The reason I do the job I do, is because I believe that education can change lives. I believe that is a universally applicable truth. For some though, the importance and potential impact is more significant.
I am privileged to work with a host of organisations helping them develop and deliver their learning provision. One of those organisations is the United Nations and specifically the school system it runs for Palestinian children across the Near East (that’s the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria to you and me).
We often think that gamification is a new idea but we forget, we’ve been turning exams and tests into games for a long long time. Here’s a really good infographic on the subject from Knewton and Column Five Media
With all the debate about technology in classroom, this infographic from Online Teaching degree offers an interesting perspective.
Created by: OnlineTeachingDegree.com
In spite of my criticisms of many educational games, I believe passionately in the potential of games to inspire learning. I don’t think that games are a panacea but they do have many characteristics that can make a profoundly positive impact on our lives. The real educational value for gaming lies in four key areas:
For many years we have adopted game mechanics to make ordinary activities more engaging. Recently that process has gained a higher profile and more glamour through the term “gamification.”
The most common form of educational game is the quiz. A quiz is simply, a glorified, gamified, test. I’m not being disparaging, on the contrary: there is no doubt that ‘treating’ assessment in this way makes it more engaging without diminishing any of its quantification value. Quizzes make the process of testing knowledge more enjoyable but you still need to identify the right answer to progress.
Although mainly used to check knowledge, this same approach can help raise awareness and change behaviour. It’s a technique deployed for loyalty reward points such as Air Miles, travelling (Foursquare and Gowalla) and environmentally-friendly driving behaviour (Toyota Prius, Nissan Leaf, etc.)
There are many circumstances where we want to practice before being exposed to a real situation. Those circumstances might be technical, financial or social but where getting it wrong in reality might cause real problems. Games provide the perfect environment to practice, to experiment, to fail softly.
It goes without saying that we’d prefer our airline pilots to train using simulators before taking the controls of a real jumbo jet. Games can also provide a proving ground for social interactions, leadership skills, teamwork. Although the fidelity of the game is unlikely to present an entirely true mapping with reality, the experience of playing within a recognisable environment helps develop important, transferable, understanding. I suspect the translation to reality will always need some additional contextualisation and the scaffolding but it does at least prepare the ground, and even if the game and reality are radically different it can help the player feel more confident.
Where games have proved to be enormously valuable is when the experience has been scaffolded or supported by an enthusiastic teacher who can use the game play as a stimulus for other activity. Good teachers (formal or informal) can draw out of the game transferable lessons such as urban planning from SimCity, rotational geometry from Tetris, creative writing from Myst or social etiquette from the Sims.
In these circumstances, the accuracy of the game is less important than its ability to engage:
Jonny Ball famously said “Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good joke.”
Games are excellent in their ability to bring a subject to life, encourage exploration and provoke further thought. Even if a game is not strictly true in its representation of objects or events those inaccuracies can form a powerful stimulus for further investigation and discussion. From my own experience, I know that the flaws in games can prove powerful provocations for debate and that that can generate profound learning.
The combined problem-solving activity of the gaming world is racking up some astonishing figures – people have played World of Warcraft for an incredible 6 million years of combined effort since its launch in 2004. The biggest growth area in gaming is multiplayer games with millions of players around the globe regularly engaged. And the activity is predominantly team-based – these are virtual communities at ‘work’. That shared experience, that voluntary collaboration – “cognitive surplus”, as Clay Shirky might call it, “blissful productivity” Jane McGonigal might say, can be channelled into very valuable focus such as the example of gamers identifying the structure of a new retroviral enzyme.
There is something deeply satisfying about solving a problem, beating a challenge or experiencing something new when it is done with others. The social nature of online gaming has great potential to bring people together for a common purpose.
Imagine if we made more use of that combined effort: what other real world problems and challenges might gamers solve?
I have no doubt whatsoever that games can make a unique contribution to education and society. I think that in the past we have, perhaps, been overconfident in our expectations: wrongly assuming that games on their own could solve many, if not all, of the barriers to learning. However, if we take the true characteristics of games and embed them in a well thought through set of experiences then we have something that will be genuinely different and make a genuine difference.
Interesting infographic from OnlineUniversities.com about the state of public education in the USA.
Will the same happen in the UK?
There’s a lot of really interesting work going on with play and games – here are some of the articles that have caught my eye in the last couple weeks.
Bring Back Play and Disorganized Sports to Our Children. From The Innovative Educator. http://j.mp/n8tCG3
ChicagoQuest promotes game-playing at school – Chicago Sun-Times http://j.mp/qU8zEk
Parents’ behavior linked to kids’ video game playing. Michigan State University http://j.mp/qLuP63
Helicopter Parents Can Impede Child’s Ability to Play. From NC State http://j.mp/nyPH8v
Gamasutra – Features – Personality And Play Styles: A Unified Model http://j.mp/qV1dvx
Do Action Video Games Improve Perception and Cognition? Florida Uni research in Frontiers in Cognition journal. http://j.mp/rdxeSI
In the Brain, Winning Is Everywhere. How games affect the brain. From Yale. http://j.mp/oNS856
Five Lessons On Teaching From Angry Birds That Have Nothing Whatsoever To Do With Parabolas. From dy/dan http://j.mp/qpcZ9y
Find Games For Your Players [Marketing] from What Games Are http://j.mp/ob0FIy
Gamers Succeed Where Scientists Fail, Opening Door to New AIDS drug design. http://j.mp/oKX5vk
UK ‘must act to solve games industry brain drain’ Tigra study reported by BBC. http://j.mp/ocsOft
There’s a new TV ad from Apple extolling the potential of the iPad in classrooms.
A few months ago Edudemic posted this list of 50 Innovative Ways to Use an iPad in School.
What do you think? Does the iPad represent revolutionary technology for all teachers and students or simply another tool in the arsenal of the enthusiastic ones?
One of the projects I’m working on at the moment is a website that will help primary school children (5-11s) with their art work.
The audience for the resource is quite complicated because teachers are likely to be the standard bearers for it – they’ll be the ones that direct children to it (at least in the first instance). So the site has to be teacher and classroom (i.e. interactive whiteboard) – friendly as well appealing to the under 11s. The task is further complicated by the double-edged sword of being a ‘fun’ subject – anecdotally, we’ve heard that teaching can suffer both from unimaginative lessons (“it’s already engaging what else do we need to do?”) and from the cacophony of opinions about creative expression.
Our expectation and aim is for the site to help teachers integrate and delivery ‘good’ art education into the classroom and produce a vehicle for children to structure their projects.
A device we’re exploring to promote participation is a scoring mechanism: a simple mechanic that rewards effort. I’m not going to argue with Huizinga (or indeed my post on game definitions) when he says such activity is not a game but we’re hoping that the playful rewards will add value to each child’s involvement. Not only will the scoring recognise effort, it will create an internal system of value to the resource – harder activities will carry greater recompense. For example, identifying more features of a ‘great work’ will score more points, writing a note on what you’d do differently next time will receive a bonus, and uploading an image of your work will give you a badge of achievement.
The rewards won’t be as sophisticated or varied as Call of Duty but we recognise that they will have to have a meaningful currency if the points are to be perceived as worth acquiring. If the rewards are too easy, they become cheap and unattractive, too sparse and there’s insufficient wage for effort. Likewise, what exactly does acquiring the points mean? Can users brag? Compete? Unlock? Level up? If a dollar or a pound is theoretically worth that amount of gold, what’s out precious metal? It’s an issue to address.
One of the other interesting aspects we’ll be testing during development is whether such incentives actually promote learning or simply drive the children to ‘play the game better.’
