Digital Education: Learning in Real Time?
Tom Bingham, chancellor of California’s San Jose Unified School District, has a unique interest in—and view of—the digital classroom. He recently looked to the success of upstart, video game publisher Wooga as a model for his district, an education and technology hub of some 165,000 students. As the San Jose chief for more than ten years, Bingham has tackled the daunting task of closing achievement gaps between black and Latino students and their peers. But now he sees an equally challenging opportunity: young people aren’t learning as well in the digital age as they once did. That’s because students’ virtual lives get more information faster than their digital learning does.
They appear as participants, investors, models and directors in short, high-resolution video games that come from a storied history of high-quality professional interactive entertainment and the latest developments in brain science and artificial intelligence. However, while we’ve been playing video games for a while now, many may be surprised to learn just how much the very tech-enabled learning that underpinned the Web’s early start is now feeding into games on smartphones and tablets. One of the most sought-after MBA students in Silicon Valley, Matt Kasher at Venture Capital firm Benchmark, says this new generation of education is really “taking video games to a whole new level.”
During his time as education commissioner of California, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said he saw video games as a teaching and learning tool for kindergarten through third-grade students. That led to his interest in e-learning. In short, he wanted to establish “a new level of standards-based learning” across all digital platforms. He wants kids to be playing games that teach them how to interact in complex, real-world scenarios. He’s particularly excited about applications for children, like “Jeopardy” and “Name That Tune,” developed by educational game-maker Common Sense Media.
Torlakson’s interest in e-learning began with San Jose Unified, where his initiative to close achievement gaps has faced its biggest obstacles. By the end of 2013, he noted that the district’s demographics make black and Latino students the most disadvantaged. In the early 2000s, students of color were teaching younger kids. Bingham hopes these digital learning platforms that challenge students and get them excited about their learning, while working in real-time, could help boost the performance of students of color. “In 10 years,” he added, “students of color may not have to deal with achievement gaps.”
For teachers and administrators, the technology is also an opportunity to cross-pollinate culturally and socially relevant and interactive learning activities between physical and digital settings. In his native Norway, for example, there’s a booming industry built around Minecraft, a game that compiles buildings, objects and terrain for players to construct and explore. So far, 50,000 Norwegian students have created more than 350 million blocks to explore their geography and their culture.
Teachers and administrators are excited about digital games that empower youth to leave homework on their phones and laptops after using the recess or after-school program, and to play the games on the go. Some won’t believe it, but the brain can learn new skills through video games. Earlier this year, players of “Roblox,” an online game built with virtual world technology, had a greater ability to decode words and estimate speed than students with limited access to computer technology.
But it’s not just math that’s on the horizon. More young people than ever before will be expected to pursue technical or scientific fields in college. Simultaneously, digital games are likely to prove better, more interactive and more engaging. See our newest profile on the benefits of gaming.
This post is sponsored by LEGO®.