Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Learning from Gaming

As educators we would like to try to engage teenagers in learning. Video game developers have to engage teenagers in learning - or they are out of work! I've just read James Gee's Why Video Games are Good for Your Soul and have much to reflect on...

Gee believes that good video games give people control, agency and meaning while promoting deep learning that closely aligns with the learning that has often been identified as necessary for the 21st century - creative problem solving, metacognition, systems thinking, transformative learning...

Gee believes that video game developers do this by:
  • giving people well designed visual and embodied experiences
  • helping people to use these experiences to think imaginatively about future actions
  • letting people safely experience the consequences of their actions
He believes that game developers use the latest research from neuroscience and are guided by many "learning principles" such as:
  • learning is experiential
  • learning should encourage risk taking
  • learning is an extended engagement of self
  • learning can be customised to suit learning styles
  • problem solving leads to generalisations that assist in solving more complex problems
  • learning is "just in time" or "on demand"
  • learning is interactive
  • there are many ways to solve a problem
  • there are intrinsic rewards keyed to the learner's level of expertise
Gee points out that in spite of their success at engaging learners few video game publishers associate their products with 'learning' - too much negative baggage associated with that word :-)

I am not a video game player... the last games I played were mostly in the late 80s... minesweeper was about as far as I got... but I now think that there might be much to gain by looking at the ways in which good video games engage teenagers - partly because most of our teenagers are so-called "digital-natives" - and partly because I know that the majority of our students play video games - particularly males - and to very high levels.

How is it that strategy games like Rise of Nations can build player skills and knowledge to the point where they are thinking and operating across space and time in many complex relationships to create a well integrated and sustainable civilization - all for FUN?

As Gee says: "This is heady stuff indeed. This type of thinking is the very hallmark and foundation of the deepest and most complicated thinking in the sciences. Biologists, physicists, and social scientists must think in these sorts of ways in order to study the complex systems they are engaged with."

In the book Gee outlines the many ways in which different kinds of video games engage both individual and multiple players in virtual worlds from first-person to god-like perspectives... each type of game involving different player-game dynamics, skills, knowledge and development.

Another aspect that interests me at the moment is the way in which video games encourage players to move up levels gaining expertise and experience... Can we learn something here about good assessment practice?

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