Sunday, October 17, 2010

Video Games & Learning_James Paul Gee

James Paul Gee, an expert on how video games fit within an overall theory of learning and literacy, in response to The New York Times Magazine article “Learning by Playing.” It featured a public middle school where every aspect of learning is designed to be game-like.

Excerpt from Part I of the Question/Answer Feature is included below with link to full article and Part II:

Q. Are there low-tech ways to replicate the things that make video games effective learning tools (“fun” and engagement, interactivity, problem-solving, higher-level integrated thinking skills)? How do you shape effective pedagogies around a game-based curriculum? — oiseausauvage

What I advocate is not learning with games, but problem-based learning in which learners practice skills as they solve problems. Today our schools focus on facts and information and not problem solving. Thus, many of our students cannot actually solve problems even when they can pass tests on facts and information.

When students use facts and information to solve problems they both gain the facts and information and learn to solve problems. Games are one good way to do this, because a video game is problem solving with lots of practice, feedback, and assessment (e.g., boss battles). But this style of learning can and should be done in many different ways. We need to build settings in which kids learn lots of content, but through using that content as tools for problem solving and as a body of knowledge to which they can contribute. Such learning should also stress learning to collaborate, learning to pool knowledge with others, learning to innovate and preparation for future learning and for being a expert life-long learner.

Current tests do not really test problem solving or innovation. But note this: good games are designed so that a player cannot finish them without having mastered them. This is how good learning in algebra should be designed, as well. The course should be so well designed that finishing it guarantees the student has mastered it. If we did this right, there would be a massive cost savings. We could put the entire testing industry out of business.

Q. Many people believe that electronic media (television, computers, and video games) can intensify anxiety and make kids hyper. Is this something that is being watched or monitored with the children at this school? — Amber Mussman

Electronic media can have lots of effects. Games like Flower and Flow (downloadable games for the PlayStation 3) are quite soothing. In any case, Quest to Learn is not based around games that make kids hyper (like fighting games), but around games that are digital and nondigital, and in virtual worlds and in the real world. The game activities at Quest to Learn require reflection, problem solving, thought, and sometimes collaboration. For example, students may have to solve a secret code that requires mathematics or linguistic knowledge or work out principles of how chemical elements combine based on patterns and interactions they have seen in a game space. Such games do not make kids hyper, though they can bore them if they are not well designed.

Continue on to full article for Part I

Excerpt for Part II Question/Answer Section:

Q. It seems to me that presenting all intellectual activity as fun and exciting game play might be helpful if we set our sights low enough, but is ultimately damaging if we want to produce flexible, diligent and persistent thinkers. What will happen to children who spend 12 years being “entertained” into working when the video game sound effects stop? — Matt Brenner

Games that simply sugarcoat traditional skill-and-drill education — and these are popular today, given the nature of our schools — are not what I am calling for. They just do what school already does to no better purpose. I am advocating games and other ways of learning that break the paradigm of current schooling, games that involve students with solving deep problems, help them master lots of knowledge in order to solve them, get them to explicate what they have learned to teach others, teach them to innovate and help them to design and redesign some of the curriculum for themselves. You are right that life is full of things that are not “fun,” but something has to keep the learner “in the box,” persisting past failure and not giving up. Games do this well by rewarding effort and teaching that failure can be a path to success if we learn from it. Demon’s Soul is a great example of this. After you have played for hours and leveled up, the second-to-last boss lowers your level, mitigating hours of play, if you do not engage him with mastery. Luck alone or inept success will not be rewarded here. By this point you are either a master or you go back and work more, no matter how long you have played and how many “points” you have earned. Sounds a lot like life to me.

Have there been any studies on the educational benefits of video games across different genres? — Drew

This is a crucial issue. Different types of games are good for different things. Good designers have to know how to match the content to be taught with the right problems, decisions, actions and game mechanics to make a good game for learning. But research on the specific properties of different types of games is just getting under way. It will be a fruitful and important area of research.

Continue on to full article for Part II

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