Teams of teams

Jim Gee reminds us each year in presentations at various conferences that we are in dire circumstances. This year at G4C he talked about how his state of Arizona is on fire, that was before the Colorado fires even started. He reminds us that we need big solutions to big problems. The more complex the world becomes, and the more difficult the plight we have laid for our future becomes – the larger the solutions will have to be.

Somehow Jim knows how to make this not depressing…well not too depressing. He points to the collaboration and innovation that takes place in the name of fun in online games. He reminds us to direct that productivity towards meaningful goals, but to make sure not to break it in the process.

I come back from these game design conferences full of collaborative spirit. This community is all about the message that the questions are bigger than us, and that it will take “teams of teams” to make any progress at all. Everyone is excited about collaboration and it feels like everyone truly wants to share and build upon each others ideas. Okay, not everyone, but for the most part I feel many more burgeoning partnerships coming from a game design conference than from an educational conference – or in the academic world of science education. Why?

Well perhaps it is related to the concerns voiced by Jim, and also by Chris Dede, about academia. The institutions that are responsible for advancing the world’s culture and intellect are falling into a conservative rut that may render them obsolete if they do not change with the times.

A colleague recently told me that she would not take the time to collaborate on a paper that she’d like to write (because we believe it is more important to the innovation and impact that game-based learning could have on education) – she needs to spend her time on other papers (that she deems less important to our mission) so that they will be published in the “right” journals, those acceptable by her institution, so that she has a chance for tenure in the upcoming years.

There are so many fingers to point in this situation. Of course, being at a not-for-profit like TERC, I can be smug and say that she should think of things more important than tenure and take the risk to publish what and where we want. But she is playing within the confines of the academic system, which appears to be stifling innovation more and more.

And even at not-for-profits that are PI-driven, where we all compete for a very small pool of government funds to sustain our missions, our teams, and our lines of work. Even here, resistance against dramatic change is high. With change comes risk, and with risk comes controversy. It is natural for diverse people to come with different perspectives towards a proposed change – and when a decision has to be made on whether limited funds should be spent on a high-risk plan, it would be rare to have a group of peers all agree.

And so…we have the dilemma. Innovation takes risk, risk is not rewarded in our academic and funding institutions. It will take an innovator, teams of innovators who have benefited coming together. Cisco + Gates + Apple + the other 1%ers deciding to spend the bucks on a mission that is larger than governmental efforts.

And when that happens – the people who get those funds need to put their egos and individual agendas aside and collaborate towards the better good. Let’s hope there are a lot of gamers on the team.


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