As a society, we desperately need to invest more into the arts. Our culture has come to exalt the ability to calculate and analyze at the expense of developing an understanding of ourselves and our own emotions. We pride scientific achievements instead of developing artistic expression, partly due to the faults of American capitalism.

But, at the core of humanity lies complex emotions as opposed to pure, cold logic. By extension, we should value artistic pursuit, not scientific performance.

Engineers are the builders of materials and structures, while scientists are the explorers of atoms, forces and geometry. But artists, writers, filmmakers? They design the maps.

The Myth Of “Logic Over Emotion”

A few years ago, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio (a professor at USC who researches the mysteries of the conscious mind) examined individuals who had undergone damage to the emotional centers of their brains without hindering their rationalizing abilities.

What he found was that their capacity to make decisions was significantly impaired. Subjects could map out every potential pathway, weigh every pro and con and describe what they needed to do logically, but they simply could not intuitively figure out what they wanted. They could not act. They could not move forward.

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From where I sit, it feels like the study of the liberal arts and the culmination of that education—the liberal arts and sciences degrees—are being challenged like never before. State governors, top business executives, and parents are questioning the end products that come from liberal arts institutions. In a recent Washington Post article, a managing director of a major financial management company complained that a liberal arts education mainly created “incredibly interesting, well-rounded cocktail party guests” but not graduates who are likely to find jobs.

Unfortunately, I think that a too-narrow focus on first jobs for graduates has these folks missing the bigger point—liberal arts institutions educate for employment, but they also educate for success. That’s the “plus” in our system, our game changer, and I will come back to that later.

I must say that the frustration of critics is completely understandable: unemployment rates remain high, and college education, already shockingly expensive, is growing ever more so. Students are graduating with unprecedented debt. People are concerned about the value—the return on investment of a college degree. It’s no surprise to me when high school students and their parents approach our admissions counselors asking, “So, what kind of job will Susie be able to get with her bachelor of arts degree?” or more pointedly, “Do you offer STEM education?”

Without question, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) is the new buzzword for those anxious about post-graduation employment. These are all disciplines in which America must excel if it is to retain its industrial and economic strength. In his February 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama urged that we double-down on science and technology education starting in our secondary schools. To give the argument even more traction, some would widen the list of STEM professions to include educators, technicians, managers, social scientists, and health care professionals. Indeed, the talk these days in my state of Virginia is about STEM-H (for healthcare).

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the STEM job sector is growing at twice the rate of non-STEM occupations, but we should note some caveats. First, let’s remember that STEM workers, as identified by the Commerce Department, comprise only 5.5% of the workforce. Second, while STEM workers overall may earn 26% more than their counterparts, the greatest differential is seen in the lowest-level jobs; the higher the terminal degree, the less the earnings difference.

Moreover, it is not a given that the only path to STEM job success is to obtain a STEM degree.

  • About one-third of college-educated workers in STEM professions do not hold degrees in STEM.
  • Two-thirds of people holding STEM undergraduate degrees work in non-STEM jobs.
  • One-fifth of math majors, for instance, end up working in education. (That is a good thing, I would argue.)
  • Nearly 40% of STEM managers hold non-STEM degrees.

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SAN FRANCISCO — Until recently, Robyn Ewing was a writer in Hollywood, developing TV scripts and pitching pilots to film studios.

Now she’s applying her creative talents toward building the personality of a different type of character — a virtual assistant, animated by artifical intelligence, that interacts with sick patients.

Ewing works with engineers on the software program, called Sophie, which can be downloaded to a smartphone. The virtual nurse gently reminds users to check their medication, asks them how they are feeling or if they are in pain, and then sends the data to a real doctor.

As tech behemoths and a wave of start-ups double down on virtual assistants that can chat with human beings, writing for AI is becoming a hot job in Silicon Valley. Behind Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana are not just software engineers. Increasingly, there are poets, comedians, fiction writers, and other artistic types charged with engineering the personalities for a fast-growing crop of artificial intelligence tools.

“Maybe this will help pay back all the student loans,” joked Ewing, who has master’s degrees from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and film school.

Unlike the fictional characters that Ewing developed in Hollywood, who are put through adventures, personal trials and plot twists, most virtual assistants today are designed to perform largely prosaic tasks, such as reading through email, sending meetings reminders or turning off the lights as you shout across the room.

But a new crop of virtual assistant start-ups, whose products will soon flood the market, have in mind more ambitious bots that can interact seamlessly with human beings.

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A wonderful article posted today at STEMwire on gamification and game-based learning.

Read the original article at: http://stemwire.org/2013/07/15/more-than-just-play-game-based-learning-environments-are-powerful-tools-for-stem/

Article from STEMwire.org

More than just play: game-based learning environments are powerful tools for STEM

Patrick Stinnett, a technology education teacher at Oconomowoc High School, makes sure that students in his Elements of Game Design class understand one thing very quickly: it is not a class “where we just sit around and play video games.” Stinnett’s students use different software applications to test and design their own games.

His class represents a growing movement to recognize the entire gaming universe – from design to play to gamer culture – as a set of tools that could revolutionize educational practices.

