Friday, April 05, 2013

Toy Story and blended learning

We spent spring break in DisneyWorld. We did this last year and had so much fun that we went again (thanks to my very generous mother-in-law).

One of the few "big" rides that we didn't do in 2012 was Toy Story in Disney's Hollywood Studios. When we showed up in 2012, the line was 2 hours long and the FastPasses (Disney's way you can commit to a specific time and skip the line) were gone for the day.

So this year I vowed to do it. We showed up at the park early, and got our FastPasses (which were already for mid-afternoon!) The line was already 90 minutes and would soon stretch to 180. Of course, when I saw that, I was definitely intrigued. What is it that makes this ride so fun?

The answer is that it's a combination of carnival games (think shooting at things that pop up) and video games. You spin in a little cart to the front of a screen, and start aiming your little toy gun at the bullseyes and such. You get points, which you can see on your cart, plus your accuracy rating and (good for competitive sorts) what your family members in the same cart are scoring.

This instant feedback is not only helpful in improving skill -- I realized that by slowing down and aiming I could do better on points and get a 58% accuracy rating -- it's kind of addictive. It's fun. That's why kids love to play video games. You know instantly how you're doing, and that instant feedback becomes a game. You're challenged and developing skills.

I've been thinking about that topic a lot lately as the Philanthropy Roundtable just released my short book called Blended Learning. While primarily aimed at philanthropists and people who work at foundations, the book gives an overview of the topic for general audiences, too. Blended learning might also be called "tech assisted teaching." The idea -- at least in the perfect form of it -- is that computers can gamify the rote learning of skills that is part of education. While part of education is about deep, critical thinking, you need to develop competence at certain skills in order to have space for higher-order thoughts. If you can read with ease, you can ask deep questions about the text. To learn to read with ease, you need to practice, and figure out what you're getting right and wrong. A computer can help with that. Likewise, math involves all sorts of skills that can be practiced (the reason teachers have long assigned problem sets). Why not have adaptive games that make this more fun?

The hope is that this frees up teacher time to tutor children, and the adaptive software challenges children to the extent of their abilities. There are few places doing this today, but the technology is getting better, and some places (which I write about in the book) are trying.

Anyway, the book is a free download if you're interested in checking it out. I've discovered that the more I blog, which has some instant feedback aspects associated with it, the more clear the logical order of an essay appears to me in drafts. That cuts down on the number of drafts I need to do.

Do your kids like educational software games?


nicoleandmaggie said...

Back when DC1 was three, he was hooked on Starfall. Good stuff.

Calee said...

Have you seen Bookboard yet? It's an early stages Netflicks for kids ebooks. The selection is okay, though they will be getting the Boxcar children soon, but the best thing they do is the gameification of reading. When our free trial ended, my daughter was in tears that she "wasn't going to be able to read books to the height of a T-Rex." Every 3 or 4 books a kid reads, they earn a key which unlocks a new book. Guess what they are focused on doing?

Anonymous said...

No,no,no. When learning is all games, all the kids learn is stuff that can be boiled down into games. So much gets lost.

And I'm so tired of the teacher being freed up to help the kids who need it. The kids who don't need it will then need no teacher at all, ever.

Let's get back to teachers teaching in an interactive relationship. The consumer of knowledge approach is dangerous. Teachers are so much more.

Reminds me of the experiment with monkeys where some were raised by an impersonal wire monkey and lacked a lot of the social emotional development.

gwynridenhour said...

Finding balance seems to be key, in this as in all other things. Gaming is a great supplement, but not a replacement for other hands-on and/or discussion-oriented learning. I just posted a short series on our experiences with our favorite games, including using Minecraft to make a history timeline. This is still an experiment in the making. You can see it here if you're interested: The other posts on gaming follow that one.