Playing to the Test

Chris Dahlen | 22 Aug 2006 08:01
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On the other hand, Klopfer argues it's not that simple. For one thing, drill and kill may be the best way to help remedial students, who can struggle with a lesson for as long as it takes until they get it right. But what about the next challenge? "I've trained them for this particular task ... and then when I have a different version of that task, evidence shows they perform really poorly."

The "softer skills" are crucial tools to the "21st century citizen." "Being able to solve problems, having a fundamental understanding of scientific issues - these are all important to becoming a good citizen, and viably employable." Unfortunately, today, even if teachers do value deductive reasoning and critical thinking, they're too busy teaching in preparation for standardized tests to make time for other curricula.

Although they continue to test their projects in the classroom, they're putting more weight on using them outside of school: "My goal is to improve learning in schools. But that may happen through gameplay outside of the schools." It's easier to fit "play" into an after-school or summer slot than in the middle of a classroom. Of course, that also means the kids who can't afford or can't get access to the game hardware will just be left behind.

However, when games break into the classroom, the grade book won't just change the games; games could change what we value in education. When students choose their goals, they have more freedom to learn the way that works for them. For example, in an online game, they can form teams or go solo, collaborate or compete; they can choose a track that fits the skills they enjoy; and they can advance at their own pace.

And they might crash an even bigger barrier: The dogma that the score is all that matters - and that a perfect score comes from perfect performance. In games, you're allowed to screw up. Almost nobody gets to the end without a few deaths and disasters - but we can learn from our mistakes, and we can learn never to be scared to take chances. "If you're always a straight-A student, maybe you're not being challenged enough," says Klopfer. "If you fail half the time and succeed half the time, maybe that should be an A."

Chris Dahlen also writes about technology and culture for, The Onion AV Club and Paste Magazine, where he is games editor.

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