Tag Archives: education

The Joy Stick Is Mightier Than The Pen: A Case For Gaming As An Academic Tool

JT Hudnut headshotby Jason Hudnut
Chief Coordinating Consultant: www.theturnpiketeacher.com

(Note: The following article text is the full version of an incomplete copy inadvertently published originally on April 30, 2013 under the title “The Educator as Parent.”)

I have spent my life immersed in the field of education.  I was raised by educators and it seems as if I may even be raising future educators.  But this is not my defining characteristic.  My time spent as a parent is in my opinion, the true nature of what I have become in my adult years.  Parenting in these modern times has allowed me to introduce the lessons learned during my time in the academic profession into the framework of philosophies that I utilize while raising my family.  Tonight, this blending of my personal and professional life was on exhibit in my household.  My oldest child had to leave school early today due to an illness.  He desperately wanted to make up his missed classwork and find out what his assigned homework for the night was. This shed a tiny yet telling light on the modern and technology based world we live in as parents and educators.

I informed my son to call his classmates to find out this information that he required.  It did not take long before I realized we don’t do it this way anymore. As my child sent texts and contacted friends on social media sites, then asked me to go on the teacher web page and find out if the assignments were posted, I realized we have evolved.  My boy has developed an entirely different way of thinking.  He solved his problem in a modern way and soon he was working on ratios and fractions and writing an essay that his teacher emailed to me in mere seconds after I contacted her.  This led me to thinking of some articles that I had read regarding how today’s young students may be influenced to solve problems and develop a unique set of social skills and strategies that may be influenced by the tools they implore while interacting with peers and playing video games.

Hap Aziz, in his article: “Bringing Computer Games into the Teacher and Learning Environment”, posted on January 04, 2013 in this blog, states,

“Computer games have potential educational value. Computer games have been identified as useful instruments that facilitate the acquisition of knowledge through the adoption of specific learning strategies (a cultural characteristic of the information society), and that computer games present immersive experiences in which learners—the players—develop abilities to solve complex problems in a variety of situations.”

I must give credit to the gaming world as my child’s first major experience in which he needed to utilize a technology based skill set. Not only did he begin to build abilities to solve complex problems within actual gaming situations, he developed knowledge of social media and on-line interaction when he was finally allowed by us, as parents, to enter the multi-player gaming experience via the internet. This was a big step to take and allow as a parent.  But as an educator, I knew that I would guide him with the proper and appropriate etiquette needed to gain knowledge and have fun while also maintaining measures of safety and good conduct.  Not to mention the curiosity that has been sparked and the fact based education he has received while role playing in some of today’s most modern historical based games.  I have since found him often times researching American and world history and even building worlds and reenacting with his Legos and other toys.

My newly rediscovered interest in how gaming could benefit education led me on a web surfing journey.  On this journey, I discovered some insight provided by Agnieszka Wetton on www.Scoop.it, who provided a wonderful statement within her Gaming in Education blog introduction on September 29, 2012.  Wetton stated,

“Over the past decade, the use of digital gaming in education has prompted considerable attention in exploring how and why games might be powerful tools in the classroom. As a result of this interest, there is a considerable body of resources available on Game-based Learning (GBL) and its potential benefits for education and learning.”

I certainly was thrilled to find this information and followed the leads presented on the Scoop.it! web pages.  I have obviously been aware of gaming tools in the classroom and have certainly applied several in my 20 years of teacher and education administration. But this new web surf opened up my eyes to the most modern conversations that will hopefully lead to a modern approach and application of these tools in the classrooms that we teach in and that our children learn in.  Two articles in particular jumped out at me. Both were “scooped” by Wetton. The first one is from: http://trove.nla.gov.au, and is dated September 29, 2012. This scoop referred to a wonderful book titled, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy by James Paul Gee.

Gee takes an in depth look at how video games benefit individuals.  He investigates the effects on cognitive activity and improvement.  Gee looks deeper into the development of identity building and perception of self in society.  He even presents information regarding the increased ability to follow directives and grasp specific concepts and meanings within the community as a result of gaming and how this improves and enhances the learning process.

