Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Technology in Education: Fourth Insight and no new version of the Model

Note: I decided not to change my model this week, the reasons are at the end of the article. Thanks for your comments!

This week's readings were really interesting, since they put in evidence once again, that technology by itself does not add anything to the classroom. This time it was the turn for video games, and how due to their engaging characteristics (after all, as Gee mentions "Lots of young people pay lots of money to engage in an activity that is hard, long, and complex."), they have been considered as the new panacea for education.

The "Good Video Games and Good Learning" article starts mentioning all the learning benefits of good video games. I must admit that at the beginning I was a little bit bothered by this shrining of video games. He starts talking about good video games ("I became intrigued by the implications that good video games might have for learning in and out of schools.") but never defines one. The question is always present: Good how? Good as engaging, good as popular or good as enhancing learning?

My rejection to his point of view grew even more when he explained that "at a deeper level, however, challenge and learning are a large part of what makes good video games motivating and entertaining". I'm nowhere close of considering myself a video gamer. My experience with videogames is reduced to playing SuperMario Bros. at its early beginnings, but I have friends who enjoy playing videogames. I have observed that there is learning and developing of problem solving skills in playing video games, that is not being questioned. The problem is how often do we see a game engaging players to reflect on the skills they have developed? or how many of those skills would end up being helpful outside gaming?. For example, one popular problem in games is showing players a locked door that they need to open. Without minding what game they are playing, expert videogamers would probably already have developed a heuristic to solve that problem. Would that heuristic be useful in the real world?

Once I learned the real intentions behind the article, I started to agree with the author. Gee was not trying to glorify the use of video games in the classroom as a way to make classes more engaging. His intentions were more realistic and in some way, more agreeable with what we have already learned during this class: "So the question that I leave you with is not about
the use of games in school — though using them is a good idea — but this: How can we make learning in and out of school, with or without using games, more game-like in the sense of using the sorts of learning principles that young people see in good games every day". Although the learning principles that he mentions aren't new (cross-funtional teams is collaborative learning, just-in-time refers to immediate feedback, distribute knowledge is associated with offloading, etc), the advice of putting them into practice using video games as an inspiration, is an interesting and somehow innovative approach.

These conclusions are well supported by Squire in his article "Changing the Game: What Happens When Video Games Enter the Classroom?". Squire's study about introducing Civilization III, a historical simulation game, to the classroom, concluded that "games do indeed embody significant learning principles". Therefore, he agrees with Gee in that the real challenge for educators is not how to manage technology in the classroom, is more "to build better game-based pedagogical theories".

Squire's study ratifies my initial impression about the benefits of making students play video games in the classroom. Only because videogames have a reputation of "being fun, engaging, and immersive, requiring deep thinking and complex problem solving" does not mean that just by playing them students would immediately feel motivated to learn. There is nothing wrong with making class activities entertaining for students, but that should always be balanced with the educational value of the activity.

As Squire describes, many students were confused after being told to play a videogame in class. He explains that "25% of students complained that the game was too hard, complicated, and uninteresting, and they elected to withdraw from the gaming unit and participate in reading groups instead". Many factors could have influenced that decision. For starters, video gamers who try to play this game do it because they are interested in it due to their former experiences with video games. They don't do it because somebody makes them play. Additionally, mastering a videogame as Civilizations III takes weeks for expert video gamers. It is a trial and error process where failing is the only way to improve. But, one thing is to play at home with your friends and another different thing is to play the game as a school assignment. For some students failing in class in front of the classmates is embarrassing. I guess it won't be to risky to say that as a whole, the activity was simply not well plan.

As I've mentioned in my previous entries, a well designed classroom activity can be form the foundation for the students' creation of their own knowledge. Adding technology to the design of an activity needs to be carefully considered. It's not enough that technology might go along with the goals of the curricula, or that it's proven to be fun and engaging. It's also important to take into consideration the student's goals, life histories and experiences and even the physical context where the activity takes place.

Even though the game might indeed be entertaining, students started the activity already believing that playing was an assignment, an obligation. Therefore, they could not see the connection between gaming and learning. In the article "Making Learning Fun: Quest Atlantis, A Game Without Guns", the authors explained the way they managed to balance educational and entertaining value. They decided to first tell students that they were going to do an educational activity and let students realize for themselves that the activity lead to a fun game.

The Quest Atlantis case is a good example of all the factors that need to be taken into consideration for a technology to successfully support education. QA attempts to deliver a perfect well motivated, balanced, and interactive support to the classroom. As its creators explain, it combines strategies used in commercial gaming environments principles resulting from the intersection of education, entertainment, and a commitment to improve the world. There are many things that I liked about QA's design. For starters, that it was designed through a long process of getting to know the students: "we spent time learning about the television shows children liked to watch, the movies that interested them, the music they listened to, the magazines they read, the games they liked to play, and what and who were considered 'cool'.". QA is different from any other educational role-playing video game, since it the student's game identity and activity depend on the student's actions outside the virtual world. It encourages students to go to the real world, interact and learn. Another feature of QA that I consider really valuable(it has recurrently being mentioned in my posts and in my model) is that it is flexible enough "so that teachers can integrate QA based on their own local needs.".

I decided not to do any changes to my model this week because this week's readings reinforced the previous conclusions that led me to change my model in the first place: good curricula should designed amongst teachers, students and parents; classroom activities are the basic foundation for students' construction of knowledge; teachers are in charge of designing activities and are an important part of the whole process; technology can support classroom activities, as long as its use won't rest flexibility to the teacher's intentions and its role is carefully planned within the activity.

The learning principles mentioned in both Gee's and Squire's articles are not specifically present in my model but they are principles in which classroom activities should rely upon. So far my opinion about technology in the classroom remains the same: more important than bringing technology to the classroom is to change "the cultures of our schools to be organized around learning instead of the current form of social control.".


Jenna McWilliams said...

I recently sat in on a webinar featuring Jim Gee in which he said that a common misinterpretation of his work is the assumption that he wants to replace schooling with game play. In fact, he wants (as you point out) to think about how to integrate the game ethos into schools. One idea of his that I find really interesting is the argument that there are "big-g" and "little-g" games (or G/games). The argument goes like this: little-g games are given meaning by the Games that surround them. There is a Game of school, for example, inside of which certain games make more sense than others. It's not until we think about the big-g Games that frame learning experiences that we can think about what sorts of little-g games make sense for instruction.

Maggie Ricci said...

Hey Marisol,
I like your discussion of the issues involved in bringing a video game into the classroom. No matter how many statistics they show about how many young people play video games, playing in class will not be the same as playing for fun with your friends. Plus, there are so many different kinds of video games that plunking one down in a classroom is never going to have universal appeal.

Gee has some really interesting insights on games in learning. He even states in another article that "game design is learning theory in action", but it is not clear yet how to marry games with the prevailing culture in school.

Alison said...

I really like that you discuss thinking about how to create a video game like environment for the classroom with or without video games. I have been thinking about all the articles that we have been reading and trying to figure out if maybe rather than the technology itself being the motivating factor, but rather the way's in which the video games make the students think, act, learn. Maybe we need to change the way learning occurs in the classroom to a more video game like atmosphere rather than just sitting kids in front of a video game all day.


Lisa Baer said...

I agree that forcing students to "play" a game as an assignment is counterproductive. Maybe what teachers should do is provide a selection of video games that support the learning concepts, and let the students choose how they study a particular concept. Not every game appeals to all students, and not every student wants to play video games.