Let the games begin

MTV is 30 years old, and one thing it's taught us is how to teach, says Duke University's Dr. JEFFREY TAEKMAN

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Happy 30th birthday, MTV. And thanks for what you've taught us.

I'm not referring to shows like "Jersey Girl" or "16 and Pregnant." Rather, MTV has forced academicians like me to re-examine our outdated methods of education, and to look for new ways to engage with our students.

Until the advent of MTV, which first aired on Aug. 1, 1981, music was primarily a single-sense medium. Music videos transformed music into a visual and auditory experience. Embedded within each short music video was a vivid story -- a narrative -- that made the song (and story) more memorable.

Today, we, as entertainment consumers, no longer just watch and listen -- we control and create. With increasingly powerful personal computers and the ubiquity of the Internet, a great deal of our time is spent interacting with multimedia -- music on iTunes or videos on YouTube. The answer to any question is available immediately through Google. On-demand movies, music and games are available 24/7. Many of these items can now be downloaded, remixed and shared with others.

Neuroscientists tell us that the more senses we engage, the easier it is to retain and apply information. MTV can take some credit for this rewiring of our brains.

All of this helps explain why we in education need to change our traditional lecture format. Under this antiquated approach, learners must forgo their control over pace, content and context of the topic. They are not allowed to control what, when or why they are learning.

So despite numerous advances in technology and the science of learning, the majority of our teaching remains lecture-based, for no better reason than it is the easiest approach.

It is time for a change.

We, as educators, must adapt to our new roles as guides or facilitators rather than the end-all, be-all oracles spewing forth knowledge. If we fail to adapt, our learners will revolt, leaving us obsolete.

Educational methods that embrace technological advances are needed to enhance the learning experience, and games-based learning is a powerful solution to these challenges.

With online games, users hear and see the virtual world around them but also directly control the narrative. They are able to see the outcome of their actions in real time. If they make a mistake, they reflect on other approaches and try again. The reward center of the brain fires when they achieve the micro-goal, encouraging them to tackle the next challenge.

This cycle of trying, making mistakes, reflecting and trying again is central to learning. The best consumer games chain together micro-challenges into something that is neither so easy as to become boring nor so hard that the user gives up.

Gaming technology offers many other advantages over traditional methods, including the ability to compress time, augment reality, pace yourself, collaborate with others and obtain instant feedback.

Because the environment is served from a computer, we can track every choice the individual makes, both correct and incorrect. Remediation is immediately available.

Students today crave creation, collaboration and feedback in small, immediately accessible doses. They also have the greatest visual acuity of any generation, and rely on technology to improve their efficiency. It is the teachers who must adapt.

At my home institution of Duke University, for instance, health care educators are de-emphasizing lectures in favor of more interactive forms of education such as team-based learning, simulation and games-based learning.

These changes have been slow in coming, but are necessary for the new breed of learners.

Based on our students' emerging preferences and my own experience both as a facilitator and learner using interactive techniques, I truly believe digital game-based learning will have a prominent place in the future of education, especially in health care.

So thanks, MTV. Your influence is a powerful catalyst for educational reform.


Dr. Jeffrey Taekman , an anesthesiologist, is director of the Human Simulation and Patient Safety Center and assistant dean for educational technology at Duke University School of Medicine ( jeffrey.taekman@duke.edu ).


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