As I researched the concepts presented by Gee, I felt as if I had won some sort of court case.  Not only as an educator but as a parent, I have been making a case for the positive benefits that gaming, technology, and on-line interaction have had on the students and children of today.  I found at last, some validity to fuel my stands on the debates over such matters.  But I wanted a bit more proof to make my case.  And I found it as I continued to follow the leads that Wetton scooped on her blog.  My next stop, also found on  http://trove.nla.gov.au, from September 29, 2012 opened my world to the concepts of Marc Prensky.

In his book, Don’t Bother Me, Mom, I’m Learning! : How Computer and Video Games are Preparing Your Kids for Twenty-First Century Success and How You Can Help, Prensky also builds that case that gaming on computers and game systems can be beneficial to modern children.  He does maintain that a limit needs to be established regarding certain appropriateness and time constraints, but Prensky does believe that in order to be prepared for the 21st century; children stand to make significant gains from the concepts learned in the gaming realm.  He contributes increases in the abilities to collaborate, take and assess risks and build and follow through with strategic planning.  Prensky even goes so far as to show how parents can build on individual ethics and value based growth is attributed to the time spent learning the guidelines, structures, and relationships necessary  while navigating in the gaming world.

So, the next time your kid, or one of your students states how much they would rather be gaming instead of doing homework or studying, you can rest assured that there just may be some benefits to the specific choices that can be made in your response.  We have learned that gaming can be used in the classroom as a powerful academic tool.  Much more work is needed in this field, but the advancements of the home gaming system consoles and personal computer game structures is blazing a trail towards this work.  We can, as parents and educators, make specific choices to perhaps slip a bit of beneficial growth into the pleasure that the modern youth gets out of gaming.

It is necessary to limit the time spent playing as well as being very proactive when it comes to censoring the content that is allowed to be viewed and presented.  But we can all feel comfortable, that…YES…there are unique, and very specific as well as appropriate benefits to the worlds that are introduced to our young ones as they sit in front of that screen and dive into their favorite dream world.  Think about it, most of us only had video games with an X competing against an O in some form of sports of space combat.  We have come a long way as I sit here watching my son role play a character and making tactical decisions during the ride of Paul Revere or The Cuban Missile Crisis, in full three dimensional life-like movie quality graphics.  Hey, can daddy have a turn buddy?

Sources:

Aziz, H. (2013). Bringing Computer Games into the Teacher and Learning Environment. Retrieved from                 https://hapaziz.wordpress.com/2013/01/04

Gee, J.P. (2007). What Video Games have to Teach US About Learning and Literacy. Basingstoke:                           Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Retrieved from http://trove.nla.gov.au

Prenksy, M. (2006). Don’t Bother Me, Mom, I’m Learning! : How Computer and Video Games are           Preparing Your Kids for Twenty-First Century Success and How You Can Help. St. Paul, MN:                Paragon House, 2006. Retrieved from http://trove.nla.gov.au

Wetton, A. (2012). Gaming in Education. Retrieved from www.Scoop.it!

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Filed under children, computer games, education, education technology, games, Hap Aziz, Jason Hudnut, technology

Imagining the Future of Education through Science Fiction

by Hap Aziz

Readers of Science Fiction are quite often drawn to the predictive capacity of the genre. From rockets to robots to nanotechnology to cyborg implants to virtual reality… these things and more have been the domain of Science Fiction literature since early in the 20th century, and concepts like these are the foundation of the genre moving forward. It’s not difficult to see the seeds of our current technology in the story lines from past works by authors such as Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke. But Science Fiction has never been only about the technology. Indeed, Science Fiction has always asked the big “What If?” questions on topics such as social customs and norms, political systems, cultural conflicts, and the concept of identity that transcends gender, race, and even species. Consider novels such as Stranger in a Strange Land and Fahrenheit 451; television programs such as The Twilight Zone and Star Trek; movies such as Blade Runner and Planet of the Apes–Science Fiction has always captured our collective imagination with the Big Idea.

Given the breadth of Big Ideas in the body of Science Fiction literature, it’s rather surprising that the topic of education has not received a more robust treatment, other than mention as supporting plot elements, for the most part. And it the majority of those mentions, the format of education isn’t that much different than the model in place today: the interaction between a student and teacher, often within a cohort of students, usually in a face-to-face technology mediated environment. In episodes of Star Trek, set hundreds of years into the future, there are scenes of young children in what appears to be fairly standard-looking classrooms (with more tech hardware). Consider Yoda teaching the Jedi younglings like an elementary school teacher from the 19th century. Battle School in Orson Scott Card’s novel Ender’s Game is basically a military boarding academy with video games and zero gravity gymnasiums. Even in Flowers for Algernon, a story in which the main character’s IQ is dramatically improved through a surgical procedure performed on his brain, Charlie still learns primarily by reading books. In the majority of these stories, while the human capacity to learn or the actual learning process is enhanced by technology, the act of learning is fundamentally unchanged from the way in which people have learned since the beginning of time.

There are, however, a few notable exceptions. In John Scalzi’s novel Old Man’s War, soldiers’ learning is significantly enhanced through the use of the BrainPal, a neural implant that can download information directly into the human brain at a tremendous rate. Similarly, in the movie The Matrix, people can acquire new skills simply by downloading the appropriate data file. This is also quite like the technology used in Joss Whedon’s television series Dollhouse, in which the brain is literally a blank slate ready for a completely different mind (with it’s own set of memories and skills) to be imprinted. In the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation titled “The Inner Light,” an entire lifetime of events is loaded into Captain Picard’s brain in 20 minutes–with an artifact of that experience being the ability to play an instrument he never saw before he “lived” his alternate life.

What all those exceptions have in common is that they fundamentally alter the method by which information is loaded into the human brain, and they do so in a digital rather than analog fashion. The result is that the time required to load the desired information is much reduced from the traditional input methods of using our own analog senses to acquire knowledge, then disciplining the mind to retain that knowledge and training the body to function appropriately (memorization and practice). All other methods of instruction, no matter how we reinvent them or try to integrate assistive technology, still encounter the analog gateway (and in some cases, barrier) of our senses. The “data transfer rate” effectively comes down to the learner’s ability to effectively absorb what’s coming through that gateway. I remember when I was in high school and I wanted to record songs from my record albums onto cassette tape so that I could take them with me to play on my Walkman. I had a cassette recording deck connected to my record turntable, but I could only record in real time–I could only record at the actual speed that the records played across that analog gateway.

If I’m imagining the future of education as a storyline in Science Fiction, I see the need for a digital-to-analog converter that serves as a high-speed interface to the brain. That’s what would enable the story examples I cited above, facilitating the speedy transfer of knowledge and possibly eliminating (or minimizing) the need to practice for skills mastery. Right now it takes a lifetime to acquire a lifetime’s worth of knowledge, and even then there is no guarantee that we can successfully access more than a fraction of what we have acquired. Now when I want to digitize my CD collection so I can store it on my portable MP3 player, the ripping process takes a fraction of the time as playing all the songs.

Perhaps I’ve planted the seeds for a Science Fiction story I should write: What would it be like if several lifetimes flashed before our eyes at the moment of death? Somehow we’d have to experience all those lifetimes… and that’s just another way of saying we’d need to figure out how to become life-long learners several times over.

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Filed under education, education technology, future technology, Hap Aziz, life-long learning, Science Fiction

Entrepreneurship and Instructional Content: Using Kickstarter to Fund Games for Education

by Hap Aziz

The development of course content, especially at higher levels where students are more sophisticated and discerning regarding their academic materials, has always been a challenge. It is important to be able to strike a balance between cost of development (both in resources and labor), instructor expertise, and turn-around time (or development time in response to current or recent events that might have an impact on the course learning objectives). Basically, it has been a question of what can the instructor build by him or herself, in time for the upcoming lessons, that isn’t going to involve a budget request from the department. Because of this dynamic, the “promise” of computer games transforming the education landscape has never really been realized, it if the prevailing thinking around this doesn’t change, neither will the landscape. What likely needs to occur is a shift in the expectation of games in education; designing a learning activity that plays like Modern Warfare–or even Angry Birds–is well out of reach of faculty skills and department budgets.

A possible pathway out of this impossible maze of twisty passages involves two strategies to be executed simultaneously:

  1. Utilize game formats and development tools that individual instructors can use effectively
  2. Be creative in finding methods of funding (and the funding should only need to cover relatively small amounts)

It is with both of these points in mind that I developed the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative Kickstarter project. To the first point, I selected an “old school” type of computer game that can be developed quite effectively by a single person; an instructor who wishes to build something small scale in time for the upcoming semester, for example. To the second point, I decided to fund my project through Kickstarter, a crowd sourced funding model in which backers make donations rather than investments (meaning that if the developer is able to raise the funding, there is no pressure that the project become profitable enough for repayment).

My idea is simple: if instructors can use a form of computer games such as Interactive Fiction (a form that the literature shows is effective even with reluctant readers), they would be able to develop smaller game exercises that can be integrated into their curriculum, and expanded upon over time. With Kickstarter funding covering some relatively minor miscellaneous costs, there would be no significant budgetary impact to take into consideration.

(In fact, we could go even further and consider the creation of an education-specific form of Kickstarter. Imagine institutions tapping into their alumni base for course material development or even program funding on a smaller scale.)

I invite you to review the Kickstarter project by clicking here. The funding window is open until early June on that project. You can find additional material on the project at the official project blog by clicking here. Please feel free to share your thoughts, and I’ll be sure to report back throughout the development process.

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Filed under colleges and universities, computer games, cost of education, crowdsourcing, education course content, education technology, games, gamification, Hap Aziz, higher education, Interactive Fiction, Kickstarter, Kickstarter.com, technology, vintage technology

Game Developers’ Conference 2012: Wrapping Up from an Education Perspective

by Hap Aziz

The Game Developers’ Conference (GDC 2012) has reached endgame here in San Francisco, and there are many thousands of weary game developers, producers, artists, designers, investors, educators, and miscellaneous interested parties bugging out and heading home. I’m one of them. What I thought I would do over the next several posts here is take some of the session descriptions and provide some commentary on the relevance and relationship of the topics to the landscape of teaching and learning. I’ve seen many interesting potential connections between the game industry and education during my attendance in years past, and this time around was no exception. In fact, I saw greater engagement and participation from educators during this year’s conference than I have before. That’s quite heartening to those of us who see the potential for gaming techniques and technologies integrated with the mission of education.

More to come, so keep watching this space!

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Filed under announcement, colleges and universities, computer games, creativity, education, education technology, games, Hap Aziz, simulation, technology

Navigating the Learning Landscape: How an Educational Positioning System Brings the Cloud Down to Earth

by Hap Aziz

The Educational Positioning System (EPS) continues to gather steam and garner interest. Recently I attended the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative 2012 Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas, where I co-presented the session, “The Educational Positioning System: Guiding Learners Along Their Academic Path.” At that session, we brainstormed ways in which a potential EPS infrastructure would be leveraged to provide learners with greater control over the academic journey while also providing ways to control and distribute their own complete learning portfolio. At the same meeting, the IMS Global Consortium made a major announcement regarding the EPS, and you can read more about it here.

On Friday, March 16th of this year, I will have the privilege of presenting at the Fashion Institute of Technology EduTech Day SUNY-Wide Conference “Teaching Learning and Sharing in the Cloud,” again on the topic of the EPS. My presentation is titled, ” Navigating the Learning Landscape: How an Educational Positioning System Brings the Cloud Down to Earth,” and the session description will no doubt grab the attendees:

After all my years of schooling, all I have to show is this diploma and some transcripts?” Unfortunately, this is a common sentiment among students that have graduated from college. Many students question themselves regarding what tangible artifacts they have to show for their years of time spent in the classroom, since as far back as preschool. The challenge in higher education is that institutions own any Learning Management Systems that may be in place. As a result, the institutions also own the “data” generated by students, and there is no easy way for students to take that data along their life journeys, let alone access that data for more robust reporting of what they have accomplished. With the development of cloud computing, that model of institutional ownership has become outdated, and data can belong to the students. This new paradigm of accessibility is the foundation for the concept of the Educational Positioning System (EPS) which will allow students to measure and track their own progress—not only through any particular institution, but ultimately from the moment they participate in any type of formal learning activity (as far back as preschool), across all educational environments they attend throughout their lifelong learning experiences. Join Hap Aziz in this session as he explains the concept of the EPS and discusses the implications and promise for future students.

For those of you that are able, I would love to see you in attendance in support of moving the EPS initiative forward. After the conference, I will post my presentation slides here on the blog. Until then, I will leave you with this diagram that gives a (very) high-level overview of the EPS ecosystem.

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Filed under announcement, colleges and universities, education, education technology, Educational Positioning System, EDUCAUSE, EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, future technology, Hap Aziz, higher education, technology

Video Games: a New Frontier in 21st Century Learning

by Lauren Gosnell

Lauren is currently working with Datatel+SGHE as an intern on the Academic Services team. She has been conducting research on the current trends and concerns within higher education on topics ranging from remediation strategies to the integration of computer game technologies in the education environment.  Lauren feels her experience will give her the background and knowledge to help her grow in her passion around teaching and learning issues within higher education. This article represents some of her recent research, and it is a valuable contribution to the broader discussion around gaming and student engagement. Lauren recently graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a degree in Psychology.

It has become clear that the way we educate children needs to change.   The National Science Foundation found that in 2002 the U.S. ranked 73 out of 91 countries in the percentage on college students obtaining a bachelor’s degree in science or engineering.  This is not a problem created by universities alone, but rather one that begins in early education.  A 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and Program for International Student Assessment test found that U.S. 4th graders are 12th in the world in math and 24th by the 12th grade.  This trend continues across all subjects.  Traditional teaching methods are failing these struggling students and new frontiers must be sought before U.S. students are left behind in the dust.  A promising new frontier lies in the implementation of video games in learning.  Video games are currently being used for educational purposes across age groups and in a variety of ways that are proving more successful than traditional teaching methods of the past.

Kurt Squire’s article, “Changing the Game: What Happens When Video Games Enter the Classroom?” reveals a case study on Civilization III, a game which packs in 6000 years of history to be explored.  This study of two groups of middle school students found mixed results on this game in particular.  In one test group, 25% of the students found the game to be too difficult, but most promising was the game playing effect on typically unmotivated students.  The students receiving the poorest grades and who showed the lowest class participation were the ones most captivated and outspoken while playing the game.  In a similar study in “Games for Science and Engineering Education,” Merrilea Mayo describes a different group a middle school students and their results playing an electrostatics game called Supercharged.  Students who played this game along with receiving the typical lecture increased their test scores by 28% while students who received the lecture alone only increased their test score by 15%.  Some students do fine in the typical lecture based classes, but many students crave a more interactive approach and these games satisfy that need.  Students learn in a variety of ways and the way we teach should better reflect that.

Video games are not only useful for children.  Mayo also discusses a Northern Illinois University numerical methods course that used a race car game as homework.  This game lead to students being willing to spend twice as much time on homework and resulted in 80% of these students taking the next advanced course.  In Digital Game Based Learning: Educational Video Games, the author discusses North Carolina State University’s new interactive games designed to enhance geology and biology courses.  A widely acclaimed game called Foldit is discussed by Greg Toppo in “White House Office Studies Benefits of Video Games.”  This game was designed by the University of Washington and teaches players about the shapes of proteins.  Using this game, players were able to analyze monkey HIV protein in 10 days that had eluded researchers for 15 years.  This game is thought to be potentially beneficial in Alzheimer’s, AIDS, and cancer research.  These colleges are recognizing the importance of creating new avenues for learning and embracing the potential of 21st century video games in doing so.

Video games are also being used in a new generation of surgeons.  In “The Impact of Video Games on Training Surgeons in the 21st Century,” Rosser et. al detail a game called Top Gun which when played for 3 hours a week was shown to decrease surgery errors by 37% and increase surgery speeds by 27%.  Video games could be used more and more in the future as a practical teaching tool in training better, more efficient surgeons.  These games have allowed video games to take the broad leap from fun time-waster to a life saving tool.

