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"Games making should appeal to children as much as games playing"

Feature Focus: Education
"Games making should appeal to children as much as games playing"

Tue 15 Apr 2014 2:45pm GMT / 10:45am EDT / 7:45am PDT
Education

Ian Livingstone on how to make sure education is serving the industry and getting away from "academic snobbery"

Few people have spent as much time on the front lines of industry and education than Ian Livingstone. Having spent years lobbying the UK Government to improve the curriculum dictating computer sciences, and succeeding, Livingstone is founding his own school, taking the task of educating even more personally. At that school, Livingstone hopes to integrate arts into the traditional STEM subjects and teach children how, but not what, to think.

We caught up with Ian to get his perspective on what still needs to change on the UK's education system.

Q: Are you confident that the UK's education system is in a fit state to provide employees for the next generation of tech companies?

Ian Livingstone: Well I'm delighted that Michael Gove has taken on the recommendations of Next-Gen in short order, to replace the old ICT curriculum with a new computing one, which could be transformational for this country. I believe that will help us to create technology, rather than just consume it. That has to be a great thing, and could obviously be of great benefit to the games industry.

But it's not just about coding; computational science is a broad mix of computational thinking, logic and problem solving. You also need to have STEAM, not just STEM - you need art in there, to join up the left and right side of the brain. You have to create the wonder of which games are just one manifestation.

So I think the curriculum is fine; it's what's done in schools that sometimes worries me. Education has, in part, retained this Victorian broadcast model, the talk and chalk, where children sit still and learn a lot of stuff they don't need to by rote, then regurgitate it in some sort of random access memory test. It's more about league tables than learning, which is a worry. I'd like to see the classroom brought closer to the workplace, allowing children to collaborate on their own projects at their own pace. Peer to peer learning in their own language and time, working with people they enjoy working with. Let's celebrate their differences - there's no point in testing everyone against the same metrics.

Games making should appeal to children as much as games playing.

"I think the curriculum is fine; it's what's done in schools that sometimes worries me"

Q: That sounds a lot like Steiner or Montessori schools...

Ian Livingstone: It seems to me that Steiner methods are more like human nature. As babies we learn through trial and error, our curiosity - we're very playful in our learning. That's part of primary education, so it's no surprise that 95 per cent of children at primary school love the experience, but that by the time you get to secondary school only 35 per cent of kids do. Suddenly the learning experience changes from this collaborative, playful environment to this rote learning method, more about conformity than diversity. I don't know why you'd want to introduce more testing to schools.

We punish our kids for making mistakes rather than saying that failure is just a successful work in progress, to make mistakes and learn from them. Children have to fall over a lot when they're learning to walk; we don't start hitting them because they can't walk from day one. Education isn't learning facts, it's training to think. That's often forgotten.

In my school we're going to be focused on the meta-skills of problem solving and communication. Problem solving can be applied to anything and if you can communicate those solutions, that's a huge advantage. Underpinning that will be coding, creativity and collaboration. We want to encourage enterprise, innovation and curiosity - all the things we've seen work in game development over the years.

I think there's a lot of academic snobbery in education - there must be a better way for children to learn collaboratively and a better way for them to be assessed - it can't just be about everyone being tested against the same metrics.

We've got to work more on children's terms - we're limiting what they can learn to what the teacher already knows. We've got to go way beyond the classroom; there are all these resources just a click away.

"We've got to work more on children's terms - we're limiting what they can learn to what the teacher already knows"

Q: How does education keep up with such a rapidly changing industry?

Ian Livingstone: Well that's why I suggest you have to give all children good problem solving skills, good analytical skills, the ability to work collaboratively. If you have those, you can adapt yourself into someone who understands and can operate in the world. You have to focus on these meta-skills rather than immersing yourself in factual detail.

Q: Is there a risk of over specialisation with game-specific qualifications?

Ian Livingstone: Learning a specific skill is obviously going to stand you in good stead - it's good to specialise. I wish I was able to code.

People assume that if you've got good exam results then you're going to be a good employee. There are a lot of people with A*s who have learned how to pass exams but might not necessarily be the best employees. I tend to look for the disaffected ones who might not have done so brilliantly in their exams, but can show me a portfolio of their work. If you can do that, say 'here, I've done this', I can probably give you a job. If you show me a CV with a string of qualifications, that doesn't necessarily prove anything.

Q: What are the biggest remaining challenges facing education?

Ian Livingstone: One of the things I'm asked most about implementing all these changes to the curriculum is 'where are you going to find the teachers to do it?' Clearly a lot of the old ICT teachers who were boring kids to death by teaching them how to use Word, Powerpoint and Excel are not able to cater to the new needs. If you can move away from talk and chalk and accept a role as facilitator, say to the class, 'who's the best able to take charge with knowledge?' Then they can all work together, hacking together their knowledge and all of the great resources which are available for free online. Working collaboratively.

"The teacher has to work alongside the child. I don't see anything wrong with that"

The teacher has to work alongside the child. I don't see anything wrong with that. If they're happily engaged and getting along with it, you can get away from this hierarchical approach, which I think would be a good thing.

Q: How do we get the right people into education careers, rather than better paid industry work?

Ian Livingstone: Well, it's not easy! However, there are more and more opportunities to become STEM ambassadors or to volunteer to talk in schools and universities, for studios to form links with local education to demonstrate what goes on inside. There are ways to help!

Q: One of the key issues which education is expected to address is the industry's gender gap. How do you approach that?

