“Digital Promise” is a new education technology initiative rolled out by the U.S. Department of Education yesterday, with Congressional support, attempting to “transform teaching and learning.” In a surprise twist, one of the partners is none other than Valve, the Bellevue-based company behind the Steam video-game platform and blockbuster game franchises such as Half-Life and Portal.

So what the heck is Valve doing in the classroom, and why? The explanation from the official White House announcement

Leading Video Game Company Establishes Education Prize: Valve, creator of best-selling video game franchises and leading technologies, is stepping into the educational arena due to interest from teachers, students, researchers, and fans after the release of Portal 2, a brain-challenging puzzle game.  Valve will run a competition next year where middle- and high-school students and teachers can create levels of Portal 2 to be used in the home and classroom while competing for prizes worth $250,000.  As a start, Valve will be giving out free copies of Portal, the first in the series, which is rated for teens.  For more information, go to: www.learnwithportals.com.

USA Today quotes Valve co-founder Gabe Newell saying he was surprised when teachers were interested in using the game in the classroom: “We were like, ‘Aren’t we enemies? Aren’t we entertainment, and isn’t that in opposition to education?'”

Apparently not. Should be interesting to see how this goes.

Thanks to GeekWire columnist Frank Catalano for the tip.

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  • Guest

    Congratulations to Valve on making learning fun! This initiative could help replenish the ranks of American physicists.

  • Anonymous

    Some forward thinking educators are looking (desperately?) for ways to engage students steeped in video game culture.  In terms of techniques, it makes some sense though I believe education should be countering the short-attention-span problem, not feeding it. 

  • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com FrankCatalano

    Worth noting, for those interested, that the free original Portal at LearnWithPortals.com is only being offered through Tuesday, September 20th.

  • Rebecca

    I think with this generation it is a great way to engage them in problem solving and reasoning in a way different from the traditional paper pencil. If I had enough computers or game consoles I would love to give my students the opportunity to learn through this game. Not having had played Portal 2 but looking into it, I believe it would be a great way to show some of my students team work. Which is something my students need.

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