FIRE IN THE HOLE: “On the Nature of Fires and How to Spark Them When You’re Not There” could be mistaken for the title of some colorful mountain man how-to guide. But the off-center title actually belongs to a paper authored by a group of computer scientists at the University of California, San Diego. The research literature details how 40 girls aged 10 to 12 learned fundamentals of the Java -- perhaps the most ubiquitous programming language on Earth. What's remarkable is that young ladies acquired their skills by playing an immersive video game. The concept isn't brand new -- don't forget Code Hero and it's quirky founder or more recently Kuato Studio's Hakitzu. But the guiding principles behind the game's design -- gathered from 30 successful computer programmers -- should provide a bit of validation to educational game and curriculum designers:
- Activities must be structured by the person who is trying to learn;
- Learning must be creative and exploratory;
- Programming is empowering;
- Learners have difficulty stopping once they start; and
- Learners spend countless hours on the activity
Not surprisingly, the principles read like a condensed version of James Gee's Good Video Games and Good Learning. Still it's encouraging to see such ideas move from theory to practice, especially as newer technologies provide more robust gaming experiences. You can find more details about the game itself at R&D Magazine.