draws upon
production pedagogy theories and practices (de Castell, 2010; Thumlert, de Castell and Jenson, 2015; Jenson
and Droumeva, 2017; Toohey and Dagenais, 2014; Thumlert, 2015; Hughes and Morrison, 2018). We do so in
order to critically “up the ante” (de Castell, 2016) for constructionism, enabling us to rethink maker education
– and education more generally – not as a developmental system that develops, gradually “prepares” students
for, or “equips” them with, the digital skills required for some tomorrow, but rather as a dynamic
sociotechnical vehicle for situating learners in agentive roles in the present, where students are (re)understood
as socially situated actors capable of directing their own critical inquiry towards productive action. In these
contexts, we propose production pedagogy as a transformative intervention where games are not simply
“objects to think with”, but genuinely public sociotechnical objects to do with, and where that doing is, above
all, driven by learners’ present purposes.
2. Research on constructionist learning through making
In a review of constructionist literature, Kafai and Burke (2015) identify a number of (often interwoven)
research strands on what and how people learn through game making: learning coding (and computational
literacies); demonstrating learned disciplinary content through game making; learning about learning
(metacognition); and learning in social/cultural contexts where technical literacies are collaboratively enacted
through student game design. At the same time, Kafai also signals the need for more social, community-based
(Ito et al, 2010) learning that echoes Papert’s (1980) discussion of informal learning communities (i.e., in
Brazilian Samba schools). In this latter strand, learning through media design, including game-making with
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Scratch, etc., (Kafai & Burke, 2015), is understood as a pathway for students to participate in digital culture: as
Kafai puts it, children “need a basic understanding of computing” that can introduce them “to a range of
technical skills” that also “better connects them to each other” and “the social practices of programming
communities” (Kafai, 2016).
Educational work in constructionist game making is largely based on Papert’s early work with computer
learning environments. Here, Papert used a simplified LOGO programming environment to invite children to
build knowledge and solve problems through material interaction with artefacts and tools, for example,
through programming objects, creating “screen creatures”, designing math games to instruct younger children,
and working with “construction kits” (Papert and Harel, 1991). Here, Papert rejected the traditional teaching of
abstract formal concepts (through verbally-expressed representation) in favor of enabling children to explore,
tinker and even code in interactive environments: in these contexts, it was argued that children can generate
their own “knowledge structures” on the way to, or as bridge to, “formal knowledge”. Early work with
programming languages and interactive objects was described as an advance upon Piaget’s work, as Papert
(1980) acknowledged the role of affect in the learning process, and children’s identification with, and
empathetic understanding of, complex systems (e.g., from gears to computer languages) (p. viii) - views that
anticipated some of the “learning principles” Gee (2003) would associate with game-based learning.
Papert and Harel (1991) later refined definitions of constructionism, seeing it as an enrichment of Piagetian
constructivism, where learning is best enacted when students are engaged in building and sharing artefacts
with and for peers or for younger students. More recent work combines instructionist and constructionist
teaching in the context of “connected” computer game design (Kafai and Burke, 2015) where coding literacies
can be learned through social game making that emphasizes collaborative work and personal expression.
However, much research on constructionist learning still largely focuses on cognitive and technical skills
learned within the narrowed “sociocultural fabric” of schooling institutions, server-side educational game-
making shells, or out-of-school communities like Minecraft or Scratch (which connect, more predictably, with
in-school curriculum). For example, Prensky (2008) identifies three orientations, or strategies, for
incorporating game design into classrooms that safely combine instructionist and constructionist principles.
These different strategies and aims are not mutually-exclusive and are often blended in research and practice.
The first strategy is to have students design games to demonstrate previous disciplinary learning, i.e.,
curricular content delivered through more traditional instructionist means. For example, Kafai and Burke
(2015) refer to their own work teaching STEM content (astronomy), as well as Project Headlight interventions
where students demonstrated biology and STEM learning through game making; this work was seen to both
“boost content learning” and “critical thinking” skills (Yang and Chang, 2013). Similarly, Baytak and Land (2010)
mobilize constructionist research, reporting on a study that united elements of content instruction and game
making, looking at what students learned about health and nutrition, and related digital skills, as expressed
through their games.
