Educators should embrace gaming as teaching tool, strategist says

Many education-related tasks are best performed by little black boxes – the kind kids sit in front of for hours on end already, according to a technology forecaster and business strategist.

 “I’m suggesting using systems like XBox to teach the lower levels of the cognitive domain frees the teacher to teach the higher levels such as problem solving, analysis and synthesis,” said Dan Burrus, founder of Burrus Research.

Burrus, who is a proponent of using gaming in education and business to teach everything from team skills to role-playing, said games are full of the five essential ingredients kids need for a balanced daily diet of learning: they’re immersive, interactive, fun, game-like and competitive.

And educational institutions that not only survive but thrive in the 21st Century will be those that have invested in the three trend accelerators of processing power, bandwidth and storage, he said.

Education and business alike should focus more on maximizing their investments in those areas than worrying about the latest technology that emerges, he advised.

The trick, he said, is to look at emerging technologies as vehicles to accomplish specific goals, such as providing students with new ways to communicate. Burrus espoused what he called the “both/and principle,” which describes the process of integrating new technologies with older ones, rather than replacing one with the other.

“There are always new things that come along,” he said. “It was not that long ago we didn’t have blogs or podcasting,” both of which have spawned revolutions in the publishing world.

What that means in the educational realm is that just as book stores have not disappeared with the advent of Amazon.com and in-store book kiosks, neither will teachers. But there will be highly interactive online learning systems to supplement their efforts, he said.

In Burrus’s view of the future, the successful enterprises, academic or otherwise, will be those who embrace a model of shared risks and rewards through the use of technology, a world where employees’ skills and abilities are better maximized than perhaps they are today.

“I also see we’re going to be doing far more knowledge-sharing than we do today; today we still have a lot of knowledge hoarding,” he said. “There are communities of practice and of interest, for example, a community of university math profs or IT professionals at a university or chief technology officers.

“If we create communities of practice in many different areas where people are openly sharing lessons learned, problems, new ideas and opportunities, we could create the future the faster. That isn’t happening at a big or high enough level yet. The technology is there to do it right now.”

Burrus noted that when someone leaves an organization they take their knowledge and wisdom with them. With North America’s aging population, that’s soon going to be a major problem, he said.

“So one of the great areas of opportunities going forward is to use technology to capture and leverage the knowledge and wisdom in individuals, not just teachers and profs, but all over organizations.”

For example, he said, if a large number of history profs, not just from one university but from many, shared two paragraphs a month on a knowledge-sharing Web site – say, on the biggest mistakes they had made with students in the past year and what they had learned from that — all history profs could benefit.

“I worked with a major corporation several years ago and had them do just that — they then created a new product with that and sold it in non-competing industries globally, generating revenues of US$100 million in first year,” he said. “The point is knowledge increases in value when it’s shared – that’s one way they’ll be able to leverage intellectual property because that tends to leave with the person.”

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