Eric Nelson | Full Interview | Badging and Gaming

Eric Nelson | Full Interview | Badging and Gaming


Yeah, so I’m a teacher turned founder of
a ed tech company now called Fan School. And our mission is to take what we’ve done
with fantasy geopolitics, which started in my classroom, and continue turning
students into fans of learning. We are putting together
a fantasy sports-like platform, a lot like fantasy geopolitics,
using data that actually matters. And we are going to take what we have
done with fantasy geopolitics and sort of come up with
a couple other verticals. Next fall will be politics for
the election. We’ll have, rather than drafting
countries, we’ll have states and then using this in any content area. So I’m working on that full time now.>>Great.
So, how long were you in the classroom before?>>Yeah.
So, six years. I was in the classroom
this time last year. And, after I got my Masters Degree and
certified in education in Minnesota, started teaching right away and
was at a charter school that whole time.>>Could you explain what
fantasy geopolitics is?>>For sure. Yeah.
It’s like fantasy football for countries and world news. And it all started, I was looking for in
my classroom to get students reading more news and becoming more aware of
what was happening in the world. And literally while I was, sort of
frustrated lesson planning, looking for a way to do this, I checked my fantasy
football team and got distracted for an hour, and I realized I was researching,
and learning, and reading a ton of stuff. And I thought,
why doesn’t this exist for countries, or world news, or data that matters so
started it in my classroom. Students draft countries, and then those
countries now score points based on how many times they’re mentioned in the news
and then the tone of that news. So, it puts it on like
a collaboration conflict scale. So they score positive points if
the country’s doing something positive in the world, and negative points if they’re
doing something negative in the world.>>Okay.
I didn’t quite understand. It’s the Goldman tone, right,
is what it was called?>>Yeah, Goldstein it’s called. So this professor came up with this scale,
ten to negative ten. And that’s got like different levels of,
depending on what’s happening there. Military sanctions score pretty
positively but not that high. Positive collaboration in terms of
economic aids scores positively, but he’s come up with a scale that ranks
it on a number ten to negative ten.>>Great.
And what are some other uses? Because I know I’ve seen,
just via Twitter, that it seems like teachers use this
different ways in their classroom.>>For sure.
>>Other ways that people use it in their classroom.>>Yeah. So, I designed it to use
it however I want, right? I wanted students to engage
in my existing content, and I also wanted them to engage with news. And so, we’ve set it up so teachers can use it, whatever they
want to do with it in their classroom. We’re seeing a lot of different ways. One of the ways is geography teachers
will use it to study each continent, so they’ll only draft countries from
each continent, which is pretty cool, something I never did with it. We’re seeing a lot of history teachers. This is something I did. A lot history teachers will use it, for
instance, to draft Cold War countries. And so they’ll ook at the news happening
in only those Cold War countries and then see the legacy of the Cold War. One of the coolest things I’ve
seen done with it is teachers will play low score wins. And the idea is here, they told
me that their students were like, why isn’t Africa in the news? And they figured out that countries
in Africa aren’t in the news much, and so they thought let’s play low
score wins and see what happens. And so it turned out to be those
countries that aren’t in the news much, which are a lot of countries in Africa. Not that there’s anything happening,
but low score wins. And then they’ll run it for different
lengths of time depending on what’s happening in their classes around a unit,
or I use to run it around the Winter Olympics, for instance, or
the Summer Olympics outside of class. There’s all sorts of really, really
cool use cases that are happening, but we try to design it so that teachers
can use it however they want.>>So in general,
obviously you’re bringing games into your classroom to engage students. What is gaming in your classroom? What should it look like in any classroom?>>So, I wouldn’t consider
what we do gamification. Okay.
