Call of Duty: Modernising Education by Ian Wareing

The third instalment of our Digital Education guest posts comes from a one time photography student, Ian Wareing looking at the use of gamification in learning. This follows on from RebeccaWho’s “What Digital Education” and David Edmundson-Bird’s “Digital Education: What’s it for?” in the run up to our live digital education debate on the 10th October: “Digital Education: The Dream


“As I sit down to write this piece for The Feed, I feel it’s only appropriate to introduce myself by way of my own education. Those of you that might be acquainted with me through the work I do, our mutual attendance at industry events, Twitter, or any of the other components of what might be called Manchester’s ‘digital scene’, might be surprised: I studied my undergraduate degree in Photography.

I often joke that I studied a wonderful subject, but studied it about a century too late. To make matters even worse, I was a stubborn student. I could see around me that digital photography was becoming ubiquitous, if not quite in the public sphere at the time, then certainly in the professional one. However, I saw myself as an artist. I shot on film because film was better quality, and not just any film, but 5×4 transparencies (for those that are unfamiliar with this format, let me just put it this way – I was using a format that was far too expensive, both to buy and to process, to be considered at all sustainable for an emerging freelance photography graduate). So, inevitably my career as a freelance photographer never really began. Some digital education right?!

Skip ahead 5 years and I am now, ironically you might say, immersed in digital in my career, however not as a photographer I might add. In fact one of the areas in which I now specialise is games, and it is from this industry that I would like to share a case study with you as part of this discussion around the revolution of learning, as Sir Ken Robinson would call it.

All of you digital marketeers reading this will be familiar with the term gamification, and chances are you are already bored of it, as am I if truth be told. However it was through research into how game mechanics are being applied to the education sector that I came across Quest to Learn, a pioneering public school in New York City currently for 11-14 year olds whose curriculum mimics the action and design principles of games. Its learning model belongs to that of the Learning by Doing approach, with inquiry-based learning, creative problem-solving and the encouragement of failure all core to the school’s philosophy.

Whilst the school’s curriculum structure, mission statement and overall brand all borrow heavily from the terminology of the games industry, it is actually the way that subjects are removed from their silos and blended in a much more contextual way that appeals to me most about this school. Here are the 5 components of the Quest to Learn curriculum:

  • The Way Things Work (Integrated Maths and Science)
  • Being, Space and Place (Integrated English Language Arts and Social Studies)
  • Codeworlds (Integrated Maths, English Language Arts and Computer Programming)
  • Wellness (Integrated Socio-Emotional Learning, Physical Education, Nutrition and Health)
  • Sports for the Mind (Integrated Game Design and Media Arts)

I was always pretty strong at Maths at high school, but I was also a creative (y’see these things were kept separate back then). Not once during my high school education did any teacher explain to me that there were careers out there that required a skillset of both creativity and logic-based problem solving working together in unison. For this reason, maybe I’m incapable of taking an objective viewpoint on this, however seeing ‘the creative subjects’ integrated with STEM subjects in curriculum structures such as that of Quest to Learn’s genuinely excites me for the future generation’s education. I just hope that the education system in this country can see the value of adopting a similar model. I have no doubt that this is already well underway at university level, however if we truly want for the next generation to be equipped with the skills to succeed in and lead the future development of modern day industries, surely we need to radically shift the way in which schools engage kids from a much younger age.

I would encourage anybody interested in game mechanics and/or digital education to read further on Quest to Learn, as well as their parent company The Institute of Play.

I would also be interested to hear from any academic institutions looking at adopting this sort of a model. I would fully expect that anybody researching this area will already have read the Livingstone-Hope Skills Review published by NESTA earlier this year. The advice offered by this review was very much echoed by Eric Schmidt during his MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival only last month as he criticised the UK for failing to capitalise on its record of innovation in science and engineering though the adequate education of STEM subjects.

So, if you won’t take my word for it (and lets face it, why would you, I only hold a degree in Photography!) perhaps give the Google chairman’s keynote lecture another listen.”



What are your thoughts? Can gamification help learning? Is it practical to put into practice? Let us know in the comments below or come to our digital education debate on the 10th October in Manchester.