I had the wonderful opportunity through my job to attend the White House Games for Learning Summit in NYC on the NYU campus this week. It was a gathering of devs, policy people, teachers, gaming companies, funders, educators and thought leaders in an effort to bridge the very massive gap between educational technology and the gaming world. There’s a huge gap and this administration has been very aggressive about finding ways to bring America’s students up to par with our global competitors.
Panels and discussions were held as opportunities to discuss, even scrutinize, the efficiencies of why certain games like Assassins Creed and Rocksmith work to inspire learning in their gamers. Why are good games effective? What should edtech devs remember when creating games? Who are the real stakeholders? In addition, many speakers reached beyond advocating for games, to advocate on behalf of the necessity of strategic partnerships in creating quality and useful edtech for American classrooms.
There were several recurring themes throughout the course of the day which I categorized as such- equity, accountability, connectivity, reality, humanity.
Equity- How do we get games to all kids across all kinds of internet connections and hardware platforms? Because there isn’t really a uniform system of tech across this country, it’s really difficult for all teachers to use every awesome tool that comes out. In fact, many teachers and students have access to very minimal amounts of time exposed to technology. Some schools have no smart boards or computers in the classroom itself whereas other teachers and students have access to iPads and other 1:1 opportunities. The beauty of technology is that it levels the playing field; the difficulty with tech is that it’s expensive, it’s fluid and always improving or changing. Lots of school need the funding to keep up. Where is this funding coming from? Who is paying to get that ed tech into every school? In the current landscape, lots of game development companies are bootstrapping and funders are providing grants with the stipulation that companies should become self sustaining. How might we also ensure that the quality dev companies aren’t getting lost in the woes of their fiscal responsibilities?
Accountability- Who is responsible for ensuring that students are exposed to effective education technology? I’ve heard that teachers, those on our education front lines, are most certainly responsible for getting tech to students. But game devs and policy makers are beginning to see that teachers need to be pulled into the process of developing quality classroom tech tools. Teachers know what works and what doesn’t; what’s required and what isn’t; what’s logical and what’s luxury. The barriers to tech, administrators' stance on the utilization of technology and even games in the curriculum, as well as, parent opposition or support can be a tough struggle for teachers to overcome. When we talk about accountability, we must consider how we can level the playing field for teachers so that all teachers can professionally blossom and confidently reach each student. We blame a lot of failure on teachers, but we put teachers through a lot of difficulty in an effort to “help students”. We need to bring teacher PD and teacher support into the accountability discussion.
Connectivity- How can we utilize systems or even the wisdoms of various communities to enrich education? I heard a lot about “networks”... networks, ecosystems and infrastructure. Networks and ecosystems are important because they empower and support individuals. When teachers interact each other through platforms like Twitter, Edmodo and Share My Lesson they learn from each other. They learn about new tools and processes and are more apt to try these new opportunities in their classrooms with their students. It's time that we begin to tap into these networks in an educated and teacher-centered, empowering format.
Reality- What is really cool, but also practical? Innovation and reality are caught in this really awkward middle school like dance in the ed space. We want to press forward but we can't in some ways because of red tape, the funding, the infrastructure constraints... Thing is, we can use our imaginations all day long but devs need to talk to teachers and visa versa. You can't make a tool that no one can or will use. You've wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars. I heard stuff like VR being thrown out as a revolutionary transformative disruption in the ed space in a year... Where? In what school? The cost to implement this is even beyond the budget of some of the most elite prep schools in this country. Pushing the envelope is necessary; but what lies beyond that push is what’s most promising, because that’s where someone finds a practical way to implement that “new” crazy idea so that it’s actually accessible and appealing to 40% of the population. The sleekest sexiest idea is great, but let’s look at the innovative practicalities that actually solve massive problems. Those have the most impact.
Humanity- Who are we serving? A lot of guys are in the tech space… that means there are a lot of egos in the tech space (it’s only natural with the Y chromosome- sorry). Making cool things and passing life altering laws is great and all, but keeping the human element at the forefront is necessary in improving the experiences of the largest amounts of students… if not it’s just self serving. Ultimately it's about our kids. Putting children first is key. How do kids learn today as compared to 20 years ago? What challenges do we anticipate them facing? How can technology help solve some of these problems? Apparently sitting and copying a PPT sucks... So how do we stop killing the joy of learning and bring it back to the basics.
I speak a lot about the role of teachers, maybe because I used to be one and I understand that the struggle is real. We require a lot of teachers. But in reality they are not the only ones responsible for making the "edtech revolution" work. In listening to all of the speakers, panelists and presenters, those that were most effective attacked the hard questions with more questions rather than answers. None of us have THE answers but all of us have viable solutions. The more we discuss, champion, attempt, fail, succeed, share, iterate, try, believe, do... the stronger foundation we build to provide our children with a substantial opportunity to compete globally.
The tech revolution isn't coming... It's already happened. Tech is in the classroom already and it's here to stay. We're now in the reconstruction phase. As we stand in the rubble of our old traditional education system, what bricks will we use to rebuild and which will we conceptually throw away? I'd say, the best part about the White House Games for Learning Summit was that the right people were in the room to facilitate discussion around these issues. Now it's just a matter of getting these strategic partnerships to work effectively for the benefit of our children.