This post is written by Gunilla Svingby, Malmö University, Sweden.
The traditional schools have difficulties in engaging students and in reaching their goals. Students are engaged in video games and web communities working with enduring and complex technical tasks. It should be obvious that traditional schooling is on the verge of becoming an anachronism. The self- amplifying nature of technological and cultural developments is undermining the base of a school that was formed to fit the demands of early industrialization.
The educational system was historically based on the idea of a fixed set of knowledge, values and skills preparing the students for working life. Declining results on international tests indicates that the system is unfit for today. An obvious action to meet the declining results has been the restoring of the traditional school focusing on a core of subject knowledge, order, discipline, and extended testing. I argue that this is playing a game that is already lost. Youth need to be prepared for a very different labor market, where different qualities are required. Besides basic skills they need to be prepared to be innovative, solve new problems, work together, and create new solutions.
This is where the Swedish project URSMART enters the scene. Research has shown that children’s popular culture demands complex thinking, technical language, and sophisticated problem-solving skills. Consider the complex problem solving and decision making required to play a video game like Age of Mythology.
Modern games allow players to modify the game, creating their own scenarios and maps. They pick up the beginnings of value-added technical skills.
But what about the children who do not have these opportunities? A new equity gap is emerging. Boys at large and boys from families with good economy will have an advantage over for instance immigrant girls. Games as those planned for URSMART may be a way to bridge the equity gap. The project carries the potential of developing tools that may be used by students and their parents – in order to capitalize the learning potential of a good game. A concept worth imitate is the Epistemic Games concept pursued by David Williamson Shaffer and others at Madison University, Wisconsin, USA. As Shaffer say: These games are not just any old games. They are knowledge games aiming to foster rigorous learning for innovative work. They are fun because they are about innovation and mastery of complex domains. Epistemic games are about knowledge, but they are about knowledge in action-about making knowledge, applying knowledge, and sharing knowledge. Epistemic games are rigorous, motivating, and complex because that’s what characterizes the practices of innovation upon which they are modeled.
Most of those games are not available for common use. There is a need to develop and research such games. The need is strengthened both by the fact that the content of many of the commercial games are far from relevant to traditional school subjects or to contemporary workplaces and the fact that they attract girls to a much lesser degree than boys. A non commercial project like URSMART has the potential to develop games that attract both boys and girls allowing them to learn by building knowledge together using advanced technology.