A second orientation identified by Prensky is to have students design games for peers and younger students
who might learn content or skills from these student-designed games. This model draws upon Papert’s earlier
work (Papert, 1991; Papert, 1995) where students programmed artefacts (construction kits and games) to
teach math and other skills and content to younger students. This orientation was also utilized in a study by
Baytak and Land (2010), where health games created by students were made playable to younger school
audiences. Finally, Prensky suggests having students create games for competitive purposes. In this latter
model (which parallels robotics competitions seen to advance STEM learning), “prize-awarding” contests can
incentivise “the creation of educational games” (Prensky, 2007, p. 18).
Another research orientation examines, more broadly, various skills/outcomes acquired through game making
or through in-game artifact design (Weintrop et al, 2016), including cognitive skills and metacognition; coding
skills and “computational literacies” (see Grover and Pea, 2013); STEM learning (Vogt et al, 2016) and more
general language and literacy-learning outcomes acquired through game making. Akcaoglu and Koehler (2014)
for example assert that game making results in “measurable cognitive changes in children’s problem-solving
skills”, as well as positively supports “reasoning” and “critical thinking” dispositions. Research on game design
in Ontario has shown, more broadly, that digital game making in schools (in this case quiz and fill-in-blank
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games) can increase motivation in curriculum-related literacy activities while improving content retention,
sentence construction, and basic literacy skills (Owston et al, 2009; Lotherington and Ronda, 2010).
Finally, as a response to the paucity of social learning in the literature, more recent constructionist work by
Papert’s student, Yasmin Kafai, calls for “connected gaming” (2017), which seeks “connection points between
instructionist and constructionist gaming” that can “move serious gaming in productive directions”: connected
gaming is understood, here, as the linking of computational participation to collaborative learning with others
(p. 45) – including teams and pairs in schools (p. 46), and through forging links with “affinity spaces” outside of
schools where young people “share mutual interests” (p. 56). Drawing on the work of Jenkins (2009), Ito
(2010) and Gee (2003), this work seeks to broaden “computational participation” for personal and civic
engagement, building avenues for students to engage “creative online communities like Minecraft,
Newgrounds, and Scratch” (p. 133).
3. “Making” as problematic
While this research provides evidence of the benefits of learning through game making, we signal that much of
this work continues to define learning-through-making in relation to well-defined aims and curricularly
scripted forms. Ingold’s (2010) critique of “hylomorphic making” (where known ends and imposed form
predetermine and direct creative processes), and Pinto’s critique of recent school “maker initiatives”, apply
equally to dominant strands of game making research. As Pinto (2014) states the case, learning through
making is increasingly reduced to corporate construction kits and sanctioned tools where making itself follows
“prescriptive instructions” such that student “outputs”, if not identical, are predictable (and assessable) by
standard measures. Variation in both the means and ends of making are limited to what the kit or the game-
tool, the curriculum or disciplinary content, affords or constrains: and here, the knowledge that students
purportedly make is already anticipated by the teacher or encoded within the parameters of the construction
kit, software tool, and/or curricularized outcomes.
As argued in the previous section, we suggest that constructionism has, since Papert’s work, been
fundamentally “haunted” (Derrida, 1994) by instructionist principles, in part due to a reliance upon cognitivist,
developmental psychology and, with that, a clinical, school-bound view of “the social” and “the technical”:
orientations that at once assert a normative social ideal as a single unquestioned means for learning (Nolan
and McBride, 2015) while insulating learning actors from own their own purposes for making, and from less
instructional (subject-bound) means and creative trajectories. Complicating this picture, in educational
contexts where developing students for contemporary “knowledge economies” is emphasized, digital literacy
learning is increasingly aligned with future workplace skills, where technical aptitudes are valued in terms of
marketplace innovation or for building human capital, and where creativity and “design thinking” are similarly
colonized by market-driven agendas and discourses. Here, many of the key terms associated with
constructionism – making, innovation, creativity, “reflection on the possibilities at hand”, collaboration, and
critical thinking – are stripped of their critical or “emancipatory potential and linked to wider features of
neoliberal subjectivities” (Kanellopoulos, 2016).
