Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Day 10: Convergence in Media, Culture and Education

Gaming and the Classroom: a convergence of purpose.

Games provide a rich context for players. Cinematics outline the main elements of the story, and then the player is fed important information as it becomes necessary, or s/he discovers information when it is applicable. Either way, players are working with data they can use. Because they are moving through the game at their own speed, the pacing of their learning is individualized. This contrasts with the way knowledge is delivered in the classroom. Even a teacher who attempts to run individualized programs, for the most part, ends up asking students to work in chunks, and then tread water until the rest of the class catches up.

There is also an important element of control that is present in gaming. Players can chose the order of tasks, the route to follow and in some cases the goals of the avatar. Combined with the ability to "redo" in an unlimited fashion, motivation is very high. This is what James Gee calls the "embodied story", meaning the player is engaged wholly in the experience. (Gee 2003) Unfortunately, the classroom experience can often be "disembodied" for many students: by this I mean "disengaged" from the content. Concepts need to be learned because they are part of the curriculum, not because they have any other personal value for the student.

Intentionally, or not, game designers have become very good at determining what makes for engaging play. And coincidentally, these conditions also make for good learning. As Gee maintains "probe, hypothesize, reprobe, rethink" are key for good games, and are no less essential for authentic learning. (Gee 2003) In an interview about gaming, Gee goes on to say
"[a]s a result, I argue that games are good learning machines. They have a lot of good principles built into their designs to get somebody to learn them and learn them well. Those principles are actually ones that research in cognitive science has shown works, not just in games but also in other forms of learning too, but there not much in evidence in schools." (See full article here.)

I'm not sure if what we need are games to cover curriculum, but perhaps more attention to the runaway success of gaming can help teachers design lessons and environments that engage the learner. For example, Resource-Based (or Problem-Based) Learning seeks to create projects that mimic a real-world situation so that student work is anchored in an authentic experience.

Another key factor is what Gee calls "a commitment to an extended engagement
" with the game. Something must engage the player/student and motivate him/her to persist. As Gee points out, a game may take upwards of 50 hours to master, the same time required to take a half year course. Many players will invest many more hours for the pleasure of the game.

However, it is important to note that games are not the magic solution. As Shaffer et al point out, (2004) these immersive environments have issues with violence and misogyny. And there is the stereotypical isolated teen playing in the basement at all hours. But as many researchers are indicating, there is an important convergence that needs to happen between the best of what video games can offer and effective teaching practices in the classroom.


Gee, J. P. (2003). Situated meaning and learning (PDF)

Learning by Design: Good Video Games as Learning Machines (PDF)

Shaffer, David Williamson, et al (2004). Video Games and the Future of Learning(PDF)

Other Web Resources:

Games + Learning + Society

Summit on educational Games

Some interesting Google Books

Situated Language and Learning (Google Books)

Why Video Games are Good for your soul. (Google Books)

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