Good Game!

eLearn Magazine, Education and Technology in Perspective published What Makes a Good Learning Game? Going Beyond Edutainment in February of this year.  The author,  Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen, outlines components in useful buzz words for non-techie educators and the sleek-edu-geeks alike to quickly evaluate the utility of the tons of “learning games” out there when looking for meaningful ways to integrate technology and curriculum.  The buzz words stay with you, and I can see them crossing my mind as I type ready to shoot them down with my semantic knowledge; ready, set, here we go.

1. Substantives – the signifiers and signified – the nouns that set-up the scene,

2. Verbs – the things learners have to do to meet the challenges and get the rewards,

3. Problem-solving – the challenges have to be interesting, and if I may add my two cents, culturally relevant,

4. Rewards – the rewards must definitely be culturally relevant,

5. Feedback – I remember an old mentor always used to say “Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent.”   So be weary of games that do not offer corrective feedback if the educator is not present., and

6. Alignment – while Egenfeldt-Nielsen doesn’t explicitly say to look for games that are tied to standards or even lesson objectives, I am.  If a game has all the first five components without this last one, you might as well just flush your professionalism down the toilet and admit you’re using gaming to baby-sit your class.

That said, Egenfeldt-Nielsen validates drill-and-practice games describing them as a “sound learning principle”.  I use drill-and-practice games aligned to standards and lesson objectives in order to pull small instructional groups for more support toward mastery. (Boy, o boy, a traveling tablet lab would be nice!)

Both drill-and-practice and mission-based games can be used to get that much closer to the Holy Grail of buzz words in education today individualized and differentiation.  So let the games begin!

Multiple Algorithms at New York’s School of One

Good.is , which has shown itself to be a good source of education news and trends, recently featured this video with a story about “hybrid schools”.  Teachers, remote-tutors, computers, robots (okay, not quite), and personalized algorithms converge to produce some impressive educational outcomes at School of One. Who wouldn’t want their own child to have that opportunity?

It is clear that technology offers us a way to individualize education beyond what was available just a decade ago. The diversity of a student population, its language needs,  talents and challenges can be met through effective  diagnosis  and prescription. Daily monitoring, especially if the student is involved in goal setting and knows exactly what needs to be mastered, can work wonders and accelerate learning. Being able to “challenge” and “pass” an objective will mean less time devoted to repetitive work. Students can move at their own pace when the content is made to suit.

While  the benefits of tailoring education  through mathematical algorithms that figure out what a student needs can work great for math, yet more evidence is needed to see how well this would translate for Writing and Reading, a more personal and subjective area where content mastery beyond spelling and grammar is difficult to pin down.

While these and other hybrid schools look great in their videos, are they leaving anything out? What about music and sports? Can a school integrate all of those components? So many new schools and charters are shoved into office space and abandoned churches. In many cases they give up many things that larger, standardized institutions can accommodate, like decent playground. It might be excessive to demand everything of them, but the question must still be posed.

School of One is exactly what charters schools were supposed to be like, laboratories for innovation.  But achieving this vision for students across the board will require heavy investment, and commitment from the federal government and other public agencies. There aren’t enough foundations and endowments and grants to finance this educational renaissance.

Until such things are a reality in low-income schools, we will continue to demand “tequity”.