It takes a village: How unusual bedfellows are bridging the engagement gap
Part of the appeal of games-based learning is in its power to bridge the so-called engagement gap: the fundamental disconnect between the experiences students have in school and the rich, participatory media experiences they engage in outside of school.
But for GlassLab – the Games, Learning and Assessment Lab – while engagement is the lynchpin, it’s only the beginning of the potential of effective games-based learning.
What if schools could use games to effectively prepare today’s students for jobs that haven’t even been invented yet, finding new ways to support application of skills rather than the memorisation of content?
What if teachers could leverage the data rich nature of digital games to assess student progress in real time, instead of waiting months for the results of a standardised test? What if students could solve real-world challenges by immersing themselves in a game’s complex problem spaces, gaining the skills and habits of mind required to become engaged citizens?
These are questions that GlassLab obsesses over. GlassLab’s ultimate goal is to catalyse systemic change in education by integrating reliable assessments in a games-based learning experience.
GlassLab is an unprecedented collaboration between the video game industry, major philanthropic organisations, and innovators in the design and education space. Electronic Arts, the leading digital game development company, signed on to demonstrate explicitly what educators can learn from game designers about engagement. On the other hand, partners like Pearson became involved because of the opportunity to learn how to better engage learners. Underlying the Lab’s foundational charter is a belief that complex challenges, like the ones facing education systems today, are best solved by novel approaches inspired by unusual bedfellows.
GlassLab’s team of researchers, game designers, assessment and learning designers, technologists, philanthropists and business leaders share a singular focus on one transformational outcome – improving learning for all kids. It’s a focus that is bigger than engagement, bigger than educational technology innovation, and bigger than assessment reform. It’s a focus that keeps the end user – the learner – at the top of our minds throughout the research and development process.
With this type of singular, overarching focus, each partner brings to the table a crucial ingredient for the “secret sauce” of effective games-based learning:
- Game designers bring a frame of reference focused on player engagement.
- Assessment and learning experts ensure that the assessment design is reliable and credible.
- Technologists ensure GlassLab projects and products can scale.
- Industry partners help GlassLab use “Big Data” in innovative ways to inform assessment models.
- Researchers discover and define new methodologies and approaches to merging games, learning and assessment.
- Philanthropists challenge GlassLab to deliver what students and teachers need to succeed in the future, not just what they required for today.
The diverse communities involved in the GlassLab initiative are constantly problem-solving across domains and silos to innovate in service of our youth. But even so, collaboration is not easy. GlassLab partners speak different languages and employ different approaches to problem-solving. Conflict is frequent. But conflict, engaged in with good faith in a goal-oriented context, is a necessary part of the path to innovation.
How do we manage this collaboration?
- We make our focus on the learner a cultural norm. If we want to create compelling new learning environments for students, we first need to create a compelling learning environment for our team, which empowers team members to break down the boundaries of their discipline and step outside their comfort zone. Each team member is accountable for the learning of the colleagues they interact with. When a psychometrician is explaining a competency model to a game designer, it’s the psychometrician’s responsibility to speak in a language that the learner can understand, and vice versa.
- We don’t call it failure; we call it iteration. In games, if you never fail, it often indicates that you’re not being challenged enough. We have no doubts about the nature of the challenges we are out to solve; they are complex, systemic, and deep-rooted. Failure is the cost of entry, and in exchange, we receive unlimited opportunities to learn.
- We make real-time formative assessment the cornerstone of our process. We adopt the same approach to product development that we want to see in assessment of student learning: constantly evaluating our product, identifying what’s working, and course-correcting what isn’t. This creates many opportunities for our team to engage in productive conflict and forge a new way forward.
Visitors to GlassLab find an atmosphere that is lively, fun, and deeply collaborative across different fields. GlassLab proves daily that not only can ‘unusual bedfellows’ produce exceptional new innovations for kids, but that it is rewarding, exciting and novel work for all of us as well.
GlassLab is a project of Institute of Play in collaboration with Electronic Arts, the Entertainment Software Association, Educational Testing Service, Pearson and others. Funding is provided through a three-year, $10.3M grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.