PLAYBACK: The Power of The Game
4.29.11 | Whyville’s Jim Bower on the death of the textbook; Gates Foundation announces funding for game-based learning; Achieving e-quality in children’s media; Joi Ito on open-source leadership; and Earth Day produces the best hack jam ever.
Can Games Replace Textbooks?: James Bower, CEO of Numedeon Inc. and founder of the virtual world Whyville, says yes. Bower recently took part in edWeb’s monthly webinar series focused on game-based learning and discussed why he believes paper textbooks are on the way out.
In his talk, which you can watch online here, Bower uses examples from Whyville to make the case for the power of games for learning. Whyville was launched in 1999 and has since grown to include more than 6.8 million registered users; the average user age is 13. Though the site was launched as an informal learning community, Bower says it is increasingly used in schools around the country.
You can read more about Whyville on Spotlight, including a piece about its new science curriculum called WhyPower and partnership with Gamestar Mechanic, which enables kids in Whyville to make their own educational games to teach their peers.
And if you’re a teacher who is curious about Whyville, you can check it out for yourself. Whyville is an open community that certifies and registers teachers. Bower says more are joining every day. Listen to his talk in its entirety here.
New Support for Game-Based Learning: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation this week announced $20 million of new investments to support digital learning, including game-based learning, digital curricula, online learning and social networking. The money will go to support many projects we’ve written about, including the Digital Youth Network’s iRemix social networking platform, the Institute of Play and Quest Atlantis.
“We believe these exciting world-class tools have the potential to fundamentally change the way students and teachers interact in the classroom, and ultimately, how education works in America,” Vicki L. Phillips, director of education in the College Ready program at the Gates Foundation, said in a press release.
The money is intended to help bring digital tools into classrooms and align classroom practices with the Common Core State Standards.
Defining E-Quality: Christine reported this week on The Joan Ganz Cooney Center’s 2011 Leadership Forum - Learning from Hollywood: Can Entertainment Media Ignite an Education Revolution? - and the accompanying blog. We wanted to point readers to this thoughtful new post from David Kleeman, president of the American Center for Children and Media.
Kleeman reports on his work developing a framework for quality in children’s (especially digital) media along with the Fred Roger’s Center. I covered this effort earlier this year in a piece about digital media in early childhood, but I especially liked Kleeman’s list of lessons learned in their research in this area so far:
“Quality” and “education” aren’t the same thing. Media with educational intent can be of low quality, and high quality media can be intended purely to entertain. Like adults, children turn to media to fulfill different gratifications at different times, and deserve excellence in all they consume.
All screens are not created equal. The different screens that are part of children’s lives offer unique opportunities, benefits and challenges. In the television era, a two-dimensional grid based on best practices at different ages or developmental stages might have been adequate; today, at least three dimensions would be needed to define quality.
Quality is far more about what is included than what isn’t. Some quality measures reward absence of violence, stereotyping or negative role models. While it’s important not to exploit these or use them gratuitously, their mere absence Focus on what goes in, not what might come out. Children’s media gets into trouble by suggesting that its use promotes specific outcomes (e.g., smarter children, earlier reading). A quality framework should help creators express what’s gone into their work — their goals, intended audience, technology choices – forestalling others from imposing post facto analysis.
Don’t stifle innovation. A clear and expansive vision of young people’s needs and abilities should open the door to new creative approaches, not simply advocate for what’s been successful before.
Context is crucial. Sometimes, quality must be evaluated across a producer’s or distributor’s body of work (a channel or block, a portal site, a suite of apps) or a child’s media diet. For example, while gender, race and ethnic balance are vital goals, children can easily see through artificially-constructed settings in a single work that achieve balance at the expense of authenticity.
The full post is worth a read.
Plus: Check out this interview with the Cooney Center’s Michael Levine on Thirteen’s New York Public Media show “OpenMind.”
Open-Source Leader: Joi Ito’s appointment to direct MIT’s Media Lab got a lot of attention this week. As the chairman and former chief executive of Creative Commons, and a leader in the open-source software movement, Ito is well qualified for the job at the helm of the technology research center. But much of the focus has been on his educational background: Ito never earned his bachelor’s degree, despite having attended the University of Chicago and Tufts.
Educators have much to learn from what Ito has to say about why he felt disengaged by his formal schooling:
“My problem was I could get on the Internet and learn most of the stuff that I needed to learn,” Ito told the Chronicle of Higher Education this week. “What I wanted from academia was coaching, was excitement, was projects. And the undergraduate programs I attended didn’t have that.”
Ito does have experience playing online games. A “World of Warcraft” guild leader, Ito says gaming has helped prepare him for the creative kind of leadership he’ll need at MIT.
What’s interesting about a World of Warcraft guild is that you’ve got a group of people who are showing up and actually paying money to play this game, and as a leader of a guild, you’re trying to encourage a bunch of people to do a bunch of administrative work, come up with guild bylaws, and cooperate. And this is similar with volunteers at Creative Commons and open-source projects. It’s trying to lead a bunch of people who are just there because they want to be. It’s a very different kind of management than say managing a bank or an investment bank, where you’ve got sticks and carrots and structure. The leadership method of online communities and World of Warcraft and open-source projects is actually really similar to doing something like leading a bunch of super-smart, creative academics and students.
And in this interview at CNET, Ito says he’s invited his new MIT colleagues to join the guild.
Plus: Spotlight interviewed Ito about his work with Creative Commons here.
Best Hackasaurus Event Ever: If the Mozilla Foundation has anything to say about it, those super smart creative students won’t be bored this time around. If you’ve been following our coverage of Mozilla’s new Hackasaurus tool, you already know about the hack jams they’ve been hosting around the country to introduce kids to the power of programming and to further interest-driven, self-directed learning.
But according to some, the jam that took place on Earth Day last week in New York City might just have been the best one yet. Seventy-five kids of all ages spent part of their spring break at The Earth Day My Carbon Footprint 3D Design Hack Jam at the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI).
The jam was orchestrated by the staff at NYSCI and the New Youth City Learning Network. Kids from the museum’s School’s Out! Innovation Camps turned out to try their ideas at different work stations—developing interactive exhibits in the museum’s Virtual Hall of Science, experimenting with Hackasaurus, and even spending some time prototyping with old-fashioned paper and pencil.
Plus: For more on Hackasaurus, watch Spotlight’s video: “Using Goggles to Change Google: Teens Learn the Power of Programming at Mozilla’s Hackasaurus.”
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