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1.1 Why go digital?

    It is most likely the case that every parent has or will experience what our family is going through. That is of course, unless you have a perfect child. One that never says ‘I don’t remember’ when asked about what went on in school that day. Maybe you’re one of the lucky few who has to stop your child from giving you too much details or perhaps you don’t have to engage at all and the straight As just get delivered with every grade report. You, because you’re lucky, can put in the bare minimum and it’s all clear sailing. If this describes you, I hate you and I hope that we never meet! I just needed to get that out.

    I was just kidding of course. I know that life is not fair and there is always someone who has an easier time of it, but they are also the exceptions. Most of us in the world have to work really hard for success and the sooner our children know that, the better off they will be.    That said, I don’t expect my son to walk to school with holes in the bottoms of his shoes like I did. I don’t intend to make him go hungry just so that he can know what I felt like growing up. Similarly, I don’t intend to watch him ruin his posture because he can’t remember how to organize binders. No, I don’t take the position he can just carry everything he needs to every class, back and forth between home and school. Tough, if he can’t conform to what everyone else does. After all, no matter how hard it is for him, it isn’t as hard as it was for me. And by the way, I had to leap over tall buildings in a single bound just to get to school too.

    Although I make light of things here I do wonder how many parents and dare I say it, academics, put too much blame on our kids. We buy them video game boxes and in doing so make them part of a digital revolution that is taking place, not somewhere else, but in our homes. They experience highly action oriented, visually stimulating, and interactive worlds. Their brains and nervous systems are so engaged that they do what we adults can not. There is so much happening in many of the modern games that most adults can’t even keep up with a preteen child. My son gets frustrated when I play with him because I keep dying, crashing, wandering around or just aimlessly pressing buttons. Out of concerns of potentially damaging effects, we limit the amount of time that our son plays on video games to 2 hours or less per day. Birthdays and occasional play dates are exceptions to the rule. However, it is not lost on me that there is value in his ability to competently operate within a virtual world. I have taken on the challenge of helping to find ways for him to apply his skills as a user of digital content. It seems to me that there is no better area of his life to focus on than academic success. Besides, his generation is more likely than previous ones to see video game technologies and methodologies applied in the work place.

    The US military has found great use for such skills as drone operators. They are also issuing contracts to teams composed of people with military, film, education and training, and video game experience. The intent is to produce high quality, realistic, and highly engaging training tools for complex work. I led a team in developing an advanced trainer for the US Army in 2010. ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) Art of Warfare (ISR AoW) trains military intelligence personnel to work as 8 member teams (in multi-player mode) providing ISR support in three separate operational areas (called campaigns). It is the  Army’s most advanced trainer of its kind to date.

    I also led a team that produced an advanced trainer for the national security agency in 2009. They wanted to combine high quality content, advanced visual effects, film and video game industry techniques alongside education and training methods. Our team produced visual effects that led to better understanding of complex phenomenology. One USAF Colonel said “I’m an engineer with over twenty years experience and your product helped me to understand radio wave propagation effects that I never understood, until now.”

    As someone very much involved in technological innovation, I have little doubt that we are only beginning to scratch the surface of leveraging technologies and skills associated with video game playing. In fact, much is learned from playing games to explore possibilities in a safe environment. Every successful game has the key elements of goals, rules, challenge and interaction. Sounds a lot like at least some of the essential elements to teaching to me. This is important to point out here because much of the technology that is emerging today, such as smartphones and tablets, have their roots in video game console development.

    Rather than go through an exhaustive history of the video game console, suffice to say that modular size, powerful graphics, rapid responsiveness, low-cost (compared to personal computers), highly engaging content, and other important characteristics are essential to the success of any game console. It is through developments in this area that nearly every home in the U.S. gets transformed into a gamers paradise. You might be a bit surprised to hear that the next wave will involve turning every classroom in the U.S. into a Digital Students paradise. My opinion is, the platforms that will enable it are tablets and smartphones. I am in the process of exploring how these technologies will aid our son in becoming a better student and preparing him for what is and will continue to be a digital age of rapid introduction of transformational technologies.

    My next post will be about a day in the life of a non-digital student. The intended takeaway is that we tried to work with typical solutions and failed miserably.

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By Ken Granville

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