Ian Livingstone: I think you have to start young, you have to get to girls pre-puberty. More importantly I think you have to have some fantastic role models out there that these girls can aspire to. There's lots of women doing great things in games: Roberta from Bossa, Jude from PlayMob, Alice from MakieLab - there are loads of examples, which is great to see. This is a relatively young industry, though, one which has traditionally catered to boys - guys making games for guys.

Now we have a lot more diversity, in content and in content creation, but we should all do whatever we can to accelerate that process and point out to parents and children themselves that this is a great career opportunity for everybody, not just for boys.

8 Comments

Lewis Pulsipher Game Designer, Author, Teacher

33 42 1.3
I don't know how it goes in the UK, but in the USA only academic degrees qualify people to teach. We have people who sail through school, university, and grad school and then into teaching who have no real-world experience, while real-world experience is frowned upon or actively distrusted. When the teachers have no real-world experience, how are the students going to get any?

At the same time, online "education", which is really only training, has moved the "memorize and regurgitate" style into university. We do less and less to teach people to think.

Posted:8 months ago

#1

Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend

292 704 2.4
We have people who sail through school, university, and grad school and then into teaching who have no real-world experience, while real-world experience is frowned upon or actively distrusted. When the teachers have no real-world experience, how are the students going to get any?

At the same time, online "education", which is really only training, has moved the "memorize and regurgitate" style into university. We do less and less to teach people to think.
@Lewis

[cynical mode]
Education for the masses was not introduced to make intelligent people, it was to make obedient semi-skilled workers for industry. Of course this is how education is run today and will probably continue to do so while the economic forces shape educational requirement.

We really need to completely change how education works if we are to ever get out of this 'memorise and regurgitate' mindset. But then again do governments want a population of intelligent people who think for themselves and make their own decisions about the world or do they want obedient semi-skilled workers?

I would probably think the latter.
[/cynical mode]

Posted:8 months ago

#2

Lewis Pulsipher Game Designer, Author, Teacher

33 42 1.3
@Darren
The problem for the USA, of course, is that those jobs for obedient semi-skilled workers have gone overseas. I have no hope, really, when the population of a nation think they're "on top" they're more or less impervious to ideas about change. They need to fail first.

Posted:8 months ago

#3

Peter Dwyer Games Designer/Developer

482 293 0.6
Totally agree with this article. I know that when I was young my sister bought me first a c64 and then a few Christmas' later an amiga. I did nothing but, write my own games on it. I learned about programming, assembly, even doing those (at the time amazing) animated coloured bars using the vertical refresh to change line colour at each scan line.

Today if I even suggested to a 10 year old that they could do something like that they would look at me blankly like I was trying to explain one of Dynamo's magic tricks!

Posted:8 months ago

#4

Lewis Pulsipher Game Designer, Author, Teacher

33 42 1.3
Yes, this seems to be a generation that's comfortable using technology, but rarely knows how it actually works inside. I was surprised when I first encountered 18 year olds who were going into "computer science" but had little or no prior experience of programming. What?

Posted:8 months ago

#5

Roberto Dillon Associate Professor, James Cook University

33 24 0.7
@Lewis
True. On the other hand though, having real world experience doesn't necessarily mean being a good teacher.
Indeed the situation is not easy but "academic snobbery" is a reaction to "industry arrogance" (i.e. people saying "I am a better educator than you because I worked in studio X even if I never been teaching in my life and don't have a degree").

How to solve? Game developers, go get a Master degree if you want to start teaching at university level. Academics, start getting your hands dirty and go make some games! ;)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Roberto Dillon on 16th April 2014 3:29am

Posted:8 months ago

#6

Patrick Frost QA Project Monitor

411 212 0.5
Having been an trainee teacher, worked in the industry and now as a trainer for adults in technical subjects I find it so positive that more and more people are getting the message that skills need to be taught, very little discrete facts need to be learnt. I'm very excited to see Ian driving this message but unfortunately the system he's suggesting is not a complete one as it really doesn't address the question of assessment.

The cruel reality is that teachers have been aware of the need to teach children for jobs that don't exist yet since at least the mid-nineties however forming an assessment system for such a learning structure presents challenges in creating flexible assessment material, marking and most importantly that the entire professional world would take a very long time to react to the significance of the difference. I've taught experienced IT professionals in networking and TCP/IP and all of them are taken aback when I tell them that I don't care about them remembering details of CIDR subnets, you can look that stuff up on the internet (that's what it's there for!) but I do care that they understand and have the skills/tools to diagnose issues or make informed decisions. That's an entire paradigm shift in the basis for education that is going to take, in my opinion, at least a generation to filter through but only after assessment focuses on skill not on remembering dates and names almost exclusively.

My experience of University has done nothing to make me any less cynical in this regard. Although I am qualified in a scientific subject, the academia always got in the way to the point of almost obscuring the skill based learning relevant to the professions leading from that.

Saddest part of the matter is that not assessing children based on skill is taking away their opportunity to understand what they are really naturally good at.

Posted:8 months ago

#7

Martin Oliver Sound Designer and Music Composer/Director

5 6 1.2
With development companies becoming more and more like sweatshops, with lengthy periods of crunch and unpaid overtime rife and the prospect of redundancy even after making a successful game, fundamentally games development is losing some of its shine for graduates. Maybe getting that aspect straightened out might attract the top level of students into the industry?

Posted:8 months ago

#8

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