Levelling up with games-based learning
Here in the "states" the White House and various education reform organisations are focused on learning and technology innovations that depend on a fast growing innovation known as game-based learning (GBL).
U.S based leaders are beginning to look to lessons from other key industries - a list as diverse as music, healthcare and politics - for guideposts on navigating the transition to digital, network-based solutions.
Simply attempting to use old approaches to jump-start our calcified education industry leaves us vulnerable to being surpassed by more agile, innovative countries such as Korea, Singapore, and New Zealand - who increasingly leverage the power of digital technology and youth culture to develop and improve their education systems.
The game industry certainly understands how to engage youth with digital media. Well-designed game-based-learning platforms might help address many of the challenges facing education in the 21st century, including:
The Engagement Challenge - According to Child Trends, as many as one in five minority youths are dropping out of school; this number reaches nearly 50 per cent in certain urban and rural communities. Meanwhile, video games are played, according to recent industry research, by more than 90 per cent of school-age children.
Quality game design can make education more relevant by enabling players to step into different roles, confront a problem, make meaningful choices and explore the consequences of these choices. Teachers are also increasingly confronted with large classrooms widely divergent capabilities. Games let players take on different challenges, fail in a safe environment and, ultimately, succeed and 'level up' at their own pace.
The Literacy Challenge - Foundational literacy skills such as reading are completely stagnant among low-income and minority students. Tragically, only one in six African-American 4th graders is proficient in reading, according to the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress; time has run out on the 20th-century approach to this wholly preventable national disgrace. STEM learning can grow from games before formal learning begins.
New evidence from the U.S. Department of Education's Ready to Learn program and from the Success for All Foundation show significant gains in literacy skills that can be facilitated by embedded and interactive media, like games. Trans-media properties such as Sesame Street can now be delivered in multiple digital formats anytime, anywhere to promote literacy and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) learning "right from the start."
The Job/Skills Challenge - According to recent international comparison data, U.S. students are falling further behind other industrialized countries in everything from math (25th place) and science scores (17th) to the proportion of young people with college degrees (12th). The challenges our young people now face in a digitally driven global landscape require a new set of skills. Games help players to master 21st century skills such as problem solving, systems thinking, planning and execution, and creativity and collaboration. Given that many of the jobs that will emerge in the 21st century have not yet been invented, the portable skills fostered by games are particularly important.
Although there is great potential in game-based learning, there is also a significant gap between the promise of game-based-learning and the current reality. This gap is especially evident in transforming games from effective research trials into financially sustainable products that can reach and impact students at scale.
To help close this gap, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center and E-Line Media have launched two major initiatives: the National STEM Video Game Challenge and the Games and Learning Publishing Council.
The National STEM Video Game Challenge is a partnership initiated by the Entertainment Software Association, Microsoft and AMD Foundation to motivate America's youth by tapping into students' natural passion for playing and making video games. Together with our partners who include industry leaders in technology and gaming, as well as major philanthropies and foundations, we have the potential to reach millions young people, many of whom have had inadequate exposure to engaging STEM initiatives and 21st-century skills, and nearly all of whom are active gamers. We were particularly pleased to see that two of the winners of last year's National STEM Video Game Challenge were invited to participate in the recent annual White House Science Fair.
The Games and Learning Publishing Council, launched with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is a new resource for business-market analysis, case studies of effective models, and a national survey of teachers to understand market dynamics, practitioner perspectives, and areas of innovation that are ready for scaling up.
The council will launch a new site this fall, gamesandlearning.org that will feature research-based resources for researchers, entrepreneurs, practitioners, and funders.
The learning potential of video games has yet to be fully realised. Much work remains to use their distinctive qualities to personalize learning while aligning with educational standards. As a blizzard of digital innovations emerge, policymakers and industry leaders may well look to the power of video games to help inform the design of rigorous, relevant, and capital efficient learning systems. Only then will every school level up, and every student have a fair shot to realize their promise.
Michael is the Founding Director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, based at Sesame Workshop.
Nesta's games in education blog series seeks to encourage a wider discussion. To share your thoughts, ideas and questions, please comment below or tweet using #gamelearning