Are serious games the classroom tool of the future? Is the future already here? The tablet classroom may have once been the stuff of science fiction, but modern developments in technology and brain science may have come together to create a massive change in the way we think about education.
“The essence of what’s going on now is the adoption of brain science… It turns out that if you teach in a different way, you can get outcomes that are 10-20 times more efficient and stickier,” says Brainrush founder Nolan Bushnell.
Bushnell, founder of Atari, Inc and Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theaters, believes that an integration of video games and educational software will spur one of the most significant changes in education history. “In some ways the world of education is going to go through one of the most massive changes in the next five years than it has seen in the last three thousand years. It’s a perfect storm.”
Bushnell believes the change will come from four key areas.
- The rise of cheap, ubiquitous hardware.
- Robust networks that allow for connectivity without the administrative constraints of the past.
- Extreme pressure on schools to produce outcomes – Too many kids are getting through high school with no meaningful job skills.
- Adoption of brain science software.
“One of the key factors is here is the adoption of brain science. Getting it involved in the curriculum is massively effective. Not by 20%, not by 50%, but by many multiples of educational efficacy,” says Bushnell. “This is on a trajectory right now that is unstoppable by bureaucracy, but unions, by anything. It’s just going to happen.”
Bushnell states that these factors have created a situation where the adoption of new technology isn’t just smart, but inevitable.
“The real issue comes down to effectiveness. The school systems have adopted a factory system of education, which says pretty much one speed, one complexity. As a result, there’s one person being taught at the right speed and the rest of the kids are bored or lost,” says Bushnell. “The computer allows you to adapt to each student’s particular skills and speed. Instead of ABCDF, all kids end up totally mastering the subject. It’s a big change. What it really does is it levels the understanding gap in the factory model with really impressive outcomes.”
Jesse Schell, founder and CEO of Schell Games, sees the shift not something that will happen in the near future but as something already happening.
“Coming from an entertainment games background used to be creative director at Disney Imaginary Virtual Reality Studio. For the last 12 years I’ve been teaching t the Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center and about 10 years ago I started my own game studio in Pittsburgh,” says Schell. “We’ve grown from 5 people to about 100 people right now and what we’ve found in the last few years is that the fastest growing part of the games industry is in educational games. What we see is going to happen is an avalanche of tablets into the school systems, they’re well poised to replace textbooks and then a number of other changes start to happen.
Schell’s take on the situation finds some common ground with Bushnell’s analysis. Like Bushnell, Schell sees the transformation not if, but when.
“Debate on how this transformation when this is going to happen. I believe that schools only make changes when they absolutely have to or if they see there is a way to save money,” says Schell. “I think it’s possible that they will see tablets as a way to save money. Textbook costs are significant. Tablets are the moment are not terribly cheap, but look at phones – things get quite affordable as time goes on.”
It can be difficult to visualize this takeover, but look at the video game industry and the shift to mobile titles. Kids are having their first interactions with games on mobile devices, something that current-gen gamers simply can’t identify with. When kids are having their first interactions with the tablet touch-screen classroom, similar things could occur.
“My suspicion is that we’ll see it happen in pockets first, but at the same time we’ll start to see tablet integration take over,” says Schell. “We’ve got a generation of kids now with tablets and touch being their first modes of interaction, expecting to come into the classroom and touch screens.”
And what about concerns that games may simply not be seen as an educational tool? Schell shrugs off the possibility.
“People see the power that games hold. They see the focus. They see the engagement. You hear parents say ‘I wish they were as excited about Algebra as they are about Call of Duty.’ The key is going to come down to data. It’s going to be very difficult to argue with data and results.”
The classroom of the future is a connected one, with the teacher able to zero in and command the flow of information and learning. With all of the talk about big data and analytics, these tools could be utilized in the new classroom with significant impact.
“It gives the teacher so much data. It’s incredible for both students that are behind and ahead. This change has already started to happen. Teachers see the power of games to engage students. It’s about what happens when the students and the teacher are all using the same technology and it’s all connected,” says Schell.
“This is a fundamental change in the experience. The teacher is almost in the role of a Dungeon Master, giving out a scenario that everyone is working on, monitoring status, changing the challenge depending on situations, and moving things front and center to the board when something key happens.”