This week I had the honor of appearing as a panelist at the SXSWedu Conference in Austin, TX. Our topic was “Interactive Gaming and Student Achievement,” and I spoke alongside Steve Jacobs of RIT and Just Press Play, and Lisa Perez, Library Coordinator for Chicago Public Schools. Our discussion ran the gamut from using games to increase student engagement, to the transformative impact Chicago has seen with using Microsoft Kinect boxes in their classrooms. One theme informed the entire discussion: what does it mean to Fail in traditional education circumstances, versus Failing in a game? I have been mulling this over all week.
So much of student achievement is measured in numbers and scores: how they fare in state assessments; how they measure up next to their peers in grade level skills mastery. Even as infants, we measure their physical growth in percentiles. For a student, seeing a low score on a test, especially an “F,” is profoundly demotivating. They feel defeated, and are often intimidated or apprehensive about trying that skill or task again.
Not so with games. The very nature of a game puts winning or losing in question with every press of the restart button. Seeing “game over” on the screen isn't discouraging, it’s a challenge. The game taunts and teases: can you beat me? Can you outlast your previous session? Can you top your own high score? And most importantly, won’t you have fun trying?
That notion of fun in learning, the drive to set and then beat your own personal record, is what we need to strive for in how we educate and inspire our children. Learning should not be motivated by fear of a failing grade, but by the excitement of personal achievement. Some of the best lessons we learn throughout our lives are taught through failure. When we fail, we are forced to examine our actions and try a new approach. Games give kids a safe forum for failure because failing is the expectation, not the exception. Let’s not cheat our children out of this experience.