Lee Wilson makes a strong case for innovation in his Headway Strategies blog post Where is the Wii for Education? He writes, “Where are breakthrough products like the Wii in education? Textbooks and education technology are stuck in a rut. Just like Sony and Microsoft got locked in a war over processor speeds and cutting edge graphics most of the competition in the education market seems increasingly focused on tangential issues to the customerâ€™s core needs. […] With everyone writing to the standards for the same 4-5 states textbooks are becoming a low growth zero sum commodity game. In an attempt to differentiate their basal textbooks the major publishers are increasingly cannibalizing their supplemental book bags for “free with order” goodies. They are also bolting technology on in an attempt to sex up the offerings.”
Of course the problem with publishers’ typical approach is that it doesn’t address the sensibilities of the students who use their products. Like it or not, kids growing up with sophisticated web applications and gaming systems like XBox, PlayStation and the Wii can spot bolted on technology a mile away. However when the tech of today is integrated with a product, which I call gamer-centered design, the results can be astonishingly different.
In his article for Serious Games Source Ian Bogost explores how exergaming with DDR and Wii are getting kids up out of their seats. And consider Whyville.net, one of the first virtual worlds for kids and the only one with educational simulations embedded in a highly social online environment. With hardly any marketing or promotion Whyville’s population has grown to more than 2 million tweens who have learned about nutrition, engineering, epidemiology and other decidedly serious topics, very much on their own initiative. That’s the power of technology in education done right.