What does it take for an innovative company to break into the mainstream, asks Sally McKeown
has reached the final shortlist of the Education Resource Awards (ERAs) 2012 in the category of Supplier of the Year with less than £1 million annual turnover.
The company has attracted international attention because of its expertise in the area of games. Last September Immersive managing director Donna Burton-Wilcock was a speaker at a 'games in education' symposium at San Andreas University in Argentina. But while this ground-breaking company has been feted in Singapore, South America and the Far East it has been overlooked at home in the UK.
"Education Secretary Michael Gove's keynote address at BETT said that 'games and interactive software can help pupils acquire complicated skills and rigorous knowledge in an engaging and enjoyable way',” says Donna Burton-Wilcox. “He talked as if no one was doing this in schools, but we have been working with primary, secondary and FE, with gifted and talented pupils as well as with young offenders. But he obviously knew nothing about the work we do.”
'Krucible', a real-time physics simulation, has been adopted by NASA
Donna and partner Gary Burton-Wilcock regularly go into schools and other educational establishments and work closely with teachers to develop resources for its four main educational products. These include: Kar2ouche a multimedia storyboarding tool, and MediaStage, a 3D performance tool. Krucible, a real-time physics simulation, recently adopted by NASA, helps students plan a mission to Mars. But the product which is attracting attention right now is MissionMaker, a 3D games-authoring tool that allows the user to make high-quality role-playing video games.
MissionMaker really has the wow factor for young people as they get to make their own games. An increasing number of educators now realise that games can be an ideal medium for learning both in and out of school, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that young people who are turned off by school are increasingly engaged by the digital games culture outside school.
Many believe that bringing computer games into learning environments will motivate learners and help bring learning to life. By designing and playing games young people are developing the skills they will need to succeed in the modern workplace.
One school which has benefitted from MissionMaker is Burnt Oak Junior School. Its science and evolving technology leader, Peter Barrett, is very keen to use technology throughout the school: “We have improved our computer room and each year they develop new skills. Year 3 are filming on iPod Nanos and can edit their videos.
"Every child in Year 4 has an iPod Touch so that, for example, they can support their research on weather systems by holding video footage from across the globe in the palm of their hand. In Year 5 they move on to learn about animation.
'We are not talking 2D games here but proper games'
"Since the children are computer savvy I wanted to develop a really challenging project for those pupils in their last year. I met up with Donna Burton-Wilcock, who has been coming into the school once a fortnight to work with the children. Now Year 6 are making computer games for Year 4.
"We are not talking 2D games here but proper games with sets, characters, dialogue, narrative, special effects, the works. Although the classes are only for an hour once a fortnight they have so captured their imagination that the children are in the computer room at every spare moment, trying to add to what they have done. That doesn't happen often with other pieces of software!
"I think this is because the program is so exciting. The graphics in MissionMaker are just beautiful and it looks such a professional product that they want to engage with it and learn how it works. The software is so well designed that they learn the basics very quickly and do not get frustrated. One Year 3 boy was intrigued and wanted to know more. Someone got him started one lunchtime and now he has started to make games too.”
Donna and Gary Burton-Wilcock are hoping that their software finds favour with other schools and that maybe even Mr Gove himself will get to hear of it.