It seems to me that Classroom 2.0 participants seem to overlook the competition: video games. We try so hard to find innovative ways to incorporate technology into our classrooms while our students go home and plug in to Xbox, Wii, or whatever. Computer and video games are a mult-billion dollar industry that employs some of the best minds in technology. One game alone, Grand Theft Auto IV, reportedly cost around $100 million to make. Over a thousand people contributed to its creation. The Entertainment Software Industry reports 65% of American households play computer or video games and 63% of the parents believe games are important part of their children's lives.

What if we could get that kind of money and expertise to work towards education? How can we get parents to put some of the money they spend on entertainment into the classroom? How much time do kids spend on gaming vs. homework? You may suggest educational computer games, but they hardly compare to what the kids are playing. On the other hand, I don't think games need car chases or hand to hand combat to capture their attention. I just think the best game creators are following the money and that isn't in education. How can we bring the two together?

Here's a link to my blog on the topic if you'd like to read more.


Tags: administration, eduational technology, gaming, parents, technology in education

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Hm, edutainment is pretty controversial though. It does have a lot of benefits. But, achieving the right balance where there's enough educational value and enough entertainment value to keep the students engaged is a big challenge. Also, people are concerned that active learning with computer games can cause low tolerance for more traditional passive learning situations such as lectures. You have to win over the parents and convince them it would be progressive.
I've replied to similar discussions at CR 2.0 on this topic before, so if you've already read my response, sorry for the repetition.

I've incorporated game theory into the way I deliver instruction. I did this based on much of the rationale put forth, and I avoid educational video games for some of the reasons already posted here.

What I do is called MathLand. I'm changing the format slightly for next year. But, basically the year's curriculum is broken down into a series of multiday assignments that are called "levels." Students may do the levels on their own or in small groups of their choosing. And they may choose to work alone or with peers on a daily basis. That is totally flexible. The levels are designed so that students can do them by themselves (all instructions and information are provided in written form), but because they are constantly learning new things, typically they need staff or peer help to get going. When they finish a level I check it. I either pass them on to the next level, or I send them back to make corrections. Usually students need between 90-100% correct to pass. If it is a project, then it needs to meet all of the criteria.

Students begin each marking period with an E. When they finish the first level, they've earned a D. When they've finished the 2nd level, they have a C. And so forth. Each marking period consists of two "units" or sets of 5 levels. At the end of the marking period, the two units are averaged together for a final grade.

Levels may be traditional problems, short answer questions, structured notes, student made video tutorials, simulations, labs, hands on projects, or any other type assignment that I come up with.

I like this system for many reasons. The only problem with it is that it is a lot of planning up front.

I teach emotionally impaired high school students in a day treatment setting. The smaller classes helps me give individual help as students are on different levels at the same time (and in different courses in the same class). But, for a group of students that are traditionally hard to motivate, MathLand really motivates them to move through the levels. That's the part of game theory that MathLand hinges on.

The farther they move through MathLand the more little bonuses they get, too. They all design an avatar that moves across the front chalkboard in a physical rendering of MathLand and the more they attend, turn in homework, and pass levels, they cooler their avatar gets to be. Again, amazingly motivating considering the levels and the avatars are just contrived, valueless motivators.
This sounds great, Kate. I'm not against learning games or video games. But what if we took your MathLand and gave it to some of the best video game designers and said "Here's $100 million - see what you can do with this." If we are all interested in using technology to enhance learning and we are ready to rethink our methodology in creative formats then how can we bring the expertise that already exists to work with educational content?

My website is and it has lessons on how to use Google Earth to teach math concepts. Kids don't need Google Earth to learn math - they've been doing it with pencil and paper forever. But I've tried to use Google Earth as an environment that actively engages the students in learning traditional math concepts. It's the first and only website I've created, and it took many, many hours to put together while handling that day job at the same time. I have to ask myself, if an amateur like me can create this - what would a billion dollar industry come up with? A lot of Classroom 2.0 members are teachers like you and me, and our creations have to be done in all that spare time we have. What if we could work on it full time?

There's plenty of money and resources people are willing to spend on entertainment. I'm not trying to insult any of our member or their efforts - we have boundless examples of creativity, dedication, and knowledge. But if you want to talk about engaging environments, have you seen what the guy on the other side of the fence can do? May'be I'm just jealous.
I like your website. I've been to it before. Someday when I have a bunch of time I am planning to really look seriously at your lessons and see how they fit into MathLand (that's another nice thing about MathLand, it is easy to change out lessons when you find better ones).

I'm also working at getting MathLand on my website. My idea is to have all of the levels and assignments (except the tests) available for parents to see and for kids to use. They could print out the levels (or read them off the net and just provide answers and products) from anywhere with a computer. At first I wished that I could have a professional person do that for me, but, like you, I decided my best option was to dedicate hours and hours to doing it myself. I can't believe how much work it is. But, I'm going to stick with it and try to complete it.

