Tag Archives: games for good

Collaborating for Good Through Games: co.lab

12 Dec Co.lab opening

There are a couple areas of social good that are becoming more and more intriguing these days: gamification and education. So when something launches that is a cross-section of the two, it’s exciting to share!

Recently such a new opportunity came up. I had the chance to talk with Zynga.org‘s executive director Ken Weber about a new joint venture between Zynga and New Schools Venture Fund: co.lab.

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The idea behind this incubator for startups involved with educational games is simple, yet ambitious. Zynga.org provides access to gaming best practices, Zynga staff, offices, tools and expertise, as well as playtests and feedback from both Zynga and schools (including students and educators). The startups provide their education technology products (apps and games), creative ideas, enthusiasm, and a burning desire to change the world for the better, just like the two supporting partners of the program.

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Zynga employee Nick leads students from San Francisco’s Balboa High School through a game design workshop. Creating excitement for STEM learning is part of the idea behind many of Zynga’s initiatives. Photo courtesy of Zynga.org

This new program was started just this fall. The application process for co.lab’s second cohort will open in early November. If chosen, co.lab provides for-profit or non-profit startups using technology products to help improve academic or social outcomes PK-12 with help in several keys areas of developing more effective ed tech products. These include developing learning game apps (content), measurement and evaluation tools (M&E), educational platforms that distribute games and apps (distribution) and/or other educational services that are looking to learn from best practices in commercial gaming to improve distribution, retention and engagement (gamification).

First-round cohorts include Kidaptive, LocoMotiveLabs, Motion Math, Pluto Media, and Edmodo. co.lab is a venture philanthropy initiative; the primary aim of co.lab is philanthropic: to generate a social, not financial, return.

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Ken Weber, Executive Director, Zynga.org; Mark Pincus, Founder of Zynga; Esteban Sosnik, Executive Director of co.lab; and Ted Mitchell, President and Chief Executive Officer of NewSchools Venture Fund. Photo taken at the co.lab opening; courtesy of Zynga.org.

The idea is, as Weber explains, “to harness the power of all the good gamers out there and channel it into solving education and social problems in fun, engaging ways.”

To this end, innovative products, ideas or prototypes that demonstrate significant promise for producing transformative effects on teaching, learning and/or education in general receive preference. Each approved startup will house a team at Zynga’s offices, receive up to a $50,000 stipend and benefit from the the knowledge and talent of one of the world’s largest online gaming companies. Zynga is investing $1 million into the first year alone.

NewSchools Venture Fund provides co.lab with operational oversight and guidance, coordinates partnerships and playtesting with educators and schools and includes co.lab companies in activities with a larger network of of edtech entrepreneurs.

Volunteers from the game industry, including Zynga employees, are also a key part of co.lab’s approach to sharing best practices and advice on product development, marketing and distribution and other related topics.

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Like many companies, Zynga combines creative online social good opportunities with in-person community events to raise overall engagement, as well as to give back both globally and locally. Photo of employees building a community garden courtesy of Zynga.org.

Internally, Zynga see its involvement in co.lab as a win/win opportunity. Not only does it inspire their own employees, who also are heavily involved with “offline” volunteering like community projects, but it also draws awareness and excitement to a huge burgeoning field online: gamification for education and social good. Additionally, it creates excitement around STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programs and how STEM skills can be used for a wide range of interesting passions.

Passions that even — or especially — can change the world.

If you would like to be notified when the application for the next co.lab cohort is open, contact info@playcolab.org.

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