Sputnik: Much of your research has focused on computer games and simulations for building understanding of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Could you explain it to us in more detail? How exactly does it work?
Eric Klopfer: We think that games are a really great way for people of all ages to learn, particularly kids who are very interested in games but adults as well.
If you look at the kinds of things that people are learning just playing commercial games, they learn a lot of the important skills we think of as 21st-century skills: communication, collaboration, problem-solving, and persistence in spite of failure.
What we try to do is think about how to use these same qualities of game design to encourage people to learn about other things as well, in addition to the kinds of things that you learn in commercial games.
We think about ways of marrying the systems understanding that you get from simulations through game dynamics from games and make for experiences in which people like to persist or collaborate but genuinely dig deeply into the content and the skills that you're learning in those domains as well.
Sputnik: How is the paradigm of school education changing in the age of digitalization?
Eric Klopfer: It's changing, but maybe it's not changing fast enough in some ways. The kinds of things that people need to learn in the digital age are different.
We really need to be thinking about how computers and digital technologies can help people learn these things in ways that are fundamentally different from what we've learned in the past.
At the same time, I think that schools have a very important function of bringing kids together, having them work with adults; that is also part of the structure that we can use, I mean that we should be able to build upon. I think that schools serve an important function but I think that we need to me able to move more quickly in the kinds of ways we think about teaching students at this age.
Sputnik: Can total digitalization lead to the disappearance of fundamental classical education? What can replace classical education?
Eric Klopfer: I think there's still an important function for classical education or certain parts of it. There's this idea that adults are working with kids; it forces people to study some things that they haven't identified as they're being interested in but they may discover they're interested in those things.
It gives people a set of foundational skills upon which they can build later. I think it's important to have some of that foundation. At the same time, I do think that we're stuck in an old model of the way that people learn, and we need to be able to advance and think of the ways that people, kids and adults, can learn on their own through digital technologies and supplement this with classical schooling.
Sputnik: Can virtual reality replace ‘school walls' for students?
Eric Klopfer: Hopefully, it won't replace the walls. I think that one of the things that we need to think about is that new digital technologies can break down the walls of school; it allows them to learn throughout their lives and not just within a building.
I think there're a lot of exciting things right now; there's a lot of rush into educational technologies, specifically virtual reality and augmented reality. It's important to think about what purpose they serve and whether a desktop computer or a phone can be equally as good or better for some things; we need to think about places where virtual reality or augmented reality have an important need.
Sputnik: Mentioning a diploma at an interview often becomes a decisive employment factor. On the other hand, so many various online courses exist. Is it necessary to study at a university in its traditional sense or is it possible to be in demand in the labor market having online electronic certificates confirming your knowledge to an employer?
Eric Klopfer: This is an important problem that a lot of people are facing now: how we credential people for a lot of these experiences, how we show that they have done those themselves, and how we show them that they mean something. That's one set of problems; the other is how you integrate that with a traditional university.
I think that a more broad-based education is important in doing that. However, we're going to need to continually be learning throughout our lives. We're not in a state now where a university degree is going to be all you need to learn through life; you're going to need to continue to learn.
I do think that we need to think about, even though that kind of education is important, how we continue to think about ways we can credential people and have credentials that mean something outside of each individual digital system.
Sputnik: How can the training quality of an ‘at-home' specialist be assessed objectively?
Digital technology allows us to think about much more comprehensive ways of assessment. We can give people real tasks to do online; we can give people games and simulations like we do to see how they do in those situations.
It's a much more interesting space; we can use AI to be able to assess how people are doing. I think the kinds of assessments we can develop can help us transcend the kinds of locations where people learn so that they work online, in school and at home as well.
The views and opinions expressed by the speaker do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.