The idea here is that games and school have more in common than does school and life. So perhaps, instead of finding ways of engaging students by turning to real life, we should be turning to game design.
How is school like a game?
Both School and Video games are highly repetitive environments where you overcome deliberate obstacles in order to reach a goal. In both cases, you pay money in order to perform work. I’m going to use one of my favorite games of all time, Diablo 2 as an example in some direct comparisons.
I was introduced to the phenomenon that is Seth Godin by my friends Rob Winson and Matt Corker. Seth Godin is one of the most revered marketing gurus of our time.
In this TED talk he talks about the importance of creating movements or “tribes”. He says that every now and then “someone stands up and says: this one is important”. This is a cause that I am passionate about and I want to organize people around me to help get something done. He ends with “go out and create a movement”.
My movement is simple. Let us help to fix education. Education is broken. There has to be a better way to teach human beings to contribute to society than what we are currently doing. Studying textbooks and tests are an incredibly inefficient way of learning. Humans have evolved to rely on education. We have stopped adapting physically and are using education to drive our adaptation. In order to continue to evolve and create the best society that we can, our education system has to evolve. The fact that things are being done the same way that they were done 100 years ago is crazy. Education has to be fixed.
Now of course I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t know how to fix education, nobody. I have some ideas, but they are not guaranteed to work. What is needed is for students, educators, parents and anybody else involved in education to experiment openly and to document their successes and failures. For people to realize that things are not working and for them to work to improve them. With critical mass, we can change things.
Having clear learning goals in a course has been a great step forward for education. In courses where this practise is used (and used well) students know exactly what they will be able to do if they successfully learn the material in the course. There is also a clearer view of what the practical requirements are for what they have to do to prove that they have learnt what they are supposed to learn.
The problem comes when you don’t really agree with the learning outcomes of a course. Now, I know that any course contains core material, but at the same time students should have the freedom to decide what they concentrate on. For example:
I am currently taking a course called “Numerical Approximation and Discretization”. The learning goals boil down to “understanding, selecting, utilizing, assessing and creating” different Numerical Approximation techniques.
Now, I will never have a career in numerical approximation. However, I might find it useful to understand and select techniques of numerical approximation in some future research that I do. I will probably never have to create my own technique so why should I learn how to do it? Or even more importantly, why should I be assessed on my ability to do that? Would it not be possible for us to be provided with a range of possible learning outcomes for a course and let us choose the ones that we want to pursue? Those can then be tested more rigorously. We would still be exposed to the other things, but will be allowed to concentrate on that which we are passionate about. I don’t think that this is that far fetched, for instance I already get to choose the courses in the program that interest me, why not have a choice over the goals within those courses?
I know that any form of granularity makes a professor or curriculum committee’s job much harder. However, in courses where assessment is already based around certain outcomes I feel it would not be too difficult to weight assessments based on the student’s preference in outcomes.
It all really boils down to this: Should students have some kind of input on their goals learning goals for a specific subject, or is that something that should only be decided by a curriculum committee?
“What education will look like in 10 years” is the title of the talk that I gave at the UBC Terry Talks conference a few months ago. Terry Talks is a conference modeled after the famous TED talks and it was a raging success. In my talk I touched on the different ways in which I believe education is going to change. I spoke about how it is going to become more collaborative, more “real” and more open. I gave examples of places where all of these changes are starting to manifest themselves and drew some predictions of where things are going to go.