Bridging the gap between academia and educational games developers
LEGup (the London Educational Games Meetup) is a broad church. We bring together edtech developers, designers, teachers and investors, all united by an interest in creating the best educational technology. But there's one important group which is generally missing from our meetups: academics.
This isn't due to a lack of interest on the part of the group - far from it. Our discussions invariably focus in on research at some point, with group members keen to access research relevant to their products and to find academics to advise them and, increasingly, to work directly with them on design and testing.
Some of our group members have taken matters into their own hands and gone out searching for academic partners. This is usually a hit and miss process, reliant on internet searches and word of mouth recommendations.
But the hard work can pay big dividends. Children's app developer Made in Me partnered with Professor John Siraj-Blatchford, a specialist in the use of ICT in early childhood education, on the BAFTA-nominated Land of Me app. James Huggins from Made in Me told us that Siraj-Blatchford's work was fundamental to the success of Land in Me, both in giving it academic rigour, but also in helping to get it piloted in several local authorities and nominated for a number of high profile awards.
Antonio Gould, part of the team responsible for Usborne's Teach Your Monster to Read, also has great things to say about collaborating with academics. He told us that "it gives us complete confidence that our products are educationally sound, and that children really will learn through using them. It also then gives teachers and parents that same confidence that we're a brand they can trust their children to use."
But these are isolated success stories. Group members are often frustrated by the lack of access to both research and academic institutions. So what are the problems and how can we fix them?
There are many academics who want to build bridges with industry - we've spoken to quite a few of them, but they tend to want to do things on their own terms, and to their own timescales. It would help a lot of more academics came to events such as LEGup and networked outside of the academic community. If any would like to come and present at our events, just let us know through our Meetup page.
Most research relevant to edtech developers exists firmly out of their reach, in impenetrable and unsearchable databases or in academic journals which only large institutions can afford to access. In addition, research is often couched in academic language which makes little sense to the average person and lacks concise, comprehensible summaries which might alert interested parties to the content within. Opening up publicly-funded research to the public would obviously be a desirable outcome, but disseminating summaries of research in a format that can be read by both humans and search engines would be a great start.
There is motivation from both industry and academia to work more closely together, but both groups suffer from the same time and financial constraints - everyone's got a job to do and building bridges can be a distraction. Perhaps it's time for the creation of an organisation with the specific remit to facilitate closer relationships between edtech developers and edtech academics, and to ensure the right research gets into the right hands at the right cost.