Reaction Paper 4: Video Games and Learning

Reading:

Gee, James. (2009) Good Video Games and Good Learning.

Klopfer, Eric; Osterweil, Scot; Salen, Katie. (2009). Moving Learning Games Forward: Obstacles, Opportunities, and Openness. Report from the Education Arcade, MIT.

Squire, Kurt. (2006). From Content to Context: Videogames as Designed Experience, Educational Researcher. 35(8) 19-29.

Video games and learning is something I have thought a lot about (and apparently blogged a lot about! here, here, here, here, herehere, here, and here) in the last 4 years since I began a project integrating SimCity into my 7th grade science classroom. I participated in the Games and Learning MOOC that Squire and Steinkuehler taught last fall, Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal is a favorite, and this spring I finally got a chance to present on the topic of video games and learning to parents and a few teachers at my school. This week’s readings built on this foundation and affirmed a lot that I already believe, but I want to add an analogy that I think is helpful in terms of why games belong in education and one aspect that I think was missed.

First, though, I feel like I need to come clean and admit that I’m a gamer. Whenever I talk about games in education, I almost always preface it with “I’m not really a gamer.” I say it for two reasons. One, because I do regularly play major video games like WoW or Call of Duty, so my gaming does not align with what people stereotypically associate with the label “gamer.” Two, if I did identify myself as a gamer, it might prevent honest conversations with teachers or parents who are skeptical or negative about games, whereas presenting myself as a non-gamer allies me with them. I think this gets at the deep attitudinal barriers that Klopfer et al. (2009) refer to. But when I read the descriptions of the range of what is considered gaming, it’s me. My earliest memories include being allowed to “pick tiles” for my mom’s Scrabble game, I got Yahtzee with 3’s when I was 3 (very exciting), finally beating my older brother at Monopoly (which he contested, of course), and staying up very late playing Tetris against my cousin with our linked Gameboys. I spend and have spent a lot of time playing games; I’m a gamer.

One way that I find is helpful to address the deep skepticism and negative reaction to video games in the classroom is through an analogy. (It is not my own: I credit it completely to the director of educational technology that I worked with at OES, Brad Baugher.) While it’s an easy comparison to talk about how video games are like athletics, he took it one step further. He argued that the way video games are played right now is a lot like pick up games: informal, unsupervised, unregulated, ad hoc, and exclusionary. We believe (and spend a lot of money) on incorporating sports into schools because we see that they teach valuable life skills like grit, persistence, cooperation, and inclusion, and we employ coaches to facilitate this. Incorporating video games into the classroom is a lot like bringing them into a space where teachers can facilitate the game play, such as incorporating reflection on the experience.

The aspect that I think was missed, particularly in the Education Arcade’s report, is involving students in the creation of games. Klopfer et al. (2009) mention this in the example of Gamestar Mechanic, but not really elaborated on: “The Gamestar Mechanic team argues that by participating in and understanding the interactions of multiple complex systems, they are developing skills that are crucial for an increasing collaborative, networked, and high tech society.” This meta-awareness is crucial, and this is what I think needs to be used to create a sense of urgency amongst educators. In my experience with SimCity, and here I will make an unresearched generalization from my anecdotal though professional experience, students rarely asked why the games were designed they way they were. Boys were much more likely to prod the limits of the game and test cheat codes but without asking fundamental questions about the assumptions of the games, whereas girls were more likely to accept the gameplay as they were and seek to optimize their play within the rules, but also without questioning the game itself. I think this says a lot about how gender plays out in the game of school in general. Engaging students in game design will improve their understanding that games are artifacts designed by people who have ideologies, beliefs, and values, in the same way that learning to create movies or use photoshop helps them understand the media they see. By extension, students who learn to identify the rules and ideologies of a game can ultimately learn to question how and why “real life” societies are governed by rules and ideologies. I, perhaps optimistically, see intentional and reflective game play as an exploration and understanding of who we are and the world we live in.

