Gates Foundation Wants to Combine Video Games and Education

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has long been at the forefront of education-related philanthropy and Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, and his wife Melinda have sought to harness technology and turn its potential towards improving academic outcomes of kids around the world. That is how the Foundation has come to earmark $20 million towards developing teacher tools based on social media platforms and video games to change the way instructors deliver lessons to students.

In an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Bill Gates said that the level of engagement seen in children when they are playing video games serves as a motivator in creating technology that allows teachers to redirect this enthusiasm towards academics. Over the last two years, the Foundation has brought together education experts and video game designers to write plans on how such video game-based programs can best go from the idea stage to the classroom.

Now the foundation is working with the Center for Game Science at the University of Washington on a free, online game called Refraction. As students play, their progress is visible to the teacher on his or her computer, allowing the educator to see instantly what concepts students understand.

The idea is that in coming years, there could be a digital mall full of low-cost or free online games teachers could download to use with the entire class or individual students.

Gates warns about too much irrational excitement about the project; the tools are still in the developmental stage, and it will be some time before they are ready for broad deployment. Making sure that the technology is being used the right way, and that the final results aren’t just fun but effective, will take time and effort.

Still, the Foundation is in it for the long haul. Both federal and local governments aren’t likely to dedicate resources to technological solutions like those offered by Gates, since their plates are already full with other difficult facets of the education system, so participation of private companies and philanthropic organizations like the Gates Foundation is crucial to getting the development off the ground.

“It’s definitely going to make a contribution,” Gates said. “Motivation is such a huge part in what ends up differentiating student outcomes. Everyone has the ability to do fantastic work at a high school level. It’s just without the right teacher and the right motivation you don’t always get there.”

The imminent adoption of the Common Core Standards in Georgia and other states is the main driving force behind the program. Games designed to supplement Common Core course plans will be usable in Georgia and in every state that chooses to implement the Standards.