Meet Scot Osterweil

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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.


Scot Osterweil is the Creative Director of the Education Arcade and a research director in the MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing Program.

Scot designs games for learning; he’s been at it for over 20 years. But along the way, something funny happened. Scot became more passionate about transforming education than making games qua games. You might know him for his work on the classic game “Zoombinis” or for the data analysis tool “TableTop.” We recently interviewed Scot upon his return from a trip to Singapore.

What game would you like to be known for now?

A recent game is Lure of the Labyrinth, which is about middle school math — there a rich story line about saving pets and kids solve mathematical challenges to do it. Over 28 million “pets” have been saved, which corresponds to tens of thousands of games played by students.

What’s your agenda?

My goal is to change teaching practice, so that teachers can draw upon the rich experiences kids are having in games. In Lure of the Labyrinth, about 10% of kids make the connection to “school math” as they play, but we believe the other 90% are “susceptible.” So what we’ve done is to create lessons for teachers that make the connection for the other 90%. Kids play the game first out of school, and when the appropriate concept comes up in the curriculum, teachers can draw upon what students have already done in the game to draw on kids interest and experience, and accelerate curricular learning.

Who would your ideal cyberlearning partner be?

Well, on one front, I’d really like to meet with fellow travelers who want to make data science literacy available to every student. Tabletop, Tinkerplots, InspireData and like tools ought to rule the world, and enable all kids to have a meaningful experience answering questions they are interested in with real data. On another front, I’d like to work with researchers who are steeped in more formal education research — who can pose a great research question and co-design the definitive study with game designers like me. I hope to write a cyberlearning proposal on the next cycle.

How would you like to see the cyberlearning community use social media?

I have to be honest. I am not the biggest social media user myself. I’d really like to know what feeds people in our community find worthwhile. If there was a way to find the most relevant feeds and aggregate them, so I could become more aware of what my fellow travellers were posting and reading… I’d sign up for that. (Editors note: CIRCL would be happy to support this; any experts out there to help us make it happen?)