How can I enter the field of educational games and technology?
September 29, 2011 6:56 PM   Subscribe

I want to create (or help create) educational games, but I don't have a design or programming background. I'm more interested in the education/learning side of things. How do I make this happen?

I'd like to study educational technology. Specifically, I'm interested in serious games and other interactive technologies for classroom use.

My employment background (7 years of working) is museum/arts/media education. I worked as a classroom teacher for a year and I've spent the last four years in public programming at a television museum/archive. I have a BA in film, but no MA or teaching certification.

My long term goal is to work for a game developer or a tech company as an education consultant or possibly design my own games at some point. I'm not planning to be a classroom teacher (in the long run, at least) or a PhD. I would, however, like to build up my credentials in the field of education, and study the science of learning.

My current plan is to get a masters degree in education from a school that has a program focusing on technology. I'm wondering if this seems like a good plan, especially since I'll have to quit my job and likely take out loans. (And unfortunately this means that I can't afford the top-ranked programs at places like Harvard and Stanford.) Basically this would be a big life change, which is not unwelcome, but is a bit daunting.

In researching this field, it seems like people have really varied backgrounds, like computer science or programming or communications or philosophy or cognitive science. There doesn't seem to be an "obvious" path, which makes sense, but I want to spend my money and time wisely. I don't want to take the education path, only to find that I would have been better off focusing on, say, game design or media studies. To be frank, I have a slight fear that an education degree isn't taken that seriously in the tech world.

I've done the basic research and I'm planning to talk with faculty and current students in the programs I'm considering. But I'd also like to get some perspective from people who are working in this field. Are they any mefites who have some experience in this area or have some suggestions?
posted by pourtant to Education (6 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Hi! You're me, right down to the BFA in Film. :) Yay for educational gaming!

I am currently in an M.Ed program and though I am more likely to do some classroom teaching in the long run than you are, I am still the odd person out because I was upfront about my desire to translate my love of education into a career that does not involve schools directly. Here's the cool thing, though; depending on the program you choose, you're going to learn a lot of interesting stuff about what it means to be a teacher in a classroom. That's actually going to be incredibly beneficial, because if you can design tools that a teacher will actually use and truly benefit from, it will be because you know firsthand what it means to be a teacher and what sort of resources are vital to the success of a classroom on a given day. Plus you'll have theoretical and practical knowledge to back up any ideas you have in regards to helping students learn.

If you have any questions about the M.Ed/Credential program I am in, I would be happy to hook you up with some info. MIT also has an incredible program called Lifelong Kindergarten which is basically the coolest thing to hit education since, well, I don't know what, but it's awesome. Also, if you quit your job, you may be able to make a claim that your EFC will be low, and that could help with the $$.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:04 PM on September 29, 2011

Response by poster: Yeah, the Carnegie Mellon program is a good example of another type of program that could be a good option. I can see where it could be beneficial to take a more interdisciplinary route. I'm thinking of programs like MIT Comparative Media Studies or ITP at NYU.

On the other hand, I really want to get a strong background in teaching for all the reasons These Birds of a Feather mentioned. My experience in the classroom (I did Teach for America) taught me so much and since I haven't worked with kids in few years, I really need to get back into it. But I do have some concerns about being the "odd person out" in an education program.
posted by pourtant at 8:50 PM on September 29, 2011

I've designed a few serious/educational games, and I regret to inform you that I've never had a trained teacher on the team, not even one time, and not an educational consultant, either. I have had a consultant come in and write a curriculum around the game. After the game had been completely designed, written, and built. Make of this what you will.

My suggestion, actually, would be to start talking to the kinds of people you might want to work with before your go out for any kind of degree -- actual companies, sure, but also talk to people on Gameful, reach out to the Serious Games SIG of the IGDA (though I'm not sure how active it is). It's possible you can start doing the work you want to do without any further education at all. You would be amazed how many game developers and designers come into the field with no formal training. Like me! I'm a journalist by degree, for crying out loud.

But if it turns out more schooling will help you... interdisciplinary is the way and the light, and failing that, straight game design; any program geared toward training teachers is not going to get you where you want to go. Why don't you reach out to Edward Castronova at Indiana University? He gave a very, very thoughtful talk at ARGfest this year about what students want out of a game; he's clearly done quite a lot of thinking and experimentation on making a game around learning that actually works. I believe his program isn't explicitly about education, but if his program isn't exactly right for you, I am fairly sure he could make the perfect suggestion for somewhere else.

Anyway, if you reach out into the serious games community and start building relationships, it might help you to start doing it sooner; and even if not, it's no bad thing to establish a network early, rather than late. Unfortunately, that winds up being a lot more important than expertise when it comes time to actually get work.

I hope this jumble is a little helpful to you -- and feel free to MeMail me any time.

posted by Andrhia at 6:26 AM on September 30, 2011

Doh! Can a mod fix my bad em tag? It was only supposed to be the word "after."
posted by Andrhia at 6:29 AM on September 30, 2011

If you have good, clear ideas already, maybe team up with a programmer?
posted by CautionToTheWind at 9:14 AM on September 30, 2011

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