TechForum Conference

Last month I attended the TechForum conference on technology in education. It was a very enlightening day with many interesting sessions to see and people to meet. My favorite two points were the keynote speech on what education should be striving for in the 21st century, and a session on games used for education. I also met a number of people including Susan McLester, editor in chief of Technology and Learning Magazine. We talked about teaching with games and she is very interested in the subject. She just published a second article on Student Gamecraft (registration required). I also met Laura Allen of Vision Education, who teaches Lego robotics to kids and formerly worked with Professor Seymour Papert. Again we talked at length about games in education and I found the conversation inspiring.

Bernie Trilling from Think Quest spoke about what challenges the next century would bring and how schools and education must adapt to meet them. He identified the key skills needed for the 21st century to be communication, collaboration, problem solving, and perseverance. He then discussed what conditions must be present for the next generation to learn these skills, and I was excited to hear we agree completely. Students must see their education as relevant, have the freedom to experiment, and accept failure. He hit the nail right on the head–our future depends on our ability to work in an information society that works as a team, and is adaptable and innovative. These are precisely the traits I hope to foster in my courses by stressing teamwork and working on open-ended problems where students really have to think up their own solutions rather than apply solutions repeated from a text book.

The games in education session was close to my heart since I am thinking and working so much on how to apply games to the problem of teaching. Eric Klopfer at MIT spoke about one of his fascinating projects, StarLogo TNG, which is a programming environment that uses a graphical programming language. It’s supposed to be available soon, and I’d like to use it in my courses. Another speaker was Bill Mackenty who is a teaches middle school in Edgartown, MA. He talked about all the ways he uses games such as Civilization and Age of Empires to teach history and other subjects in his computer lab. He has a website with extensive advice on how games can be used to teach.

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