Wednesday, January 14, 2009

More Schools and B-Schools Got Game

The $2 billion-a-year educational software industry


Via: Washingtonpost.com - More and More, Schools Got Game
BizEdB-Schools Got Game

“Teachers have long yearned for the rapt attention students lavish on mutants and aliens, but stereotypes of video games as violent or brain-numbing have slowed their entry into schools.”

While the military and even medical schools are turning to Serious Games or simulations for training, the Software and Information Industry Association estimates that instructional games make up only a tiny portion of the $2 billion-a-year educational software industry.

As Net-generation teachers reach out to gamers, business and science classes are sampling sophisticated software that allows students to try out potential careers, practice skills or explore history through simulated missions in national parks, ancient cities or outer space.

B-schools are also getting serious about games that offer students real-time lessons in leadership, globalization, ethics, and other complex issues that often can’t be captured in a textbook.


A Revolution in the Understanding of the Educational Community

The lessons students learn (playing games) are ten times more efficient, more lasting, and more powerful than what they can learn from a lecture.”
—Dennis Meadows, management simulation designer

Researchers and educators say sentiment toward gaming is changing.

Advocates argue that games teach vital skills overlooked in the age of high-stakes tests, such as teamwork, decision-making and digital literacy. And they admire the way good games challenge players just enough to keep them engaged and pushing to reach the next level.

"There is a revolution in the understanding of the educational community that video games have a lot of what we need," said Jan Plass, co-director of the Games for Learning Institute, based at New York University and funded by Microsoft to research how video games can help learning (please find my prior post
G4LI: Research Alliance To Evaluate Serious Games For Learning).

The Pew Research Center reported in September that 97 percent of youths aged 12 to 17 play video games, and half said they played "yesterday." Time spent glued to the screen is often particularly high in wired, affluent communities such as Fairfax, where a survey this year showed that almost three out of four students play video games or use the computer for non-school-related stuff an hour or more each night.

Compelling games can help schools compete for students' attention, advocates say, even as many teenagers are tackling complex projects on the Internet in their free time.

Outside of school, kids "are writing fan fiction, blogging, designing clothes," said James Paul Gee, the University of Arizona education professor and author of the book "What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy." "They can become an expert in anything by learning on the Internet, and they can find a community to support it."

Private foundations and the National Science Foundation have contributed millions of dollars to developing or studying games. The U.S. Education Department awarded a $9 million grant in September to a New York-based education firm to develop games for the hand-held Nintendo DS to weave into middle school science lessons.

More and More Schools, and B-Schools as a Corollary, Got Game!

Driving the popularity of business simulations is the fact that they do what case studies, class lectures, and on-site corporate visits cannot, say game designers. They plunge students headfirst into thorny business situations. In a real-time simulated business environment, students strategize, make tough decisions, and see the immediate consequences of their actions. Then, ideally, they learn from their mistakes.

While many of today’s most popular games focus on databased areas such as supply chain management and marketing, “fuzzier” issues such as ethics, change, and corporate social responsibility can also be captured in a real-time simulation.

One simulation that ExperiencePoint offers to executive training programs focuses on the complexities of change management. Their objective is to move a struggling company in a new direction by choosing among 50 strategies to persuade employees with disparate agendas to buy into the new plan. The simulation assigns each employee one of four personality types—resister, bystander, helper, or champion.


“The intelligence isn't in the game. It’s around the table.”
—James Chisholm of ExperiencePoint

The most important part of the learning process may happen outside the game. Faculty who use simulations must provide the learning context to make the simulated business experience valuable.

To be a successful learning experience, a management simulation must be followed by discussion—or “a debriefing,” says Dennis Meadows, a Ph.D. graduate of MIT’s Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Through a debriefing, players can ask important questions: Where were they confused? What decisions did they make? What was the outcome? Could they change the game to have a more satisfactory result? Where do they see these phenomena in real life? “I haven’t seen a game yet where people play it and automatically internalize the lessons,” says Meadows.

Chisholm agrees that simulations do not stimulate learning on their own. “Computer-based simulations throw a problem out there and provide a sophisticated model of play; but at the end of the day, the game is a mechanism for conversation among four or five colleagues,” he says. “It provides a shared experience and common language to discuss an issue. The intelligence isn’t in the game. It’s around the table.”

Professors who are interested in doing more with serious gaming can look forward to new products that make it even easier to bring simulations into the classroom. They will have the technology at hand to create their own games, in much the same way as they would design their own Web site using a Web publishing program.

The biggest advantage of management simulations may be their impact on business students. Few experiences offer students such immediate insight on their strengths and weaknesses. When done right, simulations cut away the busywork that can accompany business transactions and put key issues in sharp relief, says Meadows.

In the realm of serious educational games, say Meadows and other game designers, the term “simulation” may be a misnomer. The game itself may be simulated; but the lessons students and faculty take away from it are often real, insightful, and long-lasting.