Can schools learn from Steam? Intel launches a gaming studio for teachers

Intel has thrown its gaming hat into the education arena by partnering up with Arizona State University to launch The Intel Learning Studio. Intel has said that the online studio will feature “free, game-infused professional development courses” for teachers, which they are calling “journeys”. The studio will also act as a social hub for educators to share lesson plans and provide feedback to peers, using badges and trophies that echo those used by Valve’s Steam gaming platform. 

“Through Intel’s work in education, we’re equipping teachers to create and mentor the next generation of lifelong learners,” said Rosalind L. Hudnell, director of Corporate Affairs at Intel and president of the Intel Foundation. “Increasingly, businesses have a key focus on technology, and it’s essential that students are prepared with digital skills to achieve economic empowerment.”

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The announcement was made during the 12th Intel Education Summit, currently happening in London. One of the words said a great deal during the first day of the summit was “gamification”. If you’re not well versed in the current state of business buzzwords, it means treating situations as if they were a game, with the emphasis being on points, flow, competition and fun.

In a business context some see gamification as an exploitative marketing fad. Others believe it only appropriates the more superficial elements of game design – ignoring trickier aspects such as story and theme and meaning. In the context of education, however, it is a word that is becoming increasingly used in relation to a style of teaching that encourages class engagement through mimicry of game design techniques. 

Intel has launched its gaming learning studio due to an apparent demand for “game-infused learning methods”. Putting aside the fact that “game-infused” sounds like a terrible idea for a perfume, and that a kitten apparently dies every time someone says the word “gamification”, applying game design to the classroom raises a number of interesting questions.

Should schools be taking a page from the book of game platforms like Steam, Xbox Live and the PlayStation network, and hand out trophies and badges for in-class achievements rather than pass or fail grades? Can competitive game techniques encourage schoolkids to engage with STEM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths? What about arts and humanities subjects like English and Philosophy?

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Surely those topics require a different approach – less generic “gamification” and more interaction with specific games that tackle difficult ideas – Papers, Please and political corruption, for example, or Gone Home and questions of sexuality.

A number of differing opinions will no-doubt be raised over the course of the two-day summit, and we’ll be putting together a summary after it’s finished. 

Next: Read our interview with Jo Twist, CEO of UKIE on why games can make a significant contribution to education

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