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TRENDER: Educational Game Designer Alan Tortolani

Tuesday, April 02, 2013


Alan Tortolani was frustrated with the lack of quality he saw in educational games for youth as a fourth grade computer teacher.

Which Rhode Islanders are emerging in the field of design, technology, and the arts? They're Trenders, and GoLocalProv offers you a chance to get to learn about the people you most want to know on the scene. Today, meet Alan Tortolani, the founder of innovative educational gaming company ABCya.com based in Providence. Frustrated with the lack of quality he saw in educational games for youth as a fourth grade computer teacher, Alan focused that energy into a project that benefits children of all ages and continues to grow.

Before you began making games forABCya.com, you were an elementary school teacher. What moment or event from your experience inspired you to create ABCya.com?

In 2004, during my first year as a computer teacher in an elementary school, I had a difficult time finding good, free educational games on the web to be used in my computer lab. Frustrated by the lack of available resources, I began creating my own. I developed about one educational game a week and ended up with about 20 by the end of the school year.

What do you feel is different about ABCya.com in comparison to other educational computer games on the market?

The experiences I had as an elementary school teacher drive the design of the website and apps. I think ABCya.com is unique because the games were created by a teacher. Parents and teachers have expressed their appreciation for my ability to design navigation and gaming experiences that are age appropriate.

In what ways do you think educational computer games enhance learning for children? 

Children have different learning styles and most show a preference for one of the following styles: visual, auditory or manipulative. A well-designed computer game can include all three, thereby providing a vehicle to help more kids reach a sense of understanding.

How important is entertainment and fun in a child's learning experience?

I once heard a speaker at a conference say something like; “interest follows fun, and learning closely follows interest.” In other words, fun games are a great way to get kids interested, and that can motivate learning.

ABCya.com is based in Providence. Are any of the games' themes or ideas based on any concepts from Rhode Island?

That is an interesting question. I have not intentionally included an idea or theme based on a Rhode Island concept, though it would be fun to incorporate some of my favorite places into games in the future.

ABCya.com has worked with accomplished companies such as Apple and continues to grow. What do you think is the most important lesson to remember to maintain that success?
I learned to value a feedback loop very early on, and many of the most successful decisions I’ve made were rooted in suggestions received from visitors. My very first feedback email was a criticism, and yet I felt that it was a gift to have someone else help me improve the website. As a small business or startup, crowd-sourcing is a very powerful asset.

What has been the highlight of your business so far?

Fortunately there have been many highlights over the past few years. One that sticks out was when my five-year-old daughter and I were at the Apple retail store this past holiday season. She picked up one of the demo iPads and yelled out, “Daddy, this is your game!”. To my surprise, one of my apps, Math BINGO was installed on all of the iPads in the store. That was pretty cool. 


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