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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Interview with Lindsey Hill, Evanced Solutions: Innovators in E-Learning Series

Game-based learning continues to be one of the most engaging methods of learning for childing (as for adults), and fun, engaging learning apps can be very effective as well. Welcome to an interview with Lindsey Hill, Lead for Reading Engagement Innovation at Evanced Solutions and Evanced Games.

1.    What is your name and your relation to elearning?
Hello, Susan. My name is Lindsey Hill. I’m the lead for Reading Engagement Innovation at Evanced Solutions, LLC and Evanced Games. My 14 years of teaching experience has provided me with a unique perspective on previous and current trends in improving reading proficiency.

We’re empowering children to be creative thinkers and problem solvers through today’s e-gaming technology. This enables me to shine a light on the real issues around children and reading and other learning deficiencies. Even though I’ve left the classroom, I visit classes regularly to help kids take ownership of their intellectual growth. I have noticed that when kids identify and embrace their particular interests, they can break through reading proficiency barriers and experience real success. I spend time with parents, teachers, librarians, and students in and out of elementary classrooms to demonstrate this.

In the modern classroom, digital games are a powerful platform for motivating student learning. That’s partly because we know that games tied directly to students’ interests drive frequency of use. Also, if a game offers achievable challenges, kids will have success. This, too, drives frequency.

If this seems a little vague, let me give you an example. I met a third-grader who told me he didn’t like to read, but he loved playing zombie-related video games. His interest in zombies led us to a discussion of R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps mystery series. I followed up my classroom visit with an email to his teacher about his interest in mysteries.  Not long after, she told me he had been reading the series and writing his own zombie comics that he shared with the class.

2.    Tell me more about Evanced Games.

Evanced Games is a division of Evanced Solutions, LLC. We’re a technology company that empowers children to pursue learning outside of the classroom and develop closer relationships with the people around them. Our dedicated team of educators believes that gaining and sharing knowledge through children’s keenest interests is the best path for learning success. We introduce kids to the world of technology, while helping them to uncover their interests further, with special consideration to their individual learning styles.

We have partnered with Demco, our parent company, and have gotten great inspiration from our sister company, Edupress, to create digital versions of its award-winning educational content. We offer edu-gaming apps for children in grades K-6 that encourage learning beyond the classroom walls. Our three mobile apps—Froggy Phonics, Tic-Tac Bananas, and That’s Baloney—offer a fun way for children to practice a variety of Common Core skills, from phonics and algebra to cause-and-effect and simple problem-solving.

3.    What is your area of expertise?

As a former elementary teacher and my school’s two-time Teacher of the Year honoree, I’m able to bring my first-hand experience and perspective to Evanced. Each new school year gave me an opportunity to foster relationships with my students. Making personal connections with my students valdidated who they were outside the classroom, as well as inside. Through a daily Community Circle, my students had the choice to share their fears about a sick pet or last night’s winning touchdown, for example. This process proved their two worlds could coexist, showing school was a safe place to use their imaginations and discover who they were.
Leaving the classroom was one of my toughest decisions, but I knew I was joining a team to impact even more kids with Evanced. I think my role as a parent of two young boys also brings another interesting perspective to the table. My real passion—my favorite thing in the world—is to help kids to experience a love of learning that goes beyond the classroom walls. They do this through self-discovery and creativity.

4.    How did you go about designing an elearning game? How, in your experience, does game-based learning offer special advantages to teachers?
The Evanced Games team is made up of designers, teachers, artists, and developers. We work closely with kids as our experts. They help us create games that they will want to play without being told to. We invite them and their families into our design studio to play prototype games and give us their thoughts. We make changes to characters, sounds, story lines, and other elements based on what we hear from them.

Game-based learning helps resolve some of today’s educational issues. Classroom practices are changing all the time. With the initiation of the Common Core State Standards in 46 of our 50 states, the classroom atmosphere will, no doubt, change slightly. But, the impact of those changes will be minimal. Classroom teachers will focus more heavily on the conceptual understanding of skills as opposed to procedural proficiencies alone.

Teachers will feel confident in their approaches, when they see results from their students. The students’ interest in the activity will soar, because it is related to what they tell us they specifically want.

5.    Is there such a thing as a *bad* elearning game?  What are some things to avoid?

Any game that is designed for children—including e-learning games—should be fun. Plain and simple. If kids don’t think a game is naturally fun, they won’t play it.

“Bad” games tend to miss the mark on the story behind the game. The story line needs to be compelling to kids. They need to be interested. They need to care. “Bad” games provide unachievable challenges, and they offer very little autonomy, or choices, for the players.

Only after a game is considered enjoyable to play by children, should it be made to include the content that parents and teachers want. In other words, if you first start with the educational elements you want players to practice and become proficient in, and make fun an afterthought, you will have a significant failure on your hands.

6.    What is the relationship between motivation and game-based learning?

Kids are motivated to play games of all types because they provide them with choices, achievable challenges, and they allow for social interactions with their friends and family. For older kids, they may even have some social interaction with other online gamers in other parts of the world, if they’re playing something like Clash of Clans or Minecraft, which are both very popular.

When playing a well-designed game, kids feel that there is a purpose to it—whether it’s meeting all of your froggy friends in Froggy Phonics or beating your little brother at tic tac toe in Tic Tac Bananas.

7.    Who are your favorite authors who are writing on game-based elearning?

In order to understand a variety of perspectives on learning proficiencies, I’m currently enjoying How Children Succeed by Paul Tough and Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck.
I’m also reading The Age of the Image: Redefining Literacy in a World of Screens by Stephen Apkon. He discusses the concept of “screenagers” and the challenges of raising a very different generation of kids.
Each of these authors, however, explores building confidence in our children by using what kids know and how they use that knowledge. I also enjoy discovering different “mommy” and “daddy” bloggers, as well as teacher and librarian writers. They provide current, first-hand experiences with this next generation of kids that is our future.

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