UConn Hosts Inaugural Frontiers in Playful Learning Conference

After a year of careful planning, the Neag School of Education’s Two Summers Educational Technology program and the UConn School of Fine Art’s Digital Media Design (DMD) program co-hosted the inaugural Frontiers in Playful Learning conference from June 1 – 3, 2022.

The three-day conference attracted roughly 55 in-person attendees from around the U.S. (Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Florida, Ohio, Virginia, and more) with additional national and international participation through live-streamed sessions. Most attendees were scholars and research students, but some very dedicated K-12 teachers and industry professionals also took the time to attend.

How it All Started

Organized by Stephen Slota, who has dual faculty appointments in the UConn Learning Sciences (formerly known as the Cognition, Instruction, and Learning Technology program) and DMD programs, the idea to host Frontiers who felt they had fallen out of touch through the pandemic. “Although there are several other events focused on game-based education, we have clearly wanted to target higher education, specifically,” said Slota.

“Bringing together a small, tightly knit group of interdisciplinary experts seems like a good first step,” remarked Slota.

The UConn Two Summers Educational Technology program (among the Top 15 in the US according to SuccessfulStudent.org) has become a well-recognized hub for teaching and learning research due in large part to their frequently-cited (2012) Review of Educational Research meta-analysis Our Princess is in Another Castle: A Review of Trends in Serious Gaming for Education and (2017) edited volume Exploding the Castle: Rethinking How Video Games & Game Mechanics Can Shape the Future of Education.

“What’s great about the community is its interdisciplinary nature, which creates points of contact that can only be achieved with a narrow focus on one discipline or role.”
– Assistant Professor-in-Residence Stephen Slota

“We have recognized that our unique status is in common with us, and that the UConn’s campus is a part of our community of practice,” Slota noted.

In addition to reengaging game- and play-based instructors and scholars, Slota and other Frontiers attendees sought to explore their individual and collaborative efforts. For some, that means finding co-researchers and co-authors; for others, it is finding complementary skillsets that could facilitate design work.

“What’s great about the community is its interdisciplinary nature, which creates points of contact that cannot be achieved with a narrow focus on one discipline or role,” Slota.

Caro Murphy gives the keynote address during the Frontiers in Playful Learning conference. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Slota)

What the Presenters and Attendees Thought

Anecdotal feedback indicated that attendees felt Frontiers was “huge success,” and they seem impressed with how smoothly it went, especially since it was the first time hosting the event. “

Juliet Kapsis, the representative at UConn’s University Events and Conference Services, for her help. “She went above and beyond to work with various departments, programs, and people throughout the year.

According to one presenter, Trent Hergenrader, assistant professor of English at the Rochester Institute of Technology, “What I appreciated about Frontiers is that everyone is interested in the process of teaching through the use of different kinds of games; to leverage deeper learning for our students. ”

“In other words, it is not just a narrower focus on how to use or make learning games),” he added.

Another presenter, Evan Torner, the associate professor of German and Film / Media Studies from the University of Cincinnati, felt the three days he spent at Frontiers in Playful Learning were “some of the most productive [he’s] experienced in [his] career. ”

“It was a healthy combination of presentations, discussions, postmortems, ideation, and play,” said Torner.

Tori Wagner ’20 MA, incoming UConn Learning Sciences doctoral student and former Staples (Connecticut) High School physics teacher, greatly benefited from her connections with established experts and fellow up-and-coming playful learning professionals.

“The conference was a great combination of presentations on various disciplines.”
– Incoming Doctoral Student Tori Wagner

“The conference was a great combination of presentations on cutting-edge research and informal discussions across various disciplines,” said Wagner. “It was enlightening to gather perspectives of those outside my standard STEM circle. I am excited to contribute to the growing body of games and education research. ”

Roger Travis, a UConn associate professor of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages, was also complimentary about Frontiers. “We all know games like frontiers, but conferences like Frontiers are helping us figure out how to use and limit the power to engage and educate.”

Wendi Sierra, assistant professor of Game Studies at the Texas Christian University Honors College, observed, “With such a rich and diverse group of people, the conversations were amazing, and I walked away with so many new ideas. As a result, my list of books to read, games to play, and things to try in my classroom is (excitingly) overwhelming. ”

Outcomes and Future Plans

Through the unanimously positive feedback, Slota concluded that “there is an important outcome for networking.”

“That’s what’s wonderful about bringing together so many passionate, hard-working scholars — nerding out with a smile. “Not only did we meet face-to-face with folks we’d only seen ‘through video conferencing over the last three years, but we have cultivated friendships that already have new scholarly discourse and publication efforts.”

Many presenters and attendees are already looking forward to other Frontiers, including Torner, who recommends attending next year! ”

Slota does that limiting attendance to less than 100 people allowed to encourage one-on-one interactions during and between sessions, which proved to be “one of the best decisions we made.”

The organizers are planning for Frontiers in Playful Learning 2023 to run from May 31 – June 2, 2023. They’ll introduce minor changes to the session formats (including a peer-reviewed play track for demoing board, card, roleplaying, and video games). Still, the attendees were “so happy” that the organizers will focus on “simply expanding an already-solid infrastructure.”

Visit the conference website to learn more about Frontiers in Playful Learning, including the archive of photos and session recordings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button

Adblock Detected

Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker