Monday, April 27, 2009

Hey Kids! Take Your DS to School

Via Kotaku, news about some fascinating international initiatives aimed at better incorporating videogames into school curriculum. While North America continues to lag behind in this area, school districts in the UK and Japan are making significant leaps and bounds toward finding viable educational applications for various digital gaming technologies, particularly the Nintendo DS (and now DSi). As Kotaku's AJ Glasser writes,
"Leading the charge toward a Nintenducation in the UK is Scotland. Their Centre for Games and Learning (aka The Consolarium) is an extension of the Scottish Government Schools Directorate that presents teachers and education administrators with ideas for implementing all kinds of gaming consoles into schools.

Derek Robertson, National Adviser for Emerging Technologies and Learning and administrator of the Consolarium, says that the use of the DS in schools is now commonplace, compared to when he first introduced the consoles to schools in 2006. "Initially I purchased 30 [Nintendo DS consoles] and carried out my first Dr. Kawashima [aka Brain Age] trial. The extended trial saw us handing out over 450 consoles to support our project."

While The Consolarium provides suggestions about which games (and systems) might be most amenable to curriculum development (such as Brain Age), it also encourages schools and teachers to be experimental and try out other games and approaches. As Robertson (cited by Glasser) explains, "Our main approach is not to prescribe a series of lesson plans but to suggest how the game, be it Nintendogs or Hotel Dusk, can be used as the contextual hub about which learning in a variety of curricular links can grow from."

The Consolarium seems to be filling a crucial function in the movement to "digitize" the classroom, that of providing support and resources to teachers who would like to integrate new media into their teaching, but don't always have the skills and/or tools to do so. The need for a "Digital Teacher Corp" was recently identified by the Joan Ganz Cooney Centre as a key priority in raising student engagement and updating classroom curriculum. As Cooney Centre Industry Fellow Carly Shuler writes in her recent report Pockets of Potential: Using Mobile Technologies to Promote Children's Learning (download the full report here):
"Teachers cannot teach with devices they do not understand. Professional development is essential to the future of mobile learning. Perhaps most important is to avoid a problem that has often occurred with the incorporation of technology into education in general: It is not just a matter of showing teachers how to use the devices; rather, it is crucial to show them how to use them within their curriculum."

In follow up to the report, the Cooney Centre's Levine and Thai wrote in a recent article for the New York Daily News:
"We should start by introducing digital innovation in every school. Teachers are resistant to using digital technologies because they cannot teach what they do not know. Schools of education and professional development programs are using a Stone Age approach to deploying games in classrooms. That should change now.

As a down payment to President Obama and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein's challenge to improve school outcomes and teacher quality, we propose the establishment of a Digital Teachers Corps. It would integrate new digital games from research-tested educational media programs such as Sesame Workshop's "The Electric Company" to improve children's essential literacy and math skills and to attack the weak performance of English-language learners across subjects. Games and simulations perfected by our military institutions and medical schools could be adapted to teach higher-level content in science and technology as well as world languages - all areas where the U.S. has fallen behind."

Looks like The Consolarium might be a good place to start when it comes time to articulate the model for how this "Digital Teachers Corps" might work.

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