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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Clark Aldrich and Collaborative Learning

Here is a brief bit on collaborative learning. I think I am missing Aldrich's thoughts on the roll of the instructor, but this is what I have done at 11pm. This practice of posting sections each night has bene highly motivating, but I still can't escape the feeling that everything I'm doing is rushed. Anyway...

Though Aldrich (2005) quotes Will Wright as saying that “getting people to engage other people with what they learned is critical” (p. xxxii), Aldrich himself was unconvinced of the value in multiplayer games and simulations. In terms of Role Paying Games in particular, Aldrich (2004) felt that role playing “is an incredibly high-pressure environment that forces traditional, not experimental behavior” (p. 87). He debated whether or not Virtual Leader should be an MMORPG, but concluded that there were several reasons not to follow a multiplayer design. “Role playing environments are highly public… [and] people in a role play don’t act ‘normally’” (p. 101). Similarly, “groups of people act differently from one another” (p. 101) and “real people act erratically” (p. 101). He later called online multiplayer games unpredictable (Aldrich, 2005, p. 68). Some of his objections are related to the logistical expense required for getting people together at the same time and in the same place (or virtual place), issues which are avoided by single player games (Aldrich, 2004, p. 101). Also unlike single player games, multiplayer games (and certainly massively multiplayer games, especially ones in which players are actually role-playing) do not allow for repeatability of scenarios (p. 101). At one point, Aldrich even poses the following question: “why are so many teachers and trainers obsessed with multi-player computer games, especially since most have never played them?”

Ironically, given his objections to MMORGPs, Aldrich (2005) advocates live role playing as powerful learning experiences (pp. 96-105). In this vision, a computer might be used simply to facilitate the use of rules in the game (pp. 96 and 104).

Thanks for reading.


Clark Aldrich and Inquiry-Based Learning

I'm cranking away on Aldrich again tonight... here is a bit on Inquiry.
Like Prensky and Gee, Aldrich discusses many ways in which computer simulations can provide learners with opportunities for inquiry. In creating Virtual Leader he was interested in creating open-ended content through the creation of virtual sets that players could explore (Aldrich, 2004, pp. 105-106). Aldrich (2005) quoted Will Wright, creator of the Sims, as saying that “the more creative the players can be, the more they like the simulation” (p. xxx) and “this might be giving them a lot of latitude” (p. xxx). Conversly, Aldrich also quoted Wright as saying “one way kills creativity” (p. xxxii). Aldrich considered computer games to be “empowering activities” because the player is the key to success (p. 136); the process of trial and error is necessary on the path to success as well (p. 136). He also acknowledged that “no single game… appeals to everybody” (p. 149), but envisioned a world where “students everywhere… truly engaged (and ultimately created) wondrous new environments” (p. 271).

Again, I think I may need to return to this... but at least for now it makes a nice digestible blog post.


Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Clark Aldrich and a Context for Learning

Here is another bit I finished this evening. I've begun my section on Aldrich...
In the tradition of Seymour Papert's microworlds, Aldrich (2004) is interested in the way “simulations describe small worlds” (p. 152) as a context for learning. Aldrich (2005) quotes Will Thalheimer on the role of context in simulations:
“The first thing that makes simulations work is context alignment. The performance situation is similar to the learning situation… when the learners enter a real situation, you want the environment to trigger the learning. That results in a 10 to 50 percent learning impact” (Will Thalheimer, as quoted in Aldrich, 2005, p. 84).

When Aldrich (2004) discussed the objectives of designing an interface system for a simulation, his most important points were that a simulation interface should “represent the actual activity at some level” (p. 173) and “be a part of the learning” (p. 174) in the sense that simply learning the interface would help a user learn about the subject being learned. Though he advocated for keeping a simulation interface simple and streamlined (p. 175), he was interested in fidelity where it impacted learning. He suggested that a simulation interface should operate in real time such that “all options are available all the time”(p. 175). Similarly, he called for simulation design that, like the real world, included all three types of content, linear, cyclical, and open-ended (p. 99). He also opposed simulations that presented the world as it should be rather than as it is, even if this is done in the name of political correctness (p. 215).

I may need to revisit this to strengthen this section... but I expect my writing on Aldrich will be more brief than what I've written about the others... he spends a lot of time discussing development issues I am not concerned with.

Thanks for reading.


Prensky, Gee, and Aldrich

I don't think I already shared this bit that serves as a transition from my section on Presnky to my section on Gee.

