Plenary Speaker Profile (2014)
Ben Shapiro
McDonnell Family Professor of Engineering Education
Tufts University
Engineering Games to Connect the Classroom to the World

Many students, teachers, researchers, and funders are excited about the possibility of using video games to improve STEM learning in the classroom. There is good reason for this excitement: Nearly all youth -- and the majority of Americans their parents' ages -- play video games for fun, and a growing body of research shows how games can increase motivation to learn, as well as improve reading and scientific skills. But we have much to learn about how best to use games in the classroom in order to support students' learning, including how to empower teachers to access, comprehend, and act on data about how students are interacting with games, and about how to connect game-based learning to the sorts of critical and creative pedagogies and practices that can be most empowering to youth from marginalized groups.

In this talk, I will offer a brief overview of research on games and learning, highlighting exciting findings, gaps in what we understand, as well as areas in which educational theories suggest that games are not the right framework to support learning. Then, I will describe how a reframing of the conversation around games could create opportunities for more deeply impacting students' learning, lives, and communities. I will illustrate these opportunities with classroom data from pilot testing of a prototype game about ecology and economics, showing how students first mastered scientific content, then began to use that scientific mastery to question structures of power and to reimagine a more just world. Next, I will describe how the success of that game-based activity created a natural opportunity to use other, non-game-based, teaching approaches, including constructionist computational modeling. I will conclude by offering implications of this work for teaching, teacher professional development, and research on the design of game-based learning environments.

Ben Shapiro is the McDonnell Family Professor of Engineering Education at Tufts University, where he is an assistant professor in the Departments of Computer Science and Education, and faculty at the Center for Engineering Education & Outreach. His research group, the Laboratory for Playful Computation, investigates how to create learning environments that empower all youth to learn, express themselves, and improve their communities through playful, collaborative use of programmable technologies. New to the professoriate, Ben recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, where he was a member of the Games+Learning+Society and Computational Optimization research groups. His research is funded by the National Science Foundation, LEGO, and a gift from the McDonnell Family Foundation.