First off, I would like to apologize for the lack of updates on my blog. I had a lot of time where nothing interesting happened, but then I also had a lot of time where a lot of interesting happened and haven’t really had a chance to put out a steady stream of information.
From June 11-13 I went to the Game Learning Society 9.0 conference at the Union in Madison. This is a group I was unfamiliar with. I went because someone on Twitter told me about it and said it looked interesting. Since I had my heartache with WWDC I took this as a consolation prize.
Holy crap! This conference was the most mind blowing thing I have done recently.
The group that puts this conference on is an interdisciplinary group at UW-Madison. It encompasses the Education department, the technology department, and other groups to study how to utilize gaming in education.
One of the big things I keep hearing about at programming conferences is how we can get children, especially girls, to code. I have had ideas in my head about applications I want to author to introduce children to programming concepts. Before I came here I had no idea that anyone else had already had that idea and made things (but to be fair, it really isn’t an original idea).
We were shown games that kids created using a program called Scratch. They had a list of at least 20 different programs that kids use to create games and learn how to code. I was only familiar with a couple of them. With these programs kids can go into a game engine like Unity and create a game. That then acts as a gateway so that when they reach the limit of what they can do without knowing how to code they are then introduced to learning code as a means of expanding what they can do.
I also heard a great deal about how to actually get technology into the classroom. Schools want software and games for their classes. However, there is a rigorous amount of hoops to jump through and most people (including myself) are unaware of it. So if you create a game to teach something but you do not submit a lesson plan or a rubric or justify what specific testable skills your game will accomplish it won’t be implemented in the classroom.
I saw that a person from NYU created a game that works on an iPhone or iPad where you go around New York and visit places that historical events occurred. I think this is a brilliant use of the iPad. This could be done outside of educational contexts for people who are visiting New York any other city who want to look around without being stuck in a tour group.
I saw enough while I was there to grasp that we are not even scratching the surface of what these devices can do. There is a huge demand for quality software on mobile devices, especially for education that is not being met.
One problem that I think exists is that the better you are at programming the more out of touch you get with what non-programmers actually want. One thing that I think helped Steve Jobs was the fact that he wasn’t a programmer or an engineer. He simply had an intuitive feel for something that he knew he would love and thought other people would love too. I am not dissing Jobs, who was brilliant, I am simply stating that when you get too close to the code you tend to only be exposed to other people who think like you do and want what you do. It gets harder to go to something like this and see that there is a large demand for something you were unaware people wanted.
It was very helpful for me to go here and see what I need to do if I want to write educational games to put in the classroom. I think this is going to become more and more important as time goes on. We are in a crisis in this country right now. Children don’t vote, so education is becoming a large political target.
For a very long time private companies were not getting a taste of the money going into public schools. Now that things like “No Child Left Behind” have been implemented, test prep and test creation companies have flourished to the detriment of the educational system.
Private companies are creating charter schools that are no better than public schools but cost far more because they need to turn a profit.
Teacher’s unions are being busted. No one wants to be a teacher anymore because it is not really possible to make a living at it and the criteria needed to be a teacher is complex, confusing, and onerous.
If you can offer a uniform solution to education where you don’t need to train a great teacher but have them implement a program that has the possibility to change things. A program can be replicated. A black student in a poor school in Chicago can have the same learning experience as white student on the Upper East Side. You can offer more choice of what people can learn than if you have to hire a human being to do so.
I think we would live in a better society if we paid teachers better and had more people in the classroom, but I don’t get to have what I want. I can either watch as things get worse or I can try to offer solutions to offset the damage being done by the people who run this country.