In his review of James Paul Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, Marc Prensky (2003a) wrote that Gee “did something that is extremely unusual, courageous, admirable, and potentially quite helpful to a great many [of his readers]” (p. 3). Though he criticized Gee’s use of jargon, Prensky was “a very big supporter of Gee’s overall message that games are powerful learning tools” (p. 3). Gee, like Prensky, was also interested in the concept of “hard fun” perpetuated by Seymour Papert (p. 165) and his work provided a rich discussion focused on principles of learning which good video games often exemplify, but which many classrooms do not.

Tonight, I've written the following transition from Gee to Aldrich, which recalls Prensky again.

In Digital Game-Based Learning, Marc Prensky (2001) shared a phone conversation in which Clark Aldrich pointed out that “the online gaming world… is a self-generated, well-served, highly active, thriving community of learners “ (p. 222). Prensky, like Aldrich, was concerned with whether simulations might be useful for game based learning, but questioned whether simulations were actually games (p. 210). After discussing the relationship between the two, Prensky offered advice on how to make a simulation a game (p. 215). Prensky also quoted Aldrich as consistently telling clients to “get more gamelike” in their simulation designs (p. 286). Four years later, Aldrich (2004) wrote Simulations and the Future of Learning, in which he in turn cited Marc Prensky’s metaphor of digital natives and digital immigrants (p. 218). In the introduction of his following book, Learn by Doing, Aldrich (2005) was still drawing on Prensky’s ideas in his discussion of how “students are changing” (p. xxix).

In contrast, Aldrich (2005) seemed more critical of James Gee’s “wide-ranging hypotheses, organized pre-proof, established by reason… WHOPPERs for short” (p. xxxiv), though he did not mention Gee by name. Aldrich himself was not an academic and proudly declared his lack of desire to ever be one (p. 91). Still, as an experienced practitioner and researcher he offered a powerful vision of what the world would be like “if e-learning truly worked” (Aldrich, 2004, p. 1-2) described the conception, design, building, and marketing of “a new-generation educational simulation” (p. 9), and advocated for new genres computer games and simulations, such as the interpersonal genre typified by The Sims and Virtual Leader, in order to present cyclical, linear, and systems content (p. 64). Considering the games or simulations debate, he suggested that “it is more productive to think about the distinct elements, namely: Simulation elements, Game elements, [and] Pedagogical elements” (Aldrich, 2005, p. 80)

Perhaps a reader will find these connections valuable. :)


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Monday, August 29, 2005

James Paul Gee, Video Games, and 21st Century Skills

Still drawing from What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, the more conservatively titled Situated Language and Learning, and the more iconoclastically titled Why Video Games are Good For Your Soul here is my discussion of Gee's work in relation to the 21st Century skills I've mentioned here before. This is only addressing ideas that did not already find their way into my previous posts last week.

Gee has discussed many potential benefits of video games in education which are not neatly categorized within the framework of context, inquiry, and collaboration, yet are also too significant to be described merely as support. These additional benefits may, however, be described as helping students to develop twenty-first century skills such as digital age literacy, inventive thinking, effective communication, and high productivity (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory and the Metiri Group, 2003, p. 5).

Twenty-first century skills include a variety of digital age literacies, such as basic (reading, writing, and calculating), scientific, economic, technological, visual, information, multicultural, and global literacies (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory and the Metiri Group, 2003, p. 13). Gee (2003) touched on several of these. He described the way that video games can help develop a student’s multimodal literacy (p. 14). This idea reappeared in his semiotic principle, which expressed the way in which students understand “interrelations within and across multiple sign systems (images, words, actions, symbols, artifacts, etc.)” (p. 49).

Gee (2003) also considered the metalevel thinking involved in mastering a semiotic domain; he felt that “learning involves active and critical thinking about the relationship of the semiotic domain being learned to other semiotic domains” (p. 50). This principle concerns many of the same values as the twenty-first century skill of inventive thinking, including curiosity (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory and the Metiri Group, 2003, p. 38), “thinking about problems from multiple perspectives” (p. 34), and “higher order thinking and sound reasoning” (p. 44). Gee (2003) also explained that through playing video games and reflecting on the experience, students can learn to become self-teachers, an inventive thinking skill called simply self-direction by the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory and the Metiri Group (2003, p. 33). Later, he discussed the appropriateness of video games as a way to teach systems thinking (Gee, 2005a, p. 28), a skill that helps students to be adaptable and to manage complexity, both of which constitute twenty-first century skills (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory and the Metiri Group, 2003, p. 33).

Gee’s (2003) Semiotic Domains Principle touched on the importance of learners being able to participate in an affinity group associated with a domain of study (p. 49). This includes elements of effective communication (a twenty-first century skill), such as “teaming and collaboration” (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory and the Metiri Group, 2003, p. 48), “social and civic responsibility” (p. 54), and “interactive communication” (p. 56).

