PARSONS > Katie Salen

Katie Salen

Faculty / Katie Salen, Director, Center for Transformative Media


Digital game designers are sometimes characterized as educators’ nemeses, but in fact they are often kindred spirits. “Games work like good teachers. There’s a really strong connection between how game designers design games and teachers teach students when they do it well,” claims Katie Salen, lead designer on Quest to Learn, an innovative public school for grades 6–12. Salen, a game designer and professor, borrowed key elements from game design when creating the school’s curriculum, which is based on children’s uses of digital media. “The school is built around the way games handle learning,” she explains. “The curriculum is interdisciplinary; the kids are dropped into complex problem phases but are given the resources to solve the problems themselves. We have very visible assessment tools, and they work in a mission and quest structure.”

Quest to Learn is part of the Center for Transformative Media, Parsons’ new interactive media research initiative. The center is a space for university-wide research bridging design and the social sciences. “It will be a place where faculty across the university who are working on projects dealing with games, online software, social media, and mobile media can connect and have a common identity,” says Salen. “Our longer-term goals are to secure funding for new projects that emerge and to propose classes that we co-teach.” Salen’s working methods are grounded in interdisciplinary thinking. “I see myself first and foremost as a designer, and that’s what informs my perspective on the world,” she says. “After I make things, I write about them to better understand them. And then teaching becomes the clarifying phase for trying out ideas. It’s a triad that has worked very well for me.”

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