Suzi is the Founder and CEO of Dig-It! Games, an independent educational game company. In addition to running the day-to-day operations of the business, she's also the primary game designer. We spoke with her about some of the amazing history apps Dig-It! have released, game-based learning and future projects.
What led to the formation of Dig-It! Games?
I came to game design somewhat by accident—my background is in Mediterranean archaeology. I was a professional archaeologist for a while and also taught middle school social studies. I wanted to use archaeology in my teaching, and had done so successfully in the past with a colleague, but when I searched for a tool that would replicate some of the digital abilities we had in the field I just couldn’t find one. I decided to take some time off from teaching to build an archaeology game—how hard could it be, right? The answer turned out to be VERY! But, I stuck with it, taught myself about game design and game-based learning and ended up with a product that, shockingly to me, won critical acclaim from parents, educators and the education industry. Since then I’ve developed a catalog of 10 award-winning learning games, learned vastly more about game design, and become even more passionate about the value of game-based learning.
Why game-based learning and not just factual ebooks or information apps?
Fun is such an essential part of all learning and games help teachers blend play and learning to create a fun, interactive environment where kids want to learn. Unlike an ebook or information app, games encourage kids to actively participate in the learning process by allowing players to apply their knowledge in creative ways. Games require students to use skills outside the traditional curriculum structure, which helps kids see the real-world value of what they are learning. Most importantly, digital games give instant feedback and reward success without punishing failure, which puts students in an environment where they can learn at their own pace and in their own way without fear of judgment or penalty. With digital games, students are free to explore and experiment, to try and retry, and ultimately, to internalize the lesson on their way to deeper understanding.
What are the core learning benefits that you try to incorporate into your games?
Through our seamless blend of fun and learning, we seek to inspire kids to think differently about learning. We focus on critical thinking, problem solving, independent learning, and the joy of intellectual discovery. Our games incorporate age-appropriate cross-curricular content in math, science, social studies and language arts into fun, interactive and engaging learning experiences. Authentic and accurate information that conforms to curriculum mandates and Standards of Learning is built into every game we produce. We seek to engage different learning styles, allow learners to proceed at their own pace and encourage players to explore topics that are meaningful to them. Our games are tools that allow kids to think creatively, expand their knowledge and discover a love of learning.
You also have some lesson plans to accompany some of the games don't you?
We know teachers are busy, so we offer lesson plans and ideas for using our games in an existing curriculum. We are working to expand these offerings so that our games are truly plug and play without requiring teachers to take time away from their students to build lessons or evaluations around our products. We also work hard to ensure that our games require players to build and prove mastery as they progress, so teachers can be confident that students are learning the required topics and skills as they move through the games.
Your current range of apps focuses on the Mayans and Romans - why these two civilizations in particular?
We chose these two civilizations for a variety of reasons. The Romans were selected because Roman history is such an important part of our heritage. So much of our society, from our architecture to our legal system, even our concepts of social identity can be traced back to the Romans. That’s why Roman history is part of every ancient civilization class. The Maya are a less obvious choice, but have an equally important role in helping us understand who we are, where we came from and how we interact with our world and each other. Through our games, kids learn that the Maya were the first civilization to use zero and that the influence of Maya culture can be seen every day in our society. Another reason that the Maya were selected is their interaction with the world around them: the Maya changed their environment dramatically and paid a severe price for it. By studying the Maya, kids can gain a better understanding of how their choices affect their environment. We select our civilizations based on what we want kids to take away from learning about them, so in the future look for games based in Egypt, the Middle East and North America!
Is there one app that you are particularly proud of?
That’s a trick question—we’re proud of everything we do! Of course, some do stand out more than others: the huge scope of Mayan Mysteries, the revitalization of Roman Town and the detailed content of Loot Pursuit: Pompeii are particularly close to my heart. I also love how 3 Digits so perfectly implements our mission of blending fun and learning in such a creative way.
One thing we are extremely proud of, though, is our outreach programs. Our goal at Dig-It! Games is not just to teach academic subjects through our games, but to get kids excited about learning, so we do numerous outreach projects where we go to schools and open our studio to the neighborhood. Our goal is to engage kids' imaginations and expose them to new opportunities. Last spring we started offering field trips to our studio to teach kids about game design and let them use our tools to work on digital art and coding projects. Our first foray into this was so successful, we ended up creating an app (Wheatley Days) that pulled together all the student projects. It was simply amazing to see the kids so engaged and to watch as their perspective on STEM and on what they are capable of changed dramatically in a matter of hours.
We recently spotlighted the excellent Roman Town - that must have taken a lot of work to develop?
My team loved building Roman Town. It was one of our longest projects because of all the individual mini-games that had to be built and all the content that needed to be worked in. We are particularly happy with how the ancient games turned out. Calculi was fairly easy to build because the rules are well known, but for knucklebones there is no consensus on how it was played, so we had to do a lot of research and play testing before we got it right.
Have you been pleased with the reception that the apps have received so far?
We have been overwhelmed by the positive reactions to our games. Kids, parents and teachers have all been so enthusiastic about our products. We were recently part of an expo at a local elementary school and parents had to literally pull their kids away from playing—they couldn’t get enough! Interestingly, we had a similar experience with teachers, so clearly we’re doing something right. We love all kinds of feedback, even the most negative feedback helps us make our products better, but seeing kids learning and having fun is really the best thing in the world.
What's next for Dig-It? Have you got any new projects in the pipeline you can tell us about?
We are excited to announce that we are expanding into science with a Chemistry game called BEAKER! We expect BEAKER to be available in early 2016. We’re enjoying working with middle school science teachers to build the game, which focuses on the Periodic Table and chemical reactions. We also have a new vocabulary building word game coming out soon called “I Have a Word” in which players have to identify the “secret word” using logic. Look for I Have A Word in the app store in September!
How can people keep up to date with your app releases and new content?
The best way to keep on top of all our exciting news is to subscribe to our newsletter, The Dirt. It’s easy to subscribe through our website www.dig-itgames.com. Another great way to stay informed about updates and new releases (and get a sneak peek at new products) is to become an Ambassador. Our Ambassadors get early notice of new products, sales and events and can take part in our Beta testing program, which gives them the opportunity to have a voice in how the games work. To join the Ambassador program, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for taking some time out for us Suzi. We love the apps you've released so far and look forwards to your new projects eagerly.