• Amy Chacon

The Learning Games Lab


At their first glance of the Learning Games Lab, a parent, teen or researcher might not think of it as a learning environment. When entering the lab, you'll notice TVs on almost every wall, video game consoles and board games, comfy couches and track lighting. The Learning Games Lab team developed this space as a casual and comfortable educational setting, much different from a traditional classroom layout with individual desks. The lab is utilized by the team in conducting summer workshops that focus on group play sessions, presentations and designing. The team designed a research space with different components that offer youth opportunities to grow and learn while allowing educators to adapt and modify the environment to support youth engagement.

Comfortable Furniture


Designing an ideal learning experience connects to creating a comfortable ambiance that generates a positive effect on youth engagement and participation. The furniture, which includes couches, tables, and carpet, forms a safe and relaxing learning experience for youth, resembling home or hanging out with friends. Youth decide the best furniture to use to suit their learning process. In years of observation in the lab, we’ve witnessed youth using the furniture to match their preference of a work space. For instance, they may engage in small group discussion in the couch area, play games at the tables, and collaborate with their team members on the carpet. The furniture’s flexibility allows educators to rearrange the furniture to best support the activities taking place. Educators may combine the tables for large group discussions to ensure every youth feels seen, heard and included. They may also divide the tables for individual group work among youth or rearrange the couches for presentations so that everyone can focus on the presenter.



Special Lighting


The lab has track lighting that can be used to alter the environment during certain activities. The first option is fluorescent lights, which is similar to those found at schools or offices. The second is track lighting, also known as “mood lights” and commonly used at arcades or movie theaters. Educators commonly use fluorescents during group discussions, activities and gameplay in order to keep youth actively engaged and attentive to the activities while interacting with other youth. Educators regularly use track lighting during user testing and youth presentation to create a comfortable atmosphere that assists youth in reducing distractions. It also supports youth full immersion in gameplay. Educators may modify brightness to match youth’s preference. For instance, youth may prefer to work on projects and tasks with the track lighting while preferring to use fluorescent lighting during gameplay.


The Games in the Lab


Having a variety of games gives youth different gameplay experiences.

Reviewing and playing games allows youth to reflect on what makes a successful game and articulate the decisions they made during gameplay. Youth are able to critique existing games based on game mechanics, themes, goals, and the target audience. Educators are able to facilitate a series of conversations aimed to help youth to reflect on their gameplay. Educators create small group discussions for youth to explore each other's reasoning with their choices and then transition into a large group discussion for youth to share their game experience to resonate together on gameplay experiences and analyze what worked and didn’t work. By integrating small and large group discussions, youth are able to use their new critical thinking and decision making skills to make responsible decisions and become aware of the impact of their choices.


Opportunities for Youth Voice in the Video Closet



The Video Closet is a smaller section in the lab with a camera and a chair set up for youth to record their entries. Youth who experience shyness or anxiety in sharing their thoughts in group discussions may use the Video Closet to express their ideas. From reflecting and recording their video closet entry, youth recognize that their voice is valuable, matters and needs to be taken into consideration. Educators write questions that encourage youth to give feedback on knowledge, skills obtained in activities, experience in the lab and games in development. Educators typically ask questions, such as

  • “How is your experience in the Learning Games Lab so far?”

  • “What did you like about the game you tested today? What didn’t you like about the game?”

  • “How would you explain the transformation game design to a friend?”


Conclusion


When building the foundation of an optimal educational setting, the Learning Games Lab team considers the importance of the physical aspects of the teaching space. Components in the lab can be modified by educators based on youth requests or what works best for them to support their learning. Every component available in the lab is utilized to create a comfortable educational setting to increase youth engagement and participation.




Written By: Amy Chacon, Student Aide, amycha@nmsu.edu