• Sam Jennings II

What E.T. Can Teach Higher Ed

"There's a difference between frustration and disorientation. Video games are all about frustration. It's OK to frustrate a user. In fact, it's important to frustrate a user. But you don't want to disorient the user." - Howard Scott Warshaw, designer of E.T. video game for Atari

In education, frustration can also be seen as a positive::

“Do you ever get that “aha!” feeling after finally finding all the answers to a sudoku puzzle? Or even finding the right route on a map when you’re lost? It turns out that this process – the frustration and irritation of struggling with a difficult problem – is an essential part of the learning process and a way to tell if students are truly learning in the classroom.” - Stephanie Li, PRIME Fellow

In the E.T. video game, players maneuvered E.T. to find various equipment needed to phone home. In some cases, E.T. would fall into a pit and find a part or… what. The “what” left players confused, disoriented, and willing to walk away. A lot. E.T. is cited as the worst video game in history. The premise of the game follows the movie and what users expect. But the reality of the game was far from meeting expectations.

In higher education, we set up great supports, communities, and opportunities for students. But when a student wants to find information or read a policy, the resources can be less than accommodating or, more directly, disorienting. In One surprising barrier to college success: Dense higher education lingo the case is made, strongly, for student-friendly language. Why do we consider it to be best practice to set up resources and a welcoming environment for students and families to have that potentially undermined by opaque language and jargon-laden policies? That was for fun - “opaque language.” This is what we in higher ed tend to do. Here’s another route, “ have confusing websites and policies make people feel unwelcome?”

My lawyerly friends in higher education may bristle at the idea of having a student-friendly decoded description separate from a clear and legally airtight policy statement or a policy written in student-friendly language. The solution: risk it.

All legal advice is offered to mitigate risk. No one wants a lawsuit. So, which is less palatable: a legal challenge regarding policy language or a 40% or greater fail rate (60% or lower graduation rate)?

Some frustration can spark learning while disorientation or frustration without resolution can lead to disengagement. Disengagement doesn’t mean put it away and come back later. It frequently means a student leaving the institution wondering if they were good enough to be in college in the first place. Student-friendly language may not be the answer to all student success challenges, but potentially helping more students without adding resources may be a step in the right direction.


One surprising barrier to college success: Dense higher education lingo

Total Failure: The World’s Worst Video Game

Why Frustration is Good for You Image Source


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Dr. Sam Jennings II

Post Falls, ID


Call or Text: (208) 261-2117

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