An old friend of FableVision’s, Shannon Frederick Meneses has always been devoted to educational media. As the Executive Producer for Learning Games Network (LGN), she has been a powerful advocate for pedagogically-sound games with forward-thinking design and deep roots in educational research.
Over the years, Shannon has helped strengthen LGN’s commitment to broad and strategic outreach, advanced development, and a strong foundation in research. At LGN, Shannon works with scholars like Dr. Lacey Hilliard at Tufts University to insure that students and educators are getting games that are informed by the most recent and trusted research.
“With all of our projects and audiences, we are constantly re-thinking and re-shaping our outreach for our projects and audiences. We regularly conduct market research to expand our knowledge of our audience(s),” says Shannon. “I have found engaging your user base is an ever-evolving process and we continue to find unique and creative ways to reach out and keep them informed and connected.”
Shannon’s work both with FableVision and LGN included the development of the award-winning learning game Quandary, which teaches ethics curriculum to middle schoolers. In this FableFriday, we spoke to Shannon about her work with LGN and FableVision, and learned more about what drives her passion for educational media.
Tell us a little bit about your role at LGN and the work the organization does.
I am beyond lucky to be the Executive Producer at the Learning Games Network. As part of a small company, we all have to wear many hats. My main role, though, is to create, coordinate, execute, and make things happen!
LGN is a spin-off of the MIT Education Arcade. It was created as a non-profit organization with the aim of bridging the gap between research and practice in the field of game-based learning. We build award winning games across a wide-range of ages, content, and devices. At their core LGN's games feature inspiring design, innovative pedagogy, and sound business strategy.
What inspired you to enter the educational media field, and how did you get your start?
It may sound silly, but I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be in educational media. I come from a family of teachers, and I was always in awe of what they did.
Growing up, I wanted to find a way to do some good in this world and combine two things I loved: education and media. I had a fascination with TV shows and movies and how they were made. Not only did I love them for their content, but I was also intrigued by the process of making stories and characters come to life.
While studying TV and Film at the Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University, I was fortunate enough to be mentored by some of the best and brightest in media production. Hearing their stories and learning from their experiences only furthered my interest and passion for this work. I dove in head first and worked my butt off. Whether I was in a writing class tweaking scripts, behind the camera shooting, or editing footage until the wee hours, I loved and learned it all.
Soon after graduation, I moved to LA and gained experience as an apprentice editor in the New Media group at Disney. While I cherished my time in LA and the incredible relationships formed and expertise gained, my passion was still with educational media. So, I made my way back east and eventually landed in Boston. I continued to build my resume and worked at sound studios and production companies. In 2003 I landed my first project management job at Six Red Marbles. It was there that I met FableVision’s Technical Director, Brian Grossman! He eventually moved on from SRM and was hired at FableVision. A little while later, he reached out to me to interview for a producer opening. I was ecstatic when I got the job and I never looked back. I have been in production for 20 years, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
To engage students in ethical decision-making, LGN and FableVision created Quandary, a teaching tool designed to help students 8+ recognize and deal with ethical situations in their own lives. What inspired this game?
The idea for Quandary began with Shelly London, while she was an inaugural fellow at Harvard University. Feeling there was a strong need to create a game that engages young people and helps them develop skills such as critical thinking, perspective-taking and decision-making, she set out to create this one-of-a-kind game.
She brought together a team of experts across the fields of child development, social and emotional learning and game design. That team of experts included scholars from Harvard and Tufts, who devised a prototype that was tested for viability, led by Professor Marina Bers. From there, Scot Osterweil and designers at LGN refined the game. Peter Stidwill, serving as LGN’s Executive Producer at the time, worked with FableVision to bring the game to life.
How is Quandary unique in the world of game-based learning and social-emotional learning?
Quandary has many components that make it unique, from its visual appeal to the conversation it sparks in educators and players alike.
In Quandary, players are captain of a human colony on the Planet Braxos, attempting to build a viable outpost. The story is told through captivating graphic novels, drawing players in as they have to make difficult decisions in which there is no one right answer—just like in real life.
Throughout the game, they develop skills such as critical thinking, perspective-taking and decision-making. While there are a number of games that incorporate these concepts, Quandary is unparalleled, as it addresses these ideas head-on. Quandary also takes it a step further, as it doesn’t represent ethical challenges as black and white issues. In this game, all sides are treated fairly.
