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?