In-Depth Report on Game Developers Conference & The Impact on K12: "A New Twist on Educational Gaming" by RE@L's Don Rawitsch

DonRawitsch-CoverRE@L welcomes back our frequent Guest Blogger, Don Rawitsch. Don is also our Executive VP of RE@L Product Development and RE@L STEM Investigatons©. RE@L highly values Don’s vision and creativity with K12 software.

thDon was one of the co-inventors of the MECC Oregon Trail (OT) learning simulation game from back in the 70′s.

Given Don’s industry prominence, he was invited to present to the OT aficionados in attendance at the GDC who numbered 300+ loyal trekkers still on the trail of OT.

World-wide, we estimate that there are hundreds of thousands who still know what death by drowning in a covered wagon, or suffering from dysentery means.

If you think technology in general is changing, Don tells us you ought to see the world of Gaming, and its Virtual Reality catalyst. We asked Don to give us an update on this Gaming World annual meeting.

Here’s his fascinating report:

th-1“I recently returned from the annual Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco.  In addition to presenting a Classic Game Post Mortem session on the Oregon Trail game, I attended to get a look at the gaming industry.  The GDC is a fantastic experience that last year drew an audience in excess of 25,000 from around the world

“An extensive program of sessions is augmented by activities, meet-ups, and vendor exhibitsIn wandering the exhibits, I noted a heavy dose of on-screen shooting and mayhem, many arcade style games, advanced game authoring tools, and new virtual reality technologies.

(Note: RE@L adds alerting emphasis to Don’s statement below:)  

What I did not see was much evidence of educational games. 

“I don’t fault the conference for focusing primarily on the commercial product market.  Educators can stay up to date by attending the fine ed tech conferences presented every year.  Yet I wondered what exciting learning experiences could be produced using the tools and techniques currently applied to commercial games. 

The_Oregon_Trail_coverIn looking at the history of educational games, we are sometimes tempted to identify a Golden Age back in the 80s and 90s which saw the huge popularity of games such as Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen San Diego.  Why shouldn’t we now be entering a new Golden Age of educational games?

“In a way, perhaps, we are entering such a brave, new world.  Consider these common game attributes:

  • Objective – what you try to accomplish
  • Characters – the on-screen participants (if any) controlled by the player, sometimes through team play
  • Obstacles – what the player must overcome to reach the objective
  • Resources – player possessions that can be used to mitigate obstacles
  • Random Events – unexpected happenings that help or hinder the player
  • Decisions – actions taken by the player when faced with choices or in response to an event
  • Progress Measures – indicators such as points accumulated that inform the player of how close he is to achieving the objective

TylerRacewayGraphic“You are likely see such attributes in the many games now available aimed at the elementary grade audience that help children learn about letters, words, numbers, shapes, and colors.  But what about games for learning higher level concepts?

Water-Capture-1At a time when so much emphasis is being placed on strengthening our upcoming student population in STEM field knowledge and processes, problem solving is still the mission of the day

“Of course, games are a form of problem solving, and new ones will emerge, but it will also be a time of growth for  “game-like” investigation What are the attributes of game-like investigations?

  • Problem – a situation facing real communities that needs solutions
  • Collaborative Teams – leveraging group process to help analyze situations and data and to uncover solution ideas
  • Data Collection Methods – the gathering of relevant information
  • Data Analysis Methods – organizing data in order to derive insights from it
  • Data Interpretation – applying the analysis to create solutions
  • Proposed Solutions – possible actions that can mitigate the identified problem
  • Reporting – sharing solution ideas with others who can test and implement them

“Though this process doesn’t take place in a whimsical setting as is true of many games, it is definitely game-likeYou, the students, are trying to reach an objective, you can use a team process, you have resources (tech tools, materials kits) to overcome obstacles.  Over time, investigations develop a strategy that leads you towards solutions!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother area of similarity between games and investigations is in the learning outcomes.  Educational games are most valuable when multiple levels of learning are included:

    •Content – learning information from the sciences, social sciences, and mathematics

    •Strategy – developing and applying logic to your game experience that will increase your chances of success the next time you play

    •Process – especially in team play, developing ways of working cooperatively to use time more efficiently and optimize decision making

VR STEM World“These three learning levels (among others) clearly apply to investigations as well. Students can:

  1. absorb information from the four STEM disciplines,
  2. practice the use of analysis tools to enhance the application of logic to data, and
  3. experience how the integration of expertise from the four STEM areas enhances the problem solving process.

“The RE@L team has proven past experience in the creation of educational games that will be applied to the creation of a new line of  RE@L STEM Investigations©. 

“We are bringing the excitement of gaming to the new frontier of STEM learning and career exploration.”


Thanks to Don for this fascinating look into today’s games and tomorrow’s K12 world. Soon the next best thing to really being there will be virtually being there. As Don pointed out, we do need to see more evidence of Educational Games! You can count on RE@L to make it happen!

Stay tuned to RE@L Blogs for more on this story of change!

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Tom King & Dale LaFrenz

Dr. Tom King has served for over 40 years as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Saint Thomas in the School of Education. The Saturn School of Tomorrow, formerly a St. Paul Public School, and his visionary response to educational reform, was a lighthouse on the frontier of school change. Tom was an experienced high school teacher of mathematics, a school administrator, and Director of Technology for the St. Paul MN Public Schools. He is also a member of the RE@L Team. Dr. Dale LaFrenz is Chairman of RE@L and one of the founders of MECC Software who brought “Oregon Trail” to millions of K12 kids everywhere. He has written extensively on the history and evolution of Ed Tech. His work in forging new paths for MECC’S “edutainment" software was instrumental in connecting school-markets, kids, teachers and consumer-markets/kids/parents, and now serves as the new launching pad for RE@L apps and software.