Using Gaming To Make Government, Education, And Health More Engaging For Citizens
Mark Drapeau (Washington, DC) —
In the media, we mostly read about how gaming is damaging how students learn and pay attention, how the cloud is mainly useful for things like movies and music, and how smartphones are useful for playing games like Angry Birds. But the reality is that while many new innovations can be used for fun or trivial purposes, they also in many cases have a large relevance to the public sector and civic services ranging among everything from the DMV to law enforcement to charter schools to doctors performing surgery to military rehab after severe injury. Yet, in the context of a digital divide, these advances are in many cases only available to some.
Microsoft is deeply involved in such issues, from an R&D level (things we research) to a product level (things we sell) to a policy level (things we promote or support). How are video games and other advances innovating the public sector and the next generation of students and citizens? Read more below.
Gamification of the public sector
Technology that once seemed somewhat futuristic — hundreds of thousands of free or cheap apps for mobile devices (including cars!), nearly ubiquitous wi-fi connections, unlimited cloud storage, peer-to-peer sharing in all forms,devices like Kinect that see and hear you — is now here,and improving all the time. The new HTC Windows Phone 7 that I bought just a year ago now has an outdated operating system that I haven’t upgraded, seems clunky and heavy, and is a boring black color; the new Nokia 900 series phones will be out in less than a month. I use apps to order Town Cars, I use Kinect to get fit, and I use the cloud to store things I need when I’m traveling.
This is all interesting for personal reasons, but the bigger challenge I and Microsoft are interested in is applying this to the public and civic sectors. How will these technologies influence, evolve, and innovate the business of government, from local to national and international levels? How could it make classrooms more engaging for students of all skill levels? And can you imagine how people could use such technologies to proactively stay more fit and monitor their health (and then communicate that data to healthcare professionals from afar)?
As Microsoft’s “Dr. Bill” (AKA Bill Crounse, MD, our Senior Director of Global Health) wrote in a post on the Microsoft in Health blog recently,
Mason General Hospital, a small Washington community, built an online portal where patients can clarify and reinforce information discussed during appointments, learn about their role in their care, and contribute to their own care. Even older patients who find technology initially threatening engage in the portal after attending workshops in its use. Programs like this one and London’s UCL Institute of Child Health’s diabetes monitoring program for youth are one way doctors and medical facilities are helping to grow patient knowledge about and engagement with disease management and healthy lifestyles.
Sig Behrens, Microsoft U.S. Education General Manager, writes something similar on the Microsoft in Education blog, specifically about the blurring of the lines between work and play,
I expect to see more mechanics of gaming brought into educational content. In the online games that many kids play daily, they are incrementally rewarded as they achieve new levels, socially rewarded by their collaboration and interaction with other gamers, and “epically” rewarded when they master the goal of the game. Content creators are likely to apply those same techniques to educational games and content mastery.
Some of the most exciting growth will be in active learning using tools like Microsoft Kinect that blur the line between learning and play. Games like Microsoft Kinect’s Brain and Body Connection are making learning more fun for today’s kids, while adding a physical dimension. Computer science teachers, such as Lou Zulli Jr. in Florida, are using Kinect to inspire learning and student collaboration. Lou says that student interest in STEM has increased by 1000% and he has so much demand to get into his classes because the kids are excited about developing educational games using Kinect. Other schools like Lakeside Autism Center for Autism are using Kinect to engage special needs students. We’re seeing only the tip of the innovation iceberg in engaging educational content.
Innovative technology for government, education, and health isn’t just the domain of big companies like Microsoft; it’s also fueling ideas in the small startup community. Take new company Keas for example (which happens to be founded by a veteran of Microsoft and Google) — their social gaming app for wellness large organizations is attempting to gamify health and make even mundane things like eating your vegetables fun. And of course there is the ubiquitous drumbeat of how social gaming giant Foursquare is “changing the world.”
But none of this matters if one doesn’t have access to the latest tools. All of this discussion takes place within the context of the digital divide. Without access to the latest technological advances, citizens, students, doctors, patients, and more cannot take advantage of gamification or other things. Sig further writes,
We’re on the way to expanded digital access, the first step in closing the digital divide. As we approach widespread and consistent connectivity, expect to see a renaissance in digital educational content and technology. In the not-so-distant future, I expect to see technology play a greater and greater role in the education and training that prepares young Americans for the careers of the future and inspires them to become the innovators of tomorrow. We’ll be following those stories as they develop…stay tuned.
Creating the economy of the future
Making education and the public and civic sectors more engaging is part of a larger conversation about the future of American competitiveness. Microsoft and like-minded companies have a large stake in a strong U.S. workforce and economy for a multitude of reasons. And the startup community is critical too. As AOL co-founder Steve Case recently pointed out at an Entreprelooza! event in Washington, DC, a huge number of new jobs are created by relatively new companies that gain investment / go public and then hire more people to expand, so it’s important to nurture nacent ideas and create conditions which promote innovation, and thus get people new skills and create new jobs and ultimately, create the next generation of innovations.
Fred Humphries, the VP of Government Affairs for Microsoft, recently noted,
As our country continues to rebound from the global economic crisis, more and more attention is being paid to our future – and in particular the future of the next generation. Will they have the tools and resources they need to succeed in a 21st century economy?
The challenges facing youth vary from community to community, but a fundamental challenge is emerging across the world. While some young people are thriving and succeeding in the classroom and out, others are struggling because they lack the education, skills or opportunities they need to succeed…
Microsoft addresses these challenges through a variety of programs geared toward preparing young people for the future. For example, last year we trained more than 360,000 students worldwide in technology and job skills through Microsoft Students to Business, which connects students with Microsoft partner companies. Microsoft also provides IT training through our Partners in Learning program. Since 2003, we have reached nearly 210 million students and teachers in 114 countries and regions. By 2013, we plan to have invested $500 million in the program, and to have reached 250 million students.
In this vein, tomorrow The Atlantic is hosting an event in Washington, DC about what it will take to educate the next generation of Americans to create the “economy of the future.” This Jobs & Economy of the Future Town Hall will feature an interview with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and a conversation with Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), along with an expert panel discussion on re-thinking higher education. The event, which you can watch online here, will explore the ideas, efforts, and policies underway to provide students with the skills necessary to keep America competitive and enhance economic opportunities for tomorrow’s workforce.
At the event, William Reese, President and CEO of the International Youth Foundation, will also unveil a new report on this topic. In addition to watching the live stream, you can follow and join the conversation online by following @Atlantic_LIVE and using the hashtag #FutureEd.
Dr. Mark Drapeau is part of the Microsoft Office of Civic Innovation based in Washington, DC.
Image from Fortune.