by Bryan Alexander, Senior Fellow, National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education
What will happen to higher education in the future? Versions of this question have been asked with increasing frequency over the past decade, especially since the 2007-2008 financial crisis and the challenging economic environment for colleges and universities that followed. Demographic, political, technological, and institutional developments have added to an atmosphere of tension and impending crisis. High-profile conferences have summoned campus leaders and media attention to ponder the fate of academia. State and national political campaigns energetically discuss details of college tuition, staffing, curriculum, and policies. The University of Virginia’s board controversially (and briefly) deposed a president over strategy concerning these issues.
Can we use gaming to improve our ability to think through these challenging times? I pose this surprising question because of the parallel rise of another trend from the past decade. The uses of gaming for learning have been much discussed, experimented with, and developed since the 2003 publication of James Paul Gee’s landmark book, What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy. There has been a flood of discussion about the various ways games and simulations can enhance skills learning, convey curricular content, be used in libraries, and serve as the object of an emerging academic discipline, game studies. Games, “serious games,” and simulations have reached beyond academia into the realms of policymaking, entertainment, and news media. Gamification, the use of game mechanics beyond formal game content, is being discussed to influence business, policy, and daily life. To propose using games to think through education’s fate is actually consonant with the tenor of our times.