Pax Part 3 Education Through Play

You must choose carefully the panels that you want to see at Penny Arcade Expo. You’re not going to to find a quiet indie games Q & A to chill out and learn something interesting. Every panel lines up at least half an hour before the doors open. Sara knew which panel she wanted to go to as soon as we got into Seattle. It was called Education Through Play. Since she is a teacher, this was right up her alley. We didn’t know what would be discussed here, but we joked that if we played our cards right, maybe her professional development money could help pay for our hotel.

As PAX Panels went, this one was especially packed. The room must have been filled with at least 400 people. Late-comers were being turned away from the door. The panel had started late because several of the panelists from the east coast had been grounded by Hurricane Irene.

The first speaker was James Portnow, CEO of Rainmaker games and writer of the web series “Extra Credits”. He started talking about how the American Education, which was based on the 19th century Prussian model, could no longer cope with the challenges of today. We all know the educational potential of games. No one has ever had to sit a 10-year-old down to memorize all 150 pokemon. If we could somehow harness this emotional power that games have, we could have a world where the United States is first in Math, Science, and Literacy.

The speech was a barn burner. The audience was on their feet. The question and comments line snaked all the way back to the door. You could feel the energy crackling in the room.

It was then that I realized why so many people had come to Penny Arcade Expo. It wasn’t to see the latest games, It wasn’t to play in the tournaments, it was for validation. Outside of that convention hall, the work-a-day world believes without hesitation that games are frivolous and decadent, and by extension so are the people that play them. Here, everyone was a gamer. Games bring joy and meaning at PAX. Why wouldn’t you want to change the world with that kind of passion?

I hope everyone in attendance at the Education Through Play panel realized just how important they are. The change we’re seeking through video games isn’t going to come from administration or school board approval. It’s not even going to come from passion or good ideas. This change is going to come from the hard work at every level of the education system. It’s going to be the teachers who incorporate the games into their lessons, the IT staff that help them set everything up, the parents who recognize how the games have awakened a passion for learning in their child and demand that kind of instruction as they progress from K-12.

We just don’t know how games will work in the classroom…yet. Next year, I hope to see a panel or even a series of panels focused more on the practical applications of games in education. We can have all the validations we want, but at the end of the day, it’s the individual that brings the bright ideas to the table and creates a new reality. Because as Ken Robinson said, “when kids walk in the classroom and you close the door, you are the education system.”

4 thoughts on “Pax Part 3 Education Through Play

  1. James Strocel

    I don’t think it’s that simple. Many of the countries beating the US in overall test scores still use that same Prussian system. Perhaps the true role of games is to change the attitudes of students. In the West we still believe that intelligence is something you are born with, whereas more education-focused cultures believe you can simply “grind” your way to an A.

  2. Matt Ross Jr.

    I could see completely how using video games, as an educational standard, could be beneficial to our society as the EC crew has discussed in one of their lectures. However, the problem relies in how to influencing a population that believes that “video games are made for kid” and has no sort of educational value whatsoever. Some of it stems from the violence issue, but mostly, at least in america, people have been conditioned to believe that video games are essentially bad.

    My question is how do we essentially influence a society to believe that the Prussian education system is outdated, and that a new model, constructed on the basis of a video game premise, can lead to a better academic system? The reason why I’m addressing this question is because even if we construct a new model for our education system, if people aren’t really convince that video games are the right way to go, then the effort will have been wasted for nothing.

    This probably would be a better question for the EC crew, but seeing how this correlates with your article, I’m interested in seeing your views on this as well.

  3. James Strocel

    Video games have been used in education for decades now. Only recently have we found out why the games are so compelling and we’re just beginning to learn how to apply those mechanisms to learning. If gaming in education works in practice, and the key phrase here is IN PRACTICE, then the evidence will speak for itself. There are basically three criteria for an activity to be useful in the classroom:

    a) It has to fulfill state/province learning outcomes.

    b) It has to engage the students.

    c) You have to be able to objectively assess student performance on the new activity.

    This will involve a lot of incremental experimentation by educators. Unfortunately, that’s unlikely to happen in the US due to standardized testing policies like No Child Left Behind. If you were wondering how the US could double its education budget without raising the quality of their schools, look no further than those damn tests. Educators must teach to the exam, have no room to individualize their lesson plans, and they most certainly have no time to try new strategies on their students. This is a cultural problem that extends far beyond a fear of Grand Theft Auto games.

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