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Reaction Paper #3: New Literacies

This week’s readings were the first chapter of A New Literacies Sampler (2007), edited by Lankshear and Knobel (whole thing is available as a pdf), and a program report from The Campaign for Grade-Level reading called “Pioneering Literacy.”

The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading begins their report on “Pioneering Literacy” with a focus on the importance of the environment and parent-child interactions in teaching reading. I like that they make the distinction between the presence of devices and how the technology is used, though I am often skeptical of reported hours of screen time and what is really meant by “60% of white and hispanic preschoolers … have played video games on a console.” There are a lot of value judgements going on in reporting their statistics, and readers will interpret the numbers as good or bad depending on their own personal bias.

Where I think the Campaign goes astray is that by using an old model of “bookspace” and literacy, they limit both the success of kids and limit the use of an iPad. The first point about “bookspace” points to their desire to find authoritative products or programs that will deliver literacy skills in a textual order that is recognizable to their schema for teaching literacy. The key line from Lankshear and Knobel is that “to bring a model of value that ‘belongs’ to a different kind of space is inappropriate and creates an impediment to actualizing the new space.” In other words, it doesn’t make sense to look to iPad apps and websites to reflect traditional approaches to literacy, and by doing so, it limits what that technology might actually be able to teach. For example, an app that does not explicitly teach reading comprehension as traditionally understood may do very well with new literacies, such as recognizing and adapting interaction based on the context, of which reading and understanding is a part. Further, if we look at the Discourse for being a student in school, language is certainly a part of that coordination, but focusing on that alone may not result in the Campaign’s goal for grade-level reading because there are other factors preventing children from marginalized groups from stretching to a secondary Discourse.

This report reminds me of the early reports on climate change that were trying to convince people that it was a real thing while scientists had already established consensus among themselves long ago. The Campaign may serve a valuable role in helping raise awareness by encouraging intentional use of media by families and educators, but I think they need to reconsider their own understanding of New Media and the “cyberspatial-postindustrial” world to help programs update their mindset, rather than just helping them “technologize.”

Reaction Paper #2: How People Learn & New Media

Readings for this week include the first chapter of How People Learn, by Bransford et al. 1999, and Living and Learning with New Media, by Ito et al. 2008.

(I’m just including my last paragraph, which I think was the most interesting.)

A lot of schools and teachers are threatened by this generation of seemingly empowered, engaged, technology-savvy youth with their “resilient set of questions about adult authority.” (Ito et al. 2008) Further, “our values and norms in education, literacy, and public participation are being challenged by a shifting landscape of media and communications in which youth are central actors. Although complaints about ‘kids these days’ have a familiar ring to them, the contemporary version is somewhat unusual in how strongly it equates generational identity with technology identity, an equation that is reinforced by telecommunications and digital media corporations that hope to capitalize on this close identification.” (Ito et al. 2008) I want to address this very last part: the corporations. All these interfaces, platforms, and services are run by corporations, whose goal is to make money. This capitalistic ethos is built into the web, our children’s playground, and the companies make money when you to come back. They provide dopamine hits by alerts of connections to friends, by the functions of affirmations (“Pokes” or “Likes”), and by presenting solvable problems (such as in games), which is far from true about dilemmas in the teenage world. They provide quantifiable measures of popularity or desirability, which might at first seem like a reflection of content, but it’s not a far leap to being a measure of worth: the most followers, friends, shares, or comments. All this engenders FOMO (fear of missing out) and drama, such as “unfollow me and I’ll unfollow you.” This, naturally, affects actual identity formation and the conception of what it means to be successful in life. I’m not a technological determinist, clinical psychologist, nor anti-capitalist, but as the interfaces becoming increasingly seemless and as a greater percentage of our learning and life is extended on these platforms, I get a little skittish. Like many generations before me, my guiding hope is in education.

Opinions in this last paragraph were influenced by It’s Complicated: The social lives of networked teens, by danah boyd, and by a critique written of the book by Michael Simon, reprinted with permission on ISTE’s Indenpendent School Educator Network’s blog.

Think twice about the research sound bite and keep those perspectacles on, people!