The design principle discussed by Gee (2003), explains that students “learn[ing] about and come[ing] to appreciate design and design principles is core to the learning experience” (p. 49). This is also a part of the twentieth century skills of high productivity, particularly those of “prioritizing, planning, and managing for results” (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory and the Metiri Group, 2003, p. 60), but also “effective use of real world tools” (p. 62) and the “ability to produce relevant, high quality products” (p. 64).

Gee (2003) was particularly interested in games that challenge learners’ thoughts and values (p. 56), that help them develop a sense of ethics (p. 79), and to come to a greater degree of self-knowledge (p. 67). These interests are not only related to the digital age literacies of multicultural and global awareness (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory and the Metiri Group, 2003, p. 15), but also to the personal, social, and civic responsibilities of an effective communicator (p. 47). The alignment of these concepts is even more clear in Gee’s (2004) discussion of affinity spaces (p. 98) and networks (p. 99).

Thanks for reading.


Saturday, August 27, 2005

James Paul Gee, Video Games, and Support for Learning

Here is the bit I've composed today on what Gee had to say about using video games as learning support.

In addition to be interested in the way good games can provide a context for learning, opportunities for inquiry, and a framework for collaboration, Gee is also interested in the additional support games can offer for active critical learning.

Motivation is one of the key support elements games can provide, and Gee (2003) called good teaching and learning a matter of three things: enticing the learner to try, to put in lots of effort, to achieve some meaningful success (p. 61-62). He began Why Video Games are Good for Your Soul with a discussion of the motivating pleasures even simple games such as Tetris can bring a player (Gee, 2005, p. 13). He went on to say that “cognitive science… has shown quite clearly that feeling and emotion are not peripheral to thinking and learning” (p. 30), and that “if learners are to learn… deeply… then they need to feel and care about the world… in which they are playing” (p. 30). An interactive game space can offer “rewards from the beginning, customized to each learner’s level, effort, and growing mastery and signaling the learner’s ongoing achievements” (Gee, 2003, p. 67).

A game space, as opposed to a real space, may also allow learners to take risks where consequences are lowered (p. 67). Gee wrote about a “Regime of Competence” (p. 71) when he explained that good games allow learners to “operate within, but at the outer edge of, his or her resources, so that at those points things are felt as challenging but not ‘undoable’” (p. 71). Later he reverted to Vygotsky’s term, the “Zone of Proximal Development” (Gee, 2004, p. 66), and illustrated how games can “help learners (players) pull of more than they could on their own and yet still feel a sense of personal accomplishment” (Gee, 2004, p. 66). Gee even expected a game to be “pleasantly frustrating” (Gee, 2005a, p. 26) such that “learners feel – and get evidence – that their effort is paying off in the sense that they can see, even when they fail, how and if they are making progress” (p. 26). Also, because “people don’t like practicing skills out of contest over and over” (p. 27), good games allow learners to “see a set of related skills as a strategy to accomplish goals they want to accomplish” (p. 27).

Gee (2003) was also interested in the ability of games to provide early learning situations that lead to “generalizations that are fruitful for later stages” (p. 137). He later wrote about the need for well-ordered problems that lead learners “to solutions that work well, not just on [the current] problems but as aspects of the solutions to later, harder problems” (Gee, 2005a, 26). In contrast, he also expected good games to allow learners to practice skills “until they are nearly automatic, then [to have] those skills fail in ways that cause the learners to have to think again and learn anew” (p. 27) in cycles of expertise. In addition, virtual contexts can provide a greater amplification of input for the learner; in other words, “for a little input, learners get a lot of output” (Gee, 2003, p. 67). Because of these elements, and because of the tireless replayability of a game (as opposed to a teacher who may quickly tire of explaining things more than once), games can offer learners “a context where the practice is not boring” (p. 71) so that “they spend lots of time on task” (p. 71). Learners should also be given “ample opportunity to practice, and support for, transferring what they have learned earlier to later problems, including problems that require adapting and transforming that earlier learning” (p. 138).

Though one of the benefits of games is that they can provide an authentic context for student tasks, they can also provide support within this context, such that “learning even at its start takes place in a (simplified) subset of the real domain” (Gee, 2003, p. 137). This Gee (2003) called the Subset Principle (p. 137), and later “fish tanks” (2004, p. 61 and 2005a, p. 27), “supervised fish tanks” (2004, p. 65), “supervised sandboxes” (p. 66), “unsupervised sandboxes” (p. 70), and simply “sandboxes" (2005a, p. 27), but this might have been called a microworld by Papert and others. In a well-designed microworld, learners will see, “especially early on, many more instances of fundamental signs and actions than would be the case in a less controlled [context]” (Gee, 2003, p. 137).