Here we caution too, in increasingly neoliberal contexts, that potential off-shoring of pedagogical innovation
and participation to “contests”, clubs, and “affinity groups” may provide a rationale for researchers and policy
makers to leave traditional curricular structures in place, as well as attendant epistemological values: what
counts as knowledge, who makes it for whom, and why. Indeed, to embrace participatory cultures outside of
schools – without transforming sociotechnical cultures, roles, practices and worlds inside of schools – not only
abrogates transformative interventions within schools, but leaves participatory cultures largely to those who
inhabit them now: the already privileged, the already “connected” (Thumlert and Nolan, in preparation).
All of this is made more evident in an era of technocratic schooling and hylomorphic (Ingold, 2010) curricular
mediations: mediations which, on one hand, safely cordon learners off from more complex social
contingencies and agentive forms of critical inquiry and making and, on the other, leave a standardizing,
means-ends curricular “common sense” in schools largely uncontested. Emblematic of this, Prenksy (2007)
concludes that one day it may “seem as natural for a student to develop a game to prove they understand
something and know how to teach it, as it is for them to write a paper or student lesson plan” (p. 18). Here, in
this positioning of digital making in terms of technical innovations that are continuous with inherited
educational values and practices, dominant modern epistemologies and institutionalized student roles are
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correspondingly carried forward, where actors in schools are being developmentally prepared and endlessly
“equipped” with skills and knowledge about states of affairs over which they themselves have neither any
agency nor any embodied competence (de Castell, Jenson, and Thumlert, 2014, p. 16).
4. Doing things: From constructionism to production pedagogy
In contrast to the discourses of “preparation” that underwrite much technology and even “maker” education
today, production pedagogy is premised on the view that people learn best, and learn most deeply, through
designing and making things that address learners’ present purposes and self-defined concerns: real-world
objects and technology artefacts that have immediate sociocultural worth to the makers (de Castell, 2016) –
from doing authentic inquiry-driven research and artefactual making that addresses context-specific dilemmas
in the world to coding and publishing digital games that extend those engagements. Production pedagogies
offer an interdisciplinary pedagogical orientation where learning actors are supported to engage real-world
research challenges and design competences “through the making of authentic cultural artefacts—with
correspondingly authentic audiences enabled to witness such acts of knowledge production” (Thumlert, de
Castell, Jenson, 2015).
We distinguish production pedagogies from constructionism in the following ways:
First, even in constructionism’s aspirations of learner-centered-ness, there is still the mediating figure of the
instructor that remains as constructionism’s “secret agent”, the one who defines, shapes and evaluates the
“good things” that children are “given to do”. An axiom of production pedagogy, whose critique of “alienated
learning” parallels the more familiar critique of “alienated labour”, it must be the learner who has agency in
determining what will count, for them, as a “good thing to do”, because the product of that doing must have
meaningful use for its producer(s). Moreover, this kind of use value should not be conflated with arid utility or
functional “skills”, but rather understood as contextually located and meaningful creative uses and aims that
learners co-define for themselves through exploration and critical inquiry, in terms of what is, or what emerges
for them as, significant to their interests, needs, and passions, or their own public concerns: questions about
what kind of world we will inhabit, how to make sense of things, and how to co-construct and re-construct
knowledge, art and cultural forms that are not simply “given” in advance. By contrast, alienation is, in schools
today, endlessly manifest through instructional (and constructional) educational means that, through
curricularized “making”, defer use value, and mediate/mitigate learners’ purposes for making: purposes that
are necessarily contingent, particular, and situationally entangled in social worlds and cultural practices that lie
beyond the purview of subject-based curriculum and reproductive content learning. When use value, purpose,
and meaning are abstracted from the making process, the skills to be learned in the present, by students, are
decontextualized and translated into incremental preparations for some (always) future practice or role,
practices and roles which are indefinitely postponed (Rancière, 1991) through the developmental process of
instruction and – where making is aligned with curricular scripts and templated assessments – construction.
