“Follow essentially the video game model,” says Dr Judy Willis, neuroscientist, about teaching. I picture a room full of fifteen-year-olds standing on Wiis. But she’s talking about feedback, how gamers get a neural kick from seeing the effects of their mistakes. “If kids continue to play video games despite the fact that we’ve found that 80% of the time they…get feedback that they were wrong…yet persevere without obviously being bored or frustrated, then the model shows us this can be done.”
I don’t think I’m like these kids. When I visited the Game Masters exhibition at ACMI last year, I drifted from console to console, distracted from a game before achieving anything. My characters would wander rooms or desultory plains, jumping vertically against insurmountable barricades. I ended up lurking near Dance Central, watching people choose songs and avatars by lifting and lowering their arms. Dr Willis must be joking. Recreating this in a classroom would be like, well, my year eleven chemistry class.
But – like all good neuroscientists – Dr Willis is a few steps ahead. Her whole point about feedback is that it only works when students (and gamers) are at “the proper level of individual achievable challenge,” the zone in which it’s conceivable that you can pass the test, beat the boss. My experience at Game Masters only reinforces her point: I lost interest because I couldn’t see an achievable goal. In fact, at first glance, some of the games didn’t even have one.
Willis again: “kids will feel success if they enter at the level of mastery that they’re at and they need to see their achievement more frequently than every six weeks when you get a test back.” Smartly said, Dr Willis – here’s an exploding gold star.