>>You could say it is a game, obviously, but I like to think of it as
the learnification of gaming. We’ve taken this sort of real,
authentic, very popular thing called fantasy sports and
used it to learn more. I wasn’t gamifying my classroom,
or I wasn’t gamifying assignments. That sort of happens, but I was going
after a game that already exists and how can we learn from it. So it’s a lot like Minecraft
has gotten very popular. Something that already existed. How can you learn from
that in the classroom? Angry Birds, right? It’s an example of
a very popular game that teachers kind of used to do this,
so I think of it that way. As more of, you’re learning from a game,
a game that’s become very popular, rather than trying to gamifiy and
add it on top of your content.>>So you see it as something
that teacher’s would use just for a short period of time just to teach
a certain lesson, or multiple times a year to teach certain lesson,s versus doing
it the entire year, in your example?>>Yeah, I don’t see a lot of teachers
using it for nine months straight. I see them using it for
short periods of time for a long time. So, we’ve allowed teachers to reset
scores and duplicate leagues. When you think about the fantasy
football season, it goes all season. You got to get in, and
then you go for 16 or 17 weeks. That’s not necessarily the case
with fantasy geopolitics. Usually it’s anywhere from two
weeks to two months, and then, they do different things
with that after that period.>>What do you see as the most
positive thing about fantasy geopolitics from students. What do you see as the most positive?>>Yeah, intrinsic habit
creating with reading news, which research in fantasy sports I found
out after I started this in my classroom, research in fantasy sports says that this
thing called competitive fandom starts. This comes out of the University
of Wisconsin, but that when you draft a team
of baseball players, when you draft a team of football players,
you automatically become more aware of those players, and what they’re doing,
and what’s happening on their teams. And so the same thing happens
with fantasy geopolitics, even if the teacher does nothing
else with it in the classroom. I always describe as like you’re wearing
an Ohio State shirt, so you’re going to notice more people with Ohio State
shirts on, especially if that’s red. The same thing happens if you
draft a team of countries. You hear about those countries in the news
if your parents have the news on at home, you all of a sudden tune
into that news on the radio, as well as some daily habits
related to going to that news or having it come to you and becoming more
aware of what’s happening in the world. Gosh, okay that’s great. What is something to watch out for? I think when you’re trying to do
a game in your classroom or gaming or whatever, what’s something to be aware of
so it doesn’t kind of go off the rails?>>Yeah, so I really like the,
I think Mia Angelo said this. She said nothing works unless you do. I think sometimes,
whether it’s education technology, or any game, sometimes we sort of
use those things and think, this is gonna solve all of my problems,
I’m just gonna give it to students. And then I’m gonna back off and say go,
and they’re gonna get everything from it. I don’t think that’s
the case with anything. I think the more a teacher sort
of understands how it works and then prepares students, especially
before a draft, more competitive it is, the more fun it is, and
the more learning happens. So, I don’t wanna like deceive anybody and say this is the solution
to all your problems.>>Sure.>>Because I think with a little
effort and little work and a little design, it can do some
really cool things in your classroom.>>Cool. As a teacher, what would you say is
the first step of, so, I take it, you created something that was probably
like a spreadsheet at first, right?>>Yeah, [LAUGH]
>>Like that.>>Yeah, it was a Google site, yeah,
you could still see it on the internet, it’s pretty gross.>>Yeah, so that kinda,
obviously became something much greater. That other could use. How would, if a teacher has an idea like
you had, how would you recommend they start even just implementing it in
their own classroom and then also. Throughout your whole, maybe, or bigger.>>Yeah, I’d say just start. There are all sorts of books written
by Harvard professors that are titled Just Start. And I literally did that in my classroom. I was frustrated. I distracted myself with fantasy football,
realized I was doing all this learning. And then, to be totally honest,
I sort of didn’t have a lesson plan for the next day. So I laid in bed that night thinking I
wonder if I could do this in my classroom. So we took the next period, the next class
period, and we just drafted countries. And it turned out to be a super
fun learning experience. And so then after that, I designed
ways to sort of learn more from it. So my advice would be,
if you have an idea you, the classroom I think is
a great place to experiment. And if it’s not it’s probably
not the most enjoyable place. So if you’re not enjoying it,
try an experiment. And every experiment I did in my classroom
turned out to be one of the most enjoyable times. And then as the game evolved,
I was honest with students. I came in the next day and I said, hey,
I’m trying to trick you into reading.>>[LAUGH]
>>[LAUGH] You guys->>Yeah.>>You guys only engage with
the most interesting sources for like 30 seconds, your attention
span is less than a gold fish. And everybody laughs,
because we sort of created this rapport, but I was honest with them. I was like, we’re going to do this
experiment and see it works, and over time it did. When I started it,
not everybody was like super into it. And I figured out ways to do that. I’ll never forget one kid
after our first sort of draft. One kid I asked him are you guys
learning anything from this? And one kid raised his hand and
he was like it’s kind of whack. And he said, you know. It’s the 1980s, 1990s. [LAUGH] I was like what
do you mean by that? And he was like, well,
it just seemed like a lot of fun, but I learned something about Somalia piracy
today, i learned something about Djibouti, which is a funny name and I just
didn’t know there was happening there. And so I thought okay,
maybe there’s something to this and so over the course of semesters and
drafts and years I sort of just iterated on it and
I did it with students. And so, I always like to think about
my students as my co founders. And so, yeah, it costs some money, right? So, I figured out after testing that
I needed to design a website, and, sort of, put out what’s called a minimum
viable product for other people to use. And then keep iterating on that,
so it was little bets, so I was sorta betting the garden
rather then the farm as they say. And now I’m at a point where I
can sorta keep doing that, right? It’s not like I won the lottery or
anything. It’s a ton of hard work, but
I think starting, experimenting, understanding your assumptions,
and then iterating them, those assumptions,
is a great way to do anything. Especially in education.>>How do you reach students
that aren’t super competitive. So for example we did, we played my
office with one of the free accounts and we did a draft and it was,
it was fun and we were, we got into it. And then one of us just ran away with it.>>Yeah.>>Like drafted very mentally strong and
very smart. And so we were trying to gang up
on him to try and overtake him.>>Yeah.
