Everything I Need to Know About The Future of Education I Learned from Science Fiction

The future is coming.  Are you ready?  I am and I’m excited about what it holds for education!  As if it weren’t already clear that I’m an unabashed (and rather proud) geek, you might suspect that my favorite genre of literature is science fiction.  And, you’d be mostly right, though the number one spot is also shared with fantasy literature (big surprise, huh?).  Last week I wrapped up Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.  It was a blast!  A mashup of 80′s pop culture and gaming with a healthy dose of dystopian cyberpunk, it really is this 80′s kid’s dream novel.

When consuming media, though, I find it difficult to take off my educator-glasses. So, as I’m reminiscing about the days of the blips and beeps of the mall arcade and the tabletop PacMan at the local Pizza Hut, I’m also paying close attention to what Cline says about education.  I highlighted several passages because they got me thinking…  Want to know what school will be like in the future?  Maybe science fiction holds the key!  Then, I reflected on other science fiction I’d read or seen in the movies.  What if?  Here are some possible futures:

 

Virtual Worlds for Learning – from Ready Player One by Earnest Cline (2012)


"Then, one glorious day, our principal announced that any student with a passing grade-point average could apply for a transfer to the new OASIS [the virtual world in Cline's novel] public school system.  The real public school system, the one run by the government, had been an underfunded, overcrowded train wreck for decades... ...every kid with half a brain was being encouraged to stay at home and attend school online."

 

This is a future that both excites and worries me at the same time.  However, look at the pressures our public schools are facing.  Imagine a system that was free, accredited, and offered experiences like these:

 

"...since the buildings were just pieces of software, their design wasn't limited by monetary constraints, or even by the laws of physics.  So, every school was a grand place of learning, with polished marble hallways, cathedral-like classrooms, zero-g gymnasiums [way cool!], and virtual libraries containing every (school-board approved) book ever written."

What person wouldn’t want to experience a learning environment like that?  Aside from the physical and monetary constraints on today’s schools, consider this, more personal statement by Parzival, the main character in the novel:

 

"Best of all, in the OASIS, no one could tell that I was fat, that I had acne... ...Bullies couldn't pelt me with spitballs...  No one could even touch me.  In here, I was safe."

Ever wonder why students are drawn to video games and virtual worlds?  Do you think, given the option to customize the appearance of their avatars that they’d hesitate to choose this kind of schooling over the traditional brick-and-mortar alternatives?

In later passages Parzival explains his experiences exploring ancient Egypt, touring a beating human heart (a la The Fantastic Voyage), and visiting Jupiter’s Io to watch a volcano erupt as Jupiter loomed on the horizon.  Imagine being able to have these sorts of experiences with your own learners!  Sleeping in class?  I doubt that would be an issue.

 

Personal Tablet Computing – Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (1985)

It’s interesting that I actually read Ender’s Game after I’d first used an iPad.  So, as I read passages like the one below, I was amazed at the author’s vision of learning in the future:

 

"Ender doodled on his desk, drawing contour maps of mountainous islands and then telling his desk to display them in three dimensions from every angle...
The bell rang. Everyone signed off their desks or hurriedly typed in reminders to themselves. Some were dumping lessons or data into their computers at home. A few gathered at the printers... Ender spread his hands over the keyboard near the edge of the desk and wondered what it would feel like to have hands as large as a grown-up's... Of course, they had bigger keyboards - but how could their thick fingers draw a fine line, the way Ender could..."

Already, tablet computers like the iPad are becoming frequent sights in our classrooms.  Their ability to provide technology-enhanced learning, individualized to a learner’s needs is powerful.  What might the future look like if every student had access to these devices to support their learning?  In some places, that future is already here.

 

Game-Based Learning – Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (1985)

Consider the Battle School from Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game.  Through rigorous game-based simulations, students in Card’s world learned standard curricula as well as military strategy.  Schools around the world are starting to pay attention to video games and how they can be effective tools for teaching.  (This blog has examples!)

 

Digital Learning/Research Assistants – Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson (1992)

Imagine what classroom learning might look like if each student had a personal, digital assistant to help them as they learned, adjusting to their specific learning styles, and helping them as they researched online.  In Neal Stephenson’s Snowcrash, the main character, Hiro, has a computer program dubbed “The Librarian” who takes the form of an avatar and helps him as he researches a mystery that’s plaguing hackers in cyberspace.  Consider this interchange between Hiro and his assistant as they piece together information that each of them has collected:

 

