“I just see two spaces: physical and virtual. The best solution would be to connect these two naturally and find the fitting content from both spaces.” – Santeri Koivisto, Finland

Games-based learning (GBL) is a subject we tackle frequently at Daily Edventures, and there’s no shortage of educational games – or GBL philosophies – to cover. But one particular educator-turned-entrepreneur thinks most educational games have missed the mark, and he’s determined to change that.

Santeri Koivisto was trained as an educator in Finland, one of the small percentage of applicants accepted into teacher training there. An avid gamer himself, Koivisto was disappointed by the quality of educational games out there, and decided to try a different approach. Rather than inventing new games that mimicked traditional pedagogy, he wanted to start with what was already an immensely popular game – Minecraft – and stretch it to work for education. Because the game already connected with kids, the MinecraftEdu learning version had a built-in audience.

“This approach needed a new type of child-driven pedagogy so teachers could understand how to use the game that is just a sandbox,” Koivisto tells us. “It won’t offer a series of assignments and ready assessment tool. We had to create an ideology that entertainment games make a classroom more democratic.”

MinecraftEdu has been tremendously successful, with over 2000 schools now using the game, and Koivisto and his colleagues are often asked to speak to groups about their unique approach to GBL. They’ve also introduced a second learning game, KerbalEdu, based on the popular Kerbal Space Program. In today’s Daily Edventure, Koivisto talks about what’s wrong with more traditional approaches to GBL, and the importance of using teaching tools that students already find compelling. Enjoy! 

What drew you to the field of education? Why is it important to you?

My mother is a teacher and I spent a lot of time in the classroom without actually studying there. I also did some substitute teacher jobs while I was in high school. However teaching was not in my intentions before I went into the army. Training and motivating people in a place like that was natural for me and I really enjoyed it. I also saw that my fellow rangers disliked it a bit less (army service is mandatory in Finland). So then I decided to apply for a teacher degree at a local university and got in after my second try (we take in only about 10 percent of the total number of applicants). Games in education is another story for me, but I guess the entrepreneurship came from my father, who’s also an entrepreneur.

Can you tell us about a favorite teacher, or someone who made a difference in your education?

That would be Martti Ahtisaari, the former president of Finland and a Nobel Prize winner. He’s an excellent example of where teacher training and a teacher mindset can take you. However the more important questions is: where can it take the people around you?

Please describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education.  What has changed as a result of your work?

We came up with a new type of approach to introduce mainstream/entertainment games to schoolwork. I’ve always disliked edugames. How is a virtual school book more fun or engaging than a physical school book? We have known how to make decent assignments for ages, and edugames have been struggling for 30 years with no luck. So let’s not make them anymore, please. So we took the best game available at that time, Minecraft, and made it MinecraftEdu. The best feedback we have got is a student saying: “This is better than original Minecraft.” That tells us that we did a good job not ruining the game, but helping the teacher to create interesting environments and even more engagement in the game. So it doesn’t stink like school – it’s the same Minecraft! =) And more to come, Kerbal Space Program (KSP), for example. Another excellent game title for the classrooms.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

Well, we create technology. Me, I create the pedagogy around it at the more abstract scale, or should I say on the idea level. I plant the idea with our technology, the games.

In your opinion, how has the use of apps, cellphones, and mobile devices changed education? And your work?

I just see two spaces: physical and virtual. The best solution would be to connect these two naturally and find the fitting content from both spaces. In this way the things making this all possible are the ones you just listed. HOWEVER I do like a standard desktop PC with a big screen a lot. It just creates the best immersion and helps with the spatial recognition, etc. — especially with games.

In your view, what is the most exciting innovation happening in education today?

I don’t see any single innovation that is above others. The movement I see is from schools teaching for schools to schools teaching for the special needs of future careers and society. I think politicians too are finally getting this, but there’s a lot to do.

And when it comes to an innovation, I’d say that understanding the teachable moments between the two spaces I mentioned before is very valuable, and one of the innovations and connections that teachers today should use or “innovate” themselves.

Is there a 21st century skill (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, or creativity and innovation) that you are most passionate about? Why?

I’m more interested in getting kids interested in something. With the very limited hours that schools have for technology and most other things, the best thing you can do as a teacher is to get a kid excited and the skills will follow that bath. Action results in events that teach the rest.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

A good teacher that is interested in his or her work and where the kids will end up. I think it’s pretty self-explanatory.

What is your country doing well currently to support education?

Atmosphere, respect, security, support.

How must education change in your country to ensure that students are equipped to thrive in the 21st century?

We need more support for the gifted, because they are the ones who start new businesses and hire their peers (or who knows what?). But most important, I’d hope Finnish schools would offer more experiences to the students outside the schoolwork so they could have an idea what they’d like to know and do in the future.  

About Santeri Koivisto, CEO, TeacherGaming LLC

Tampere, Finland

@Aalvisto 

  • Birthplace: Tampere, Finland
  • Current residence: Just moved back to Tampere from Madrid, Spain.
  • Education: Master of Education, qualification to teach in Finnish comprehensive school
  • Website I check every day: None =)
  • Person who inspires me most: Alexander Stubb, Minister of Foreign Relations in Finland. He’s one of the politicians that says what he really thinks. Full of positive energy and a good face for our nation. One that I prefer.
  • Favorite childhood memory: In Finland, the length of day can be between 4-5 hours to 23 hours where I live. One winter day (dark) I was playing Fallout 2 with my friend and my mother came up to my room and said, “It’s time for Esko-Pekka (my friend) to leave soon, it’s already 5 p.m.”’ Well, 5 p.m. is not that bad, we can still play a bit. A couple months later, we were in the same situation. It was getting dark outside and my mother came up and said: “I think it’s time for Esko-Pekka to leave.” I said: “It’s getting dark, it’s only 5 p.m., so we can play a bit still.” My mother replied: “No, it’s 10.30 p.m., it’s time.”
  • Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Lappeenranta for Chrismas, a dozen flights booked for next spring. 
  • When was the last time you laughed? Why? Today, we were watching those crazy Russian driving videos at work.
  • Favorite book: Arto Paasilinna (author), Jäniksen vuosi.
  • Favorite music: Classical: Debussy and piano. I like to play that myself.
  • What is the best advice you have ever received? Pause.
  • Your favorite quote or motto: “Words may show a man’s wit, but actions his meaning.” –  Benjamin Franklin.
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