Our Vision – A Message from DimensionU’s Founder, Ntiedo Etuk
When I graduated from university with my degree in Electrical Engineering I really wanted to give back to a world that had given me so much. After all, I had been born into a family that wholeheartedly endorsed the notion that “he to whom much is given, much is expected.” As a result, I started volunteering in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in Delaware with a young man whose mother wanted me to teach him algebra. Unfortunately, this was a young man who was having trouble with some of the basic arithmetic skills that should have been mastered far earlier. The system had failed him, and now he was really going to suffer for it.
Anyway, I placed him on a hardcore intervention diet of basic arithmetic and pre-algebra requisites because I felt we needed to get him up-to-speed, fast. It was difficult. It was no fun. It was all we did … and it was working. I could see slow, steady progress being made. But after about two months, in a slightly traumatic moment for me, he asked his mother to ask me to stop (it was like I was doing medieval torture or something!). When I approached him to ask why, he said “I really like you, but we never have any fun.” …
That was when I realized that I had committed the cardinal sin … like many of his teachers before him – I had taken the fun out of learning.
It was in that moment that I realized that perhaps our biggest problem in education was not class size, or teacher proficiency, or teacher tenure, or even facilities … it was that we had ignored the fact that the most important person to get committed, engaged, and involved in the education process was the one who we were actually trying to get to absorb the knowledge … the student. We were failing our kids because we weren’t getting down on our knees and speaking to them at their level – in the way in which they were used to interacting with, manipulating, and absorbing information, and as a result we were losing them. That’s when I decided to bring kids’ voices into the educational conversation because if we could show a system where millions of kids were engaging in education, having fun, and still learning – boy – that would change the world.
This story is well known at DimensionU. It embodies an experience and a belief that each of us has at the company. We are on a mission to make learning a lifestyle – we want students to talk about learning, to talk about their education the same way they talk about games or dating or sports. We want their learning achievements to be a character trait they talk about as easily and proudly as they do about the new jeans they bought with hard-earned savings. We want education to become fun again. We want to make it so that kids can’t wait to get onto our systems and when they do, they don’t want to leave. We want to make students partners in the education process, to motivate them so much that THEY ask the questions about the things they don’t know, that THEY beg us to learn more … to solve the challenge, to finish the puzzle, to gain the knowledge.
That’s why we created DimensionU, a universe of educational videogames in which students can play with or against each other, globally, while learning key concepts in math, science, social studies and literacy. The data supports this - in the next 10 years, there will be over 1 billion virtual world users. In the US alone, by the time you’re 21 you’ve played 10,000 hours of videogames (in 8 hour work days, that’s 3.5 years – more time than you spend in your average first job out of college!). 43% of videogame players are women meaning that such solutions can cover a broad spectrum of the world, and of the approximately 53 million public school students, about 93% of them play videogames. Educational videogames are one way to begin to truly engage this generation of kids in education.
This is a simple concept, with profound implications. If you watch a child with a new videogame, what happens? Remember, when they start they know nothing – nothing about the game world, nothing about the rules of the environment, nothing about how to succeed in the new environment, nothing about the challenges they will face. And what do they do? They try for 5 minutes … and they fail. Then they try again … for 10 minutes, before failing again. 15 minutes, 20 minutes, doing it over and over again, learning the things they need to know each time, to advance further in the game. Sometimes they run out to the internet, or to the bookstore, looking for tips to help with the games. Sometimes they ask their friends. Above all, they simply apply themselves … and then finally, after hours and hours, days, weeks, sometimes months – they succeed! They master the videogame. Self-motivated through the hours of discovery and learning, they have achieved!
The question is, why can’t that be algebra, or chemistry, or physics, or Shakespeare?
The answer is … it can!
This is what we are committed to doing – what we know we can accomplish, what we have moved so far down the path of doing, and have already demonstrated to great success. Look at the studies, 20% plus score improvements. Watch our videos – look at the faces of the kids as they struggle and succeed! Look at the tournament footage.
People ask us why we emphasize tournaments … because they work and because they’ve been proven to engage everyone from kids to adults since time began. They incorporate the best of everything that we want to stimulate in the education process – collaboration, competition, effort, training, reward for achievement, pride of success, without the sometimes debilitating and confidence draining challenges of failure. They’re not for everybody, but look at how many people they’ve motivated to succeed, or to celebrate and cheer on success. March Madness, The World Cup, The Olympics, Quiz Kids, The National Spelling Bee – tournaments engage all of us on a very deep level.
This is the true and necessary part of the education revolution; the creation of a time and a place where kids light up at the thought of a math or literacy problem. Where kids can’t wait to show themselves, and the world, what they’ve learned …
An Alternate Vision of the World
In building DimensionU we asked ourselves some pretty challenging questions. What if we could build an entirely new concept of school … a place that students clamored to get into – a place where students recruited each other to be involved, where they proactively recruited their teachers to help them, and their parents and family to follow their results. What if we could build a place where there was more than one teacher in the room because students started helping each other, with all the bits of knowledge they have, and where they got rewarded for helping each other. That could make each student a teacher! You could have 15 or more teachers in a classroom! What if we built a world where you could go down to the student’s basic level of competence and level up from there, thereby building their confidence bit by bit until mastery? What if we could construct a place where the rewards for doing well, both intrinsically (that “aha” moment) and extrinsically (in-game currency to buy virtual goods that make your character faster, stronger, better or even currency that can earn you real-life rewards like gift certificates, electric bikes, computers) came often, felt good, and were meaningful to students?
What if all of that were possible? What would it do to education?
In our minds, the answer was as simple as it was awesome, it would revolutionize the way we think about student-centered learning. It would be nothing less than a world-wide student movement that finally forces the system to pay attention to the way today’s students, from New York to Lagos to Shanghai, demand to learn and to process information.
This, is what we are building at DimensionU and what we work every day to bring to reality. It is awesome, it is huge, and it needs your help. This isn’t anarchy – students need teachers, and students need facilities, and they need great curriculum, and all of those wonderful things … but students also need to be heard! They are not robots and if we don’t treat them as living, breathing, thinking parts of the system, they will exercise the only option they can to complain … they will turn off.
And we refuse to let that happen.
Co-founder & CEO