Calling Young Gamers. Share your AHa! Moment!

My friends, Alex Chisholm and Andrew Blanco from the Learning Games Network asked me if I could use this blog to help them spread the word of some exciting new activities designed to engage young gamers/media makers and to encourage reflection on the value of games for education. Both are causes close to my own heart, as regular readers will know. Here's what Blanco has to say about the initiative: Lights. Camera. Action! Tell us what you think a learning game looks like. Share a story about a connection you made between something you did in a game and something you had to learn in school.

From the Learning Games Network (LGN) comes an interesting inspiration for user-generated content. A recently established 501(c) (3) non-profit organization, established by former MIT CMS Director of Special Projects Alex Chisholm, the MIT Education Arcade's Eric Klopfer and Scot Osterweil, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Kurt Squire, LGN was formed to spark innovation in the design and use of video games for learning. In addition to bringing together an integrated network of educators, designers, media producers, and academic researchers who all have a hand in creating and distributing games for learning, they're also bringing forth opportunities for youth to contribute to conversations, research, and development. It's a no brainer for today's students to share their perspectives in a more participatory role as the future of education is shaped.

The first of two efforts is a video contest, notable in its invitation to students to help inform educators and designers with their own thoughts on video games as tools for learning. Requiring entrants to create their own two-to-three minute YouTube videos, the contest offers two themes from which students can choose.

(1) The first challenge asks them to describe an "aha moment" they've personally encountered: "If you've experienced that spark of realization, that moment of epiphany between an idea from a game and something you learned -- at school, at home, or anywhere else -- tell us about it in your video."

(2) The second puts students in the role of teacher or coach, asking them to describe an

idea for a learning game they would employ to help others learn: "What kind of game would it be? What would it help players learn? Why would your video game be a better way to learn something? In your video, tell us what challenges players would face and how they would learn from them."

Contest rules can be found at Students must be 13 years old and above to enter; there are separate categories for middle school, high school, and post-secondary students. Thanks to sponsorship by AMD, the first place prize for each category is a 16-inch HP Pavilion dv6 series notebook, powered by an AMD Turionâ„¢ X2 Ultra Dual-Core Mobile Processor. Deadline for submissions is midnight on July 31, 2009.

A second, longer term initiative is LGN's Design Squad. With game design and production requiring many rounds of iteration during which details are play-tested,tuned, and enhanced, Design Squad members will learn about the development process and the integration of gaming into both formal and informal learning settings, as well as serve as a pool of rapid-reaction testers and reviewers during the creation of learning games by LGN and other organizations that are part of its network. This is a great opportunity for students to play an important role in creating innovative new learning games, enabling them to contribute to design discussions, play testing, production reviews, and early marketing concepts. LGN aims to amplify the voices of today's students among the companies, writers, and designers that are trying to better understand how games are both a powerful media for education and a challenge to develop if one doesn't understand what makes an engaging and rewarding experience.

LGN is looking for highly motivated, creative, and articulate middle school, high school, and undergraduate students to (a) participate in exclusive workshops and online sessions with leading learning game designers, producers, marketers, and researchers;(b) regularly review and test learning games that are in development; and, (c) work both locally and virtually with LGN member organizations across the U.S. Design Squad members in the Boston area will work with the LGN team in its newly established Cambridge studio, a stone's throw from the MIT campus. Interested students between the ages of 13 and 20 can send a note to designsquad at learninggamesnetwork dot org. Or, if you're a teacher or parent who would like to nominate a student, please contact LGN.

LGN plans to review inquiries and send applications to interested or nominated students

through the end of July before announcing the LGN DS 2009-2010 team in time for back-to-school.

Questions about the Learning Games Network can be directed to Andy Blanco, Director of Program and Business Development, at learninggamesnetwork dot org.