Games and gamification are not new to education. Even before the more recent growth of the edtech industry, educators have routinely created games and interactive challenges in order to get students engaged with subjects ranging from math and logic to history and reading. However, the reward systems—points, scores, competition and winning—have typically been of the extrinsic variety. Ideally, educators want students to discover the joy of learning and be motivated by intrinsic rewards. This is the mission of Michael Kasumovic and Arludo who are bringing gaming to the natural sciences.
EdSurge: Tell us about the early days of Arludo—what was the driving force to creating games for education?
Kasumovic: I’m a university lecturer and I really wanted to get my students a bit more excited about learning. Everything around them—from social media to streaming—was becoming more exciting, yet education hadn’t changed a bit. I realized that if we wanted to grab and hold their attention, we need to provide them with valuable experiences. So with my first game I decided to make my students become spiders running around a field to find mates! They had a blast and I realised that the experience actually made them understand the concepts better. That’s when Arludo was first born.
Can you walk us through one of your games and how it merges objectives with game design in a way that is more successful than, say, reading a book?
Books are great. I don’t think we should compare games to books and say that one is better than the other. They compliment each other in important ways. But one thing games do better than books is make you feel like the protagonist of an adventure. And as a result, you’re learning from your own experience rather than through the eyes of someone else. True learning comes when you discover something, not when you memorize it. We take inspiration from every single videogame our team has ever played—from Guitar Hero to Flappy Bird! It’s fun remixing some of the game mechanics to create new educational experiences.
What is your design process like? Do you start with a topic first or game mechanics?
We start with learning outcomes. We then go through our library of experiences and find a game mechanic that best matches the outcome we’re trying to teach. Then we create a world around it to make that experience memorable. But every time we create a game, we think about how that experience can be 10-20 minutes in length—our games are not traditional games in that you need to keep coming back. So we don’t put in those “hooks” that other games do. Our games are experiences. And when you experience something, hopefully you’ll remember that and want to experience something new.
How is Arludo transforming the ways that students learn?
Our focus isn’t memorization, but getting students excited about learning and getting them asking more questions. We’re creating an environment where students get experience and then they see the data to support their experience. We try to put kids in the shoes of actual scientists. It allows them to, if data collection has been done accurately. We can identify bias or error in design. Training them to learn to continue to ask the right questions. We’re giving them the opportunity to practice. They rarely get the opportunity to practice.
We’ve heard the analogy that data is the new oil. Well, if we look at all the data we collect, I would say that most companies have no idea what to do with it. So to keep that oil analogy going, companies currently don’t know what to do to refine that oil. Our goal is to give students the understanding about data that not only helps them refine their ideas and thinking, but also allows them to understand whether those data are valuable. And even more importantly, we want them to know how to collect and use valuable data to help people. That’s why one of our biggest goals is to encourage people from all kinds of backgrounds to understand data and scientific thinking. This way, we can have diverse leaders that can better help their people. Ultimately, we’re trying to help produce the citizen scientists that our world so desperately needs.
Any especially memorable student or teacher success stories? What type of feedback have you received?
When I first saw the smiles on my students’ faces, I knew there was value in what I was doing. I am now regularly receiving emails from educators telling me that the students had a great time and seem to understand things better. Many teachers say that they’re so happy to see their kids just exploring an idea without prompting and that they’re having fun learning and showing their curiosity. Sometimes I even get emails from students that I don’t know sharing with me how much fun they had! From parents, I’ve been told our program has excited and made young girls excited about science. That is extremely rewarding.
How has the AWS EdStart program helped Arludo succeed in education?
AWS EdStart has provided us with the expertise we didn’t have. The AWS team has been extremely supportive with helping us build our infrastructure. I’ve talked to a lot of different experts and they have all been really kind with their time. Without them, it would be much harder to build what we’re doing.
What would you tell any teachers who might be hesitant to bring games into their classroom?
Kids are excited about games because they offer them a different world to explore and discover. And if we’re honest, that’s what learning is. Imagine if we could help kids become that excited about learning by creating games that encourage them to explore the world. Well, that’s what we’ve done!
What’s the long-term game plan for Arludo and its impact on learning globally?
Because I am an academic, I have a massive network with whom to collaborate. I can tap into researchers all over the world who are working on problems. We create new games about research and we partner with the researchers to support their real world work. We also partner with companies. Teachers and students who use this become part of the research. We recently did a show for National Science Week in Australia and had 17,000 users. We are now partnering with Twitch and launching a new free science show in January 2021. We are bringing learning communities together to use games to work with the scientists. We will be looking at live results and involving the audience to collect data. Students love the interaction and talking directly to scientists. We’re going to address wide ranging issues through science. Samples include: What makes a perfect gamer? What is beauty? How do we improve our creativity?
What is your ultimate vision for education and learning?
Some of the world has grown pessimistic of science. We need to not talk at people or just throw information at them. People can get turned off on the ‘expert.’ We want people to have an experience and then share their experiences. People want to be part of something. We have to use the power of technology in innovative ways to make new learning experiences. Games are a great hook, but the real excitement is the discovery. That’s intrinsic. Let’s collectively spark international curiosity. Learning will be the reward.