Because “human beings are quite poor at using verbal information (i.e. words) when given lots of it out of context and before they can see how it applies in actual situations” (Gee, 2005a, p. 27), perhaps the most obvious form of support a game world can provide learners is the availability of “information both on-demand and just-in-time, when the learner needs it or just at the point where the information can best be understood and used in practice” (Gee, 2003, p. 138).

Thanks for reading.


Marc Prensky, Video Games, and Support for Learning

Here is another selection from last week's lengthy write up on Prensky for the depth portion of my human development KAM. If all goes well, I will finish the coresponding section on Gee's work later today.

Much of what Prensky (2001) discussed related to how games (and teachers) can provide the necessary support for effective teaching and learning to take place. For instance, games have rules that give players structure (p. 106). Also, in order to focus on player experience, good games must “mak[e] the game accessible to their entire audience, including new players who might find challenging what has become trivial to the designers” (p. 134). Not only must good games be easy to learn, but they must be hard to master, thus “providing hours, or even lifetimes of challenge” (p. 135) In order to be successful, games must have a strong structure that is well thought out in advance, yet they must remain highly adaptive and “fun for a variety of players” (p. 135). They must even remain fun by “walk[ing] that fine line between not too hard and not too easy, and do it for a variety of players” (p. 135). Ideally, a good complex game “adapts to each player’s skills and abilities through highly advanced artificial intelligence programs that sense just how a player is doing, and then change[s] the game slightly whenever the player leaves the ‘flow zone’ in order to move that player back into it” (Prensky, 2005a, p. 8).

Good games can also include “frequent rewards, not penalties” (Prensky, 2001, p. 135). In fact the motivational and engaging elements of games can be considered part of their support structure. Prensky identifies “fun the great motivator” (p. 107) and suggests that “the principal roles of fun in the learning process are to create relaxation and motivation” (p. 111) Similarly, he considers play “the universal teacher” (p. 111) and reports evidence that “people enjoy difficult tasks more when presented as play rather than work, and their minds wander less” (p. 115). The win states inherent in many games can also be motivating and gratifying (p. 106). In “Evolving Instruction,” Prensky (2002a) challenges academy to find new sources of motivation in order to capitalize quickly on new virtual environments; naturally, he suggests games as a solution (p. 6)

Another support element that might be considered rewarding is a concept that Prenksy calls “mutual assistance – one thing helps to solve another” (p. 136); in other words “clues about one puzzle or task can be embedded into another puzzle or task” (p. 136). In good games, the things that players learn early on, help them be successful later in the game.

Several logistical considerations can provide support as well. The game interface must be useful (Prensky, 2001, p. 136). Ordinarily this interface must provide “the ability to save progress,” thus allowing players the flexibility to continue a game from the point at which they stopped and saved (p. 136). Of course, the content must also be meaningful, but Prensky (2001) projected that future games will have many “new game forms and subject matters” (p. 405), many of which will be suited to intentional formal learning. He also predicted that games will become “even more engaging” (p. 406), which will support student learning. In terms of developing these games, Presnksy suggested an open and collaborative model not unlike that of the existing open source software movement (2002b, p. 3)

Games used in formal education must provide support for different cultures and individuals. Games must support the needs of those who are not digital natives (including teachers), allowing them the privacy to practice in order to overcome any embarrassment (Prensky, 2001, p. 138, p. 386). In general, games will need to provide support for the needs of non-gamers of any age (p. 387). Naturally, learning games will need to address the issue of violence in video games in such a way as to avoid offending (or harming) students from various cultures (p. 139). Most importantly, games used in schools must address the needs of both genders, despite the traditionally male dominated history of commercial video and computer games.

However, the role of the teacher can be more important than any element built into a game. Prensky (2001) laid out a variety of other new roles for teachers, including being a motivator, a content structureer (integrator/reformulator), a debriefer, a tutor (individualizer, steerer, selector, adjuster, guide, facilitator), and a producer/designer (pp. 374-353). Of these, the role of the teacher in facilitating debriefings following game play may be the most vital (p. 240). Furthermore, Prensky (2002) reported that the difference between results of one-on-one tutoring and classroom learning is two standard deviations (p. 10). However, video and computer games can offer more one-to-one learning time – more student-to-computer time, and, because many students are engaged with the computer, more student-to-teacher time. Applied strategically, computer games and teachers can be a powerful combination.

Thanks for reading.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

James Paul Gee, Video Games, and Collaborative Learning

Here is tonight's contribution to the long slow march to a completed KAM, and eventually a review of literature for my dissertation.

