Making Education as Addicting as Video Games

By: Nick Urbin

I met with Shannon Rogers on a breezy evening in the courtyard between O’Hare and Tierney Halls to discuss her research on education reform. Rogers, a sophomore at Fordham’s Rose Hill campus from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, currently intends to double major in chemistry and humanitarian studies while pursuing the pre-med track. A Fordham ASPIRES Scholar, she credits the program with setting her on her current research path. 

Rogers’ research concerns a question she says all students face at some point in their education: When did school stop being fun? A prior project on special education and past experience assisting with teaching had focused her mind on education. She drew on personal anecdotes as a student who had experienced novel “fads” in education; teachers would return from professional development seminars with new teaching methods that would function only temporarily. Where were these fads coming from, and why were they not effective? Tying in her personal interests of psychology and technology, she settled on her research question: How can education be made so it is as addicting as video games?

After compiling a research proposal in the spring, Rogers began her research process this summer with a comprehensive thematic review on how the education system functions and what reforms have been attempted (she is considering education in a broad sense; to date, she specifies studying mainly primary and secondary education). Her goal was to learn “anything and everything” on the subject of the education system. Through reading literature and studies on the subject, she found that “the problem is not that educational systems are not broad enough, but instead that they are failing to engage the students in their learning.” Currently, educational systems teach students to avoid failure at all costs. By disincentivizing failure, Rogers has found that the education system also disincentivizes creativity.

In contrast, Rogers has found that one reason why video games are so addicting is that they teach failure in a productive way. In a video game, one is never in a permanent state of failure, unlike what Rogers has found to be the case in the educational system. Gamification, or the application of elements of game playing (such as competition and a points system) to non-game systems, has been another area of investigation. In the corporate environment, gamification has proven to incentivize employees. This principle has been applied successfully in educational environments as well; The Grange School in the United Kingdom has developed a curriculum that engages students in this manner. 

Gamification is not the only promising strategy for creating a more engaging educational experience for students, according to Rogers. The “Democratic Model,” in which instructors ask students what they want out of their education, has proven to be successful in promoting engagement; when students have a say in their work, they are more likely to do it. This principle can be applied to current material, especially mathematics, in a more practical and fun manner by incorporating real-life examples. 

Rogers’ research has also revealed the importance of teaching until mastery. She has found that difficulties at higher academic levels, specifically within the field of mathematics, can in part be attributed to the cumulative effects of progressing through the material before attaining mastery and reaching standardized education goals.

Moving forward, Rogers hopes to continue expanding her knowledge on education reform by reviewing additional books and journal pieces. The project does not yet have a hard-and-fast end date. Eventually, she hopes to interview teachers about their methods and examine their certification requirements to see how they differ from what experts recommend. The project could manifest as a curriculum based on its findings, which would be trialed and informed by expert opinions across disciplines. 

The applications of Rogers’ research are broad, especially with the need for changes to learning hastened by the COVID-19 pandemic. It could be applied by schools to improve their curriculums (as The Grange School has done with gamification), used to better inform policymaking regarding the national standardization of educational systems, and/or integrated into existing online learning platforms such as Khan Academy or Coursera. In whatever manner it is applied, Rogers’ research is on track to contribute meaningfully to the improvement of learning experiences of students everywhere.

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