What if Education was more like Video Games?

The current public education system reminds me quite a bit of an educational assembly line. The rate of the line in general is matched in order to maximize the time to educate vs. quality of education curve. For many the work is too slow. For many a comfortable pace, and for some likely a bit too quick. There is little ability to get ahead.

What if the education system was more like a video game? The specific type of video game would be the types of games that are essentially a series of challenges/problems/puzzles that challenge the user. The user has the ability to pass the problem usually with a variety of ratings. Guitar hero has 1-5 stars. Angry Birds is 1-3… In general the general levels might equate to “Grade Levels”, and the stars = letter grades on the different problems.

Could this work? Would it only work for certain subjects? Personally I could see a system like this work pretty well for subjects like Math.

When I was in the 4th grade, we had “Electronic Book-shelf” which was essentially a reading competition that used tests on books as the competitive element, and the number of completed tests as teh metric by which prizes were given out. I was a slow reader and worked really hard to get to 25 books, where as most of the good students hit around 40-60, and a few exceptional readers made it between 125-150. This was good for getting students to read a lot of books, but you would get in trouble for sharing information about the tests and thus it discouraged general discussion about the very same books.

I would be curious as to what others think on this topic.

Nolan Bushnell spoke at the Bay Area Maker Faire about a similar concept. Apparently he plans to open a “Maker School” in Van Nuys, CA where students would take a series of short 3-5 minute computer based quizzes, in which they could earn “zeta points.” They could then use the “zeta points” to buy school supplies, materials for projects (such as electronic components, microcontrollers, etc), or even a day off school. Interesting concept.

As for the idea of making school a game, I’m opposed to it. Many districts are giving their students iPads which I’m opposed to also. Over the past decade, the attention span of students has taken a serious decline. I’m not going to fuel this problem by teaching them to stare into a screen and press buttons.

Many, many times I’ve heard adults say something along the lines of “if school were this much fun, I’d have paid more attention.”
Guess what - school is fun. Look at what students are doing in the classroom. Wicked awesome biology, physics, and chemistry labs. Field trips. Hands-on state-of-the-art technology. Award winning curricula and project-based learning techniques.
Guess what - there’s still apathy. After a day or two, it becomes old news. I suppose I’m part of what they call “Generation X” - “the MTV generation” - yet some of the kids I’ve seen in school have an attention span that makes mine look infinite. There’s this one class, every student in America takes it - the whole purpose is for students to play games - and we can’t even get some of them to dress for class!
When we say “the system is broken” often people look at the education system as a sole entity. I’d say our culture is broken. It’s been said that educating is about lighting fires, not filling buckets. Ignite the passions of the students, and they’ll do well. Unfortunately, there are too many forces out there, outside the academic environment that distract and redirect students’ passions toward things that are unhealthy.

[grand, widely generalized statement not at all directed toward the OP coming up]

I agree that the American public school system would benefit from some changes. One-size-fits-all rarely does. However, if we make school like video games, then video games will become boring and passe. We can’t keep chasing the carrot - we have to gain control of the stick.

Well said.

If today is the iPad and video games, what is tomorrow once those are commonplace and boring? Will all our students be wearing 3D glasses to school because 2D is just so old and boring? Are we going to put them in full motion simulator chairs to fly them through a virtual rain forest because they can no longer learn it from a book or video?

Over the last 20 years, schools took out shop classes and put in computer labs, so the students “will be learning computers!” Now we’re in a situation where we have a generation of students who all have better computers than the schools, and better computer skills than many of their teachers, but have never turned a wrench.

We need to stop feeding young peoples’ addiction to needing more attention and needing everything instantly. They have no patience or attention of their own; they just like to suck it out of the rest of us. I think before we move forward, we must step back.

I agree that the current educational system is deeply flawed. Call me pessimistic, but I don’t see how it could ever be “fixed” given our societal values. In attempting to fix it though, I don’t see how jumping on the new technology bandwagon is a timeless plan.

Of all the schools using all these interactive teaching toys, I’ll bet you not a one of them has done a study where they take them all away for a week, and see if the students can still do the work without them.

I’m afraid I’m opening up a larger discussion than the OP intended, but what the heck, CD has been a bit slow lately.