Like Prensky, Gee also found a good deal of value in games as a framework for collaborative learning and socially negotiated meaning making. His concern that “children are expected to read texts with little or no knowledge about any social practices within which those texts are used” (Gee, 2003, p. 16) lead to his initial focus on the importance of connecting learners with affinity groups, or “insiders” who are “into” a certain semiotic domain and share “certain ways of thinking, acting, interacting, valuing, and believing” (p. 27). He explained that people who play particular games, or genres of games, are able to connect with an affinity group (online or gathered around a game console), even if the game is not multiplayer (p. 27). In a way, even players of a single player game are also collaborating with the game designers in co-creation of the story line (p. 81).

These ideas initially culminated in Gee’s (2003) Affinity Group Principle, which focused on the need for learners to be a part of “a group that is bonded primarily through shared endeavors, goals, and practices... not shared race, gender, nation, ethnicity, or culture” (p. 197). However, he later refined this idea and focused more on affinity spaces (Gee, 2004, p. 77). Though he continued to validate the importance of a “community of practice” (p. 77), he turned instead to focusing on the “space in which people interact” (p. 77). In addition to the original Affinity Group Principle, he added that in an affinity space, newcomers are not separated from masters, both individual and distributed knowledge are encouraged, dispersed knowledge is encouraged, tacit knowledge is encouraged (and honored), there are different routes to status, and leadership is porous (and leaders are resources) (pp. 85-87).

The Intuitive Knowledge Principle, which concerns the construction of tacit knowledge “through repeated practice and experience” (p. 111), suggested that this happens “in association with an affinity group” (p. 111) as well. In addition, three more of Gee’s principles related to Cultural Models. He advocated that learning should be set up, and is in many good video games, such that “learners come to think consciously and reflectively” (pp. 166-167) about their cultural models regarding the world, learning, and semiotic domains.

When Gee (2003) addressed multiplayer games, including MMORPGs such as Everquest, he wrote explicitly about learning as a social process that happens in the game (p. 169). He discussed the way meaning and knowledge are both “distributed across the learner, objects, tools, symbols, technologies, and the environment” (emphasis added, p. 197) and “dispersed in the sense that the learner shares it with others outside the domain/game, some of whom the learner may rarely or never see face-to-face” (emphasis added, p. 197). Very much in keeping with the constructivist tradition, Gee felt that the learner should be “an ‘insider’, ‘teacher’, and ‘producer’ (not just a ‘consumer’) able to customize the learning experience and domain/game from the beginning and throughout the experience” (p. 197).

Gee (2003) also wrote a chapter concerning “the ways in which content in video games either reinforces or challenges players’ taken-for-granted perspectives on the world” (p. 140). He predicts that
“this is an area where the future potential of video games is perhaps even more significant than their current instantiations. It is also an area where we enter a realm of great controversy, controversy that will get even more intense as video games come to realize their full potential, for good or ill, for realizing worlds and identities.” (Gee, 2003, 140)

This controversy, incidentally, is something I would very much like to take part in... as a force for the mature and unparanoid use of video games' potential as tools of personal transformation and of positive social change.


Marc Prensky, Video Games, and Collaborative Learning

Here is the section I wrote on Marc Prensky and Collaborative Learning last week. I plan to post some related material based on Gee's work in few hours. These are all early drafts that I am sharing. ;)

Prensky (2001) saw the potential of video and computer games to provide a framework for collaborative learning. Whether in-game (as opponents or teammates), or in the activities surrounding the game (as fellow players and fans of the game), most good games offer players a degree of interaction with social groups (p. 106). Prensky considers this interaction between players more important than their interaction with the computer running the game (or with non-player characters in a game), and suggests that players tend to prefer playing with others, even going so far as to say that “like the internet, computer games are bringing people into closer social interaction – although not necessarily face to face” (p. 123).

“One key lesson many of [the digital natives’] games are teaching them is the value of people working together and helping each other” (Prensky, 2004, p. 1). In their games, they are able to “coordinate their activities online, and to run projects that may involve hundreds of people” (Prensky, 2004b, p. 7). This is such a powerful effect that the US Army turns to games in order to help them “take individuals and mold them into well functioning teams” (Prensky, 2001, p. 303). This is also one of the more motivating and engaging elements of modern games, particularly MMORPGs (Prensky, 2004, p. 4).

Prensky predicts that digital games of the future “will be fully online, wireless, and massively multiplayer” (p. 404) and that “communication and cooperation will become more important elements” (p. 405). With respect to learning, he projects that teachers and learners will be “hooked up to massive, persistent, multiplayer games where learning can be constantly happening, revisions input, students evaluated, and scores compared and tabulated” (p. 407).

