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.

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.

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Parent Partnership: Video Games and Learning

Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 9.26.59 PM

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.”

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Instagram #ParentPartnership #KeepingUpWithKids

Remember the themes of our partnership:

  • Create a Common Culture
  • Stay Informed
  • Start the Conversation

Definition of social networking: “The use of a dedicated Web site to communicate informally with other members of the site, by posting messages, photographs, etc.” (From Google)

  • Profile- and connections-based – Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn
  • Media sharing – Flickr, Instagram, YouTube, Vimeo, Pinterest
  • Blogging – long posts – Blogger, WordPress
  • Microblogging – short posts – Twitter, Tumblr
  • Forums – interest-based
  • MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) Games – World of Warcraft

Instagram.

  • Take pictures and apply different effects
  • Automatic sharing to Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • Picture sharing
  • Captions with Hashtags

Hashtag: word or phrase after the “#” sign. Meant as a way to tag posts so that you can search the stream. For example:

#Timbers #ftw #ilovepdx

  • You can follow people
  • You can comment on or like (heart) their pictures

Platforms

  • iOS (iPad, iPod, iPhone) App
  • Statigr.am

Setting restrictions on an iOS device #parentalcontrols

Instagram TOS (terms of service)

  • Must be 13
  • App is 12+
  • Just bought by Facebook

Great opportunities with Instagram

Challenges

  • Privacy of pictures
  • Posting statuses using a picture

Parents: Facebook may fade… are you ready for Tumblr and Twitter?

I was scrolling through my Google Reader on this lovely summer morning and came upon Ian Jukes’ reposting of this article from eclassroomnews.com: “Some Teens Aren’t Liking Facebook As Much As Older Users.”  WHAT??? Now that we adults finally figured out where they are,  signed up for accounts, talked about friending your kids, how to set privacy and account settings, made policies about whether teachers should or shouldn’t friend students……  they are going elsewhere? Of course. That’s what kids do.

“Facebook is just not the big fad anymore,” said Kim Franklin, a 15-year-old from Gaithersburg, Md., who does not have a Facebook account and prefers social media site Tumblr. “It was like everybody was constantly on there, but now not so much.”

Franklin said her 13-year-old sister Nicole hasn’t signed up for a Facebook account, either.

Meanwhile, Laura Franklin, the girls’ 37-year-old mother, always has Facebook open on her computer while working on her parenting blog, Better in Bulk. That, she said, has led her teen daughters to dub Facebook a “mom thing.”

Everybody was there… so they will leave.

This reinforces for me what I’ve been trying to cultivate as a habit of mind: it’s not about the tool. Tools come and go. It’s about the skills, the processes, the connections.

Acceptable Use

For the Middle School, we follow this Acceptable Use Policy. It is explained to the students at the beginning of the year, I do a short review with the 6th grade tech class, and this year we also reviewed it in January with the 7th grade.

 Acceptable Use Policy, 2011-2012

The school’s information technology resources, including email and Internet access, are provided for educational purposes. The laptop issued to students should be considered an extension of the classroom for the purpose of providing access to educational resources.  Adherence to the following policy is necessary for continued access to the school’s technological resources:


Students must
1. Respect and protect the privacy of others.
  • Use only assigned accounts.
  • Not view, use, or copy passwords, data, or networks to which they are not authorized.
  • Not distribute private information about others or themselves.
  • Not publish pictures of others without their consent.

2. Respect and protect the integrity, availability, and security of all electronic resources.

  • Not download or install any application, extension, or software on the school’s laptops.
  • Not store any personal files on the school’s laptop.  Only files associated with school are allowed.
  • Not stream video or audio through the school’s network during work hours without explicit permission from a teacher for a specific educational purpose.
  • Observe all network security practices, as posted.
  • Report security risks or violations to a teacher or network administrator.
  • Not destroy or damage data, laptops, networks, or other resources that do not belong to them.
  • Conserve, protect, and share these resources with other students, faculty, and staff.

3. Respect and protect the intellectual property of others.

  • Not infringe copyrights (no making illegal copies of music, images, games, or movies!).
  • Not plagiarize.

4. Respect and practice the principles of community.

  • Communicate only in ways that are kind and respectful.
  • Report threatening or discomforting materials to a teacher.
  • Not intentionally access, transmit, copy, or create material that violates the school’s code of conduct (such as messages that are threatening, rude, discriminatory, pornographic, or meant to harass).
  • Not send spam, chain letters, or other mass unsolicited mailings.
  • Not use direct communications such as IRC, online chat, or instant messaging during school without a teacher’s explicit permission.
  • Not intentionally access, transmit, copy, or create material that is illegal (such as obscenity, stolen materials, or illegal copies of copyrighted works).
  • Not buy, sell, advertise, or otherwise conduct business, unless approved as a school project.


Students may, if in accord with the policy above

  1. Use the laptop, its software, and the school’s IT resources to communicate, collaborate, and create original works as enrichment or extensions of the school’s curriculum.
  2. Use direct communications such as IRC, online chat, or instant messaging with a teacher’s permission.
  3. Use the resources for any educational purpose.


Consequences for Violation. Violations of these rules may result in disciplinary action, including the loss of a student’s privileges to use the school’s information technology resources.

Supervision and Monitoring. School and network administrators and their authorized employees monitor the use of information technology resources to help ensure that uses are secure and in conformity with this policy. Administrators reserve the right to examine, use, and disclose any data found on the school’s information networks in order to further the health, safety, discipline, or security of any student or other person, or to protect property. They may also use this information in disciplinary actions, and will furnish evidence of crime to law enforcement.

I follow this with my most important messages:

  • Anything you do online is public, repeatable, and permanent: You should be comfortable with seeing it on the screen in gathering
  • Don’t tell anyone else your password (except your parents)
  • Don’t use anyone else’s computer
  • Log out: be wary of autofill passwords
  • Chat is not necessarily with who you think it is (anyone could be looking at the screen, regardless of who is logged in) and nothing is private
  • At higher institutions, the consequences for violation can be expulsion
  • Harassment is never about what you meant