My personal opinion is this:

Education will not be fixed until we admit that not all students are the same, *and * that it’s not realistic or beneficial to teach such a variety of them all together. Politicians and even administrators seem to have this idea that what makes a good teacher is the ability for that individual to adjust to the needs of EVERY student and to provide benefit to ALL students. The expectation is that a well-performing teacher can take any group of kids and make them all stars. It’s time we stop living in this false fantasy.

We have kids who love school and want to keep pushing ahead and learning more every second of every day. And beside them sit others who don’t want to be there in the first place, and do nothing other than slow down and disrupt the teacher and other students. It’s an inefficient system. There should be special schools for those who want them and are willing to work hard for them. And there should be regular schools for the rest of everyone. I think as a society we’d be further along if we had leages or divisions in this race rather than a universal “run whacha brung” bracket. Our educational system, to many students, is like driving a sports car up a mountain road while being stuck behind a row of dump trucks. The ability to go fast and perform exists, but is continually hampered by lumbering vehicles boucing around spewing debris and slowing down those trying to get ahead.

Now of course, this sparks a debate about disadvantaged students, but I’ll leave that one for someone else to chime in on.

Here’s an interesting video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U Lots of problems described accurately. Not many solutions proposed.

Not at all. That is why I threw it into chit-chat.

P.S. I actually do not think our system is too bad, just that it could be better.

I’ve seen this analogy misinterpreted several times, so without accusing you of that and in the interest of education :wink: . . .

The carrot represents a reward. The stick represents a punishment, not the method of presenting the carrot on a string. The modern educational paradigm for the U.S. has effectively disguised and postponed the “stick” so its short-term effectiveness is limited. The longer-term punishment of ignorance and life-discomfort is not recognized at the lesson-learning point.

So, gaining control of the stick may be taken to mean finding better (nicer?) short-term punishment methods that will not raise the ire of a public that refuses to discipline their own children but chastises those who seek to reinforce educational lessons. I know, build the classrooms with more corners in them for “time-outs”.:rolleyes:

I recently came about this video which explains a newer way to teach kids. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTFEUsudhfs

In the video they discuss a pilot program in Los Altos school district.

My original intent was not that it would turn math class into Donkey Kong, but a discussion with regards to individual pacing, reward mechanisms, and skill lessons versus challenge lessons.

The TED video is actually exactly what I was thinking. Currently I can get walk-thrus online for how to get 3 stars for a particular level of “Angry Birds”, but to get some focused time of the concept of a Derivative, I would have to go to a special tutoring class, or possibly engage with something like Kaplan or other tutoring centers.

Both my mother and oldest sister are Teachers (actually mom is retiring Monday). I have a lot of discussions with them about programs, what works, and what doesn’t work, and what appears to work but really isn’t. I did a lot of tutoring. In middle school and high-school it was very informal. In college I was a paid physics tutor and tutored many friends. I found that many students that thought they were “dumb” just usually needed to be able to ask 3-4 specific questions with a little time to work through things between the questions. This is not readily available in many school systems, and in college involved tracking down a professor during office hours or finding a tutor for the courses that offered open tutoring (Physics at Purdue was one of the only courses I know that offered this).

Thanks for posting up this video as I am very interested in looking into that system a bit deeper. I would love to see a follow up video going into more depth of the Award and value systems, and how these systems work for a general school semester/year. Do the sprint and lags end up matching up pretty well for a given curriculum over a given time span? What do gifted students get out of a system like this? Do “slower” students on average get more value?

I think that the comparison to video games immediately stirs up all sorts of prejudices against a form of recreation that isn’t well understood by the population at large. In that sense, it might be detrimental to use that analogy in public discourse.

Similarly, even among the technologically-inclined, it’s too easy to fail to distinguish between giving children shiny things because those children are making unreasonable demands, and giving children shiny things because they’re fascinating and promote learning.

Computers (and other similar devices) have great potential for facilitating both self-directed and collaborative learning styles. They can also be used poorly, in much the same way chalk and blackboards have often been misused for the last 200 years. (“Now copy this…”) In other words, it’s about having a sensible approach to teaching and learning, and not so much about categorically avoiding particular tools. (Granted, there are many reasons why settling upon a sensible approach using laptops, tablets or full-motion simulators might be more difficult or less practical than with traditional teaching implements.)