Thanks for reading.

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Test of Ourmedia.org and Podcasting

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James Paul Gee, Video Games, and Inquiry-Based Learning

Ok. This idea of postng my current writing on the blog has been motivating and has helped me begin to focus and streamline my writing... and to celebrate my success. I only attempted a very short section of my outline this evening, and here is the result:

Gee’s work, like Prensky’s, illuminates the potential of video games to provide learners with opportunities for inquiry. Implicit in the Active Critical Learning Principle (Gee, 2003, p. 39) is the presumption that interacting with the learning environment in a way that is not passive involves a measure of learner initiative, which can be inqury-driven by their individual interests and strengths. The Probing Principle (Gee, 2003, P. 107) makes this element of inquiry explicit, suggesting not only that a learner should be “probing the world (doing something)”, but that they should be forming, testing, and re-forming hypothesis about the world. Naturally, the direction this cycle of probing and re-probing takes, will be driven by the learner’s own curiosity. This sentiment is formalized in the Multiple Routes Principle, which values learning that allows “learners to make choices, rely on their own strengths and styles of learning and problem solving, while also exploring alternative styles” (p. 108).

An integral element of inquiry-driven learning, perhaps even the goal of inquiry-driven learning, is the possibility of student discovery. This surfaces in Gee’s (2003) Discovery Principle (p. 138), in which he suggests that good games keep overt telling to a “well-thought-out-minimum, allowing ample opportunity for the learner to experiment and make discoveries” (p. 138).

Gee (2005b) also encourages educators and game designers to empower learners; he asserts that “good learning requires that learners feel like active agents (producers) not just passive recipients (consumers)” (p. 25). In light of the fact that different learning styles appeal to (and work for) different people, Gee suggests that “people cannot be agents of their own learning if they cannot make decisions about how their learning will work” (pp. 25-26) and advocates allowing learners to customize their experience. Again, good games, particularly RPGs and MMORPGs, allow learners to heavily customize their experience, even including their identity by manipulating such things as their appearance, physical attributes, and skills. This leads to Gee’s belief that “deep learning requires an extended commitment and such a commitment is powerfully recruited when people take on a new identity they value and in which they become heavily invested” (p. 26).

Finally, games (or other learning environments) must provide learners with the tools necessary to manipulate elements within the learning context, for as Gee says, “humans feel expanded and empowered when they can manipulate powerful tools in intricate ways that extend their area of effectiveness” (p. 26).

Thanks for reading. Please leave comments if you are interested.


Marc Prensky, Video Games, and Inquiry-Based Learning

This is another breif excerpt from my Prensky material, written last week...

The potential for games to offer opportunities for inquiry appears in Prensky’s work. According to Prensky (2001), the digital natives, or the games generation, prefer “random access vs. step-by-step” (p. 54) instructions, and feel constrained when required to follow a single path or thought instead of being allowed to make their own connections (p. 54-55). They also prefer “active vs. passive” (p. 59) learning in which they learn by experimentation. Prensky suggests that well-designed games provide an interactive environment which allows digital natives to learn in this way, and which adapts to their needs, allowing them to remain in a flow state of optimal learning (p. 106). While a game will include the structure of rules, goals, and objectives, it can also offer interaction and individualized feedback in ways that classrooms often do not (p. 119). This is because good games will keep “a constant focus on the player experience” (p. 134) and remain “highly adaptive [in order to] be fun for a variety of players” (p. 135). Perhaps most important, a good game “includes exploration and discovery” (p. 136).

When explaining the value of complex games for learning, Prensky (2005) stressed the “number of choices of decisions a player must make in the game” (p. 10), especially in contrast to classrooms, where “the time between decisions can often be measured in hours” (p. 10).

Ultimately, Prensky (2001) suggested that future players will be allowed even greater freedom in determining the direction of their individual inquiries, because “we will create the games we want” (p. 405).

“We will have the ability to set enormous amounts of parameters, from who we are, to where the game happens, to who the players and opponents are, to how much challenge we want that day. In addition, the games will learn about us as we play, and adapt on the fly to what we enjoy. We will be able to take any perspective and viewpoint we choose. We will input our own individuality and creativity into our games as we do into our houses and clothes. In this sense, we will all design our own games.” ( Prensky 2001, p. 405)

Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

James Paul Gee, Video Games, and a Context for Learning

This I wrote last night. It is not nearly as brief as the Prensky version, but may be more meaningful... but of course, I am not the best judge. Feel free to leave comments.

