Katie Salen on the Future of Game-Based Education

March 11 2008 / by Venessa Posavec
Category: Entertainment   Year: 2009   Rating: 13

When it comes to education, the definition of ‘literacy’ is changing as we begin the 21st century. It’s not just about rote memorization of dates and facts anymore. We’re living in a world where computers are allowing various types of social media, virtual environments and simulations, and games to be interwoven into complex new tools for understanding and interacting with the systems in which we live.

One big advocate of that notion is Katie Salen, a game designer and director of the graduate Design and Technology program at Parsons School of Design. She’s written books and lectured extensively on how the creation and use of games can be a foundation for learning and innovation in our ever accelerating world. Pushing that vision further, she is now spearheading a project to open a school based on gaming literacy. Katie shared some of her thoughts and predictions about the future of games and learning with us in a text-based interview.

V: What do you do and how is that related to the future?

K: Most of my current work focuses on the future of learning, and the role games and social media might plan in transforming that future. The non-profit I run—The Institute of Play —is designing a new 6th-12th grade school in New York City, based on game design and systems-thinking. The project aims to change the way schools think about learning by designing the school from the ground up around the intrinsic qualities of games and play. And while parents might be concerned about the amount of screen-time or game play an approach such as this might involve, researchers from fields as diverse as the learning sciences, literacy studies, computer science, and anthropology are seeing that games can and do affect how, when, and where kids learn.

V: How do you see games transforming pop culture?

K: I think games have been incredibly influential in changing how people think about and relate to media generally. Gaming no longer feels like something geeky that boys do sitting alone in their basements. People of all ages play games—often together—and often, as a way to build their own cultural or social capital. In that way, games have truly become a vital form of currency for many people today.

V: How are games being integrated into education?

K: One thing to remember is that non-digital and social games have long been used in the classroom. History and political science teachers, for example, often “re-enact” certain kinds of systems in order to understand them. What is new is an interest in networked games, mobile games, and videogames more generally. We aren’t seeing a unified approach to the use of games, as each classroom comes with a different set of needs. But some teachers are using them for content purposes; others to refine students’ problem-solving abilities, while others are looking to games simply as a way into kid culture. Teachers long to connect to the things that matter to their students and these days, games are one of those things.

V: Do you think that the traditional methods of learning (teacher and students) will be replaced with interactive virtual learning environments? If yes, when do you see virtual environments making their way into the classroom?

K: While I think virtual learning environments hold promise, I don’t think they will ever completely replace face-to-face interaction between a teacher/mentor and a student. Rather, I feel we are moving toward a model that tries to see learning as happening in many different kinds of spaces. Our work is to figure out how to bridge these experiences for students and to provide them with structure for learning that take advantage of what real and virtual experiences offer.

V: What other areas/industries, besides education, can benefit from the use of serious games?

K: Serious games is a broad field, and covers the uses of games in contexts ranging from training for the military to the use of games by surgeons practicing their skills. We are seeing games used as the basis for political and civic organizing, and as models for new approaches to interface design in airport baggage systems. Almost everyone, these days, seems interested in games.

V: What resources do you recommend for people who want to better understand the role of gaming in the future?

K: It depends what aspect of the future people are interested in. Some might want to consider the role games are playing in driving technological innovation; others in the rise of the independent games movement, or the way game platforms like the Wii are changing who plays and how. Groups like the IGDA (International Game Developers Association), G4C (Games for Change), Serious Games, GLS (Games, Learning, and Society), etc. all have their own take on the future, and are good places to start.

V: Please list some powerful new technologies or disruptive events that you expect to see by Dec 31, 2008.

K: I have my fingers crossed that Spore will be released this year and am anxious to see how some of the new mobile social networking apps are going to impact our (meaning American) ideas about the PC-centric focus of the internet. I think we are just starting to see the effective use of interface as fashion and data as social landscape and 2008 might be the year these metaphors join forces. Most importantly, we will see a rise in the number of tools and platforms dedicated to letting players make games. This is the year game design will go viral.

V: 5 years: Please list some powerful new technologies or disruptive events that you expect to see by 2013.

K: I think IP as we know it will be long dead by 2013, shoved aside by a paradigm shift around distributed intelligence and agency within a network, rather than authorship as it was once known. Cloud computing will likely have shown the way toward the parsing of extraordinarily complex problems, which will require a shift in magnitude of our thinking around what it means to visualize and act within data. Mobile will have taken over as the central technology in people’s lives, and gaming will be a common language we all speak.

V: 10 years: Please list some powerful new technologies or disruptive events that you expect to see by 2018.

K: 10 years is where I start to lose sight of things, mostly because I’d love to see something emerge that none of us could ever have predicted.

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Comment Thread (1 Response)

  1. Interesting interview. Education is generally lumped in with government as among the slowest changing arenas, but clearly there are pockets of innovation occurring here.

    Posted by: Jeff   March 11, 2008
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