High school students looking to get into the best colleges are receiving increasing pressure to achieve the highest SAT and ACT scores.  These scores can determine the college they get in to, the classes they are allowed to take, and ultimately their careers.  Students seeking to gain an edge over their peers are constantly looking for better study models and this has served as a vehicle for the introduction of video games in the college prepatory market.  One such game is Zero Hour Threat, an interactive game where each correct answer leads the player one step closer to stopping international criminals. Two other games, discussed by Barbara Ortutay in “SAT Prep Services Get Into Video Games,” currently on the market are “futureU”, designed with Kaplan Inc., and the Princeton Review’s My SAT Coach.  These games are easily marketable to students by making them available in a variety of forms from Nintendo DS to iPhones. Further studies need to be done to determine their effectiveness. Based off of what researchers, such as Squire, have already found though about interactive learning and its increase in the complexity and depth of what is learned, these interactive video games could be only the beginning of a continuing trend.

For years, students have been silently pleading for better ways to learn.  Traditional lecture format classes are not engaging many students and they are falling behind their peers, both here and worldwide.  Mayo’s article states that the average student spends 6.8 hours a week playing video games and up to 5-8 hours on homework (for college bound students).  If game makers and educators could combine these two activities, students could be spending more time than ever learning and doing so in a more engaging complex way.  Better games need to be designed to fit this emerging market that better combine the games students already love with the information they need to know.  By doing this, students who have struggled in the past may have finally found their niche in 21st century learning.

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Filed under computer games, education, education technology, emerging technologies, games, higher education, Lauren Gosnell, learning outcomes, narrative, online education, simulation, technology, Uncategorized

Accessing Education Video Content through YouTube for Schools

by Hap Aziz

While YouTube has provided education-specific content through YouTube EDU, this venue is often problematic from an instructor’s point of view. The “distraction factor” is extraordinarily high, and the ability to restrict access to content has been global rather than category specific. As a result, more schools have been shutting down YouTube entirely. Yes, that approach removes the distraction, but it also removes access to thousands of quality educational videos.

As a solution to this concern, YouTube has developed YouTube for Schools which is a network setting that allows school network administrators to turn on YouTube access only for YouTube EDU content. of course, this may not prevent students from viewing other video content while in class, at least the distractions will have some educational value.

The value of having educational video content segregated from general content is compelling, and I suspect that this move will allow schools to be more comfortable in addressing a more YouTube-friendly access policy. However, this is only a first step to more systematic use of video content in the teaching and learning space, and it will take a fair amount of time before best practices regarding the integration of YouTube content become widespread. Individual instructors will certainly continue their practice of recommending videos and sharing them with their students; it will be interesting to see if a more systems-wide adoption of YouTube video in curriculum occurs as a result of this move.

You can read more about the move on YouTube’s blog here.

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Filed under education, general, video

Considering the Long-term Future When Selecting a Program of Study

by Hap Aziz

A couple of days ago, I wrote on the topic of the “Education Bubble,” and how student choices in their chosen programs of study can effect their financial future as well as the overall debt load on society. There’s a legitimate connection to be made between public financing of education and the latitude within which students are able (or should be allowed) to select their pathways to potential careers. I would argue that if a student decides to pursue a program of study for personal enrichment, entertainment value, or any other non-career-related focus, the student should have that freedom, provided that he or she is able to bear the burden of the cost and bear the responsibility of the long term consequences.

Over at The American Interest site, Walter Russell Mead writes in his Via Meadia blog much the same thing, but from a slightly different perspective–and his assessment of these “offbeat” programs is more critical (and more humorous). His piece is worth a read as a reality check on value of educational content being offered to students in the marketplace today.

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Filed under accountability, colleges and universities, education, employment

Higher Education: All Bubbles Are Not Created Equal

by Hap Aziz

In his article “The Dwindling Power of a College Education” (NY Times Magazine, November 23, 2011), Adam Davidson posits, “One of the greatest changes is that a college degree is no longer the guarantor of a middle-class existence.”He supports his statement with the data points that up to the early 1970s, most college graduates–11 percent of the adult population–could find relatively decent jobs, while now nearly a third of the adult population possess college degrees, and the employment picture is much less positive. Davidson goes on to reason that in addition to the degree, graduates need to have some sort of “special skill” that employers value. There may be some hair-splitting required to support that line of thought, however. Employers have always desired particular skill sets depending on the type of job, and certainly many of us remember the age-old chicken-and-hen conundrum for newly-minted college graduates: “I have a degree, but I can’t get a job without any real work experience. So how can I get work experience if no one will hire me for a job?”