Game-based learning environments

Traditionally, the games-for-learning concept has implied the use of games with education content to teach a specific skill or concept. Learning sciences researchers, however, have in recent years expanded the idea of what a “game-based environment” in learning can be.

“I define game-based learning fairly broadly… I think of an environment that offers a chance to either design or play a game that uses a lot of principles of game design that learning sciences talk about, but I see it as a little bit broader than just off the shelf or commercial games,” said Dr. Dani Herro, assistant professor of digital media and learning at Clemson University. “Anything that would be a game like experience, that offers challenge, a chance to design.”

Game-based environments can be implemented in different ways in STEM classrooms. Some teachers use individual programs like Gamestar Mechanic, teaching video game design in additional to their regular material. The Quest to Learn school in New York City, on the other hand, emphasizes an environment that uses principles of game design and game play to teach a normal standards-based curriculum. Emerging research indicates that these non-traditional ways of conveying content, and teaching skills like logic and design thinking, can be more effective than a traditional lecture setting.

“When you have an environment that’s a little more immersive, kids don’t stop, they don’t quit when something becomes challenging,” said Herro. “They push themselves to keep solving the problem because they want their [game] to work. I guess I’ve been so amazed at how hard a child will work.”

A unique medium to develop STEM skills

Stinnett sees this same work ethic in the students in his Elements of Game Design class. The subject matter of game design brings many STEM skills to his students.

“With the programming,” said Stinnett, “You’re going to have to have logic. You pick up technical skills, like using the computer, manipulating the computer. We use Google Docs so they know how to get on the Internet, do email, so they’re picking up those things.”

He adds that programming also brings important lessons in group work to his classroom.

“They know how to collaborate, because they’re going to work as groups, they do peer reviews on each others’ games… they’re learning to collaborate together and give suggestions,” says Stinnett.

Despite these advantages, many teachers avoid incorporating game-based activities or modules into their classes because of time constraints. If, for example, a teacher is not already comfortable with games, they might have to devote significant amounts of time to developing a meaningful lesson.

Strict, assessment-based curricular requirements might not leave room for creative lessons. But Stinnett thinks it is worth the effort.

“There’s no other medium that is like games. You don’t have any other medium where you’re engaged, where you can control the medium… You control the story, the sound, you control everything,” says Stinnett. “Teachers should keep in mind that it’s not just playing games. Somebody makes them, and that making is really where the STEM comes in. It’s designing them, it’s creating them, and that it’s a multibillion dollar industry. It touches everybody.”

Game play and culture can also teach STEM

Just as they do in classrooms like Stinnett’s, game environments outside of the classroom can build critical STEM skills. Dr. Sean Duncan, an assistant professor at Indiana University Bloomington, has studied more traditional, narrative-based gaming platforms such as World of Warcraft and Legend of Zelda to better understand science activities that occur in these spaces. Duncan hypothesized that STEM-like processes occurred in spaces around the games; specifically, he studied what happens when players discuss game activities and design in forums.

“We can identify model-based reasoning, see how they’re using math, see how they’re using arguments, using evidence,” said Duncan. “It dawned upon me that what they’re really doing is trying to figure out how to shape the design of the game. They’re trying to understand how the game works, but also induce the community to get the game redesigned in ways that they would prefer it to be. ”

Duncan thinks that the video game industry could work together with educators, researchers, and designers to actively encourage these kinds of non-formal learning communities.

“There’s a real interest in cultivating these kinds of communities,” said Duncan. “But haven’t been turned on to the fact that thinking about them as learning spaces could be very useful to them as well. So it’s really a matter of trying to triangulate. We have theories of learning, models of practice, and people who pay attention to everyday learning culture and also game design, and they’re not all taking to each other. Helping them all understand each others’ perspectives is where I’m at right now.”

Implementation will require buy-in from teachers

Teachers like Herro and Stinnett face significant obstacles in creating these kinds of learning environments in K-12 settings. Parents who don’t want their kids to just play games all day might seem like the hardest population to win over, but both Herro and Stinnett note that, given the opportunity to understand the educational potential of games, most parents support their use in classrooms. Some can relate games to their own learning experiences.

“I’ve had parents who will talk to me, if they’re a nurse, about how robotic heart surgery is similar to holding a joystick,” said Herro.

Stinnett notes the importance of having “a principal or somebody in the administration to really back [you]” in implementing game-based lessons, especially in convincing reluctant teachers to put time into a new way of teaching.

“You get teachers in the school who are like, ‘eh, it’s games’, and you have the older teachers who don’t believe in it, and don’t think it has any use in the school environment,” he said. “So having an administrator that gets it and understands what kids are learning from the games and how they design them is huge.”

Incorporating games, game design, and game-based environments into K-12 educational settings is just one piece of a growing movement to increase the use of technology in education. The ubiquity of games outside the classroom and the engagement that they create within it indicates that they could be powerful tools for engaging a new generation of students and teachers in STEM.

“There’s a faddishness to education technology… but the thing that’s a little bit different about games is that games were something the kids were already doing, something that the kids are going to be continuing to do as the median age of gamers just goes up and up,” said Duncan. “There’s a lot of value in just thinking about games as culture, as a part of a larger engagement in media in our daily lives… as less like a tool to fill a particular content role, and much more the persistent force in kids’ lives.”