Terminally Incoherent

Utterly random, incoherent and disjointed rants and ramblings...

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Educational Gaming

UK schools are partnering with EA in an experiment to use video games as an educational tool. The aim is to teach children the so called:

softer skills that are needed for the 21st century, such as problem-solving, resilience, persistence and collaboration.

Um... What? So, you're telling me that 20th century did not really have much use for problem solving, persistence, and etc? I do agree that teaching problem-solving is important - and very difficult to achieve. The problem with the education today is the same as it has always been - compartmentalization of knowledge. Students learn math in math class and physics in physics class - but they do not know how to apply their math skills to physics problems. Much of problem solving is basically the process of figuring out what you know, and applying it to the situation at hand.

However this process is very difficult to teach to someone - as it is widely individualistic. It is up to student to practice breaking these subject related barriers but video games are not a magic solution here. Up until now, the most successful method to teach students problem-solving and thinking "outside the box" was challenging them with difficult problems. And they have to be presented in borderline interesting way. Working on boring problems is not challenging - it is boring.

Of course this is not a perfect solution, as some kids are not prepared for that and will fail. And herein lies the problem. If you go easy on them, they won't learn enough. If you go to hard on them, they will be overwhelmed, and discouraged - and won't learn much either. This is the stuff that teachers were struggling with since the beginning of time. Good video game program can be helpful here as it will take out the human error from the equation - a namely the sucky teacher who fails to challenge his students and create environment in which they can learn more efficiently. But only to a little extent.

The rest of these soft-skills are bunch of crap. Resilience? Persistence? These are skills? I think persistence is part of problem solving - you can't solve a problem if you give up halfway through. Same goes for resilience. I think these are redundant terms just thrown in there to make the sentence sound better.

Collaboration? As far as I know, schools discourage collaboration as much as they can - and despite that students still manage to efficiently collaborate on their homeworks, and even on the exams. Of course they call it plagiarism, and cheating - but I think school environment is really great place to learn social skills such as collaboration, and cooperation. Personally I think cheating is a integral part of the learning process. It requires social networking, mutual trust, basic knowledge of the subject (so that you can rephrase what the other guy just wrote and make it sound original), self confidence and most importantly keeping a cool head in high-stress/high-tension situations.

A person who never cheated on an exam is more likely to panic when facing a problem they cannot solve. An accomplished cheater on the other hand will keep his cool and seek to find an optimal solution - being confident that no matter what he can somehow bullshit his way through the shitstorm ahead.

Personally, I think this won't help much unless these games have really well designed topic related puzzles which teach bilateral thinking, and problem negotiation. They don't need to be flashy and entertaining - but interesting, and thought provoking. Since EA is sponsoring this whole deal, you can bet that this is unlikely. They are not really known for brilliant, thought provoking games - rather they are famous for long chains of sequels and pulp games.

I bet this initiative is more along the lines of making learning more interesting to modern students with no attention spans. And if it is, it will fail miserably! Remember - it is nearly impossible to produce something that is both cool, fun and educational. It's is obvious that school system will not use anything violent or inappropriate like GTA (although "GTA: Princeton - Pimpin for PHD" could be interesting) - it would be more along the lines of "The magical world of spelling with Popo the Penguin" or something equally retarded.

It is a known fact that educational games suck. If they make them flashy and cute, students will hate them, and make fun of them. They will not be learning much from them, and the project will be abandoned.

The only way I could see this succeed is if they would take the MMOG route creating virtual world like the Second Life project, where students are encouraged to interact, build and collaborate with each other. But then again, leave it up to the school board to take an interesting concept and turn it into politically correct pulp.

Most likely this thing will go nowhere.


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