I absolutely see your point. If the programmers and teachers got together, the programmers could really turn some of our ideas into real technological products. I love the idea of being able to do the educational stuff full time, but then having a technology collaborator who would do that side of things, and suggest ways to make it better.
There are people who do this full time. They are not the problem. Resources are only a minor problem in this space. I've told this story before but it bears repeating. Last year at EdTech 08 in Ontario the keynote speaker was the guy from the X-Prize foundation. He asked these questions. "What kind of monetary prize would it make school as engaging as a video game? What is it about games that makes them work and could we translate that to the classroom? Could someone create a game that jumped kids up 3-4 reading levels in a single year?"

So, the ideas are out there, even among those high level funders (see the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.) The problem is not that.

The problem is in how you framed your original post.

I read it as Mandy did as a "games are bad, education is good" argument. Whether you meant it that way or not that is the prevailing wisdom among those who spend money on educational products. That's why publishing companies can put out horrible textbooks with circa 1996 powerpoints and sell MILLIONS of them around the country.

Games are learning, even in their current form. Once we as a society respect that only then will put out education dollars behind them and be able to support those programmers who truly want to do great things combining the two.
OK, I'm not saying video games are bad. I agree they teach problem solving skills, deductive reasoning and whatnot. I don't know the numbers for educational software, but imagine a bar graph that compares the money spent to produce the two sides. Imagine a graph that shows the number of designers or the number of users between educational games/software vs. video games. Do you think education has more than 1%?

My point is how can we level the two bars? Any suggestions? What if the gaming companies committed one educational-type game for every 10 they produce? How about a conference where the two sides could learn from one another? I saw the post on Dimension M - that looks like a step in the right direction. I've also seen Xtranormal and I think that has great possibilities.

I'm ready to think outside the box. Today's students need to interact with the content they are receiving. Pencil and paper just isn't going to cut it. Active learning, project-based assignments, and the ability to individualize instruction - I believe all of this can be provided in a video game format. We have to think of ways to bring the content with it and the context it would be delivered in. They can create the fantastic graphics, structure the difficulty, and monitor progress. Maybe the issue here is really how do you transform from text to a visual/audio format.
Thomas, you make really good points. I would love to see what MathLand could become. Actually, I have ideas of what it could become, but I lack the knowledge, expertise, and time to really see it to fruition. So, they remain ideas. That's why your posts are so inspiring.

Because of the success I've had with MathLand, I am convinced that that is the direction to go in. I like the Project X questions that Kev posted. It seems in keeping with your idea: what if there were tons of money to devote to a project like this?

The thing about the learning that goes on with traditional, non-educational video games is that the skills that are taught are not the skills that are tested on the high stakes tests. Think what you like about the high stakes tests, but they are how achievement is measured and how schools and teachers are judged. Even though there are great studies and thinkers that say technological and critical thinking skills are important to the 21st century citizen, until they are included on the high stakes tests, tools that address the more academic curriculum are going to get top priority.
Absolutely. I try to teach kids how to teach themselves through the MathLand system, and what they are teaching themselves IS the state curriculum (with as-needed help from staff and peers). I agree with all of the stuff out there about critical thinking, digital literacy, etc. I just wanted to throw out there that one of the reasons video games might be dismissed as learning tools isn't that people don't see their educational value, it's just that they don't fit into the current academic priorities and standards that drive curriculi.
Dear Kate,

I like this format, Is there a "monster" problem at the end of each level that needs to be solved,(defeated)?
I am not being facetious. Most level oriented games have a strong challange at the end of the level. This monster requires the application of the skills learned during the level.

It is entirely possible that you are developing a saleable product in the education market. Especially if you show results! I am assuming that you have developed MathLand, or is this a commercially available poduct?

There is plenty of money in the education market. Video games destroy knowledge by absorbing, make that "mandating" time and effort to acheive nothing wothwhile.

Thomas, I'd suggest looking into the very new medium of Alternate Reality Games. I again don't think the problem is a funding issue but a melding of media issue. You don't see many good movies about grammar being released nor many Hannah Montana albums about Pythagorus.

There are for more educational themes (which seems to be what you're talking about, not just learning in general) in video games than in most other media save maybe books.

ARGs are a combination of the principles of video games with real life interaction. They are, in effect, educational games that aren't presented as either games nor as educational. I'm all for the creation of high-budget educational games but I don't think it will happen and I'm not sure it can. As someone who would almost certainly be certified as a video game addict I've tried putting just the basic design ideas together for an educational game and found it less than useful.

Video games are inefficient teachers. They are, however, incredibly thorough and realistic teachers. That isn't going to sell in today's market unfortunately. ARGs I think absolutely can.
I would concur and actually think that you're best gains in this arena would be in the class developing ARGs.
I think that if there was a way to combine the two, children would be much more engaged in their education and/or school projects. If you think of anything, you should let me know. I'm interested.



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