New Literacies’ Chapter 8 Review: Quest to Collaborate on Complex World Challenges

With more and more complex problems sprouting up around the world, I have been wondering if, and how, schools have been preparing students to tackle the issues awaiting them. In my Digital Storytelling class I read about a New York public school called Quest to Learn (Q2L), that is the first of its kind. I feel Q2L truly prepares students to interact with and prepare for tomorrow’s complicated world. Lankshear and Knobel of New Literacies explain that Q2L has a truly unique educational model that teaches collaboration, critical thinking, technology, and empathy to name a few just a few skills for success.
Q2L 2

New York’s Q2L is tackling the issue of how to engage students where our current education model fails. This research-based educational model is a prototype for what schools might become in the future. Q2L’s creation is not a moment too soon either amidst increasingly complex world challenges. It only makes sense to permeate today’s youth with the Q2L mission statement; “To empower and engage all students by connecting rigorous learning through innovation to the increasing demands of the global society.”

This got me thinking about how education could help solve world problems. A google search on “Top 10 World Problems” produced the World Economic Forum at the top of the search list. Al Gore introduces this forum by saying, “We are at a critical fork in the road, a period of decision that will dictate the health and viability of our civilization for decades to come.” Essentially, he is saying it is time to face our problems head on and that they are not going away any time soon. The top problems of today include:

top 10 challenges
  1. Deepening income inequality
  2. Persistent jobless inequality
  3. Lack of leadership
  4. Rising geostrategic competition
  5. Weakening of representative democracy
  6. Rising pollution in the developing world
  7. Increasing occurrence of severe weather events
  8. Intensifying nationalism
  9. Increasing water stress
  10. Growing importance of health in the economy

None of these issues can be resolved in a vacuum. It will take social, economic, and political collaboration, which is the kind of cooperative foundation fostered in Q2L students. Additionally, students have the benefit of watching their educators, game designers, curriculum specialists, and parents collaborate and continuously learn alongside them.

One intriguing aspect of Q2L is the game component of missions and quests. These game/educational tools ultimately engage students in a completely new way. Katie Salen’s book Quest to Learn, Developing the School for Digital Kids showed an example of a quest that I feel aligns with one of the world’s top challenges, “Weakening of representative democracy”. Keep in mind these students began this form of learning in 6th grade, so such a complex challenge would be saved for a seasoned 12th grader. Here is an excerpt lesson plan from Quest to Learn:

Grade: 12

Trimester 1: Empowering Communities of Change Essential Questions

In what ways does the representation of a dynamic system affect our understanding and beliefs about the system?

Mission: Decision Making in a Democracy

Length: 6 weeks

Doman: Codeworlds (math/ELA)

Quest Overview:

The power to elect officials is the power to change the world, but the mathematics of voting extends far beyond the notion of majority rule. As a member of a new grassroots group with a mandate to educate young people about the inner workings of the election process, your mission is to use mathematical models and digital simulations to represent this complex process to theirs. You must first learn what assumptions they hold about how the election model works: The candidate with the most votes wins an election, for example. It is your job to develop a persuasive mathematical model to show that the whole story has as much to do with voting methods as with voting numbers. The Math Mission challenges you to grapple with complex questions that are a very real part of our political system, through both mathematical modeling and historical analysis of past elections. (121)

Such quality curriculum and educational experiences are exactly what the youth of 2015 needs. I look forward to a day when Q2L is no longer a prototype but is embraced by our larger school system. As an older generation, I know that I have contributed to the challenges of today’s world and I am not sure exactly where and how to help. The world our youth shall inherit will certainly not be their doing, but at least we can give them the tools and awareness to navigate colossal challenges.


Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2011). New literacies. Berkshire, England ; New York: Open University Press.

Outlook on the Global Agenda 2015 – Reports – World Economic Forum. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Q2L Middle School – Q2L Middle School. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Salen, Katie. (2011). Quest to learn: Developing the school for digital kids. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


  • Using the phrase “colossal changes” is not an understatement. We as a society and as an education system are going through such drastic changes. The challenge is that we are making these changes slowly which almost makes it harder. As a teacher, I feel like every year I change something and do something completely different. That is a good thing because I’m improving my way of thinking each year, but it is also difficult because I’m starting from scratch each year rather than improving on what I already have in my tool belt for education.
    This next generation (which I guess includes myself?) has a big transition to tackle. We’ll see how we accomplish it as time goes on.

    • You know what I really love about the employee structure of Q2L? The game makers and curriculum designers take time to truly support the teachers’ long term planning and classroom goals. They value the teachers’ expertise and work to help them succeed. What seems like a luxury to the Q2L teacher, should really be the norm for all teachers.
      I have so much respect for what public school teachers shoulder on their own in today’s educational climate. Thank you for sharing some of your challenges Emily, the world is lucky to have a teacher like you.

      • Yes, Susannah, I think you are right on point when identifying the importance of a support network for educators. There are some amazing educators out there, with excellent resources. We need to create our own learning networks that allow for the collaboration and open sharing of these resources so we are not ‘reinventing the wheel’ each year. Imagine if all of the collective resources that have been developed in the past were shared and accessible to new teachers? That would be amazing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *