Douglas Crets


Giving Credibility to the Shadow Education System

Games For Change Vs. Games Are Change

image courtesy: Games For Change

As it relates to STEM work being done in the core curriculum, video games may prove a facilitator to learning for anyone put off by the tradiational ways math and science are taught. I heard it several times over the course of this week’s Games 4 Change conference, but Adrian Sanders, the modern polymath,” as he calls himself, writes about the issue clearly at his blog, Kill Screen.

Here is a tidy intro to the STEM facet of gaming:

Presenters were excited to share about the unique possibilities games have to teach Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), but often fell short on explaining exactly why games are so potent. The usual points were things like achievements, badges, avatars, and social aspects.

The serious generational and comprehension gaps continue to plague the movement, and never was it more clear than on Monday. Top-down parties and institution representatives still see games as a means to an end (Games for Change), when game developers and advocates see games as part of a sea change in culture (Games are Change).

On Monday, Nick Fortugno’s (New School, Playmatics) talk “Zen and the Art of Serious Play” highlighted this sea change with a simple anecdote: “Kids couldn’t care less about memorizing the periodic table, but they know every single Pokémon and all of their attributes by heart. We need to look at how games have achieved that.”

Game developers working in education I spoke with felt at times “seriously shackled by the restrictions of STEM and other educational requirements.” One developer said, “They want to see better metrics on test results because they need to justify this purchase.” The disconnect in industry thinking between great games and games that teach math equations seems actually to have widened since Math Blaster.

During his keynote on Wednesday, Gabe Newell pointed out that Portal 2 also successfully teaches physics, but it is experiential first. Kids playing Portal 2 see and experience physics in action, which creates a framework in which to teach things, like the equations for force and friction. Educators were awed; game developers were visibly jealous.

A common thread weaves through all of this: it’s hard to do gaming right inside the traditional education system, for one.

For two, educators are so underexposed, it’s almost like gaming enthusiasts and engineers and teachers are experiencing completely different worlds when it comes to teaching through the game interface.

For three, when is this going to stop?

Here is something that I think is perpetuated by keeping the well-placed system in place, via Sanders again:

The dichotomy between this thinking and where game developers want to go is interesting. For developers, games are not a way to teach kids about math in math books; games (and other interactive media) are the way math will be understood for the next generation.

Nathan Verrill of Natron Baxter Applied Gaming worked on the EVOKE project (designed in part by Jane McGonigal), a meta-game that introduces gaming mechanics to create real-world change. Verrill notes that “it’s definitely a work in progress, and I’m the biggest skeptic of them all, but it’s not a reason to stop pushing forward and gather data, learn from the process, and make it better.”

Why is it more appealing to drop out of college and engage online communities that are focused on what you love, as opposed to going to school for the same thing? Why is Gabe Newell—the man responsible for ultraviolent games like Left 4 Dead 2—offering the most compelling use of games in education and providing the best road map for scalable high-value market opportunities for edu-game developers? Why does Valve have to come out into the education community to solicit projects, instead of having educators banging down its doors?

Can traditional education publishers work with indie game artists and engineers to create disribution channels that push new thinking and design into the system? Think of the positive impact it would have on students and teachers?

The way I hear it, traditional publishers like Pearson and McGraw Hill just keep the system in place, but are reluctant to shift. I know that people at Pearson have tried to tackle this problem, and be more receptive to indie attempts. But that can’t be easy. When a giant wheel rolls onward, upon a well oiled and clean line path, it’s hard to stop it.  That’s where we get the word juggernaut.

I’d love to hear what others think about this. I like what Adrian Sanders writes about. He’s going into my blog roll.  He should go into yours, too.

You can read more at Kill Screen, and please leave comments there. Adrian is very responsive to conversation on the web.


Filed under: Digital Learning, Gaming, Influence, Tech, Work, , , , , , , ,

One Response

  1. Thanks for the thoughts – I understand why education is so bogged down by the machine. It is really really hard to change something so large and so bureaucratic.

    I do think there has to be a changing of the guard, and a paradigm shift in the idea of “ownership” over pedagogies.

    Let’s face it, the world we’re in is not the same one text books were designed for.

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