Either way, I do see value in using a reward structure that bears an incidental similarity to the ones used in video games—it’s basically using positive reinforcement correlated with milestones, which, if I’m not mistaken, is generally considered an effective way to teach young students.

sorry. When I wrote “stick” I meant the stick the carrot was tied to, as you correctly guessed. I meant if we could control and direct the passions of the students, we could be much more effective. I never intended stick as paddle or switch.
Going back to the OP, I think it’s a credible idea but severely hampered by the growing class sizes we see.

Class size is certainly a factor. This year I’ve taught classes ranging from 16 to 36. There’s a BIG difference in how deep you can get into a topic and how much they get out of it. To me, 16-20 or so seems to be the critical point where it starts to decline.

I have recently seen the Khan Academy video and Sir Robinson’s work (TED is a wonderful source of inspiration), and I am definitely interested in the “flipping” the classroom concept.

However, I also realize that:
(1) the school system in general have actually done better each time it has been faced with accusations of “failing.” (Sorry, no real source right now, but I have seen statistics in various keynote presentations from speakers like Bill Daggett.)
(2) the school system is for the most part one-size-fits-all and that system will never work for all students.
(3) there are intriguing ventures in education that may not replace the entire system, but it would be nice for all students to have a choice for different ways of learning. The one type of format that interests me the most is from Dennis Littky of The Big Picture.

In the big picture schools, a teacher (called advisor) has 18-20 students for four years; students do internships with mentors in the community 2-3 times a week; students create portfolios and present their learning to a community audience; etc. What I really like about this format (and what I like about FIRST) is that students work with adults so they really are adults-in-training. They get to experience actual work, and they get to be among adults more often. They also get a chance to really explore their interests and find their passion.

[Semi-Rant]How often have you taken a step back at a high school and observe students’ behavior and ask…Do they act this way when just “out” in society? Does being contained in the high school “bubble” hinder them from being ready to be among adults? From a student’s point of view (IMHO), school is one of the most social aspects of a teen’s life, and therefore, they “dress” socially, act socially, etc. Adults have more opportunity to separate their work and social life. I believe young adults need to be exposed more to adult life and the world of work so they are better prepared to enter that world.

“The purpose of education is not to enable students to be good in school, but to enable them to be good outside of school.” -Ray McNulty[/Semi-Rant]

I like the idea of treating school like a videogame in the sense that one must beat a certain level to get to the next one, and in order to beat a level complete certain tasks.

For instance: Math.

A very controversial subject, with students either excelling at or having trouble with it, math is an excellent example for why school should be more like a videogame. In videogames, one most learn skills and practice hard to beat a level, just as students have to study hard and do their homework to succeed.

Like the bosses and minibosses in videogames, tests and quizzes could be a form of boss in the classroom. In order to beat a boss, you must know how to beat it, what strategies to use, and get power-ups to strengthen yourself before the fight. Same with school. In order to pass a test, you need to know the material on a test, what you can use to help yourself, and to study beforehand to get the “power-ups” to beat the test/boss. And at the end of a boss, players usually get a reward of some sort. In school, when one passes a test, there should be some kind of reward, an incentive to make people want to study, want to do their homework, and want to pass the test.

It’s all about perception. For most, school CAN be boring. make it seem like a videogame, and everyone wants to compete.

Two more things to look at:

  1. WHY do people play videogames?
  2. Why do people play multiplayer games like COD/Halo online against other people?

To answer the first one, think of why you’ve played video games (if you have). I play them because they’re fun, there is a great reward at the end, and I get to tell all of my friends I’ve beaten the game.

To answer the second one, think of what one gets from being on the top leaderboard. In games such as COD/Halo, a player’s goal is to be the best person in the match, usually by defeating the most enemies and getting the most power-ups. The reward is getting on the top leaderboard. I bet a person who is on a top leaderboard has a better drive to succeed than those at the bottom. The same in a school. If by passing the most tests, and getting farther than others in your class, one should be placed on a top ten leaderboard, or something of the sort. Then, the top ten get a prize of some kind, something every student will want. Soon, most every student will want to be on the board, and therefore work harder on their work.

