Update

McGraw-Hill Sees Future in Gamelets Rather than Games

Government in Action is one of the games McGraw-Hill has used to engage high school and college students about government,

Government in Action is one of the games McGraw-Hill has used to engage high school and college students about government,

For those learning game developers considering building for the K-12 classroom, publishing giant McGraw Hill has a recommendation: Think smaller.

Stephen Laster, the chief digital officer of McGraw-Hill Education, sat down with us last week at the ASU GSV Summit in San Diego and made the case for smaller game experiences aimed at reinforcing the curriculum and injecting some “competition, rewards and engagement” in the class.

He said that despite the flood of digital games and tools into the formal education the evidence of how to use them remains only partial.

“The question is have we proved what the right role for games are?” he said, adding that he believed the proof is there for small games but not for larger or longer games.

“I would recommend to game developers for them to know that they are not the center of the universe,” he said, adding developers need to know how the game fits in the classroom and how it is deal with rostering, identities and student data.

“Building a game that does not actually work in the classroom and expecting a teacher to do all the adapting is like designing a car with a third or fourth pedal,” he said. “It better be an amazing driving experience if I am going to change how I drive just to use it.”

“If you ask me, some of these games suffer from a little hubris.”

Laster instead said companies should embrace standards and technologies that are emerging in the digital learning tool business, like that provided by the IMS Global Learning Consortium’s “Ecosystem of Learning Platforms, Apps and Tools.”

That is not to say that McGraw-Hill is not considering how to use games in their curriculum. Laster noted the company poured $180 million into software research and development just last year and has hired companies like Muzzy Lane to build games for projects like the Government in Action series aimed at high school and college.

“We as a company have gotten out of the summative assessment business and have been focused on understanding that teachable moment with small data,” he said. “Where we are focused is how do you create experiences and content that allow the teacher to change the outcomes of the learner in real time by adapting to where they are with engaging content. The best education games out there do just that, as well.”

Everyday Mathematics Monster Squeeze is a two-player game aimed at engaging younger kids about math.

Everyday Mathematics Monster Squeeze is a two-player game aimed at engaging younger kids about math.

For that to happen, though, games have to have a very clear learning map associated with them, according to Laster, starting with the learning outcomes and goals and building a game that is connected to that rather than trying to rely on the games production and engagement.

Although McGraw-Hill is investing in gamelets that easily plug into their curricular products, Laster said he sees the entire educational market moving slowly to embrace digital games.

“Both the higher education and K-12 markets are evolutionary, not revolutionary for all the right reasons,” Laster said. “I don’t think any parent of a 4th grader wants to hear that the school tried something new, it didn’t work and now you have to do the grade over. Education is a lot like medicine. You don’t want to screw it up.”

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Lee Banville Lee Banville is editor of Gamesandlearning.org and editorial director of the Games and Learning Publishing Council. He is also an Associate Professor of Journalism at The University of Montana. For 13 years he ran the online and digital operations of the PBS NewsHour, overseeing coverage of domestic and international stories.