Games for Change (G4C) just wrapped up its first keynote presentation. The three-day conference focuses on games for social change, particularly games in education. The conference brings together people from a variety of different fields, including the social impact sector, government, media, academia, the gaming industry, and more, to exchange ideas and resources in order to…well, change the world through games.
There were a number of items that came up repeatedly during the keynote. First, educators—and parents—have to embrace games and realize that these tools are not a threat. Games matter to kids, and in order to reach this generation of young people, we have to recognize the power that they have. Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association, mentioned that if you tell a room full of kids that you work in the game industry, you’ve captured their attention. They want to know everything about what you do and how you do it. That’s a powerful incentive. Games are useful in teaching kids new skills or ideas, but making games is a hugely important tool in and of itself, and great strides are being made in this area via more accessible tools and training.
Games can do things that we can’t; that doesn’t mean replacing teachers, it means empowering them. It means giving learners instant feedback and making homework, which is currently ineffective (and perhaps even anti-learning, according to game designer Jesse Schell), into a teachable moment. The current model sees learners solving a problem at home with little to no confirmation that they’re on the right path. Days later, they’ll get a paper back full of red marks, and by then it’s too late—you’ve lost that teachable moment. Interactive learning tools can fix this immense issue. Games are powerful tools for assessment, and the further we can get away from multiple-choice testing, the better.
None of this means that we shouldn’t be actively evaluating the effectiveness of learning games. Schell pointed out that NASA’s Technological Readiness Level system (TRL) could be a good model for evaluating learning games. TRL9 indicates a successful mission, while TLR1 could be an idea or an experiment that has yet to be tested. Something along these lines might help to avoid stifling creativity for game developers while still giving educators and parents a framework to fall back on. Gallagher emphasized evaluation as well—just because it’s a game doesn’t mean it’s effective. In fact, it might not even be a good game, let alone a good learning tool. It’s just as important to assess games as it is to assess any other instrument of learning.
The main takeaway from this keynote presentation was that schools are falling behind in the field of tech learning. There’s a deficit in materials, certainly, but perhaps the more important deficit is in passion. Many of the developers making the games that kids are passionate about learned their skills outside of the classroom. Many of them weren’t interested in school, and that hasn’t changed. If we can’t find a way to embrace the technologies that kids are excited about and already using—many of which are free, open-source, and accessible—then we have failed in our mission to help them succeed in today’s world.