The point not to be lost in this view is that there is a non-insignificant cost to education, and this cost is financed in large part by borrowing. According to the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (2009), roughly two-thirds of all undergraduate students needed some sort of financial aid for the 2007-2008 school year. Factor in rising levels of unemployment among college graduates, and we see that repayment of loans becomes a hardship for steadily increasing numbers of students. Market forces converge, resulting in the decline of undergraduate degree value, and in effect the degree drops underwater; the perceived value of the degree falling below the actual debt burden.

Comparisons to the housing market abound. Peter Thiel speaks extensively on the Education Bubble in a National Review Online interview back in January of this year. Thiel’s commentary is sobering:

“Probably the only candidate left for a bubble — at least in the developed world (maybe emerging markets are a bubble) — is education. It’s basically extremely overpriced. People are not getting their money’s worth, objectively, when you do the math. And at the same time it is something that is incredibly intensively believed; there’s this sort of psycho-social component to people taking on these enormous debts when they go to college simply because that’s what everybody’s doing.

“It is, to my mind, in some ways worse than the housing bubble. There are a few things that make it worse. One is that when people make a mistake in taking on an education loan, they’re legally much more difficult to get out of than housing loans. With housing, typically they’re non-recourse — you can just walk out of the house. With education, they’re recourse, and they typically survive bankruptcy. If you borrowed money and went to a college where the education didn’t create any value, that is potentially a really big mistake.”

The last part of this quote is worth dissecting further: “a college where the education didn’t create any value.” Thiel does point out that a college education can often be a consumption decision rather than an investment decision, and therein lies the much of the valuation measure. The following list is a snapshot of some of the more unusual offerings available to students. As you go through the list, keep a mental checklist of those you would classify as consumption versus investment offerings.

  • Bowling Industry Management at Vincennes University
  • EcoGastronomy at the University of New Hampshire
  • Floral Management at Mississippi State University
  • Puppetry at the University of Connecticut
  • Adventure Recreation at Green Mountain College
  • Family Resource Management Studies at Ohio State University

While it can be argued that these degrees have at least some value in a specialized marketplace, it becomes a greater stretch to justify the cost of the degree given the salary earned through work in the field. I’m not going to consider attending Mississippi State University to pay out-of-state tuition for the Floral Management program if I’m looking at the average starting pay at the florist in my home town. Indeed, a wiser course might be for me to take part-time employment at a florist when I’m in high school and learn the trade as an apprentice instead.

The Governor of Florida, Rick Scott, got himself into a bit of hot water when he made the following statement:

“We don’t need a lot more anthropologists in the state. It’s a great degree if people want to get it, but we don’t need them here. I want to spend our dollars giving people science, technology, engineering, and math degrees. That’s what our kids need to focus all their time and attention on, those types of degrees, so when they get out of school, they can get a job” (October 10, 2011).

While Governor Scott’s phrasing was questionable and certainly elicited quite a bit of negative reaction from anthropologists as well as educators in general, it’s worth examining the statement to see if there is any validity. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is anticipating a 28 percent growth in Anthropology jobs from 2008 to 2018, and the BLS calls this “much faster than the average” for all occupations. But examination of the actual numbers show national growth of 1600 jobs in the field over the 10 year period, and that is across the entire country (with the main employer being the Federal Government). The calculus regarding the investment value of this degree is unclear on quick inspection. If you were making this decision for yourself or advising your son or daughter, what would your reasoning be?

