Zoologist, psychologists, anthropologists, and educators know that playing games is at the heart of learning, and the best teachers have always used rhetorical games like debates or mental games such as Socratic elenchus. Over the past decade, a small body of theoretical and applied pedagogical work on using computer games as teaching tools has emerged. It involves two related but distinct approaches: using games as teaching tools and structuring the entire course as a game. As with games in general, many of the seemingly avant-garde technologically-based pedagogical ideas are actually old and established in the non-electronic classroom: positive reinforcements, student ownership, flexibility and choice, low-risk creative environment, project based evaluation, etc. As with any technological change, many educational applications have had mixed results and there are important fundamental arguments raging among experts. What is certain is that technology, and particularly multi-user virtual environments and games have become increasingly pertinent in education as they gain tremendous cultural and economic influence in students’ lives, society in general, and the education system in particular.
I have been actively experimenting with this since 2006, participated in numerous seminars of the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE.org), and have presented several papers at academic conferences on using games and simulations in courses ranging from freshmen seminars to upper level electives and even the Senior Seminar in Economics. Recently, gamification is increasingly used for training and collaboration by corporations, government, and educational institutions. I have been invited to advise the Environmental Protection Agency on this, will present a paper at the Eastern Economic Association this March, and am scheduled to lead a NITLE Shared Academics seminar in April. It is the perfect time to take on this challenge and bring together the rising interest and new tools with the proven practices of quality liberal arts education.
While this is definitely a labor of love and has become the central pillar of my career, it requires tremendous amounts of time both individually and to participate in the community devoted to these initiatives. I’m going to assemble and lead a team of faculty, staff, students, and alumni, many of whom I’ve been conversing with for years. We will solicit national and international collaboration, and create institutional structures that would allow members of the community to participate in these exciting developments on an ongoing basis and thus enhance our careers, student learning experiences and engagement, and the quality of education we provide.
It is time for educational institutions to stop following industry trends and start setting them in accordance with our long-standing pedagogical traditions.