Thursday, January 22, 2015

Zoran Popovic: He's Got Games

This is the first in an occasional series on researchers I think are doing interesting work. Some will be well-known, but others might be somewhat less so. Regardless, I will share some thoughts on why more people should be putting this person's research into action. These aren't researchers who would only be interesting to someone working in an ivory tower. Each one does interesting work that you could use.

Dr. Zoran Popovic does a lot of work, but one thing he does really well is make games. As a matter of fact, he worked on algorithms that are used in the video game Destiny. He also cares quite a bit about how to help students. Notably, how to use hints to help students learn.

A Few of His Projects

Dr. Popovic runs the Center for Game Science at the University of Washington. CGS has done a bunch of good stuff including:
  • FoldIt provides a context in which people with no knowledge of biochemistry can solve complex protein structure problems that help scientists solve real problems. It's actually pretty darn remarkable.
  • Refraction is an interesting (and effective) way to learn fraction concepts and operations.
  • DragonBox allows (even very young) students to learn algebra.
Popovic also runs a non-profit called EnLearn, which has built an adaptive learning platform. The EnLearn platform is not designed to replace teachers. It's designed to help them be more effective.

My Favorite Popovic Idea

So much to choose from, but I'm going geeky. I really like his Trace-based Framework for Analyzing and Synthesizing Educational Progressions. This reminds me of the Knowledge Spaces idea that lies behind ALEKS. It's computational and theoretical, but when you see it described well, it makes total sense. To a great extent, these traces are a big part of why EnLearn is so powerful.

Many people are making educational games and some people have built adaptive learning platforms, but very few people are doing either as well as Dr. Popovic and his teams.


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