Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Learning Grammar with a Joystick and Math with a Mouse

August 27, 2013

When his young daughter was learning to read, Michael John, Game Director at the Games, Learning and Assessment (Glass) Lab—and known to friends and colleagues as MJ—met with her teacher. The teacher explained a concept called “scaffolding,” in which she would push each student a little bit with a new reading challenge, allow her to cement new concepts, and push her again.

To John, this was more than familiar – it was exactly what he did for video game players every day as a game designer for Electronic Arts. MJ was astonished to find how easily techniques in the classroom translated to techniques in game design. 

Could there be an educational upside to the addictive games we love, like AngryBirds and Words with Friends?

Like MJ, we at the Gates Foundation have noticed that there’s a deep and natural connection between game design and learning. Research shows that games stimulate the brain’s reward system to help make connections between neurons—the physical act of learning.  And they inspire players to persist at a task until mastery.  As I wrote last October, that’s why the Gates Foundation supported the creation of GlassLab, an innovative collaboration, to combine joysticks and the joy of learning.  The Lab researches and develops digital game-based learning and assessment tools for the classroom. 

 A great educational game is not the technology equivalent of broccoli drenched in ranch dressing. It doesn’t try to mask the benefits of learning behind a veneer of entertainment. Like the best video games, educational games engage players and work with them to create a rich, integrated experience.

Today, game designers, working with education experts, have the technology, experience, and understanding to engineer simulations and games that incorporate assessments for learning (formative assessments), assessments of learning (summative assessments), and potentially even assessments as learning tools. Game-based assessment helps teachers:

  • Personalize learning;
  • Instill conceptual understanding and knowledge transfer; and,
  • Motivate students to develop the persistence they need to achieve mastery.

At GlassLab, game designers are working with educational experts on innovative technology to engage students and help them learn invaluable skills for the 21st century workplace.

GlassLab has an incredible partner in Electronic Arts Games. EA has created some of the most successful games in the business, capturing the imaginations of over 220 million players who play on computers, mobile devices, and social networks in 75 countries. For many of the game designers at GlassLab, it’s a dream to work with such rock stars in the game industry! But what we’re finding is that it’s even more of a dream for them to work on improving education for young people.

Glass Lab’s latest project with EA, SimCityEdu, captures the potential of one of the most beloved games in the market. SimCityEdu will provide an online community where educators can share their best practices, lesson plans, projects and tools, all based on a computer game already found in many homes and classrooms. 

These kinds of games aren’t just thinking outside the box – they’re thinking outside the classroom, too. And that’s exciting for game designers, who are able to use their knowledge as parents and players to create games that simultaneously engage and educate their kids.

According to legendary game designer Sid Meier, a “game is a series of interesting decisions.” That’s why children spend countless hours mastering a game, whether it’s on a board, or on a screen. It might be a case of simply rolling a die, but we’re driven to advance to the next level. That’s what makes games so powerful, and addictive.

We’re excited by the idea that games can help supplement the work of a great teacher.  A good teacher challenges her students, understands their struggles, and provides needed encouragement. A game provides the same level of interaction, but with the added benefit of embedded assessments. A student’s progress is continually tracked in scores and stats—an invaluable tool for a teacher with a crowded classroom.

In a Gates Foundation/Scholastic survey of 40,000 teachers, 92 percent said that assessments are instrumental in measuring academic achievement, but that they lack the time and tools to make use of that data. With the right technology, an instructor can receive reports on how quickly a student is learning, and what areas need improvement, all with the click of a button.

A great educational game is not the technology equivalent of broccoli drenched in ranch dressing. It doesn’t try to mask the benefits of learning behind a veneer of entertainment. Like the best video games, educational games engage players and work with them to create a rich, integrated experience.

That’s why we look forward to the day when classrooms fire up their game consoles, and kids can get down to the serious business of play.
 
blog comments powered by Disqus