Playing Games in the Classroom

Question: How can we make kids more eager to learn?

Jesse Schell:  I think one of the things we have to do is to do more studies about curiosity and the nature of curiosity and what makes it...  How do you instill it? Is it even possible?  I'm not sure we even know.  So one of the ways we have to begin is by doing deeper studies of curiosity and how to bring it about.

One of the things that we do know, and you know there's writings about this going back hundreds of years.  One of the best ways to instill... to make children curious, is to forbid them from things.  John Locke talks about this in his writings about / on education, and he talks about the best way to educate children is to create educational games for them and to put them on a high shelf and say, “Well, I'm not sure you're old enough for this.”  He says that combination of simulation for education and kind of making it off limits gets them excited about it and then gets them involved in wanting to educate themselves.

What are the challenges of implementing games in education?

Jesse Schell: One of the challenges we have I think today in trying to figure out how games fit into education is everyone sees the incredible, explosive growth that's happening in the games industry.  People are seeing games penetrate into their lives in all kinds of places.  We're seeing them on mobile; we're seeing the growth of platforms like the Wii in the home, but everyone's kind of scratching their head and trying to figure out How does this fit into education?  One place we're not seeing explosive growth of games is in the schools, and I think part of the reason for that is it is challenging to find the right way to fit games into education.  Games are an incredibly powerful educational tool, but they don't fit well into our existing educational system, which is leading many people to a conclusion that our educational system must be reinvented to take advantage of powerful tools that have only recently appeared.

One of the biggest challenges, I think, of games in the classroom is that you don't know how long a game is going take necessarily.  Games don't fit well on a time table.  Classrooms are all about time tables.  Secondly, games are all about customized learning, customized education.  Every game you play is different.  When everyone reads a book, they're all reading the same words.  When we play a game, we each have a different experience because we each make different choices.  The current educational system is not well set up for customized education, but as we come around and find better ways to customize education, games will fit in better and better.

How would you change our current educational methods?

Jesse Schell: Certainly one of the things if people want to have customized education that involves children exploring, children fulfilling their curiosity, children building things, children creating things – you have to build for that, and you have to plan for that.  We already see this a little bit in schools.  We see lab sessions, right?  And the whole idea of a lab session is We're gonna be hands-on; we're gonna try some things; we're gonna do some things.  But the problem with them is they're too small, and they're not well connected to personal plans of growth.

What I think we're gonna see more and more is we're gonna see ways that the curriculum is kind of split.  Here's the time when this is the lecture time; this is the time we all hear the same thing.  Now here are the cutout times where it's time to explore.  Now one of the reasons that schools are hesitant to kind of have these... like let kids go and do their own thing and do their own piece of it... One:  If the kids don't want to be there, and what if they're just going to do nothing useful, right?  That's certainly a problem to be overcome.  Then secondly, the other part of it is that it's much harder for a teacher to keep track of all the different things that the different students want to explore.  But if we want high-quality education, these problems have to be overcome.

Recorded on June 21, 2010
Interviewed by Andrew Dermont

Our educational system should be reinvented to harness the incredible power of educational games.

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