Finally, There is one more thing I’d find interesting in a school system. A more “independent” grade level system. I mean that each person can go to specific classes based on if they passed the previous one.

For example, let’s say we have a student who really excels in science. Now normally, this student would have to go through a whole school year’s worth of one science class in order to get to the next highest science class. But this student already knows most everything that he/she will learn over the entire year of that science class. In a more “independent” grade level system, this student could independently take the needed tests and quizzes, take the final exam, pass, and move on to the next science class in line.

Just an idea, but I always found it interesting.

According to me students will be more interested in studies if this happened but the main things is technology is being introduced each day.What if it becomes old, ultimately it will be boring for them and they would seek some other form of education.
Just as we can say that at one time books were considered to be to primary source of information.With the introduction of internet people are moving more towards finding all their answers from internet rather that going to a library and searching on it!

Well, over the time of a few years, technologies such as iPads and other Tablets used in some schools for educational purposes. And while there have been newer versions and more kinds of similar technology, the ones being used are in no way out of date, and being a kid, I can speak from a kid’s point of view, and mos everyone I know doesn’t consider technology from a few years ago to be old, worthless, and boring. Now, unless they give us some 20 year old computers running Vista, I doubt anyone will complain.

As previously mentioned, gaming is mostly built on reward systems. Whether it is new equipment, new levels, new skills or anything for that matter, it drives the player to pursue those goals. Unlike video games, where the rewards are very distinct and very incremental, the goals of education are very abstract. Whether it is college, a job, or even just the knowledge itself. They are either abstract or a very long term goal. A majority of highschoolers probably don’t know what they want to do with their lives, which college to go to, what kind of job they want. If they do not have those goals set in mind, they really see no purpose in school. They go because “they have to”. That is not what is going to motivate the students. Some find that motivation by competing with other students to get a higher grade or rank. That is admirable, but, as I stated before, it takes away from the true essence of education. Sure, I may have a romanticized ideal of education, but that, to me, is a better motivator. Some teachers try to incorporate some kind of reward system where it is stickers, extra credit, some kind of fake currency to “buy” prizes at the end of the month or anything like that. But I have noticed that while these may be good motivators, I see a deeper implication that I do not like. Some students get to the point that they become so obsessed for those extra points. I believe it promotes materialism. That is why I rebelled and refused to participate for those. I hurt myself in the process; the class was heavily based on participation and received a D in that class…

There really needs a better motivator for students, a better way to fuel their subconscious and give them a sense of purpose. Perhaps, give students more freedom and choices in class. I know I excel at those projects. I honestly feel proud of myself after completing those projects. Sure, I may feel proud when I get back a test and a 100% is on top of the page, but that pride is short lived. A project has more sentimental value. No one really cherishes their tests, but they cherish their projects forever. I still have my little stool I made in 8th grade in wood shop class. It is also evident in my choice of video games. My favorite games are the “sand box” games where you have the freedom to do anything e.g. The Elder Scroll Series, Gran Theft Auto. That is also the reason why this competition appealed to me; it has relatively few restrictions on design, while promoting safety.

I like how Dr. Richard Feynman puts it: “Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that’s not why we do it.” I believe that applies to education as well.

I’m a bit of a special case in these situations. I’ve always preferred tests over projects as far back as I can remember tests. I see tests as a strategy game. Figure out what the teacher will put on it and you succeed. It is about what to spend time on studying and actually understanding. For me, tests are the best motivator to learn. Projects usually devolve into alot of work for just a little bit of gain. I know that I’ll do projects when I get a job but those projects will be using what I have learned. I just don’t learn very well from projects. I really hope that school evolves to help students like David, but I also hope they don’t forget students like me. Everyone learns best in their own way and often when a teacher tries to make things better for most, it makes things worse for me. I don’t mean to be self-centered in pointing that out, but I certainly appreciate when teachers make it an optional change on a student by student basis. It’ll be hard to take this into consideration, but it will be all the more worth while in the long run.

