K-12 schools are missing out on this edtech trend

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on October 11, 2013

From The News Desk

A study by market research organization Ambient Insight says that edtech games are by and large not making their way into K-12 schools. The lead researcher on the study reported that information anecdotally.

It's strange because that same study found that consumers are demanding digital learning games more and more, a topic explored by our very own Adam Penenberg in his latest book "Play at Work: How Games Inspire Breakthrough Thinking."

Gamification is increasing due to the rise of mobile usage, our portable computers in our pockets. People are learning by competing against themselves or others in Web or digital challenges. Ambient Insight predicts that revenue from game-based learning will increase 8 percent internationally in the next five years, to $2.3 billion from the $1.5 billion it's currently at. In particular, in North America mobile edugames are expected to grow 15.3 percent.

So where does that leave K-12 schools? You would presume incorporating gamification into teaching strategies. But not so, says Ambient Insight. Teachers are hesitant to bring games into the classroom, not because they question their effectiveness, but because of the costs involved. Instead, children are learning through edugames the most in the home, when parents purchase them.

Education Week reported education experts at the ASU/GSV Education Innovation Summit citing this very problem back in April: in order for schools to take advantage of gamification, they need better equipment. They need newer computer labs and faster Internet connections. On the panel, the founder of education gaming company Mindsnacks explained that he targets consumers and not schools because K-12 schools aren't equipped with the tablets they'd need for Mindsnacks applications. Plus, it's easier to scale with a consumer audience than the regulation burdened education system.

It's an inherent contradiction between what edtech gaming companies are trying to do -- disrupt education -- and what they are -- for-profit companies. As a result, it means they only disrupt education for the schools or students that can afford it. An unlevel playing field (pun intended).

There are ways for teachers to use gamification in the classroom without expensive edtech trappings. One teacher in North Carolina has introduced World of Warcraft themed lessons to his classes. Students team up in guilds to write riddle poems and challenge each other to solve them. In another class, a teacher uses Angry Birds to explain algebra, because the program uses a parabola without air resistance to calculate the birds' flying path.

But such individual lessons won't scale across school districts the way a software program might. Edtech games have the potential to change the way students learn, practice, and study if they were widely adopted in the education system. But at this point in time, they remain largely on the outside of it, targeting the parents who can afford it and no one else. It's a shame.

[Image via Thinkstock]