Like Prensky, Gee discussed ways in which video games can provide a context for learning. Gee (2003), a linguist and cognitive scientist asserted that “words, symbols, images, and artifacts have meanings that are specific to… particular situations (contexts)” (p. 24) . He also suggested that “the theory of learning in good video games is close to… the best theories of learning in cognitive science” (p. 7). In the constructivist tradition, Gee argued that learning involves situating (or building) meanings in context, and that “video games are particularly good places where people can learn to situate meanings through embodied experiences” (p. 26). He highlighted examples in which “the player (learner) is immersed in a world of action and learns through experience, though this experience is guided or scaffolded by information the player is given and the very design of the game itself” (Gee, 2005, p. 59). Gee (2003) understood that “meaning and knowledge are built up through various modalities (images, text, symbols, interactions, abstract design, sound, etc.)” (p. 111), which video games can provide in spades. The learning context itself took on a special meaning for Gee, because he believed that “thinking, problem solving, and knowledge are ‘stored’ in material objects and with environment” (p. 111).

Gee (2003) focused on the way that video games can provide a learning environment that is “set up to encourage active and critical, not passive, learning” (p. 49). He believed that active critical learning was based on experiencing (seeing, feeling, and operating on) the world in new ways (p. 23), and on being able to not only “understand and produce meanings” in the domain being learned, but also being able to “think about the domain at a ‘meta’ level as a complex system of interrelated parts” (p. 23).

However, Gee was most interested in the way that good games can facilitate learning by requiring players to take on a new identity and form “bridges from [their] old identities to the new one” (p. 51). He felt that “all deep learning – that is active, critical learning – is inextricably caught up with identity” (p. 51), and he tapped into the tradition of Piaget’s little scientists when he offered the example of “a child in a science classroom engaged in real inquiry, and not passive learning, [who] must be willing to take on an identity as a certain type of scientific thinker, problem solver, and doer” (p. 51). This concept he extended to the many roles that students might play in good role-playing video games, which he reported made him “think new thoughts about what [he as a player] valued and what [he] did not” (p. 56). He suggested that game designers and teachers “need to create a game-like biology world in which learners can act and decide as certain types of biologists” (Gee, 2005, p. 85) in order to help students become “authentic professionals [with] specific knowledge and distinctive values tied to specific skills gained though a good deal of effort and experience” (p. 51). Gee felt that good games can facilitate learning that “involves taking on and playing with identities in such a way that the learner has real choices” (p. 67).

Even at a more basic level, Gee (2003) believed that “basic skills are not learned in isolation or out of context; rather… a basic skill is discovered bottom up by engaging with the domain” (p. 137). Gee also suggested that learners should get “lots of practice in a context where the practice is not boring (i.e. in a virtual world that is compelling to learners on their own terms and where the learners experience ongoing success)” (p. 71).

Gee offered the following recipe for providing students with a context for learning.

“The recipe is simple: Give people well designed visual and embodied experiences of a domain, through simulations or in reality (or both). Help them use these experience to build simulations in their heads through which they can think about and imaginatively test out future actions and hypotheses. Let them act and experience consequences, but in a protected way when they are learners. Then help hem to evaluate their actions and the consequences of their actions (based on the values and identities they have adopted as participants in the domain) in ways that lead them to build better simulations for better future action. Though this recipe could be a recipe for teaching science in a deep way, it is [also] a recipe for an engaging and fun game. It should be the same in school.” (Gee, 2005, p. 63)

Though there is more I could post (from my Prensky section), I ought to be getting back to writting about Gee. ;)

Thanks for reading.


PS. Almost all of this refers to the 2003 What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy and 2005 Why Video Games are Good For Your Soul. Formal references will have to follow... after I write them for the KAM.

Marc Prensky, Video Games, and a Context for Learning

This is something of an experiment to see if this is a satisfying way to share my writing. I am also hoping that by returning to the blog I will have more success finding my voice in my formal academic writing... or at least, finding it again. Currently I feel terribly constrained by my topic and the format.

The following is from a section on Marc Prensky's work that I wrote last week... I was shooting for brevity, but may have lost something in terms of the commentary. I'd welcome comments.

Prensky’s theories support the notion that video and computer games can help provide a context for learning. In his discussion of why games are engaging, Prensky (2001) highlighted several relevant concepts; games have rules, goals, outcomes/feedback, conflict/competition/challenge/opposition, problem solving, interaction, representation, and story (p. 106), including character (p. 134). Many of these elements reappear in his discussion of what makes a game (pp. 118-127). Regarding goals specifically, Prensky suggests elsewhere that the goals must be “worthwhile” (2005a, p. 9), or specifically “worth it to [students]” (2005, p. 4), to be effective. When he covers game design, he considers the way in which a game must be balanced so that “the game is neither too hard nor too easy at any point” (Prensky, 2001, p. 133). A well-designed game, particularly an RPGs or MMORPG, can also include elements of exploration and discovery as well (p. 136).

