On Games In Education

Recorded on March 31st, 2014

This video of Jordan Shapiro speaking on games and education has popped up on my Twitter feed on several occasions, but when I saw it was a half hour video, I ignored it each time. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that in the end, I needed to watch it for a class. The first time it showed up, I did watch about the first 5 minutes. That was long enough to know that he isn’t a brilliant speaker and the presentation wouldn’t be as enjoyable as Jane McGonigal’s TED Talks, or Sir Ken Robinson’s Changing Education Paradigms. He keeps shuffling around the podium area, causing the camera difficulties in following him. Fortunately, the camera work adapts and the video becomes easier to follow later. Yes, I’m being overly critical about this, but it made the video difficult for me to watch.

I actually disagree with Jordan on a number of things in this video, but I also fervently agree with several. To start with, he does not seem to have a firm grasp on extrinsic (or external) rewards versus intrinsic (internal) ones. An extrinsic reward is something like money or a physical prize, whereas an intrinsic reward is the satisfaction of a job well done, a feeling of accomplishment, or chemically speaking, a dopamine release. Points, generally speaking, fall into the intrinsic rewards category. An argument could be made for them being extrinsic simply because they aren’t within our own mind, but he doesn’t make that argument or any other. In short, he seems to miss that points aren’t a reward, they’re a feedback mechanism. While points are far from a great mechanism for it, feedback is necessary for triggering dopamine and intrinsic rewards.

Setting aside my criticisms of someone who is admittedly only a recent gamer and does not have a game design education or background, Jordan makes some great points. I feel passionately that we need to reclaim the curiosity of our youth. We need to overcome the irrational feelings that games and play are for children. To paraphrase Ken Robinson, the current system pigeon-holes us and pushes our thinking into boxes. This system of education was great for making factory workers, but as we get closer and closer to an ideas based economy, it hinders growth and innovation. The current system teaches out the wonder from the world. We need to stop crushing creativity and curiosity.

The major hurdle in this, in particular with the current education system is a matter of pacing. It’s about achieving some degree of “Flow.” While entire volumes have been written about achieving flow, countless more can still be written. I’ll save that for another time though. The point here is that current classes run at a standard pace that generally caters to the slowest learner in any given situation. This causes countless other students to be bored. Ever play a game with someone that was leagues worse at it than you? That’s the current education paradigm. The best way to find enjoyment in playing with someone of far lesser ability than yourself is through mentoring them. Teaching others helps us improve our own understanding of a subject matter while still rehashing material we’ve already learned. The joy one finds in seeing someone they’ve mentored succeed is called “naches.” I believe this feeling is going to be a key intrinsic reward in the education system of the future. That, and games, of course.

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Recorded on February 26th, 2014

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