Nolan Bushnell (left), founder of Atari and a world authority on computer gaming, presented an epitaph for the classroom when he opened the two-day Game Based Learning 2009 Conference in London yesterday (March 19). "The classroom died as a concept 12 years ago," he said. "There are so many things wrong with the classroom that, unless we evolve to the next plateau, we will never fix education in a real way.
"Second, teaching has to fundamentally evolve into a mentoring one-on-one relationship rather than one-to-many. Third, the virtual classroom, the virtual tools that everybody deals with, have to be part of any curriculum."
He was giving a flavour of the keynote presentation he will make today, following minister for digital engagement Tom Watson MP, when the conference gets into full swing. Describing his daughter doing her homework alongside a TV programme running without sound, four strands of instant messaging and a rock music number, he added, "This is the world the children today are living in. They are more technologically savvy, they are connected, they have friends all over the world and they have portals into things that we can only imagine."
He said that video games had the power to mesmerise, create fantasies and alternative realities, and that as far back as the 1970s he recognised that they had a power to change. However, he had been disappointed that they had not helped more to improve education.
This had to be the purpose of Games Based Learning, he said. "I believe that is one of goals here today, to figure out how we can change the world. And we want to do that through an exchange of ideas because through that process we can always find a better truth... It's only when you bounce these ideas against other smart people that they turn from sand into rock - and that is what this forum is about."
He also welcome the prospect of "controversy". "I want to get into everything but the fist fight," he joked . "Strongly and emotionally held opinions are the tectonic plates that, when we rub them together, we can use to create earthquakes. And hopefully they are earthquakes for good and not for destruction."
He warned that the competition for learners' attention meant that education now had to step up its act: "I would like to point out that classrooms worked 40 years ago because school was the most interesting thing that was happening in town. The competition was watching the corn grow and the river flow. It's not the world that we live in today So with that, lets go forward, do good work and change the world."