Nolan traded me their best countries for my works, and still we didn’t catch him. So we took it very seriously because
It’s a small group of people. But what about those students that just
aren’t very competitive in nature?>>Yeah, yeah.>>How do a lot of teachers, or
you, kind of engage them as well?>>Yeah, so this will often happen right? Students who are most aware,
will often draft really well. And then the students who
aren’t really aware and draft like because it sounds funny,
just gets crushed, right? And so, one of the things that I did in my classroom was like use
this as an example of real life stuff. Right, the more your aware, the more
your prepared, the more your gonna compete better and the more your
probably gonna become successful. And I know that’s not how,
always how it works, but the game at the very least
provided like a more fun, sort of efficient and
simpler way to get at that life skill. [LAUGH] And also, like a lot of
teachers who don’t really know how to set up a draft well,
which is the case a lot, sort of realize pretty quick that that
will happen, and sort of reset scores or have another draft a few weeks afterward,
and then they sort of figure it out, and think how can I prepare students to
make this as competitive as possible? And then it gets really fun. Right?
So the first time, I always tell teachers it’s
probably going to fail. This is an experiment,
have some fun with it, just be aware that this is
probably going to happen. And then use it in your next draft
to probably do a little bit better. I always had this problem in my classroom,
even when I was a pro with it. So I called them the bottom fifth. I didn’t say tell this to their face, we
weren’t talking about grades or anything, but there was always a small
group of students who would get crushed,
>>Yeah.>>Because they were draft in
countries that nobody knew about. And I eventually sort of just said, “Hey
you guys always get smoked in this game. Are you learning anything? Are you getting anything out of it?” and
I’ll never forget one of my most disengaged students said
>>Like yeah, it’s really hard for me to win. He said, I get why I’m losing and
I know how to pronounce Queribus, which I never would’ve known about and I sort of learned a little
bit about that country. And they’d always tell me they
enjoy the class experience, even when they’re losing. And no matter what happens,
they always learn a little bit more. So I started in my classroom and
then we’re sort of building on this stuff, giving students in the bottom ways
to sort of get their score up. So, I don’t know if you notice when you’re
playing teachers can adjust their scores or add or subtract points. So we started doing some, for instance,
the first five minutes of class it was like show the fantasy scores and
then we did a geography challenge. And so, it was very lightweight
little stuff to sort of have someone in the bottom challenge somebody
at the top and then get more points or lose points from the top. And so we experimented with that stuff,
but teachers are doing all sorts of things to sort of keep that
bottom fifth competing better. They’re still learning, but
just competing better in the game.>>So as you said,
like you have this setup this website and it’s paid, cuz it takes money
to do what you’re doing, right? You need to eat and stuff and so how do
teachers tell you how they pay for it? Do they often pay for it out of pocket? Do they often get their
administrators to pay for it? Do you have any suggestions for
people, it’s like, I’m gonna try this?>>Yeah, I mean, we can see that data. So I know, as especially a charter
school teacher how big of a pain getting my school to pay for something is, which
is super unfortunate and that’s changing. It’s hard for tech directors and
tech coordinators and school purchasers to sort of make everybody happy, but
we’re trying to take the PO process that exists at a lot of schools and
make it really simple for teachers. So for instance, I know a teacher is willing to pay like
$30 to $35 out of pocket for anything. I also know that 70% of our teachers have
a discretionary budget under $100 and I also know that like nothing’s ever free. [LAUGH] So the first thing I
would do is encourage anyone using anything to sort of
understand that if you want something to be decent,
you have to pay for it. And that even if something is free, well,
I used Schoology for free at my school. Loved it, but they were trying to
figure out ways to make money. [LAUGH] It just doesn’t work without it. And so I would encourage teachers,
cuz I always did this too. I try to use everything as cheaply
as possible, get stuff for free. I would encourage them, if you think this
is a good idea to get over that hump, but we’re seeing that a lot of
our teachers through our payment process are having their schools pay for
it pretty easily. And so a lot of our teachers are sending
digital requisitions to their schools, their schools are paying for it with
a credit card or a check or a PO and it’s sort of getting the teacher
access while having school pay for it. And so we’re working on that over and
over again to sort of iterate, but I know the pay is a barrier for
teachers, but we’ve also sort of given them a way to check it out with
their teacher friends for free or with a few students or
a lot of teachers figure out on their own. And I often just tell them, like you can
enter a team on that player line too. So take a class of 25 and
enter them as 5 teams and just play and check it out and
if you like it, pay for it. So yeah, I mean, it doesn’t work
unless less people validate it and pay for it and
then the more that comes in. I’m taking every cent I have right now and
reinvesting it into the game, because this is something I
believe in as a platform. But we’ve got a very, very long list
of stuff that we want to do yet [LAUGH] and we answer that sort of
daily as we iterate on the game.>>I’m sure, that’s great. Thank you so much for your time. It’s really interesting to hear about
your process and how that happened, but it’s a cool product too. I wish I had a classroom to do it with
even though I was a math teacher. [LAUGH]
>>Yeah, we’re getting there. Like I said,
the US edition will come out next year and then hopefully by this time next year,
any content area teacher will be able to sort of use the same model
to engage in their content. So-
>>Well, thank you very much.

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