Collaboration is also a key component of Quandary. We encourage educators to have students play in pairs as it promotes quality interactions during gameplay. As students engage in the game, they are allowed to replay, gather new information, hear from different colonists, and change their minds, thereby impacting the outcome based on their choices. This ability fosters a deeper level of thinking and the game becomes a catalyst for discussions among players and further enhances socioemotional learning.
What has your experience been like working with the FableVision team?
I might be a bit biased, but after working for FableVision as a producer, the team is and always will be like family to me.
As a producer, it’s my job to lead projects, organize teams, and keep things on track. I love what I do, but it cannot be done without great partners and collaborators like those at FableVision. They are a joy to work with—true storytellers and an immensely talented team. You know when FableVision is on a project it will get done, and done well.
Scot Osterweil has also done a lot of work with LGN and FableVision on Quandary and other projects. How would you describe working with Scot?
You come to learn that this industry is actually quite small. You start to hear and see the same faces. You surround yourself with the people you want at the table. Scot is hands-down one of those people.
I have been fortunate to work alongside him for a number of years now and in a few capacities. Not only is he a legendary game designer, but he is intelligent, creative, and a true mentor. I remember receiving a call from Scot about the role at LGN. We met in his office to discuss the position. If I recall correctly, we both said it felt like kismet. Even though he’s world renowned, he’s humble and treats you as his equal. He genuinely wants thoughts and ideas from ALL team members. He is direct and deliberate with his ideas and when he speaks, everyone listens.
We heard that LGN and FableVision are heading to New York City this month. What's the occasion?
Yes, can’t wait! Peter Stidwill and I will be speaking about Quandary at the Games For Change Festival on Tuesday, June 18 at Parsons School of Design. We will share our thoughts on how to keep a game sustainable, relevant, and engaging in today’s ever-changing landscape.
Which trends are you seeing in the game-based learning arena that you’re most excited about?
I am a firm believer in trying to reach all learners—meeting them where they are rather than making them meet you. No one person learns or retains information the same way as someone else. Unlike traditional teaching methods, game-based learning has a unique ability to address numerous learning styles at the same time.
While at LGN, I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with Lacey Hilliard of Tufts University and accompany her on a research study here in Boston. Helping conduct this study allowed me to see collaborative learning first-hand. Students were actively engaged in the game—they were sharing their ideas, all the while learning and retaining valuable new skills.
What excites me most is hearing and seeing players when that lightbulb goes off. I am eager to see what the future holds as game-based learning continues to become an integral part of education.
Favorite FableVision project: Without hesitation, Lure of the Labyrinth. It was one of my first days at FableVision when then Executive Producer, Karen Bresnahan, handed me a huge project binder and said: it’s all yours. I couldn’t imagine what I was getting myself into, but Labyrinth quickly became and still is one of my favorite projects, ironically with MIT’s Scot Osterweil at the creative helm.
Labyrinth was a large undertaking spanning multiple years. It’s a true testament to what can be done when you get a top-notch team of creative directors, writers, artists and developers together. As a producer, it’s not always easy to keep a team motivated and on track over a number of years, but this team just worked.
We heard you like to sail. Where’s your favorite place to travel to by boat and why?
Yes, it’s true, but it’s been ages since I’ve sailed like I used to. Favorite place to travel by boat: Cape Cod. Although, I used to have dreams of joining a crew and sailing somewhere exotic and just going completely off the grid.
More About Shannon
Favorite dinosaur: Have to give a shout out to one of the smallest - the microraptor. Although, my children love dinos, and they’d be sad if I didn’t mention the T-Rex.
Go-to vacation spot: I actually don’t have a go-to spot. When possible, I really like to choose new destinations and my kids are always in tow. Last year was Ireland. Discussions for the next trip are in the works—any recommendations?
Favorite dish to cook: Hm, too many. I’m an avid cook (and baker) and time permitting, I like to try new things. It’s rare that I use a recipe. If I did have to choose, I’d pick my grandmother’s homemade ravioli and meatballs. There’s nothing more gratifying than looking around my kitchen after a day of cooking and baking, knowing I did it with my own two hands.
New skill you would like to learn: Play the steel drum. Stay tuned, I start lessons this month!
Favorite cartoon character: Curious George.