So, while it may indeed be the case that, through constructionism, children are enabled to “learn much better
than they could before” (Papert, 1980b), production pedagogy reverses Papert’s axiom that “we all like to
learn so that we can use what we’ve learned”. That understanding of use, and of use value, reflects, and is too
easily subsumed (in research and practice) by the ingrained instrumentalist presupposition that education is a
means to an end, and that “preparation” itself is the motivation for learning. From Plato to Prensky, the
learner must have faith – in the instructor, the curriculum, the discrete activity or assessment, or in the
segmented or dialectical “means”: that is, have faith that what is learned might have some future utility or
“exchange value”. On this view, what is learned in the present becomes a decontextualized “commodity” that
may (or may not) have some actual use value – someday – over the rolling horizon of lessons that
developmentally equip people for the future. Without this uncritical faith in alienated means – and in the value
of curricularly-sequenced preparations (as well as attendant mediating commodities, from grades to the
extrinsic reward structures of gamified classrooms) – what has been amplified today, unsurprisingly, is a crisis
of student disengagement in schools or (more troubling) a quiescent acceptance of alienated learning as
education’s “natural condition”.
By contrast, production-based learning happens in sociotechnical sites that already “connect” with unfinished
public worlds and communities outside of schools, where learning actors, immanently engaged with an
extended, open-ended, real-world “curriculum”, can take up sustained roles as artists, composers, writers,
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game-designers, media makers, and/or researchers—that is, as cultural (re)designers. Significant learning
might, in this light, be reconceived in affective terms that Papert does not account for: learning as a function of
adventure, of situated experimentation and digital improvisation that is open to contingency, emergent
wonder, and the magnetic allure of real-world stakes and self-defined needs: what makes sense and what has
value to learners here and now, where genuine inquiry itself can eventuate in deeper - if unpredicted -
questions, hypothesis, affective connections, and creative/critical making.
A further distinction is that production pedagogy theory advances Papert’s view that “games” are “objects to
think with”, reconceiving them, educationally, as objects to think and do with. Here, Bogost (2011) asks us to
consider what games do, and what we can do with them at the level of design, and how the procedural
mechanics and the narrative and modelling (simulation) affordances of game making tools enable game
makers to do a multiplicity of different things: from telling dynamic interactive stories and composing artworks
to making empathy games that enable players to feel what it is like, or to be within, the embodied
circumstances of others, to games that intervene in politics and model alternative worlds. Further, Bogost
invites readers to keep imagining what we might do with games.
In production pedagogy contexts, we have found that there is indeed much to do. At the level of teacher
education, we have, for example, invited teacher candidates to “do” production pedagogies so that they may
themselves enact and reflect upon the educational opportunities of self-directed inquiry and attendant
artefactual making and doing (Alonso et al, in preparation). Here, students have collaboratively created digital
games based on their own concerns and research/inquiry trajectories, using everything from Unity to RenPy to
Twine. To provide snapshots of recent work, candidates developed: a critical game about race,
linguistic/cultural diversity and identity (GameMaker Studio); an RPGMaker game designed for an autistic
child that enables the player (the author’s child) to navigate everyday challenges within the role-playing
simulation; empathy games that model and explore the traumas of indigenous children in Canadian residential
schools and the trauma of refugee flight (embodied through multimodal narrative systems, including
integrated video works); games that simulate the disempowering experience of women in STEM fields; a game
that modelled what it is like to be a “player” in schools who is streamed by educational systems (where
possible educational futures are procedurally closed-off to players as they move through the schooling
system); and a Twine game – with original video work – where the player plays a space-alien trying to make
sense of the routines and rituals in Earth’s schools. Other works have included more traditional kart-racing
games and fantasy/dungeon RPGs, a game that uses meta-fictional techniques to activate the worlds of
Shakespeare (that the creators themselves valued), as well as well as multimodal “art games” and history
games (that enable players to travel through time and situationally experience events through
multimodal/narrative perspective-taking and choice-making).
