Meet Cynthia D’Angelo

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CIRCL perspectives offer a window into the different worlds of various stakeholders in the cyberlearning community — what drives their work, what they need to be successful, and what they think the community should be doing. Share your perspective.

Cynthia D'Angelo

Cynthia D’Angelo is a professor in the College of Education at the University of Illinois, passionate about games and learning!

How did you get started in cyberlearning?

I have been working for some time on cybereducation, since my dissertation work in graduate school at Arizona State University and before the term “cyberlearning” was in common use. I was involved in developing and testing a physics game, called Surge, with funding from the National Science Foundation under Award Number 0822370. I have always felt passionate about using different technologies for learning in K-12 classroom settings. Simulations and games clearly have the potential to help with increasing motivation and engagement, and can give students an experience from which to draw upon later in an applied setting. My focus recently has been on completing a meta analysis of simulations and games for learning, and how to create game-based and simulation-based learning experiences for students.

What should the cyberlearning community be doing in order to support games and learning?

It’s important to note that most games are not self-contained enough to be successful without systems of support. The cyberlearning community should be thinking about how their projects can be used in a typical classroom, in addition to an ideal setting so that games can have a bigger impact on learning. For instance, the developed games should be scaffolded well to ensure student understanding, followed up with pre and post discussions guided by the teacher, and most importantly proper professional development should be offered so that teachers can be informed about how to best implement the new technology and support their students in learning through that experience.

One concern of mine is there are so many “cyberlearning games” available that are just modified versions of games not originally intended for education or designed with specific learning in mind. As a result, it is very difficult for an educator to know whether these games are leading to learning gains or even if the game is possibly leaving students with alternate conceptions or misconceptions. Games for learning should be constrained in ways that are closely tied to the learning objectives, so that educators can make valid inferences from gameplay about what students know or can do.

What would you like policymakers to know about cyberlearning?

Infrastructure is a huge barrier. Many of the cyberlearning projects are not feasible or not feasible at scale at this moment. We should ask questions like: How can this be used in a typical classroom at different levels? Are there other options to implement this in the classroom? Can the physical space of a classroom support this cyberlearning project? We need secondary systems in place in case servers are overloaded, so that learners can focus on learning and not troubleshooting during gaming sessions. We also need to focus on professional development for teachers so they can be trained to use the technology as it was designed to be used and get the support they need in order to maximize student learning. Lastly, there is a need for changing classroom culture to make it a safer space that allows for students to fail and then learn from that failure. I am hoping that games can help change this culture.

In your opinion, what were the most exciting innovations you learned about at the GLS (Games + Learning + Society) Conference?

There were two projects I saw that intrigued me. One is Econauts. In this game, students are assigned different environmental roles. Simultaneously, students play through the game not realizing the ecological consequences of their actions. Once they play through the game the first time, they realize they need to collaborate and cooperate with one another in order to successfully complete the game when they play a second time. At the conference, we were able to watch kids play the game while also seeing the real-time data of gameplay.

The second is RoboBuilder: A Computational Thinking Game, developed by David Weintrop and Uri Wilensky from Northwestern University. RoboBuilder is a game used to teach students computational thinking and programming by having students code in order to play the game, rather than create their own game.