Mat Frenz, Partnership Development at GlassLab, has an intimate knowledge of education gaming and the conversations bubbling up in development circles and school districts and today we got the chance to interview him and know his views on role of games in education.
Dr. Rod Berger: It seems that the narrative about games in education has started to become more rich and accurate to the exhaustive efforts you and others are putting into the development of sound educational offerings. Am I correct in this assumption?
Mat Frenz: I would say that's part of it. Over the last 3-5 years the quality of learning games has been getting better and better, matching the engagement level of the games that kids play at home and using sound pedagogy to deliver really powerful results. So it's due in part to game developers' efforts, but it's also due to countless foundations, universities, and other research-driven organizations that are invested in proving that games can be transformative. Without that hard data, the narrative wouldn't be nearly what it is today.
Ultimately, though, it's kids, parents, teachers, and administrators that have provided the consistent drumbeat that we're all dancing to. Whether they've seen the data or not, they intuitively understand the promise of games and have been asking for them...and asking for them...and asking for them. The question now is can we effectively deliver them to teachers and students in classrooms, and can we provide the surrounding infrastructure that takes them from a piece of content to a full-service educational tool?
RB: A global concern is the education industry's ability to attract talent at all levels. The same can be said for the edtech sector that aims to infuse talent into solutions for K-12 environments. How are we doing and why should this be important to school and district leaders and those involved in purchasing decisions?
MF: We've been able to recruit some amazing talent on the promise that games can transform education, but in order to retain that talent the market needs to consistently recognize the value of games. We know there's a lot of interest, but that doesn't mean administrators will think games are valuable enough to allocate resources toward them in place of textbooks, even if the research is overwhelming. We need this to happen, though, because if we can carve out even a small piece of the pie for games, the talent will be there, the quality will keep getting better, and the outcomes will keep getting stronger. But it won't happen if learning game developers have to continue to survive off of grants and app store sales.
RB: At the outset of gaming in education we consistently heard about entertainment versus learning. As I previously said, I think that narrative is shifting to a more accurate portrayal. Now comes the discussion of data and assessment. If I am a district or school leader what questions should I be asking about this aspect when evaluating the fit of a given game and/or gaming solution for my community?
MF: The first question you should ask is: Does the game work? Will it improve an outcome? This can be answered by looking at who developed the games, what their track record is, and what research they have to back up their claims. GlassLab does a lot of that work for administrators. We go to great lengths to prove the efficacy of our own games, but we also work to ensure that the third party game developers that we work with are of the highest quality and effectiveness. All of that information is available on www.glasslabgames.org. The next question is: Does the game make the learning visible in real-time - to both the learner and the educator? With games, learning is continuous and so when students are in the moment, playing, what better time to give them insights into their learning?
Sometimes our feedback is celebratory, sometimes it's the nudge a student needs to keep going, and sometimes it's that critical piece of insight that unlocks a whole new world of understanding. All the while, we're able to present the same critical information to the teacher, but in a way that is actionable and effective in the moment. As a school or district leader, you want to make sure that the games you're investing in are as effective as possible, and that means they have true formative assessment capabilities.
RB: In your opinion what has been the most compelling story, about games in education, that has moved the needle and advanced partnerships and buy-in from both commercial and education sectors?