In many ways, iCue was also designed to respond to some of the challenges confronting contemporary journalism. What insights did you take from this project about the difficulties of engaging young news consumers and the challenges of reforming current journalism practices?
This challenge was part of the original vision, but NBC was quite wary of what students might do with their media if left to their own devices, or what they might report on if they were the ones doing the reporting. The remix ideas were quite limited through the games. And the participatory journalism was a successful small scale experiment that was cut from the larger rollout.
You frame this book as an account of a “failure,” yet you end with some hope that the lessons learned through iCue have informed subsequent initiatives by NBC News. In what ways?
NBC has learned a lot about what it takes to make something for the education market in terms of design, marketing and messaging. Many of the same staffers remain in their NBC Learn department. They can now use that knowledge to do some interesting things. They are certainly taking an incremental approach to making such change though, starting from the place that they know teachers are interested in and then slowly pushing those boundaries. They have told us they want to bring back games and social media in their project. The market is certainly more ready now than it was six years ago – we hope that they take that risk.
To its credit, NBC has also elevated the public conversation around education through the annual Education Nation summit and its associated workshops and presentations around the country. To see a major network devote its “A Team” and multiple channels to shine a spotlight on important issues is perhaps one of the greatest outcomes of the “failures” that their project team encountered early on. As we said, many of the core team, including the senior producers who believed in the initial project enough to leave the safety of their traditional roles, are still fully engaged in NBC Learn. Their commitment to improving education is laudable and should be recognized. They are warriors for the cause.
Many academic projects proceed with the assumption that “if we build it, they will come.” What might be a better approach for academic researchers wanting to establish a community around their educational interventions?
Marketing. Academic projects don’t think enough about this and often funders don’t provide for this portion of the project. But academic projects need marketing too in order to get out there. Yes, there are viral successes that have foregone this step, but those are few and far between. We have seen marketing work in our project Vanished, which got thousands of kids playing an alternate reality game about science over the course of 6 weeks, and we have also seen in with our recent Lure of the Labyrinth challenge, which attracted tens of thousands
How did the iCue project contribute to the development of the Learning Games Network? What new model have you adopted for promoting innovation in education around games-based learning?
The challenges we confronted in getting the NBC team to understand the research and then apply it in design inspired us to start a non-profit that would help bridge the gap between research and practice. We realized we could be better advocates for change as partners with a wide variety of stakeholders, supporting their efforts through the entire game-based learning pipeline, from design and production to implementation and student assessment. Coming to understand the myriad challenges that are both shared and unique to textbook publishers, national broadcasters, and international technology companies as they strive to innovate in the education market has helped us explore better, we think, strategies to support their business goals. We want to enable market leaders to succeed because those victories, small and large, ultimately raise the awareness of the power and potential game-based learning products and services. In turn, this enables our colleagues in academia to raise the level of scholarship they pursue.
What do you see as the biggest successes so far to come out of the work of the Learning Games Network team? How do you define success in this space? what factors do you feel contributed to their success?
Our biggest success is a somewhat personal one. Having been working together for the better part of 12 years, first as colleagues at MIT and now as a group with our hands (and feet) in different organizations, our core team is still intact. The fact that the four founders of Learning Games Network bring such different perspectives in scholarship, creative design, and business makes us uniquely strong and effective. We each trust what the others bring to the table in solving challenges, which is really unique and especially necessary since game-based learning is such an interdisciplinary enterprise.
That trust manifests in the culture that’s emerged in our Cambridge and Madison studios. We are developing professionals who are strengthening skills that are a hybrid of academic, technical, and commercial backgrounds, as well as encouraging that kind of cultivation with our partners. Over the past few years, our efforts have been rewarded by grants from major foundations and contracts with market leaders. Our most recent success came at this year’s Meaningful Play conference, where Quandary, a game we produced in our Cambridge studio to support ethical thinking among young people, and Fair Play, a game produced in our Madison studio that sensitizes players to the challenges of race and equity in science, both won awards among a very competitive field of submissions.
Eric Klopfer is Professor and Director of the Scheller Teacher Education Program and The Education Arcade at MIT. Klopfer’s research focuses on the development and use of computer games and simulations for building understanding of science and complex systems. He is the co-author of the book, Adventures in Modeling: Exploring Complex, Dynamic Systems with StarLogo, and author of Augmented Learning: Research and Design of Mobile Educational Games from MIT Press. Klopfer is also the co-founder and President of the non-profit Learning Games Network.
Jason Haas is Graduate Research Assistant in the Media Lab and in The Education Arcade at MIT. His research focuses on the design and efficacy of learning games. Recent research and design has been for The Radix Endeavor, a Gates Foundation-funded MMORPG for science and math learning. Previous research has involved the role of narrative in learning in the casual physics games Woosh, Waker, and Poikilia and in large-scale collective intelligence gaming in Vanished.
Alex Chisholm is Co-Founder and Executive Director of Learning Games Network, a non-profit organization bridging the gap between research and practice in game-based learning. He has collaborated on product and program development with Microsoft, LeapFrog, NBC Universal, BrainPOP, Federal Reserve Bank-New York, and the Hewlett and Gates Foundations, among others.