TEDxBerlin – Gabe Zichermann – “Changing the Game in Education”

TEDxBerlin – Gabe Zichermann – “Changing the Game in Education”

September 11, 2019 10 By Ronny Jaskolski


Translator: Nadine Hennig
Reviewer: Mile Živković Hi everybody! It’s fantastic to be here, really,
especially being here in Europe, in an environment I am struck by
the incredibly rich history of philosophy in this part of the world. And even though I’m not American,
I have to say that America gets kind of a bad rap
for its history of philosophy. It’s not the first place that we think of
when we think of great philosophers, but I would posit that America
has some extraordinary philosophers. And one of the most important ones,
I think, is Yoda. Now – yes, nerd clap. Yoda said many,
many interesting things, I think, across a number
of different contexts, but probably the most important thing
that he ever said to me was when training Luke Skywalker
on how to use the Force, and Luke offered to try, Yoda said, “Try? Do or do not. There is no try,” which has become such
a significant thing, that it actually appears
on embroidered pillows on Etsy, which, by the way, is how you know
that something you said is important. But most people misunderstand
what Yoda meant. They hear, “Try? Do or do not.
There is no try,” and they think that means
“don’t fail.” But in fact, what Yoda had to say
was significantly more important, and cuts to the heart of what
it means to be a person. Let’s think about the word “try.”
What does “try” mean? Try, like what a drug dealer
asks you to do, right? Take an effort at something and see
if it happens to hook you. Or try, like, “this year,
our financial crisis is really exhausting” is another meaning of the word “try.” But humans are doing machines.
We do. That’s our nature. We do, whether it’s in athletics,
or in all of our beautiful artistic and kinesthetic glory, we do. And it turns out that there is
a core biological reason why we do. And it’s an amazing little
neurotransmitter called dopamine. Any time you challenge yourself
to something in the world, anything at all, and you achieve
that thing, your brain secretes a little bit of this beautiful
chemical called dopamine. Challenge, achievement,
aaah… pleasure. Right? And isn’t that interesting? If we are the only animals
that actually experience this challenge-achievement
dopamine release, doesn’t it help explain
why so much of the world is so beautiful and amazing and why humans have done
so many great things and also why so much stuff
is so messed up? You know, another thing
that’s kind of messed up is how we educate kids.
Pretty messed up stuff. And it’s not enough that
we overload children to the point where they end up coming home
from school broken and exhausted, or that we set up an education system
that is fundamentally opposed to the biology of teenagers by asking them
to wake up in the morning when we now know all the science says
they should be sleeping in the morning and working at night, we still do it. But this isn’t our greatest crime. Our greatest crime is that we ask
this resource to sit down in one place for eight hours a day
and stare straight ahead and listen to people
droning on and on and on, and maybe read some stuff
and write some stuff. Sit down and pay attention, won’t you? But isn’t that fundamentally opposed
to our nature as doers? Look, we wouldn’t ask somebody
or expect somebody to learn how to play the drums by reading
about it on a piece of paper. So why do we take language, which is
our greatest evolutionary advantage, and mathematics, which is unarguably the most important thing
we’ve ever invented, and treat them like they are something
that doesn’t really matter, and it doesn’t matter nearly
as much as it should. There is a solution now,
and there’s an answer, and there’s some models that
we want to look at. And the solution may be
a concept called “gamification.” I’m going to show you
some examples of that today. The core concept is
to use the best ideas from games, loyalty programs
and behavioral economics to engage people in a new way,
use these ideas in a new way to create engagement, and rethink
how it is that we educate. And it turns out that the science
is increasingly backing us up. It’s not only the difference
in games between the real world when it comes to that
challenge-achievement in dopamine loop, like if you think about regular life how often do you get
that shot of dopamine, like once a month or once a year or… How many marathons can you run?
Once a lifetime? And in games we get that
100 of times per hour. But it’s not only that. The science increasingly tells us
how games can affect education positively. Recent research at Stanford University
with Hope Lab showed that games affected players’ motivation in a way that
literally reading and lectures could not. And the Kauffman Foundation found
just a couple years ago that games increased educational outcomes
by over 100% as compared to the best possible lecture
at 17% increase in educational outcomes. So the science is just starting
to back us up. But even as the science catches up,
there are these amazing examples of games being used to transform education,
and I want to share some of my favorite ones with you today
to kind of inspire you and get you thinking
about different ways this can work. Now, let me introduce you
to a guy named Tim Vandenburg. Mr. Vandenburg is the number two
seeded competitive Monopoly player in the United States. Everything is a competition
in the United States and Monopoly is one of those things. But Mr. Vandenburg is also a teacher
at the Hesperia School District in California’s Inland Empire,
and the school district is quite poor. The students there are just as likely
to come from a family that’s in prison as a family that’s involved
with gangs or drugs. It is a very difficult
and poor environment. And in that climate,
Mr. Vandenburg has unleashed a revolution based on Monopoly. His school offers
a special enrichment program that he runs where the top math students
from around the school get to spend the last month of the school year playing Monopoly with Mr. Vandenburg. Now, it’s not
any old game of Monopoly. He has modified the board so that there’s a lot
of learning to be done. He teaches them about probability.