Pedagogically, to support this kind of making, we invite learners to analyze game models (commercial and
critical) and explore how game mechanics and procedural systems work. For example, how does a game
position the player within a simulation? How are virtual worlds modelled, and how do games invite
empathetic, process-native understanding (Bogost, 2011) of systems and worlds? What identities to do players
take - and how are roles and interactive choices structured by system designers? What kinds cultural
narratives, discourses, and values do games implicitly or explicitly articulate, or induct players into? These
questions in turn provide a footing for how to design games that ‘do things’ and for deciding which tools and
techniques will serve their own creative ends.
For many of the works, students create websites for the games, video trailers, and/or original aesthetic and
“paratextual materials” (Apperley and Beavis, 2011). In all of these works, production pedagogy was the
vehicle for candidate learning and doing, and the model to carry forward into (future) interdisciplinary
classroom practice, where modes of inquiry and design aims are proposed and negotiated by students
themselves, with their own rationales for research and making. And while not every game was a “technical
masterpiece”, and individuals learned computational competences according the demands of their unique
projects, what was significant, in our view – and became the operational criterion of “success” – was that
students were doing things with games: inventing ideas and fabricating digital models as a response to, and an
intervention upon, the exigencies of their own situations, where the games themselves were not a means to
well-defined learning outcomes, but expressed and modelled new knowledge, art, or arguments that realized
their makers’ purposes.
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5. Present concerns: Games of their own design
Through research interventions in schools, we have supported K-12 students and their teachers learning to use
a variety of real-world commercially-available software tools, coding and creating digital games of their own
designs. As a means of enacting computational literacies, we agree with constructionist research that these
educational interventions operationalize a multiplicity of sophisticated competences that connect 21st century
learning dispositions to participatory opportunities (Kafai, 2016). The critical difference in the approach we’ve
described here is the insistence that computational literacy learning must be enacted in relation to use value
and to interdisciplinary learner designs, in which critical media literacies and gameplay are integrally co-
engaged with the development of digital games in ways that, at one and the same time, explicitly address, and
strive to “re-fuse”, technology-based equity and gender gaps in and outside of schools (Jenson and Droumeva,
2017, p. 213).
Using accessible “low floor-high ceiling” software tools, even primary/junior students can code, create and
publish, and continue to build and share with the support of online resources and communities. Here, game
design functions not as a technical “update” on the essay or test, or as a vehicle to simply “equip” students
with skills, but rather as a living context for (ever) advancing computational competences as students open
“the black box” of algorithmic culture to explore how these systems work, and how procedural
logic/conditionals function, and what in turn can be done with these systems. This kind of exploration and
media making, Douglas Rushkoff (2010) argues, provides transparency into how everyday algorithmic and
ideological systems work, and makes learners much less vulnerable to being “programmed” by those systems
in their everyday lives.
As a coefficient of production pedagogies, asking students to take producer-like roles as makers of digital
culture leads to reflecting upon producer-like responsibilities informed by a grasp of the conditions of
possibility that necessarily shape and constrain real-world activities of production, raising complex and
challenging questions about the economy of values deeply structured into games and play. Eschewing
curricularized game-making and corporate “construction kits”, this kind of critical making draws learners’
attention to matters of value, and to the ethics of game play at the level of game mechanics: for example, by
modelling possible conditionals and variables like inclusivity, cooperation, conviviality, and hospitality as core
mechanics or win-conditions of games (Flanagan, 2011) or exploring the design affordances of avatars for
enacting more inclusive aims (Jenson et al, 2015; Nakamura, 2017).
Deconstructing and reconstructing these kinds of texts and gaming models provides a purposefully disruptive
orientation to gamemaking and to learning, leveraging new genres of “critical play”, new educative ways of
doing things with games that – as noted in the previous section – permit and invite students to explicitly
engage and address their own questions and concerns through games of their own design. To activate this kind
of learning and making, it is no longer adequate to conceive of game-making – or any other educational
enterprise – as vehicle of preparation. We call, instead, for more productive pedagogies in schools that are
connected, critical and – above all – driven by present use value and the present purposes of learning actors.
