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19. Quest to Learn

Video: Katie Salen discusses Quest 2 Learn in a six part series on Big Think.

Katie Salen recognizes that play is a profound part of the human experience. Salen is a game designer, interactive designer, animator, and design educator. She is the co-author of “Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals,” a textbook on game design, as well as the “Game Design Reader.” She writes extensively on game design, design education, and game culture. In 2009 she founded the first ever digital school for grades 6-12, Quest 2 Learn (Q2L) in New York.

On April 6, 2010, the Village Voice reported on Quest to Learn in “Game Theory: A city school explores the educational power of playing and designing games.” Quest to Learn is one of 139 schools created by the city Department of Education in collaboration with New Visions for Public Schools, a city-based nonprofit specializing in helping schools adopt innovative curricula. It’s the first school in the U.S. to teach entirely through lessons, called “quests,” that are structured like games.

In the class “Sports for the Mind,” students build their own video games using a program called Gamestar Mechanic that was designed by Salen. Kids are presented with a series of problems. As they level up, said Quest curriculum designer Arana Shapiro in the Village Voice, the quests become more complex, building on skills learned in the prior level.

“Sports for the Mind” teacher Al Doyle says his class helps students learn “systems thinking,” to understand the relationship of parts to wholes. When students design games, they must incorporate the components of a system: goals, rules, and stakes. Eventually, says Doyle, students will learn the more complex aspects of a system, such as choice and balance, and build those into their games.

Critic Diane Ravitch, an education historian and NYU professor, was cited in the article.

“What [students] need most,” she said, “is to know history, civics, foreign languages, economics, literature, and to engage in the arts. These are knowledge and skills not acquired in the blink of an eye. They require thinking, self-discipline, practice, concentration, study, intellectual energy—not the same skills one learns when playing with video games, which give instant gratification and reward the lucky.”

Ravitch is not alone in her critique, which completely ignores the fact that games are in their infancy in relation to education and can have fantastic potential if correctly designed and implemented.

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