He teaches them about collaboration. He teaches them about economics.
He teaches them about negotiation. And in the process over the course
of the last four years, his little school that had no hope
of doing it has gotten 40 students in the top rankings
in California Math Test from less than ten
at the start of the program – it now has a substantial number
of students who score perfect scores in the California Math Test
up from zero, and which should hearten
everyone in this room, half of all his high
achieving students are girls. And Monopoly is making a big change. Monopoly is such a cheap thing.
It’s twelve bucks. Monopoly is making a big change. Let me introduce you to another educator
that you want to know. This is Ananth Pai. He was a business executive
who didn’t like the way his kids were being taught in school. He went back, got a Master’s in education and took over a class in White Bear Lake, a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota,
in the United States. He was given a failing class
of third-grade students and he said, “Okay. I’ll take your failing class
if you let me redo the curriculum.” And the school said, “Okay, they’re failing anyway.
Do what you want.” With his own money,
he bought a bunch of computers and Nintendo DS’s and replaced
the reading and math curriculum at White Bear Lake Elementary School
with games, off-the-shelf games, games you can get
for your children right now. In 18 weeks, Mr. Pai’s class went
from failing the third grade in reading and math to being
at mid-4th grade level in reading and math, in 18 weeks. He has repeated the experiment. It happens every time. (Laughter) The most interesting thing about it, both
for Mr. Vandenburg and for Mr. Pai – I had the pleasure
of seeing Mr. Pai’s class – is that it’s not that games
have replaced the teacher. Au contraire, what they do is
an amazing job at teaching. They actually teach like
old-fashioned teachers teach. They know what their students need. They give them directions,
They come up with lesson plans. But the books and videos and lectures
have been replaced by games, which is an interesting little correlate. But it’s not only examples
from educators going against the grain. This is a start-up called “Codecademy.” The founders have
a triple bottom line objective which is to teach everybody
how to write software code. They believe it’s a critical skill
for literacy in the 21st century. But it turns out that not enough people
learn how to write software. In the space of a year,
the highly game-centric Codecademy taught a million people
how to write software, in one year, which is
an amazing achievement. Even more amazing, when you put it
in context, that’s more than all the STEM graduates
in the United States put together in the space of one year. It’s the power of their symmetric game, both the teachers
and the students at Codecademy benefit when everybody moves forward; that is the core power what
they’ve been able to accomplish. Or looked at from
a university’s standpoint and looking at pure science. This is an app called “Foldit”
built by the University of Washington because it turns out scientists in order
to do all kinds of advanced drug discovery need to be able to come up with
structures of critical proteins and DNA. But computers are actually really bad
at figuring that out, whereas humans are really good at doing
this process called “folding.” Humans are naturally good at it. So the researchers at UW were looking for
a way to activate humans to do this work which is incredibly important
for this piece of science. So they built this thing called “Foldit.” And last year, Foldit, the game,
created a major breakthrough. Scientists have been working for 15 years
to discover a critical structure in the protein in the fight
against HIV and AIDS. And last year, 49,000 people
playing Foldit in 10 days discovered the structure of that protein that had stomped mainstream science
for 15 years. Even more interestingly than that –
which is already amazing, okay, but better – 50% of the people who played Foldit were not in the science
or math fields at all. Half of the people who contributed. And this is by the way
a real hard thing to do. Half of them
were not in this field at all, so learning about science
in this context. Now, there’s another kind
of bigger picture thing about education that’s not solely
about math and science and reading and language but also about changing
the way that we think. This was really hit home for me from watching a TV show
called “The Aviators” which is a Canadian-American
documentary series about aviation. I’m watching one day
and the voice comes on and is like: “What would happen
if we put a 12-year-old kid in charge of a plane?
Could he land it?” And I was like: “Well,
that’s an interesting question.” I watched the show where
they take this kid Remmy – you see him up on the screen,
12-year-old boy – they take him off the street, they put him in a flight simulator –
the same kind of flight simulator that the pilots
who fly you around train on – with no training, and in 90 seconds, Remmy had landed a 737
at LAX in broad daylight. I sat there
and my jaw hit the ground. I grew up in an aviation household. I grew up around this stuff.
