Games and gamification are not new to education. Even before the recent growth of the edtech industry, educators have routinely created games and interactive challenges to get students involved in topics ranging from math and logic to history and reading. However, the reward systems – points, scores, competition and wins – have typically been of the outer variety. Ideally, educators want students to discover the joy of learning and be motivated by inherent rewards. This is Michael Kasumovics and Arludo that brings games to science.
EdSurge: Tell us about Arludo’s early days – what was the driving force behind creating games for education?
Kasumovic: I am a college teacher and I really wanted my students a little more excited to learn. Everything about them – from social media to streaming – became more exciting, but education had not changed a bit. I realized that if we wanted to get their attention, we needed to give them valuable experiences. So with my first game, I decided to get my students to become spiders running around a field to find helpers! They exploded and I realized that the experience actually made them understand the concepts better. That was when Arludo was first born.
Can you guide us through one of your games and how it intertwines game design goals in a way that is more successful than, for example, reading a book?
Books are good. I do not think we should compare games with 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 to make you feel like the main character in an adventure. And as a result, you learn from your own experience rather than through someone else’s eyes. True learning comes when you discover something, not when you remember it. We draw inspiration from every video game our team has ever played – from Guitar Hero to Flappy Bird! It’s fun to remix some of the game mechanics to create new educational experiences.
How is your design process? Do you start with a topic first or game mechanics?
We start with learning outcomes. We then go through our experience library and find a game mechanic that best matches the outcome we are trying to learn. Then we create a world around it to make this experience memorable. But every time we create a game, we think about how that experience can be 10-20 minutes – our games are not traditional games because you will have to come back. So we do not put the “hooks” that other games do. Our games are experiences. And when you experience something, hopefully you will remember it and will experience something new.
How does Arludo transform the ways that students learn?
Our focus is not memorization, but getting students excited to learn and getting them to ask more questions. We create an environment where students gain experience, and then they see the data to support their experience. We try to put children in the shoes of actual researchers. It allows them if the data collection is done accurately. We can identify biases or errors in design. Train them to learn to keep asking the right questions. We give them the opportunity to practice. They are rarely given the opportunity to practice.
We have heard the analogy that data is the new oil. 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 do not know what to do to refine that oil. Our goal is to provide students with an understanding of data that not only helps them refine their ideas and thinking, but also enables them to understand whether this data is valuable. And more importantly, we want them to know how to collect and use valuable data to help people. Therefore, one of our biggest goals is to encourage people with all sorts of backgrounds to understand data and scientific thinking. This way we can have different leaders who can better help their people. Ultimately, we try to help produce the civic scientists that our world so desperately needs.
Any particularly 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 now regularly receive emails from teachers telling me that the students had fun and seem to understand things better. Many teachers say that they are so happy to see their children just explore an idea without asking and that they have fun learning and showing their curiosity. Sometimes I even get emails from students that I do not know to share with me how much fun they had! From parents, I have been told that our program has thrilled and made young girls enthusiastic about science. It is extremely rewarding.
How has the AWS EdStart program helped Arludo succeed in education?
AWS EdStart has given us the expertise we did not have. The AWS team has been extremely supportive in helping us build our infrastructure. I have talked to many different experts and they have all been really friendly with their time. Without them, it would be much harder to build what we do.
What would you tell teachers who might be hesitant to bring games into their classroom?
Children love games because they offer them another world to explore and discover. And if we are honest, that’s what learning is. Imagine if we could help children get so excited about learning by creating games that encourage them to explore the world. Well, that’s what we’ve done!
What is the long-term game plan for Arludo and its impact on learning globally?
Because I am an academic, I have a massive network that I can collaborate with. I can use researchers all over the world working on problems. We create new games about research, and we collaborate with researchers to support their real world work. We also work 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 researchers. We will look at live results and involve the audience to collect data. Students love the interaction and talk directly to researchers. We need to address vastly different topics through science. Tests include: What makes a perfect player? What is beauty? How do we improve our creativity?
What is your ultimate vision for education and learning?
Some of the world has become pessimistic about science. We do not need to talk to people or just throw information after them. People can be turned off by the ‘expert’. We want people to have an experience and then share their experiences. People want to be a part of something. We need to use the power of technology in innovative ways to create new learning experiences. Games are a good hook, but the real excitement is the discovery. It’s inherent. Let us collectively unleash international curiosity. Learning will be the reward.