I’ll let you know how we get on, but I’d be interested in hearing of similar activities if you have them…
I was party to a fascinating discussion with colleagues from the RSA yesterday about the nature of education: asking the basic question – what’s the point of school? Catalysed by the change in UK government, there seems to be a battle between the idea of school being a place for ‘transferring a body of knowledge’ and education as an ‘interactive process of developing skills.’ Proponents of ‘traditional methods’ cite the high academic achievements of Singapore and alike as demonstration of the strengths of rote-learning. Ken Robinson and others argue we need a paradigm shift in education; that the existing system of industrial education (based on deductive reasoning and a knowledge of the classics) is ill-suited to the needs of the twenty-first century.
Knowledge without skills is pointless and skills without knowledge are useless.
Personally, I think that’s a false dichotomy: knowledge without skills is pointless and skills without knowledge are useless. For me, they are both essential elements of learning. Still, something is clearly going awry with the current system. Very few people seem to be happy with the outcomes of a childhood spent in formal education – employers claim graduates, let alone school leavers, lack core competencies and the population generally appears to believe that learning stops at the school gate.
Although most people’s experience of schools seems positive during their primary years (5-ish to 11) for many, secondary education doesn’t just strip fun and satisfaction from learning but sucks the very life out of it. I suspect that, because of the curse of competitive league tables, young people are being taught to pass exams rather than think. The deficit model of highlighting what isn’t known removes the possibility that learning could be enlightening and rewarding in any other way than acquiring a paper certificate.
School is where we’re taught what we can’t do
There’s clearly a need to have a standardised measure of ability to help identify strengths and weaknesses. However, I think that as a society we are suffering the consequences of School, and the exam-system foisted upon it, being the place where we’re taught what we can’t do.
Maybe initiatives like the RSA’s Opening Minds which place competencies at the centre of curriculum and help smooth the transition from primary (theme-based) to secondary (subject-based) education are part of the answer. At least as crucial as bridging the transition between Year 6 and Year 7 is a change in attitude that dissolves the boundaries of learning and dismantles the idea that learning is confined to formal education environments. One might argue that the key to a satisfying life (and all the wellbeing and economic benefits that that creates) is the development of a mentality that embraces constant and continual learning; that school’s greatest legacy, therefore, is providing us with the ability to think for ourselves.
A few months ago I wrote of the growing belief among young people that Google removes the need to know anything. However, it seems that the pursuit of knowledge seems to be on the rise in two very different quarters.
Micheal Gove, the UK Education Secretary, in his recently announced review of the National Curriculum, has reiterated his long-standing commitment to “essential knowledge,” that is names, facts and figures that create a “connected narrative” in traditional subjects such as History.
In the technology world, two high profile recent initiatives make access to contextualised knowledge even easier. Qwiki is still in alpha but already it is a remarkable new way of presenting content. It describes itself as “working to deliver information in a format that’s quintessentially human – via storytelling instead of search” – it turns information into an experience. Of course it is something that good teachers have always done but what makes Qwiki so interesting and exciting is that it integrates and packages disparate web content on fly. Look up “Sheffield” as I did for example and it returns a narrated slideshow that outlines the history and culture of the city. Every scene offers more depth and related material. It is pretty impressive stuff.
Quora is a social network for questions rather than an aggregator. It creates an organic conversation between community members in response to posted queries. It is a great way to gather opinion (although credibility and trustworthiness are entirely dependent on community votes). It is fascinating to see the expertise the dialogue draws in and the access it offers to contemporary thinkers and personalities (I saw interesting response by Dustin Moskovitz to the film Social Network). Both of these sites make information more accessible.
simply knowing stuff doesn’t make us better thinkers
However, simply knowing stuff doesn’t make us better thinkers, more creative or able to solve new problems. But I am intrigued by the possibilities offered by the unparalleled access to information we now enjoy. I sympathise with idea that we should be armed with core knowledge because I believe it makes it easier to progress to and develop the higher order thinking skills of analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Without an initimate grasp of the Fundamentals, it is harder to make unlooked for connections. At the same time, it would be a real mistake if we confused knowledge of facts and figures with creativity or initative.
I hope we don’t see this renewed interest in information as the Be All and End All – it could be the start of something much much more interesting.