Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Gaming the Future of Education

Yes, but once the box is open, you're going to have to wear it.

Is technology going to destroy the field of education (as we know it), and lead to the end of teachers? Ah, such a fun question for the start of another fall semester.

The following video just barely touches on the education tie-in, but it’s still a very good overview of the next phase of where technology is taking us. The last layer was the social media layer, the next layer will be the gaming layer. And it’s being built, here's a glimpse:

By now, we're used to letting Facebook and Twitter capture our social lives on the web -- building a "social layer" on top of the real world. At TEDxBoston, Seth Priebatsch looks at the next layer in progress: the "game layer," a pervasive net of behavior-steering game dynamics that will reshape education and commerce.

And then this, from the article “Games without Frontiers” from the September issue of DISCOVER:

Q: As games get more flexible and interactive, what kind of new goals and applications do you foresee?

Tiffany Barnes: I would say that in the future we’re going to see gamelike frameworks around more and more things we do. People will manage their lives more in a sort of gamelike structure: “OK, this week I want to spend this long working out and this long hanging out with my friends, and I need to go to work, and I need to do this, that, and the other thing,” and I’m going to play a little game that manages all that and gives me point for doing the things that I said I wanted to do. Or when I take a class, I’m not going to sit in a lecture anymore; I’m going to do different experiences that the teacher has arranged for me and assigned points to, to let me know which things are important for me to do.

For a teacher, this could mean arranging a class in a game kind of structure and not just plopping down in front of the students and giving them a book and saying, “Read this” and “Do this test.” Instead we might have teachers saying, “Oh, here’s a bunch of quests you can do, and here’s the points for every one, and here’s how everybody else is doing.” Then I can play and learn, and it’s no longer some tedious thing that I’m doing because someday I need to get a degree so I can get a job.

Q: Jim, you have talked a lot about the historical roots of interactive education. Why is it taking off now?

Jim Bower: About 600 years ago, we invented a technology, the printing press, that had a substantial effect on the structure of universities. And they love each other, right? We also invented professors. It all worked great and solved the scalability problem. We had a small number of people who knew something and who wanted a larger number of people of people to believe what they believed. Well, gaming technology addresses the scaling problem in a completely different way. It actually solves the scaling problem. So I can simultaneously educate thousands, hundreds of thousands of kids, with them doing it themselves. It allows self-education, which is really how humans learn anyway.

Already, at 34 minutes per log-in, our kids are doing more science on Whyville than they’re doing in middle school. One thing to remember is that brick-and-mortar schools and the current structure of education have not been around very long. Another thing is that it doesn’t work very well. Maybe the thing that will be most disrupted by what we’re talking about—beyond media, beyond finance, beyond everything else—is education. It’s kind of already happening. I think video or games are a way to play educationally and learn, and that’s actually how we learn. So we finally have the technology to learn the way we really learn.

+ + +

I’m fascinated, and, of course, terrified as well. If such ideas fall first to the hands of our elected officials, I can see how they might take this to pushing us into a completely online teaching environment. But, on the other hand, if educators are the ones who run with it first, there’s the possibility of something really interesting happening. I have this glimpse of students off on these quests, getting their points and such, and then coming together in face-to-face discussion groups, so that the teacher becomes less of a gate-keeper (assessor) and more of a coach (guide). I would like that.

So, here are some homework questions: Is this happening now, as they suggest above? At Princeton? In middle school? If so, what are people doing? How might a humanities course be structured in this new environment? How about a creative writing class?

Because this is who they think they want, right?


At 9/21/2010 12:08 PM, Blogger Brennen Wysong said...

You might want to check this out:


Only gave it glance so far. Too busy reading about nutcracker.

At 9/21/2010 12:22 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Thank you for the link. That makes a good bit of sense to me . . . and from it, what I'm wondering is twofold:

1. What are the implications for literature, composition, and creative writing?

2. What are the implications for Higher Education?

Number two, especially, is interesting to me, as there must be implications, both because instructional methods are often able to cross, but also, if early ed (and high school) starts going at this strongly, students will come to college expecting these sorts of methods.

It's an interesting thought experiment.

At 9/21/2010 1:41 PM, Anonymous David-Glen said...

I dislike the idea of making a gigital game out of Hawthorne's "The Birthmark" or James Joyce's "Eveline"-- the point of these stories is the language and the word on the page, not the action or drama of the event. Recreating fiction into film-video-digital art shifts the whole meaning of the printed word. I just now became comfortable with the idea of e-books in the classroom, now I have to contend with creating an interactive game? Whatever happened to the contemplative, meditative process?

...or am I over-reacting?

At 9/21/2010 1:51 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Indeed, that IS the question, isn't it? Perhaps there's something in Gaming Layer that can be of help in teaching literature, or perhaps there isn't.

If it turns out to be simply a content game, then no, that doesn't sound like a profitable way to teach The Sun Also Rises, even on the Drinking Level or the Bullfighting Level. Or imagine The Waste Land game. Ah, good times, ladies. Good times.

But what if there's a way to browse secondary material in some gaming layer fashion? History? Scene? Where students go to find things for points? That might be of interest, and it might replace the sorts of lectures around the text that are common.


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