I fly all the time. I’m not the guy you want to call on if the pilots get sick, like, “Hey, can you help us land the plane?” I’m not that guy. How is it possible that a 12-year-old kid
could do this with no training? And they turned to the guy
who runs the simulator, and they said:
“How is this possible?” He says, “Oh yeah, we get
some private clients in here sometimes. The kids, they play video games
all the time. They have no trouble with this. It’s their parents that have the problem.” And I thought, “How interesting.” The kind of behavior
that Remmy was exhibiting, the skill that he was exhibiting is
a thing called “fluid intelligence,” represented as “Gf.” Fluid intelligence is our ability
to problem-solve in situations where we’ve never
experienced it before, we have nothing to go on. Our raw problem-solving skills, this is the thing that is
implicated in innovation, in solving all the difficult challenges that lay before us in the world. It’s different from
crystallized intelligence which is our ability to use
the things that we already know, like 6 times 6 is 36. Fluid intelligence is
critically important. It turns out that you can actually
raise your fluid intelligence using games. This is a game called
“Dual N Back” or “N Back”, a type of game, which has been shown
to raise people’s fluid intelligence. In four weeks of play, you can raise
your intelligence score by 4 or 5 points and that halo effect will last
for eight months or more by playing this game. Fluid intelligence is not at all
something that you cannot train for. And isn’t that incredibly optimistic? Isn’t that an amazing idea that we can raise people’s
fluid intelligence using games? Think of all the problems we could solve. But I’ve been focusing on kids,
and education isn’t just about kids. I mean, many of you right now the room
have jobs, and like many children, you’re asked to sit all day and watch
or listen to somebody drone on, right? Stare at a computer screen all day. But education doesn’t stop
when you stop being a child. It’s just as important for adults, and even their “gamification”
is having a tremendous effect. This is “Platteville” by Siemens. It’s a game designed to help people
learn how to run factories. It has been played by 20,000 people
around the world who go to the site, to Siemens, to find out
how to run a plant. All the heuristic reports are,
this is awesome. This sounds like a way better way
to learn how to run a plant than reading the manual
over and over again or watching videos about the collapse of nuclear reactors. Another example, this time from IBM,
this is their platform called “innov8” and their offshoot game called “City 1.” “innov8” was an internal business
process management game. Business process engineering doesn’t sound like fun
but set that aside for 1 second. It’s an important that lots of people
have to know how to do. IBM built an internal game
out of this, and then decided, “Let’s put this up on the web and see what would happen
if people used it.” Today, over 1,000 institutions,
universities around the world, use IBM’s “innov8” game
to teach people how to do BPM. Hundreds of thousands of people
have learned how to re-engineer business processes using
this game and its variants. It’s also – just to give
a little bit a business rationale to this discussion – the number one
lead generation tool for IBM in the world are people who play this game;
their best foot forward. Or for those of you who work in large companies
and have to get annual reviews. One of the core ideas
behind the annual review is, it’s not supposed to be just
a waste of everybody’s time. It’s supposed to be something
that actually helps you learn and do a better job. Instead of it just being your manager
showing up once a year like a troll from the mountains
with the piece a paper, “Here’s what you got,” – approved by the Union,
approved by the HR, whatever – the whole concept is being redefined by
companies like “Due Props” and “Rypple.” And the concept is, you have
this smart phone in your pocket, and it means, you can give
instantaneous feedback to anybody, superiors, subordinates and peers
about a job well done in real time. You just pull your phone:
“Thanks so much for your help.” “Nice work in that pitch, yeah.” “Great job.” Boom.
So American, right? Okay, but – (Laughter) –
listen how awesome this is. Major successful start-up companies
including Europe’s current like Web Two, Media Champion
and Spotify have standardized on this approach for the annual report. Annual reports are dead.
They’re over. Now it’s all about
instantaneous feedback powered by game mechanics
like virtual worlds and points to tell people what you think
about how they’re doing in real time and closing
that feedback loop. In all the different examples
and patterns I showed you today, there are three core concepts,
and they emerge and reemerge and bubble up over and over and over again,
and explain to a great extent what’s so powerful
about the gamified model in transforming education. They are feedback, friends and fun.
Feedback, friends and fun. This is what people love. This feedback, friends and fun
– the three F’s – create engagement with people. They generate engagement,
they drive attention. They make people engage with a problem
a process, like education. And every single experience,
every facet of education for children or adults can use
more feedback, friends and fun to make it compelling and powerful. So, in the examples that you’ve seen
across the scope of this – you’ve seen the 3 F’s used,
you’ve seen educational institutions, individuals and start-ups focus
on helping to educate children and adults moving this discussion
forward using the power of games to create unprecedented engagement
and amazing results. And I think, in every single case,
we can, as a group, agree that we can make education more fun. We can make education more engaging. And in doing so, perhaps,
we can drive the solution to major problems in the world, that can only be achieved
by raising people’s fluid intelligence, by making them aware
of different problems that come along, and by making language and mathematics our two most important evolutionary
and discovery skills the top of mind, the most interesting courses to take,
not the most boring classes to take, but the best classes to take; the thing we always want to work on, the thing we want to learn on
until the day we die. There’s no reason why
that can’t be the case. And I think, through the power
of gamification, I think, we’re starting to see something
that Yoda would be proud of. We’re using the Force
to drive people’s drive and love of learning forward. And that force is
the 3 F’s of gamification. Thank you very much. (Applause)