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The Education Game

I’m a bit grizzled when it comes to presentations and keynote speeches these days, so it pleases me to no end when someone I have never heard of knocks my socks off. Enter Jesse Schell, Asst. Professor at Carnegie Mellon, CEO of his own game design firm, Disney Imagineer, and published author. I’m not much of a “gamer,” with the pinnacle of my achievements in that arena coming on Super Mario Brothers in the late 1980’s, so it does not surprise me that a person with this resume has flown well below my radar.

No longer.

In the video below (WARNING: the ideas are appropriate, but the occasional curse word may make the video NSFW) Jesse begins by talking about online games. Stick with him though, because he transitions into the concept that in the future LIFE ITSELF will be the game. Like any future facing predictions they are a bit over-reaching. However, we in Education are fools (FOOLS!) if we don’t capture some of this psychology and apply it in our classrooms.

At one point in this keynote he mentions in passing a college Professor who did away with the traditional grading system for a course and substituted a video-game like points system. This is not a completely unique idea, I did something very similar myself when teaching a grad school class at the University of Colorado-Denver 8+ years ago. The point is that Education itself is a GIANT GAME. We could be doing a much, much better job of using that fact as a hook to engage students. The preponderance of evidence suggests that they want to engage content in this way, and we’re dropping the ball in this area.

On a completely different topic, I’ve been actively following the ideas discussed over on the Nebraska Educator’s NING asking for ideas on who people would like to see keynote the 2011 NETA conference. I’m pleased to see the NETA members taking this cue from ISTE’s crowd sourcing experiment this year. For the record, I would love to hear what Jesse had to say to an Education specific audience, and I think he would certainly be one of the more dynamic speakers ever to walk the NETA stage should they be able to land him.

Posted in My Thoughts, Reblogged, Videos.


5 Responses

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  1. Lisa Sauer says

    watched the clip…all 28+ minutes….made me laugh…made me think… Could they inspire? Change behavior? Or not…interesting…as always…from cpultz. Keep finding the good stuff to share.

  2. rob mcentarffer says

    Wow – definitely thought provoking. His vision of how advertisers will want to motivate our behavior is persuasive. I’m not sure how else “ad watching” could be promoted. Why watch ads if we don’t have to – we get points! And the success of the facebook games he discusses is undeniable, so in some contexts the “points” motivation definitely works to change behavior. His analysis misses a big chunk of human motivation, though, to me, and I think this omission might be important. There’s a psychological concept called the “overjustification effect”: if we are doing something b/c we are intrinsically motivated to do it (e.g. reading a book) and someone provides an extrinsic reward for us to continue doing it (e.g. “points” for reading), we tend to NOT continue the behavior, esp. after the reward is gone. So in some ways, making school a game might work for some desired behaviors, but for others, it might be perfectly awful. The “grade game” exists now, and it works for a lot of kids, but it doesn’t motivate all of them. Its worth thinking about how we want to motivate students (and ourselves). Do we always want to be acting for “points”, and if we do, what have we lost? (more to say, but this is way too long already)

  3. Chris says

    I agree with you Rob. I think his example was probably unrealistic when taken whole-hog, but I think that some of that approach would be useful for increasing engagement if managed appropriately. Also, i kept thinking as I was listening to him that no matter what the prevailing culture is (points for everything), there will be an attractive counter-culture (I don’t want your points!).

    I’d love to hear more of your thoughts any time!

    • rob mcentarffer says

      Yeah, the “prevailing culture” of grades is definitely firmly in the “gimme some points” camp. The ways we talk about it even further that impression: “extra credit” “will I get points for that” I’ll have to take points off” etc etc etc. I know in my classroom I could “increase engagement” by saying “this will be on the test”, etc. but I think we pay a price for that in the end. If we teach students that whatever matters is worth “points”, then we shouldn’t be too surprised when they aren’t genuinely, intrinsically interested in what we’re doing/learning (esp. after the points go away). If we are really sincere about this “lifelong learning” business, then I contend that we gotta get away from this “grade game”, make grades a measurement (instead of a gift, a reward, a punishment, etc.) and use other tools/ideas to increase student engagement.

  4. Chris says

    I agree. I am a Constructivist by training, so in my opinion the only authentic learning happens when the learner develops their own questions and answers them through real application and dialogue with a teacher. The difficulty lies in conforming this approach to a grades/points based system.

    I mentioned in passing that I used a similar approach in a grad school class. In that case, their grade for the semester was based 25% on attendance, and 75% on a single project. As the instructor, I did not assign the project. The students each proposed something that a) they wanted to learn more about, b) mapped to one or more of the themes of the course, and c) would be used in their current situation, and d) they would share that project in a way that could potentially be useful for the rest of the class. In other words, nothing they did should be done “for the grade”, the work they did had to be useful in real life. I offered a few dozen examples, so that they had an idea of the amount of effort I expected, and they were required to turn in a proposal (project plan) by the mid-point in the semester. Other than that, students created their own questions, and we talked about their projects throughout the semester.

    It was the most fun of anything I have ever taught, and I imagine the most authentic learning. No points involved, everyone got either an A or an F.



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