Meet Jennifer Groff

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CIRCL perspectives offer a window into the different worlds of various stakeholders in the cyberlearning community — what drives their work, what they need to be successful, and what they think the community should be doing. Share your perspective.

Jennifer Groff

Jennifer Groff is a graduate student at the MIT Media Lab.

How did you get started in cyberlearning?

My work in this area really started nearly a decade ago, by studying the barriers to innovations in education. I was really interested in understanding why so many of the incredible tools and technologies developed for better teaching and learning in the classroom weren’t being used more in schools across the US. From that work, I began to get more involved in the research and design of game-based learning, because it was gaining more traction and demonstrating its power for transformative learning experiences. As such, I felt it really had the potential to be a “trojan horse” for change in education. I think game-based learning can really change things, especially if it includes elements like assessments. This could benefit both the learner and the educator.

One of my favorite games is Quandry, an ethical thinking game. Educators and students love it because it touches on topics that are hard to teach without extra support. This digitally innovative game uses comic book type graphics which makes it less scary for average educators. I also love DragonBox, an algebraic thinking game. DragonBox creates a place where kids can play with these concepts to give them a foundation or framework in preparation for future learning.

What is unique about your work?

At MIT and the Learning Games Network, we think systemically about how to design powerful learning experiences, and the technologies that support that. To do that well in today’s environment, and in a way can really affect learners across the US and beyond, means designing for and working with a larger ecosystem. Often that means we need to be thinking about the system barriers, needs, scalability models, and distribution partners from the onset of the design process. Even though that makes the job harder and messier, our work in this regard has really begun to demonstrate the potential impact and scale of learning games. I hope to be part of disseminating projects that link the gap between research and education.

What drives your work?

My passion about the act of learning. I’m all for making learning tangible and more accessible to students themselves. I believe that learning, that is deeply engaging and playful learning, is inherent to us as humans. The education system can be a key factor in enabling and empowering learners, or it can be part of the problem that inhibits or stifles that for many. We have a tremendous opportunity to use digital innovations with better design approaches to redesign our current education system, and that opportunity – and need – drives me every day.

In 10 years, what will people remember about the work you are doing?

I hope what people will remember is that our work has helped teachers to better observe and push student’s thinking and learning experiences to a deeper level. Also, that we were able to do this broadly across education because our work has helped push the redesign of some fundamental elements of the education system. Redesign is forward-looking in nature, and optimizes the education model for a particular site. I hope that my work will be remembered as helping teachers to better observe and push student’s thinking along.

What should the cyberlearning community be doing?

To me, the cyberlearning community has a real opportunity to be thinking about the larger ecosystem and pipeline. Though research and development is critical and really the core foundation of this community, in 10 years we should not still be looking at a wall of amazing prototypes and examples of what “could be” while still have a larger educational system where these are not being used. Better dissemination and distribution models are needed, along with thinking about the change in practices that we need in order to help schools adopt and incorporate these new innovations for learning. We already have an awesome menu, and realizing the vision of Cyberlearning means enabling a system that can utilize these at the core of each learning environment. Getting there means thinking about the larger ecosystem and context that the innovations are situated in, but also thinking about the innovations “in the gaps” that are needed to support the utilization and implementation of these individually designed tools.

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