Also, I would like to recommend anyone interested in this idea to watch an anime called Baka to Test to Shōkanjū. I’m not sure if they ever dubbed it, but it is very short and worth the subtitles. The anime is based in a school where people are tested and placed into classes A through F. A being the best grades and F being the worst. The better the class, the better the equipment and classroom you get. Each student has an avatar that they can summon and do battle with. Its strength is dependent on your own skill in the subject of the teacher nearest. Classes can do battle with their avatars to move up in rank. Example: Class C beats Class B in a battle. They trade equipment, classrooms, and rank. The storyline follows class F(a group of misfits) on their quest to earn the equipment they deserve by defeating class A in battle. I know it all sounds weird, but it is an anime that directly connects academic ability with video games to promote motivation. It is the exaggerated version of what this thread is about. Definitely worth watching to anyone interested in the idea. To anyone that is curious but doesn’t want to sit through the anime should PM me and I will answer questions.


And your first paragraph illustrates the fact that there can never really be a “one size fits all” type of education. I know that each system has flaws. I know plenty of students that just studies to get an A on the test. My rote memorization skills are sub par, so I personally have to get the conceptual aspect before I can use the equations. It gets to the point that most teachers just say: “here is the equation, plug the numbers in and calculate the answer”. Sure, that works, but does anyone in the class have any idea why that is that? No one in the class, even the teacher, had any idea how to derive the trig derivatives. Now, Richard Feynman is just a great guy, here is another quote from him: “You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird… So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing – that’s what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.”

If my following idea is what you were originally trying to get at, i apologize, if not, here goes:
Similar to your rating idea, the video game style could allow students to “get ahead” of others. All would have to get through a “puzzle” to move on, but if one person finishes ahead of the other, they get to move on. The only problems i see with this is that the less intelligent kids might get discouraged, and there’s really no end goal, because you cant give the smartest kid 2 weeks of no school because he finished ahead of time.

Nonetheless, the biggest problem with not having a “one size fits all” systems, is that everybody is becoming too sensitive in this world, especially parents of young kids in the school system. People get discouraged way too easily now just because they don’t do one thing as well as someone else. And part of the reason that that’s happening is because parents nowadays try to protect their kids from the real world for too long.

Hopefully avoiding redundancy,

You are without question romanticizing education, and that can be quite harmful. Formal education for the vast (and I mean vast) majority is not a lifelong quest but a means to an end. I understand that you never stop learning and that even when out of school you still learn things every day (in fact you probably learn more every day) however this is not where the education system fails, the smartest people in America still have opportunity, those that want to pursue academics for their entire life have as many if not more opportunities now than they did in the past, information is freely available like it never has been before. The problem is the 99% (made up number not a statistic) who do not want to learn for the sake of learning they want to learn for what it can give them. I loved school, I enjoyed going to school and learning every day, however I never had any intention of pursuing an advanced academic degree (M.S. M.F.A PhD etc.). I have had the goal of being an engineer (or for a while a scientist) since I was young. I knew for a long time that I needed to go to college and do well to meet that goal. That was my reward, it was big picture but that was it. The system is really failing the people who don’t have that goal to motivate them. I had a friend in elementary school and JR High who wanted to be a Mechanic, his Dad was a Mechanic without a High School degree. My friend simply could not see why it was necessary for him to learn all of the things required of him that he wouldn’t use. Academics never came easy to him and he didn’t enjoy school. He could however be motivated by small rewards, we had uniforms, one teacher offered to allow us a day where we could wear what we wanted for those who completed all of their home work every month. That was enough to motivate him to complete that work. This type of reward was enough to motivate him. Of course there will always be that top tier of people (including Richard Feynman) who will be motivated strictly by the pursuit of knowledge. Unfortunately but realistically they are the exception, not the rule.


I understand that most of what I typed agrees with your post. I think it is important that you recognize that there are all different types of motivation for people, some may be nobler than others but it is all a means to an end, as long as people are learning everyone is winning.

I believe your rebellion and lack of participation may be your rationalization of why you didn’t want to do the work more than anything else. As with the reasons to do well there are many reasons to do poorly, some more noble than others but in the end you didn’t to the work because you couldn’t be bothered, when that happens, in the best case you are hurt by it, in most cases you as well as the people around you are hurt.