Business Insider
There are a bunch of news stories flying around right now about how “digital technology and tv can inhibit children socially”, but if you actually read the study it’s not that clear, and NO ONE reports and important disclaimer by the authors themselves. As per usual, the news is more sensational than the research…
Here are links to recent news articles:
Methods
Basically the study looked at about 50 6th graders from a Southern California public school before and after an outdoor nature camp and compared their ability to read emotional facial cues to kids who stayed at home going to regular school.
Results
Kids who went to camp showed statistically significant improvement in the test of emotional facial cues.

Continue reading “Think twice about the research sound bite and keep those perspectacles on, people!”

Parent Partnership: Video Games and Learning

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Click above for the presentation slides or download the pdf here.

Download the handout here.

I also mentioned two important books: It’s Complicated, by danah boyd, and Reality is Broken, by Jane McGonigal.

Recap:

This morning I gave a presentation on Video Games and Learning. I’ve wanted to have this discussion since I started as technology coordinator and since beginning the SimCity project. The focus of the presentation was on the opportunities presented by video games and the skills learned, hopefully providing an entry into why kids (and lots of adults!) play the games they do and why they enjoy them so much.

I tried to walk the line between research and practicality and tried to frame how we think and talk about video games rather than giving my opinions, though my positive bias is clear. I wish I could have had more time to devote to the current research on the transfer of skills from video games to other arenas and the effect of play violence in teenagers. But that is what graduate school is for!

The best part was my somewhat last minute decision to play MMTW, Massively Multiplayer Thumb War, as inspired by Jane McGonigal from ISTE last year. I felt like I couldn’t talk about games without playing one!

Overall, I hope that people come away holding worries at bay and looking with their kids towards the opportunities. Technology is neither good nor bad, though it does change what life affords and affects us as individuals and as communities. When I look at the world, I am fundamentally hopeful about what the future will be, and maybe growing up around the Scrabble board helped shape me that way.

“The Gamers of Today May Be the Leaders of Tomorrow”

Rethinking Education

Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology, by Allan Collins and Richard Halverson

I’m preparing for a parent presentation on video games, learning, and kids. It’s a subject I’ve wanted to bring to a parent meeting for a number of years, and I’m excited to finally have it scheduled on the calendar.

Here’s my basic outline:

  1. Inoculate – basically address some of the common objections outright and diffuse potential defensiveness
  2. Reframe the discussion of video games: why do kids like them? (spoiler: it’s not because they are easy)
  3. What can games teach us about learning? (Overview of the research and history of games in learning and flow)
  4. Discuss common ways we denigrate or undervalue gaming, many times without even realizing it

I’m hoping to weave in lots of examples from Minecraftedu and SimCity, since those are the two video games we currently use in our curriculum. (Although it could be argued both of these are not the typical video games people think of. Minecraft is really more of a sandbox/creative tool and SimCity is an open-ended simulation tool.)

Stay tuned for a post of resources for my presentation!

I’m taking this opportunity to return to a book I read last spring, Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology, by Allan Collins and Richard Halverson. Just as with It’s Complicated, I’ll include some quotes, but know that the items that I pulled out specifically relate to my presentation on video games and don’t represent the entirety of the book.

  • My biggest picture observation is that we are in a time of enormous change in the structure of education, and educators have little control of this, which is probably why things are actually changing. Educators are conservative in their practice because of the design of the system. Change is upon us, whether it’s the internet, the computers, the nature of globalization and global problems, or the homeschool communities. I think this is exciting!
  • Watch a kid do math problems for homework. Watch a kid play a video game. When we know they are learning through the video game, why do we still feel in our gut that the math problems are more valuable? How did the popular culture and media so convince us into the idea that school and learning must be serious in order to be effective?

Notes from the book:

p. 9: 2 key arguments by technology enthusiasts:
1. “the world is changing and we will need to adapt schooling to prepare students for the changing world they are entering.

2. “technology gives us enhanced capabilities for educating learners, and … schools should embrace these capabilities to reshape education.”

Continue reading ““The Gamers of Today May Be the Leaders of Tomorrow””