"He believed that Babel was an actual historical event. That it happened in a particular time and place, coinciding with the disappearance of the Sumerian language. That prior to Babel/Infocalypse, languages tended to converge. And that afterward, languages have always had an innate tendency to diverge and become mutually incomprehensible - that this tendency is, as he put it, coiled like a serpent around the human brainstem."
"The only thing that could explain that is - "
Hiro stops, not wanting to say it.
"Yes?" the Librarian says.
"If there was some phenomenon that moved through the population, altering their minds in such a way that they couldn't process the Sumerian language anymore. Kind of in the same way that a virus moves from one computer to another, damaging each computer in the same way. Coiling around the brainstem. "
"Lagos devoted much time and effort to this idea" the Librarian says "He believed that the nam-shub of Enki was a neurolinguistic virus"

When I consider these elements I think about my iPhone and that quirky little personality that resides within, Siri.  The thing that makes Siri amazing is not that it can recognize your speech or conduct basic information gathering for you, but rather that it’s the beginning stages of tools that can make sense of what we are saying/asking.  This is beyond speech recognition.  This is semantics.  What if each of your learners had one of these?  This wouldn’t supplant a teacher, but would foster individualization and differentiation.  At the same time, this we can always direct students to Siri for those “Bloom’s Basement” sorts of questions.

 

If you haven’t read these novels, you really should.  Not only do they have interesting predictions about the future (and the future of learning), they’re great reads!  There are probably countless other examples from science fiction.  Perhaps you’ve got some?  Leave a comment and share!

 

-Lucas

Waiting on WoW, Students Gaming With SIMS 3 on the iPod Touch!

It’s been a bit since my last update, so I thought I’d share what’s going on with the WoWinSchool Project and share another project that I’m working on.

I’m still waiting on the State to release EETT funds so that we can begin purchasing software and accounts for the students in the WoWinSchool Project.  As soon as that funding comes through (and it should be any day now), the project will begin moving ahead, full steam!  Keep an eye on the project Wiki for updates.  In the mean time, check out the podcast I and other WoW-playing educators did with Rik at RezEd – http://www.rezed.org/page/rezed-podcast-40-discussions.  Also, be on the lookout for an article on the project in THE Journal at some point soon.

So, let me share with you another project I’m involved in that involves students and gaming in the classroom.  One of our middle schools, Cape Fear Middle, purchased a mobile lab of iPod Touches.  It’s awesome.  An idea struck me, based on the discussion that Henry Jenkins had about the Nickel and Dimed Challenge for SIMS 2.  “Why don’t we have students play SIMS 3, and do similar project?”  So, Craig Lawson, 7th-Grade language arts teacher, is doing just that with his students.

Students are using the SIMS 3 on the iPod Touch to learn about the elements of fiction.  Their experiences playing the game are serving as a foundation and inspiration for their writing.  Students began by writing about the characteristics of their SIM:  traits, motivations, and desires.  They then switched with their partner and after playing their partner’s SIM, trying to determine that SIM’s characteristics.  Today, they began writing stories about their SIM either in 1st or 3rd-person point of view or a game manual if they drew (out of a hat) 2nd-person point of view.  We’re also planning to have students create web-comics (all on the iPod Touch) telling stories about their SIM.

Later this year, the social studies teacher will be using Civilization Revolution to teach some of the concepts in that curriculum.

All of this is being documented/shared on the wiki:  http://ipodgamesforlearning.pbworks.com.  There are lessons, hardware/software information, student videos, and more there.

Check it out!

Here’s a video of a student explaining the first assignment:

-Lucas

World of Warcraft on the iPhone?

Well, I saw the video, and then it was taken down…  What could that mean?  Whether or not an app like  this would expand the player base remains to be seen.  I strongly doubt I could heal a 25-man Naxx or Ulduar raid from my iPod Touch or an iPhone.  But, checking the auction house?  Chatting?  Sure!  I managed to find the video again at http://www.mmosite.com

Looks legit to me…

-Lucas

Court Overturns California Violent Video Game Law

As reported in the L.A. Times, a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California has overturned a law requiring a label that reads, “18,” to be affixed to any “violent” video game.  Part of the problem with the law was the fuzzy definition of “violent” and the lack of a clear link that shows violent video games cause psychological/neurological harm.

Again, parents can make these decisions and should be closely aware of what their children are doing, anyway.

-Lucas

GLS 2008 – USeIT – Using Squeak to Infuse Information Technology into the STEM Curriculum


GLS 2008 - The USeIT Poster

The USeIT Poster Presentation at the Games, Learning, and Society Conference for 2008 went exceptionally well. Many visitors came by to see the work that students and teachers were doing in Squeak as part of the NSF-funded project. There seemed to be a great interest in the results of the project to date and curiosity about how Squeak will be utilized in the high schools next year. Students’ work was a hit!

To learn more, visit: http://www.useitproject.org

-Lucas

New Worlds, New Models?

The more I dive into the topic of gaming and education, specifically ideas focusing on education in virtual environments, I’m increasingly finding that there’s a disconnect between traditional instructional design models and game design models.  Yet, I find a contradiction here:  there’s an increasing number of folks out there claiming that games have tremendous educational potential. Is it possible to have a game that is highly effective for instruction and yet no systematic instructional design model was applied to its creation?

