Sunday, October 24, 2010

Failing Until They Win

There is a fantastic article in the September 15 New York Times Magazine. Learning by Playing: Video Games in the Classroom by Sara Corbett. It's a fantastic read and mentions some of the cutting edge research on the educational applications of video gaming.
What if teachers gave up the vestiges of their educational past, threw away the worksheets, burned the canon and reconfigured the foundation upon which a century of learning has been built? What if we blurred the lines between academic subjects and reimagined the typical American classroom so that, at least in theory, it came to resemble a typical American living room or a child’s bedroom or even a child’s pocket, circa 2010 — if, in other words, the slipstream of broadband and always-on technology that fuels our world became the source and organizing principle of our children’s learning? What if, instead of seeing school the way we’ve known it, we saw it for what our children dreamed it might be: a big, delicious video game?
The key points are:

" games are central to the lives of today’s children and also increasingly, as their speed and capability grow, powerful tools for intellectual exploration."

"At its best, game design can be an interdisciplinary exercise involving math, writing, art, computer programming, deductive reasoning and critical thinking skills. If children can build, play and understand games that work, it’s possible that someday they will understand and design systems that work. And the world is full of complicated systems."

"One topic under discussion is the broader question of “transfer,” whether a skill developed by playing a game actually translates to improved abilities in other areas. They also note that we are only just beginning to tease apart the mechanisms that make game play so powerful."

"“A game is nothing but a set of problems to solve,” Gee says. Its design often pushes players to explore, take risks, role-play and strategize — in other words putting a game’s informational content to use."

"E. O. Wilson, the renowned Harvard evolutionary biologist, has lauded digital games for their ability to immerse and challenge players in vivid, virtual environments. “I think games are the future in education,” Wilson said in an interview with the game designer Will Wright last year. “We’re going through a rapid transition now. We’re about to leave print and textbooks behind.”"

"This concept is something that Will Wright [Sims, Spore] refers to as “failure-based learning,” in which failure is brief, surmountable, often exciting and therefore not scary. A well-built game is, in essence, a series of short-term feedback loops, delivering assessment in small, frequent doses."

"“They play for five minutes and they lose,” he [Ntiedo Etuck of Tabula Digita] says. “They play for 10 minutes and they lose. They’ll go back and do it a hundred times. They’ll fail until they win.” He adds: “Failure in an academic environment is depressing. Failure in a video game is pleasant. It’s completely aspirational.”"

"Paul Gee and others in the games-and-learning field have suggested that someday, if we choose to channel our resources into developing more and better games for use in classrooms, the games themselves could feasibly replace tests altogether. Students, by virtue of making it through the escalating levels of a game that teaches, say, the principles of quantum physics, will demonstrate their mastery simply by finishing the game. Or, as Gee says: “Think about it: if I make it through every level of Halo, do you really need to give me a test to see if I know everything it takes to get through every level of Halo?”"

It's a terrific read. And if you don't have the time to read the whole thing, you can watch the video.

Thanks to Gillian for pointing this article out!