Chris Heather: Hi!, I work on the Coursera Development team and am excited to introduce one of my favorite professors, Kevin Werbach from UPenn, my university. We hope you can join us for his highly anticipated Gamification course coming this summer!
CH: Tell us a little about yourself:
Kevin Werbach: I’m an associate professor of Legal Studies at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. My research focuses on the legal, policy, and business implications of the Internet. I think of myself as connector – I spend my time working between fields such as law and business, and pulling together networks of people and organizations to develop insights. I’ve also worked in government as Counsel for New Technology Policy at the Federal Communications Commission, and later on the Obama Administration’s Presidential Transition Team. Basically, I explore the constantly-evolving ways that technology is transforming our world.
CH: What course are you teaching? Why should students be interested in this course?
KW: I’m teaching a course on Gamification, which means using techniques and elements from games in business, or in other contexts. I did the first business school course on the subject just last year, so the concepts are new along with the massive online delivery platform. Gamification is an important topic for a wide range of students. It is already being used by many companies large and small, and also by non-profits, schools, government. I expect it will become at least as significant in business as social media. And it holds important lessons about psychology, design, strategy, and technology, which are relevant even if you aren’t implementing a gamified system.
I’ve long had an interest in how video games, which are the leading media form of the 21st century, can teach us things that are relevant in other areas. I won Wharton’s inaugural “Iron Prof” competition with a presentation called, “All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in World of Warcraft.” Gamification is based on the idea that we can look at how game design motivates and engages players, and apply those insights to people at work, customers, education, health and wellness, and so forth. It’s a powerful concept with rapidly growing adoptions, and we’re starting to see successful case studies in many areas. However, if you just bolt on game elements like leaderboards and rewards without understanding the deeper foundations, you’re likely to fail or even make things worse. My course will give students all the basics to engage in gamification as a thoughtful design process.
CH: What excites you most about teaching a Massive Open Online Course?
KW: I’m excited about the opportunity to reach a large number of students, and also excited to see their discussions around the course material. As a professor, I’m for anything that lowers the barriers to creating and disseminating knowledge. (I chaired Penn’s faculty open access publishing committee last year.) And as I said, gamification is a new concept, even though it builds on older examples and foundations. I want to expose more people to these ideas, so they can use them in productive ways.
I’m also looking forward to experimenting with a new form of teaching. I expect that it will improve the classes I teach at Wharton, partly by developing materials to “flip” the classroom and leverage in-person time better. And most of all, I want to be part of the solution rather than the problem for higher education. If we don’t innovate from within to save it, others will innovate to destroy it.
CH: What do you think the future of education looks like?
KW: Alan Kay, a visionary technologist at Xerox PARC and Apple, among other places, famously said that the best way to predict technology is to invent it. That’s the way I look at education today: we should put our energy into building the future rather than speculating. We know most of the questions, even when we don’t yet know the answers. All the basic tools are in place. MOOCs are a great example.
There won’t be one “future of education,” any more than there is one future of business or the Internet. The only thing I feel confident about is that the basic structures of both K-12 and higher education are fundamentally unstable. They face tremendous economic and social pressures. And it simply can’t be the case that the introduction of a network that connects people, information, organizations, and resources around the world, ubiquitously, at rapidly shrinking costs, has no significant effect on the way we transfer knowledge. Schools and universities won’t go away, but they will have to adapt. We’re in for a difficult period of transition which is bound to make some aspects of education worse, at least for a while. We can overcome those challenges if we capitalize on opportunities for innovation without losing sight of our core educational missions.
Education is what makes America great and what can improve the lives of billions of people around the world. I want to see that remain true in the future
–Kevin Werbach is a leading expert on the legal, business, and public policy aspects of the Network Age. He is an Associate Professor of Legal Studies at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and the founder of Supernova Group, a technology consulting firm. He blogs at http://werblog.com and tweets at @kwerb.