I stayed for one extra day in Austin after SXSWedu ended. Four days of sitting down watching presentations made me want to just walk around the town. I also visited the SXSW Gaming Expo, hoping to score some educational games there.
Boy was I wrong. There was all sorts of cool games and playing going on, with virtual reality headsets and the like. But I couldn’t find anything related to learning. Well, there was one game, a Kickstarer-funded project called Classroom Aquatic. But I wouldn’t exactly call it a learning game. Take a look at the trailer so you see what I mean:
Avoid teacher’s and students’ gaze, look at other students’ papers to get answers, and throw erasers at people. Fun stuff for sure, but not quite what I was looking for.
Visiting the expo strengthened my assumption of education and hard-core gaming are still worlds apart. However, that doesn’t mean gaming wouldn’t have anything to give to education. Various elements can be extracted from games and used to gamify educational content, storylines and game characters can be reused, and innovative interaction mechanisms utilized.
It might be virtual reality headsets are entering the classrooms in the years to come.
On Monday March 3rd, Amplify announced two things at SXSWedu: cooperation with Intel on tablets aimed at school usage, and a new curriculum discarding the notion of a book altogether (also digital book). When Larry Berger, the Learning President at Amplify was presenting their new curriculum called ELA, he also mentioned and briefly showed some premium educational games they are rolling out.
The games are aimed solely at outside classroom usage. Amplify has the goal of getting children to spend three times as much time on reading and writing as they currently do. This time cannot come from school hours, so they try to introduce attractive games to get kids read & write at their spare time.
So they are entering the cutthroat business of gaming, where only very few make it big time. This is very different from providing curriculum-related educational materials and solutions. Being owned by News Corp might help them in entering this market, but it is nevertheless a new ballgame.
Today I listened to a wonderful panel chaired by Esteban Sosnik from CO.LAB, and including PJ Gunsagar from Kidaptive, Jacob Klein from Motion Math, and Sooinn Lee from LocoMotive Labs. At one point the panelists were discussing the approaches of creating small independent learning games versus making the whole school experience a game. Candy Crush Saga on one end of the axis, and World of Warcraft on the other.
Amplify is clearly taking the WoW approach, creating whole virtual worlds for children to learn. Typically these two extreme approaches (as well as the shades in between) are seen as alternatives. How about considering them as a pathway instead, or a journey?
The journey would start with small games and light gamification, adding more along the way. This way students (and teachers!) would get to know the game characters and other elements in small steps. The approach wouldn’t have the risk of going all-in with a large scale game production all at once, nor would it remain a set of independent games not forming a uniform collection of educational content.
Flickr image CC credits: Tim Green aka atoach