Consider this quote taken from Mark Prensky’s Don’t Bother Me Mom — I’m Learning:

“Whenever you add an instructional designer, they suck the fun out” -a game designer

Why is that?  Are instructional designers overly concerned with stringent application of very linear models?  Are we too obsessed with framing learning in terms of behavioral objectives?

I came across an archived webinar given by Dr. Lisa Dawley from Boise State University.  Dr. Dawley works with EdTech Island in Second Life.  She’s doing research related to virtual worlds and education.  In her webinar she states:

“When we take an educational instructional design model and try to apply it to gaming engines or gaming environments, we often come out with very boring products that kids don’t want to play or adults don’t want to use.  Why is that?  What causes that?”

And those are my questions too!  From my years in the classroom as a secondary science teacher and my subsequent interactions with students outside of school playing World of Warcraft or games over XBox Live, it is very clear to me the difference in students’ engagement in those two arenas.  Students do learn not only broad concepts while playing these games but also a great deal of factual information as well.  Why is it that I can have a student who can explain to me each step in a complex quest to raise my faction with Shatari Skyguard (a fictional organization in World of Warcraft), and yet can’t recall the steps of mitotic cell division? Engagement!

Dr. Dawley goes on to ask a very good question:

“Can you create the level of engagement you get in World of Warcraft or Everquest?”

Bingo!  I think that’s perhaps the question.  If we can begin to design games that generate that level of interactivity and engagement, then I think we can do some amazing things with games.  Though traditional models of instructional design have their place, let’s modify them or even create new ID models for the development of games and simulations!

There’s an interesting blurb about this debate on Jerz’s Literacy Weblog.

-Lucas

Response To Warlick’s “What’s Your Story?” Post

It’s always amazing to me how things work out.  “Don’t Bother Me Mom – I’m Learning” by Mark Prensky just arrived from Amazon yesterday and I was immediately enthralled.  Of course, he’s “preaching to the choir” with me as a reader, but it’s so awesome to see that someone has organized and verbalized many of the things I’ve known for the past nine years of teaching.

What’s particularly interesting is that David Warlick posted in 2 Cents Worth today an article about a forum that he’ll be moderating in Texas.  David asks three questions of his readers that parallel the topics of discussion at this forum.  Prensky’s description of the gap between digital natives and digital immigrants certainly addresses why these discussions are taking place.

Here are my responses to David’s questions:

1. “What does the future hold for education?”

By this, I assume the implication is “public education.” At least that’s the stance I’ll take in my response. I believe there’s a huge disconnect between the way our students operate and the way our schools operate. It could simply be the digital divide betweens the immigrants and the natives. The dissemination of new technologies (especially those that are collaborative in nature) and their rate of adoption has progressed so rapidly that our industrial-age schools have been left in the dust. Change is a process, often a painful one, but often necessary. Our instruction, even my own while I was in the classroom, is often very linear and packaged. Admittedly, once I had a formula that could produce 100% proficiency on standardized state testing, I was very reluctant to deviate from it. It was student performance on those high-stakes tests that put my head on the chopping block. I’m not sure this system can sustain this disparity. The future holds inevitable change.

2. “What do schools and districts need to do to prepare for the future?”

We need to stop and ask ourselves: can we let go? I’m sure there’s no easy answer to that. Again, this change is likely to be a painful one because it threatens some of the foundational ways that schools operate. However, if we are to prepare, first I think we need to start planning for change yesterday. We must be very forward-thinking and willing to take some risks. Of course, the concepts of “risk” and “public education” are, in my view, diametrically opposed to each other. That’s why we may see the rise of non-government funded education in the future. Currently, there’s too much bureaucracy, red-tape, and fear of litigation, to be cutting-edge in public education. However, to put aside some pessimism, discussions like these, by the leaders of school districts are a positive step.

3. “What will this future require of communities?”

Our public schools, in some regards, are simply a sub-set of the surrounding community. The digital divide between generations extends beyond the campus. The community as a whole will also be required to make some fundamental changes in the way they perceive education. For example, a local business that hires graduates from a particular local school may have to stop relying solely on GPA and the results of standardized tests and rather look to a particular set of skills that a potential employee brings to the table. What if graduation requirements shifted from students having to show proficiency on a state exam in Biology or Geometry to students producing a portfolio of products that demonstrated not only their skill set but also their personal learning interests? Free-market education, anyone?

-Lucas Gillispie

About time…

Well, I’m not really sure why it’s taken me this long to create this sort of blog. Gaming and Education are two of my passions, and the point at which they meet is particularly exciting to me. So, why has it taken me so long to put a site like this together? Who knows? Here it is…