Two Point Campus: Can a game teach educational leadership?

This campus simulator’s simple algorithm won’t teach anyone the ropes, writes Daniel Phillips, but it’s a reminder that leadership can be… fun!

This campus simulator’s simple algorithm won’t teach anyone the ropes, writes Daniel Phillips, but it’s a reminder that leadership can be… fun!

6 Dec 2022, 5:00

What if there was a game where you could run a college, experiment with course design and curate your students’ experience? What if it had a 90s nostalgic animation style, just like Theme Park when we were kids? What if I could convince FE Week that I had to play it for essential research purposes and the greater enlightenment of our sector?

No, the campus management strategy game, Two Point Campus isn’t a fever dream but an actual virtual reality. Whether you open a campus from scratch or dive into an established institution with deeper problems, your role is to ensure students are educated, have the facilities they need and graduate having had a good time along the way.

Is it fun? Well, fun is a relative term. My 11-year-old son took mere minutes to reach his review judgment: “This is so tragic. You are literally playing a game about education.”

Perhaps it’s just not his demographic. Or perhaps I should have my own X-Box. Either way, while I like to think playing a game that simulates a college in my spare time is a marker of my passion, I reluctantly accept that he has a point. I don’t imagine farmers are playing Tractor Simulator after a day in the fields.

But as it’s based on sophisticated AI, requires fine-tuning of campus experience and forces you to pick between competing demands, that counts as professional development, right? And who expects that to be fun?

In the real world, politicians’ fantasies about ‘Harry Potter studies’, 21st-Century skills and low standards lead to a constant flow of reform and accountability. In Two Point Campus, however, the challenge is not to protect your institution from interfering policy makers. Instead, the challenges range from saving it from its own grand, ancient, and expensive buildings, to crafting the perfect experience for students of robotics, to working out how to pay for it all. Educate, nurture and expand is its simple formula for success, but sometimes you have to pick.

The uncertain correlations we face in FE are replaced with cheerful causation

In order to make it a game, the uncertain correlations we face in FE are often replaced with a cheerful causation. Build it and they will come, at least in the early levels. A toilet and a well-placed coffee machine will increase happiness. That book or that machine will have an immediate and measurable impact.

Like a general further education college, campus life in this virtual world is eclectic: learners in chef whites rub alongside art students and the more STEM-focused. And, as in real life, your campus’s success relies on the success of all, measured not just in grades, but friendship and overall experience.

In a way, that makes it more realistic than those political fantasies, where academic outcomes are the be-all-and-end-all. Indeed, it reflects exactly what our students tell us in surveys and conversations: that their social experience, the food we provide and what it costs all matter as much as anything learning related.

But as the economic crisis cuts even deeper into colleges’ and families’ budgets, our real choices start to become ever starker. So while Two Point Campus’s AI pushes players to offer a diverse curriculum that meets the demands of all students, back in reality adult student recruitment has collapsed over the past decade, and courses face the twin challenges of enrolling enough students or finding the staff to teach them.

This reality jars with prime minister Sunak’s and skills minister Halfon’s push for a ‘British Baccalaureate’ for further education, not to mention the renewed vocational focus through T levels and short, sharp higher education that tackles our skills and productivity gap.

No matter how creative a leader you are, as any Two Point Campus player could tell you, big ideas need big investment. And if skills education is going to fulfil the promises others have made for it, that investment is needed now.

In the meantime, this game may not prepare anyone for the rigours or educational leadership. But it is fun and food for thought, not least because its artificial intelligence is more hopeful than anything emanating from Westminster.

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