Today’s guest post is by Jennifer Funk, a former teacher who couldn’t leave the classroom behind when she became a freelance writer. Now, she writes about education news, trends and best practices and supports innovative edtech companies that improve the lives of teachers and learners. She tweets about education and more at @jennfunk.
Ben Sand envisions a future where teachers are facilitators and mentors — “experts on finding answers, but not on having the answers” — and students are gamers.
“[In the future], all education will be delivered through intelligent tutoring systems by the world’s leading experts working hand-in-hand with game designers,” Sand says. “Students will work in groups much more than they do today, facilitated by mentors drawn from today’s teachers.”
To make that vision a reality, he and fellow Australian Dave Wilcox co-founded Brainworth, a game-based environment in which players gain knowledge and skills as they move through the levels of different game worlds.The two-year-old startup recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the next phase of its development — a 13-week course on how to build HTML5 web games. So far, 213 backers have pledged more than $17,000, though the company needs more than $80,000 in the next 16 days to reach its fundraising goal.
Sand and his team are hoping they’ll pull it off by writing letters to legislators who have supported STEM initiatives in the past, building tech demos to prove the capabilities of their games, and getting the word out on social media and news sites.
It’s an ambitious goal for an ambitious vision, but since its start Brainworth has gotten credible attention. Programmers at big-name U.S. and Australian universities, including Caltech, Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard and the University of Sydney, have become beta testers and content creators, as have more than 50 volunteer writers, actors, camera operators, sound technicians, game designers and programmers.
Sand first had the idea for a game-based learning environment when he was “stuck” in a college lecture and he started playing a computer game to pass the time.
“I saw some of my friends were doing the same thing and I thought, ‘someone should make education that’s as engaging as computer games,’” he says.
He decided that someone should be him. So, he and Wilcox got to work building a platform unlike any other.
Originally focused on teaching college-level math and game programming to students at top colleges, the company’s focus has since shifted to teaching high school students STEM content. (College students, they anticipate, will also use the platform to enhance their skills and share their passion with younger students.)
To ensure a personalized experience, Brainworth adjusts curriculum according to players’ unique learning goals and delivers content “one bite-sized piece at a time.”
The platform also incorporates crowd-sourcing and social networking components to improve users’ experiences. For example, the best new content rises to the top and becomes a part of existing environments, and students can track each others’ learning and collaborate when appropriate.
Surprisingly, Sand acknowledges that the best way to learn is not through video games, but instead through one-on-one tutoring.
But that, he says, is precisely the problem.
“The average student having one-on-one tutoring does better than 98% of students in a classroom environment and if everyone could have one-on-one tutoring, we might not need to exist,” he says. “The problem is, we don’t have seven billion tutors to tutor each of the seven billion people on the planet.”
That’s where Brainworth comes in — a scalable, personalized, one-on-one tutoring experience.
And, it doesn’t stop there.
Perhaps one of the most compelling (and eyebrow-raising) parts of the plan is for Brainworth to become a go-to source for companies wanting to hire top performers. In fact, as PandoDaily reports, the company thinks its candidate pool and the accompanying data collected on each player will be so attractive to hiring managers that they will pay Brainworth for access to students.
Not that Sand expects to lose students once they’re hired at these companies. Instead, he says students likely will continue to use Brainworth to stay current in their fields.
Funding or no funding, Sand’s passion is evident.
“I’d like people to imagine what life will be like once all learning is a game,” he says. “Because one day it will be and when that happens everyone will be learning faster, working better in teams, and we’ll have a lot more capability on hand to change the world.”
It might be hard to imagine a world like this, and yet it’s worth taking a moment to do so — because, after all, building new worlds is what Sand does best.
To hear more about how Brainworth is changing education, view this video.
To contribute to Brainworth’s Kickstarter campaign, click here.
Like this blog post? To see a previous story by Jennifer about interactive textbooks, click here.