Teachers could use Flowlab as a starting point for teaching programming and game design. This would have to be heavily supported by additional materials, which currently the teacher would need to supply. Flowlab makes it easy for students to create a simple platform game -- although probably not a very good one -- without a lot of effort and direction.Continue reading Show less
Flowlab is a game-making tool that’s targeted toward beginners, making it potentially perfect for upper-elementary or middle-school students, but the integration of Facebook as the discussion system (with all that that entails) means that the experience ends up fitting better with upper middle school students. Flowlab doesn't require -- or even allow -- users to type in script or code. Instead, behaviors for game objects are created with a flowchart style drag-and-drop interface. Users link statements, and the game engine interprets those structures in a linear fashion on the fly. The idea sounds cool, but for anything beyond the basics, the workspace ends up extremely convoluted and the flowchart system can sometimes make something normally trivial to code more difficult to accomplish.
It's helpful that it runs in a browser making it easy to set up, but the Facebook integration might mean it gets blocked by the school firewall. Since it's web-based, students with access at home can continue working on their projects. Another potential boon is that any game made with Flowlab can be remixed, encouraging the development of a community of learners. The problem is that there’s no good way to filter and sort through the games, most of which seem to be partially finished projects created by users who presumably just tried out the tool a few times.
Perhaps due to its beta status, Flowlab is hindered by a lack of built-in scaffolding (e.g., tutorials or guides) or even any documentation that students can follow. This is particularly frustrating given its overly obtuse programming metaphor.
Flowlab is yet another game-making tool in the growing market glut. Given its current problems, it's difficult to recommend except at a school that doesn't allow teachers to install software on their classroom computers. Flowlab is in beta, however, and it's possible that most of its current issues will go away. More work needs to be put into making it easier to get help when needed (maybe the design of an initial set of lessons?) and into developing its online community. Improving these would make Flowlab a site to keep an eye on. As it is, the programming metaphor may serve to confuse more than actually scaffold computational thinking.