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Pre-School Children With Speech Delay: Case Control Study Based
on Guidelines for Game Designs
Carolyne Alphonsus Tommy1, Jacey-Lynn Minoi2 and Chin Saw Sian3
1Institute of Social Informatics and Technological Innovations, Universiti Malaysia
Sarawak, Malaysia
2Faculty of Computer Science and Information Technology, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak,
Malaysia
3Medecins Sans Frontieres
tommycarolyne@gmail.com
jminoi.unimas@gmail.com
sawsian@gmail.com
Abstract: The development of an effective mobile game-based application specially for children with speech delay is highly
dependent upon its design and the speech or language development of the users. Various design principles used for adult
interfaces cannot be applied to children’s products because the abilities, needs, skills and expectations of the user are
different than the adults. Although there are numerous studies have been conducted on designing games for children,
studies on specific design guidelines for children with speech delay has yet to be comprehensively studied. Therefore, this
study focuses on the set of design guidelines for the development of mobile game-based applications for children with
speech delay in Malaysia. Using a case-control design, data on 10 pre-school children with speech delay and 20 pre-school
children without speech delay were collected using a rubric questionnaire which was developed based on the existing design
guidelines mainly for young children. Children’s behaviours, facial expressions and responses were observed during the
evaluation session. Based on the results, the two groups of children show different expression and responses towards the
interface designs of mobile-based game application. The findings suggest that not every of the existing design guidelines for
children’s interface may be applied into the design guidelines for children with speech delay. Appropriate design guidelines
were extracted and derived through the results from the conducted experiment. These guidelines would be useful for
researchers and game designers or developers when designing games specially for children with speech delay.
Keywords: design guidelines, mobile game-based, preschool children, speech delay
1. Introduction
Children start to communicate in their early lives as they listen, learn, and understand what people around them
are saying and doing. They produce their own sounds to communicate with their family members and people
around them. The development of speech and language skills among children builds them to learn to read, to
speak and then later, to succeed at school.
Children aged from one to four years old develop language at a very rapid pace, whereby they can speak single
words and then join words together in 3-word sentences. Children vary in their development of speech and
language skills and follow a normal development and natural progression for mastering the skill of language.
The checklist and developmental milestones for speech and language in children can be found in Speech and
Language Development Milestones (2010). Children from birth to 4 years of age will experience a huge
development in producing speech sounds and their vocabulary, including plurals, are also rapidly expanding
(Bulman and Savory, 2006). At the age of 2 years, they should be able to use some one-or two-word questions
and ask questions. By the age of 4 years old, they can speak more than 200 words and they are able to join two
or more words together. They would also imitate adults’ speeches and then form short sentences that contains
with at least 3-joined word sentences.
Speech delay occurs when children did not meet the expected speech milestones for their chronological age
(Kids Sense Child Development, 2017). They may be following normal developmental or sequential pattern, but
their ability to produce speech sounds occurs later than is typical. Children who experiencing speech delay would
have difficulty with reading, writing, socialization, and if remain unresolved, it is very likely that it could affect
their speech intelligibility (McLaughlin, 2011). A speech therapy intervention is needed as a treatment
programme to help improves their verbal production and communication skills (Crosbie et al, 2005). However,
Murray and Parker (2004) stated that the treatment programme could become tedious and bored as it consists
of therapy manual that uses paper and object-based method.
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Carolyne Alphonsus Tommy, Jacey-Lynn Minoi and Chin Saw Sian
With the upcoming trend of using smart mobile devices, mobile game-based applications are becoming common
and frequently used among children. The smart device industry also saw a growing demand for child-friendly
content, especially for pre-school aged children. There exist many mobile applications with a series of free
educational games. Mobile game-based applications represent an innovative and often inexpensive resource
available to parents and speech therapists to help young children struggling to master early speech and language
skills. These apps are not to replace the therapy materials, but it is used as a supplementary tool for children
with speech delay at any time, any place.
