Imagine a future where normal people working collectively can solve challenging problems better than supercomputers. Or – shudder to think – experts!
Professor James Paul Gee, himself an expert on the topic of games and learning, shared this vision with Intel today during a thought provoking lecture.
Professor Gee talked about Foldit, an intriguing puzzle game that suggests this future has already arrived. In Foldit, players without any formal scientific training manipulate proteins to find the lowest energy shape. He cited a study showing that people could find the ideal shape better than a supercomputer 7 out of 10 times, even though there are billions of ways to fold a protein.
Besides being a kind of maddening and addictive alternative to Sudoku, this game can also help to develop drugs that target proteins in an optimal way. Think about that missed opportunity the next time you see someone scrutinizing a book of puzzles at the airport.
If tapping into collective intelligence through games can have world-changing implications, it’s logical to ask how to extend this approach to formal education. Not so fast, cautions Professor Gee. Unfortunately, he argues, our schools are stuck in a paradigm that favors memorizing information to pass a test.
Professor Gee outlined the three requirements for any game to be successful in achieving learning. First, it should have an interesting problem statement. In other words, the problem the player is asked to solve should be difficult, interesting, and even addicting.
Second, the game needs what he calls an “affinity space.” Think of this as the social network component of any game. As an example, he talked about communities of people who discuss games such as The Sims, where players modify the game by creating custom worlds, scenarios, and even Mohawks as shown in the photo.
And finally, a game should have an educational toolkit that provides what you need to know in order to advance in the game. This is, where many of today’s games fall short, and where professional educators need to play an active role.
By combining these elements, a game developer hopes to escape the Pareto Principle, whereby 10% of participants are absorbed in advancing in the game and actively creating content, with the other 90% taking a more passive, consuming role. This is obviously essential in a classroom environment.
These insights tie directly into the Intel Learning Series and how Intel designs its purpose-built education platforms like the classmate PC and the studybook, our new tablet design. We strive to create devices that allow students to engage in a variety of learning activities through mobility, ruggedness and relevant software and content.
From now on I’ll be thinking more carefully about the three factors that Professor Gee mentioned and look forward to seeing games that can appeal to students, drive learning, and advance our education system.