In his projection of the future of digital games, Prensky (2001) predicts that games will be “much more realistic, experiential, and immersive” and include “more and better storytelling and characters” (p. 404).

Thanks for reading. It's back to writing about James Paul Gee for me.


PS, I realize now that I don't have the references ready to post yet. The 2001 is the book Digital Game Based Learning and the others are from articles available on his site.

Publish or Perish: A Blogging Ethic? (Part II)

A few weeks ago, while in residency, I posted Publish or Perish: A Blogging Ethic?

Well, it seems I've perished. I discovered while delivering a read/write web training two weeks ago that Educational Technology and Life is no longer in Will Richardson's public bloglines list of feeds.

With the time commitments required at work and in my phd writing, I have found little time for composing and posting to this blog. (In the previous months, my coursework provided material on a regular basis, but I am now done with coursework.)

At the same time, I am struggling with motivation (and time) for writing the Knowledge Area Modules (KAMs) leading up to my dissertation. Right now, in fact, I recognize this as a form of procrastination.

However, perhaps I have found a solution to both problems, though it means this blog will continue to be focused primarily on games and education. I will begin to post excerpts from my KAM drafts.

We'll see how it goes.

Also, keep an eye on my FURL feed for referred (and annotated) content.

Thanks for reading.


AB 75 at Los Al

Today Los Al principals are learning about the read/write web and blogs!


Thursday, August 18, 2005

Hard Fun... the participants.

Look, the executive director of CUE is in the audience... with Janet English of KOCE.

What is Interactive Learning? (Podcast)

Using his iPod, Robert Craven recorded several participants at the Getting Results Conference "Hard Fun" session as they answered the question "What is Interactive Learning?" He edited this raw audio using GarageBand and this podcast is the result.



What is Interactive Learning?

Here at the Getting Results Conference, Robert Craven, Michael Guerena and I are delivering a presentation called "Hard Fun: Interactive Learning with Technology."

We've begun the session by asking the question, "What is Interactive Learning?"

Heidi Berry and River Hawksford from Summit Day School believe that Interactive Learning allows students to engaging with other students. The learning is active and focused on cross-curricular real-world applications. It can even be kinesthetic as it allows students to synthesize new applications.

I interviewed Heidi and River by moblogging with my handheld.

Mark Wagner
Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Preparing for Getting Results

Robert, Mike, and I are preparing our session on "Hard Fun: Interactive

We include a moblog demo, so I am running through this again.

There is more to come in the next few days!

Mark Wagner
Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Agenda: Introduction to the Read/Write Web

  • Welcome
  • Introductions
  • Overview


Real Simple Syndication (RSS)

More Read/Write Web Services
  • FURL
  • Flickr
  • Wikis
  • Content Management, Project Management, Course Management
  • Social Software

Project Time
  • Collaboration
  • Sharing

Wrap Up
  • Feedback
  • Evaluations

Monday, August 08, 2005

Back to work... What are the 3 most important messages in Educational Technology Today?

After a month in sandles, I returned to work today. (My last day in the office was July 8th, and today is August 8th.)

Luckily, I'm starting what amounts to the new year with a two day retreat with the management staff of the educational technology department in which I work at the Orange County Department of Education.

One question that came up today, at least as I interpreted it, was, "What are the three most important messages in educational technology today?"

In brief, I think my answer is this...

1. Students and teachers can and should be creating and sharing content using the read/write web (blogs, FURL, Flickr, RSS, podcasts, etc), particularly if they are interested in developing 21st Century Skills. (Most of this is free or inexpensive, too.)

2. Video and Computer games can serve as engaging, motivating, and powerful learning tools and learning environments, particularly for developing 21st Century Skills.

3. Schools should be using (and supporting) Open Source Software, particularly if they are interested in saving money, having control over their information technologies, and generally making the world a better place to live... oh, and developing 21st century skills!

Clearly I need to explore and articulate each of these messages more clearly, and I hope to do that here at Educational Technology and Life. Perhaps some of these ideas will be fleshed out as part of the OCDE EdTech message for the year, too.

Tomorrow I am facilitating a session in which we will discuss short and long term goals, and I am very much looking forward to this... and to reflecting on it in writing afterwards... at least as much as is appropriate.

I think I also have some draft doctoral work to post here... on educational technologies (particularly video games) as constructivist learning environments.

Thanks for reading.