from the Director's Desk

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Playing the Game

Last week was a fascinating week. I observed 9 IMPACT Model/Award schools' 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teachers as they learned to think inside a gaming environment. Through the generous support of Food Lion in North Carolina, we have been given the opportunity to participate in a unique research study out of the Indiana University's Center for Research on Teaching and Learning. They explain it best:

"Quest Atlantis is a National Science Foundation (NSF) -funded learning and teaching project that uses a 3D multi-user environment to immerse children, ages 9 to 12, in educational tasks. Currently over 4,500 registered users from five continents use Quest Atlantis in formal school environments as well as in after-school settings. Building on strategies from online role-playing games, Quest Atlantis combines features used in commercial gaming environments with lessons from educational research on learning and motivation. The core elements of Quest Atlantis are: 1) a 3-D multi-user virtual environment (MUVE); 2) learning Quests and unit plans; 3) a storyline presented through an introductory video as well as novellas and a comic book that involves a mythical Council and a set of social commitments; and 4) a globally-distributed community of participants."

Some of the questions we will be helping the Center answer are:
1. Will students learn through this gaming environment? We know they will play, but will they actually learn curriculum content while playing?
2. Can teachers become comfortable teaching in this environment? Do they feel--can they be--effective in this environment?

As I listened to the Quest Atlantis developer, Sasha Barab, describe the worlds he was imagining and putting into the 3D educational environment, I realized that I actually had comparable experiences as a child. As I was growing up, I loved to play with paper dolls. I would design clothes for them, build houses, towns, and experiences for them. I created another world for them--and for myself. This is not so different for our children today. It's just a different set of tools. Instead of paper, pencils, crayons, scissors, they have computers. And they are being challenged to solve real-world problems in this virtual environment, something I can't admit to in my paper doll world. What an incredible opportunity for these students! And if the pilot is successful, Food Lion is willing to help implement Quest Atlantis across the state.

Go take a look at the Quest Atlantis demo site and let us know what you think. How do you feel about moving into a gaming environment in education? Do you have reservations or are you--and your students--ready to move to a higher level of learning?


Blogger Charles White said...

I believe that gaming in education is completely relevant to today’s student. However, the largest obstacle that I perceive is the teachers. Having never truly grown up in a gaming immersed environment, most teachers have a hard time comprehending the relevancy and power of incorporating simulation and gaming into the curriculum.

In Lenoir County, we recently had a middle school experiment with incorporating gaming into a lesson. Students played “Food Force” A wonderful game freely distributed by the UN World Food Program. The game focuses students on the steps that the World Food Organization takes to respond to an emergency hunger situation and injects the students in an imaginary “crisis”. Using the game, along with other resources, the students explored the crisis in Darfur and opened great dialog about hunger across the world. While this is only a single example, I hope that its success will open more teachers and schools to new possibilities in learning.

I applaud the Quest Atlantis project and hope that its success will inspire more teachers to embrace a culture that is unfamiliar and scary to them.

Check out:
Social Impact Games at

Food Force at

March 01, 2007 11:15 AM  

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