In general, designing mobile game-based applications for children that is fun, educational, and usable is
challenging. A lot of thinking into the design of the user interface and contents of the mobile game-based
applications are required, especially for pre-school children as they are generally assumed as preliterate and
have a short attention span compared to adults (Gilutz and Black, 2010). Hence, various design principles used
for adults cannot be applied to children’s products because the abilities, needs, skills and expectations of the
user are different than the adults. This study is mainly focused on a set of design guidelines for the development
of mobile game-based applications specifically for children with speech delay in Malaysia. An experiment has
been conducted with pre-school children with and without speech delay and we have used the evaluation rubric
which was developed based on the existing design guidelines especially for young children. This paper will
discuss on the appropriate and effective guidelines for mobile game-based designs based on the results
collected.
2. Mobile user design guidelines
Over the years, numerous design principles and considerations were studied and presented by researchers
which can be adapted as guidelines in the user design model for children. At present, there are more than three
hundred published guidelines aimed at developing technologies for young children (Gelderblom, 2008). Since
our targeted users are pre-school children aged about two to four years old, we will discuss the main design
features suited for them. Here, we present the main design features in terms of the visual designs, interaction
styles and use of sound. Table 1 presents the summary of the published mobile user design considerations and
guidelines for children.
Visual design
Visual design is an artwork that consists of appealing images, colours, icons, texts and other elements to grab
one’s attention. A good visual design enables users to understand the message delivered as the design may
visualise, and deliver different explanations or interpretations. Chiu et al, (2012) proposed a set of icon design
principles for child users based on three components of the object, icon and interpretation - principle of obvious
visibility, principle of visual resemblance, and principle of conceptual resemblance. According to Gilutz and
Nielson (2007), icon design for children should be obviously visible and look clickable in order to attract children’s
attention. The design of the icon should also be compatible with the principle of visual resemblance so that the
icon is recognizable. Once the children are able to recognize the icon, they should be able to understand the
meaning of the icon to avoid confusion. Hence, they believe that the proposed design principles would attract
young users as the designs are obvious visually and easily recognisable and interpretable.
Hourcade, (2008) and Sesame Workshop (2012) suggested that the graphics including icons designed for
children should be simple, recognisable and visually distinct so that they are easily distinguishable from each
other. Visually complex icons should be avoided as the children may not yet understand any abstract concepts
(Druin, 2002). The size of icons is also important and that it should not be too small, so that the children can
easily click or touch on the icons. Hourcade (2008) noticed in his study on pointing performance that some
children may have problems clicking on the icons accurately and then gets frustrated, especially when the sizes
of the icons are too small for them to click on. Therefore, it is vital to design larger icons to avoid inaccurate
clicks or touch because young children’s pointing performance is below if compare to adults (Ker, 1975; Salmoni
and MacIlwain, 1979; Sugden, 1980; Wallace et al, 1978).
Another important guideline for visual design is that the interface should be designed with simple and little or
no use of text. Children may have difficulty in trying to understand text-based instructions as they could not
process visual information as quickly as adults (Hourcade, 2008; Pierce, 2013). There is another study conducted
by Druin et al, (2002) also suggested that visual interfaces with minimal use of text are more useful. They
investigated a typical text-based query search interfaces of digital libraries for children and discovered that such
digital libraries are insufficient for the needs of young users because of the typical text-based interface, making
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... In terms of drawing pedagogical benefits for school teachers and teacher education, Akcaoglu and Kale (2016) reported that preservice teachers' engagement in game production helps them apply what they learn from game design to their instructional methods and strategies. This echoes with constructionist production pedagogy where learners gain deeper insights from designing and making artifacts to explore their value and usefulness in educational settings (Thumlert, de Castell, & Jenson, 2018). Constructionist theory claims learning is most effective when socially meaningful and situated artifacts are made as part of the learning process. ...
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