Monday, April 30, 2012

Katie Salen's Take on How Games Can Change Education

Don't shoot the player while they're learning.  It's one of the keys to good game design as spoken by a veteran of the field, and adopted by Katie Salen in the context of education.  She spoke about that pearl of wisdom among many others during her recent talk at SXSW.

Drift Deck Joker Katie Salen
Drift Deck Joker Katie Salen / JulianBleecker


In video games, you don't want a player who is just learning the controls for the first time to have to also survive a barrage of attacks.  Learners need a safe environment to get the hang of things before they can be challenged.  The same should be true in a classroom.  A student shouldn't be in constant fear of being wrong while they are trying to first grasp something.

At the same time, failure is a good thing.  In games, trying and failing not only makes victory that much sweeter, but it ensures that the player has mastered a necessary skill before moving on.  Why in school do students have only one chance to pass a test? Why do they have to move on to the next topic even when they haven't mastered the previous one? I see this often when tutoring math: because a student doesn't have a solid base to work from, they get progressively more lost for each new topic.

The social aspect (and community) as well as the concept of sharing are important to learning.  There's no problem consulting fellow players of a particular game to get tips and tricks, or building a team of players who specialize in a particular skill but understand the big picture — yet the classroom parallel is often seen as cheating.  Even the typical spatial arrangement of a classroom, where students sit in rows facing the teacher, reinforces the focus on the individual.

These were the main takeaways from Katie's talk, as she summarized them:
  • Design for friendliness
  • Enable good practice (with failure)
  • Support human-to-human exchange (qualitative feedback from peers)
  • Keep challenge constant
  • Make sharing seem like a gift
  • Mind the gap (leave holes for students to fill)
  • And, of course, don’t shoot the player when they’re learning
When you look at how games can change the face of education from this perspective, it starts looking a lot less crazy, and a lot more feasible.

2 comments:

Oli said...

IIRC, assigned not-for-marks homework was "supposed" to be the free trail before actually doing marked assignments or tests. It seems this practice disappears or becomes transparent once entering post-secondary education. As though we're expected to know on our own that we should be practicing the material and asking questions if we don't get it yet before we come to a time when we're actually going to be evaluated on our knowledge. At least in elementary school we were walked through the process of having our homework checked to make sure we're doing it right. Post-secondary seems to at best try to coax people into attending tutorials to bang in concepts.

I recognize that not every school is going to be the same, but my experience with elementary school 20-some years ago was an entirely group-oriented experience and individuality didn't creep in until highschool, and even then it was not discouraged to ask questions of your friends sitting next to you.

If the handholding has to persist into post-secondary in order for the education to be effective, what will working life be like? Perhaps the education system should have some focus on training people to be proactive about correcting errors in their learning.

Gail Carmichael said...

I don't see this style of education as hand-holding. In fact, done right, I think it's quite the opposite - students have a lot more agency to determine their own fate. If you haven't had a chance to look into Quest to Learn, I highly recommend it. Very cool program...

http://www.instituteofplay.org/work/projects/quest-to-learn

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