Still, the issue goes deeper than whether or not the purpose of college degrees is purely or at least primarily gainful employment. When we consider the question regarding the purpose of education, it is important to recall the core ideas underlying the concept that liberal arts education has value beyond the proposition of facilitating employability. In discussing the societal value for liberal arts, Gregory Dunn looks to C. S. Lewis for clarity on the topic:

“Lewis contrasts liberal arts education with what he calls ‘vocational training,’ the sort that prepares one for employment. Such training, he writes, ‘aims at making not a good man but a good banker, a good electrician, . . . or a good surgeon.’ Lewis does admit the importance of such training–for we cannot do without bankers and electricians and surgeons–but the danger, as he sees it, is the pursuit of training at the expense of education. ‘If education is beaten by training, civilization dies,’ he writes, for ‘the lesson of history‘ is that ‘civilization is a rarity, attained with difficulty and easily lost.’ It is the liberal arts, not vocational training, that preserves civilization by producing reasonable men and responsible citizens.”

What we see happening now in terms of an “education bubble” is the clash between the ideal of liberal arts and the reality of cost-benefit ratios that point to unsustainable debt on both an individual as well as societal level. This, by the way, is one of the dangers of the State taking on the role of “provider” in society, whether it involves healthcare, education, or any other area of commerce. He who pays the Piper calls the tune, after all, so along with any funding a student receives from public sources will undoubtedly come greater and greater restrictions and requirements on how that funding may be allocated. The bottom line is that if I want to major in Puppetry, and I can absorb the consequences of my own decision, then I have every right to do so… and hopefully I’ll become a much more responsible citizen in the process. However, if my degree decision results in the accumulation of a tremendous amount of debt along with a lack of job prospects, I’ve merely set myself up for some difficult and frustrating times in life. At what point will the government step in and simply dictate what types of degrees are eligible for financing through student loans?

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Interactive Fact: Educational Games that Engage Learners

by Hap Aziz

I’m currently enjoying my second read through Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction by Nick Monfort on a number of levels. Interactive Fiction was my first love in computer gaming and the first type of game I taught myself to design. And through all the advances in 3D animated virtual game environments, works of Interactive Fiction fascinate me in their ability to paint pictures just as well-written novels do. As much as I enjoy the visual feast of movies like The Lord of the Rings, the books are still superior in many ways when it comes to engaging the imagination.

The connection between Interactive Fiction and more widely accepted genres of literature is quite interesting, and Montfort’s treatment of the reader within Interactive Fiction as becoming a self-directed character able to participate in the story itself is quite thought provoking. The task of solving puzzles within works of Interactive Fiction in order to both advance and direct the storyline is one of the fundamental reasons the reader becomes invested in the Interactive Fiction storyline, perhaps with much greater intensity than is usually found in the more “standard” methods of storytelling. This injection of the reader as player into the story itself provides motivation for students continue to with a particular education commitment.

One aspect that Monfort’s text does not cover is the potential for using the Interactive Fiction format for the presentation of factual material in an educational context. My term, “Interactive Fact,” is an indication of the genre I feel would have great relevance within the teaching and learning environment. With the relatively small amount of development resources required to create Interactive Fiction (or, subsequently, Interactive Fact), this is an activity that college instructors may readily accept and participate in while being able to achieve meaningful results.

There are actually several strong reasons to consider the adoption of Interactive Fiction in the teaching and learning environment. For example, there is research that shows Interactive Fiction is an effective tool in significantly engaging “reluctant readers.” Part of the reason is that Interactive Fiction brings the reader into the narrative as an actual participant, giving that reader the ability to strongly identify him or herself as a character in the narrative. Here’s an interesting article published in XYZZY News titled “Player Character Identity in Interactive Fiction” by John Wood.

http://www.xyzzynews.com/xyzzy.9d.html

I was personally very interested in the section on Multiple Personalities. The complexities of dealing with one protagonist/main character is difficult enough. The analogue is the multiple POV fictional piece; especially of the type that describes a single event from the viewpoints of multiple characters that were all witness to the event. Part of what is intriguing to me is the ability to examine a situation from multiple angles as one would examine a physical object. Often our decisions are based on snap judgements with too little information. With Interactive Fiction, we can negate the element of too little time to a certain extent, and with “more time” to experience a situation, we naturally are able to gather more information.

There is a lot to explore on the topic of Interactive Fiction, and I hope to be discussing the topic in greater detail in future blog posts. In the meantime, here are several online resources related to Interactive Fiction and education:

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Filed under creativity, education, games, Interactive Fiction