Quest to learn

One of the most interesting current uses of games in education is the Quest to Learn school in New York, US (q2l.org). This innovative New York (US) high school is based on an approach to learning based on the principles that make video games successful. The learning can be said to be “game-like” in that it attempts to replicate what makes games engaging in order to make the learning more engaging. Students learn to view the world though its underlying, interdependent systems, which involves taking physical, biological, environmental, political, technological, social, economic, etc. Q2L students learn that the knowledge systems of math, science, language, geography, history, etc. can empower them to decode the patterns, structure, and dynamics of complex systems so they can be analysed, understood, influenced, and even designed. Students are given missions organized around big ideas and complex, multidisciplinary problems, which in order to solve, students must collaborate, think holistically, gather relevant information, calculate, theorize, hypothesize, and experiment, read and analyse texts, design models, simulations, codes, games and tools, and continuously provide feedback for review and revision of their work, etc. Students take on the identities of mathematicians, scientists, writers, historians, and designers as they connect ideas, information, and experiences. In this way gaming principles are incorporated into the learning process. This is an example of full “gamification” as opposed to the artificial overlay of points and competition that is commonly described using that term.

For example, students pretend they are spies in ancient Greece and re-enact the Peloponnesian War, learning about Athens and Sparta and the difference between oligarchy and democracy in the process. They make up a game to save an imaginary town from environmental disaster, or design real hot air balloons to help imaginary characters escape--learning real science along the way. They use Google Earth to study earthquake fault lines in an Earth Science class, or complete an independent study on photography (like the 9th grader in this video). The idea is that if teachers design lessons the same way game designers make games, kids will be motivated to keep trying when they have trouble and will be rewarded with the pleasure of completing a task rather than traditional grades.

Q2L is also a school with a strong emphasis on professional development. Teachers have a smaller class loads than the average public school teacher to allow time to meet regularly with other faculty members and with professional game designers—three of whom are on staff. Together, they write the curriculum and constantly fine-tune their lessons, repeatedly assessing what works, what needs to be improved, and what strategies they might use for learners who have difficulties. Teachers visit one another's classes to get ideas for their own classes.

The Institute of Play at Parsons New School for Design pays the salaries of the game designers and curriculum specialists who work with teachers. In addition to the support of Parsons, the Institute of Play has some heavy-hitting funders, including the Gates Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation.

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