Monday, October 17, 2011

Addicted to..... Learning? Gaming in Education

Sign of the times: this is family bonding

How do the elements of gaming fit into learning?

How could gaming be designed to support learning, not just “edutainment” but actual, concrete learning? Could we start to design history, literature, math, etc games that students will become interested in, just as they would if they were playing Gears of War, or FallOut3?

I chose to play Mass Effect, a science-fiction RPG third-person shooter style game. Although this game does include a certain level of violence and some mature dialog (the game is rated M for mature), I chose to examine it because it was very well received by video game critics. My boyfriend owns the game (and it’s sequel, Mass Effect 2), and recommended the series to me when I explained the goal of this project.

Joe told me that a player’s success and experience in Mass Effect depends on a large amount of social interaction between your character, and the characters he/she meets throughout the game. Not only do you have to communicate with your ship mates and squad members, but you also have to practice diplomacy when meeting with other races and institutions within thje intergalactic council. At each opportunity of interaction and speech, your character (Commander Shephard), is given dialogue choices to either declare or respond with. There is always a clear “good” choice (geared toward peaceful interaction and a global perspective), and a clear “bad” choice (geared toward aggression, conflict, and xenophobia). There is also a “middle ground,” called “Investigate,” which offers you more choices for communication. The game has been praised for its highly developed network of social interaction.

I thought that the social interaction choices this game requires of its players could help develop moral awareness in students. Not that our schools necessarily have an agenda that includes types of moral instruction, however, I first saw the choices of social interaction as a tool that could help students learn more about the consequences (positive or negative) of their choices.

This brings me to my next point, also relating to the social interaction choices of the game. Since what you say affects the next steps your character takes, making one decision one way, might trigger events to go, say, positively. However, should you make a different choice, say you choose to respond to a conversation or proposal aggressively, the next few events you experience could go in quite a different, more negative direction. It all depends on your ability follow cause and effect. Like real life, the choices you make in this game don’t go unanswered. So you must choose wisely, lest you make a fatal mistake, lose trustworthiness, or jeopardize the galaxy!
However, as Dr. Z says, "it’s not about the’s about the gaming."

While I watched Joe play ME last night, we jotted down a few “buzz words” of gaming that we observed:

-problem solving skills
-resourcefulness/critical thinking
-task management
-real-time strategy
-decision making
-hand-eye coordination
-social exchange/interaction
-cause/effect relationship understanding
-leveling/progress motivation
Now let’s remember the list of 8 gaming characteristics Dr. Z mentioned. How many of our “buzz words” fit into any of these characteristics? I’ll include them as I think they could be categorized, behind each of the 8:

1. Choice: decision making, anticipation/prediction, resourcefulness, critical thinking
2. Failure: cause/effect relationship understanding, real-time strategy, critical thinking
3. Progress Bars: leveling/progress motivation,
4. Multiple long and short aims: goal-oriented, task management, multi-tasking
5. Rewarding ALL successful efforts:
6. Prompt and meaningful feedback: feedback, cause/effect
7. Elements of Uncertainty/Awards: cause/effect, critical thinking
8. Socialization: social exchange/interaction, understanding cause/effect

I know that some of those may seem like a stretch, being included in a few of the categories. But you can see that the elements of the game I’m playing match up to a lot of the characteristics that can be observed in gaming as a whole. In gaming, you have to think before you execute (well, most of the time). You must use knowledge, prepare, consider,apply, anticipate, predict, construct, synthesize a plan, and then take action! You can evaluate your performance after you’re done, to see if you need to go back and perfect/re-group to perform better the next time. Don’t these terms remind you of something?

Bloom’s Taxonomy tells us that higher order thinking skills include: analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. As you can see from the image, gaming uses ALL of the taxonomy thinking skills, from knowledge to evaluation. We must recall information from the situations we encounter, understand this information so we can use knowledge in new situations. Then we must break things down, use critical thinking (hey, didn’t I mention that?) in order to prepare for executing our next move. Then comes putting things together and creative thinking, so we can finally act out our plan. After the action, we can evaluate, make a judgment. If our performance was not as we expected, we can go back and try again, using a different strategy. We must think about what didn’t go right the first time, what did, and what we can do to improve. This is such a valuable process, central to gaming, and central to education! In her TED talk, Jane McGonigal goes further than just promoting gaming in education; she explains ways in which gaming can help promote a better world, and mentality of living. 

After doing this “experiment,” I see so many ways in which gaming could incite learning and motivation in students. Not only is gaming about fun, it is about progressive understanding, preparation, discovery, and learning from doing. You learn as you go along, and the progress that you make will either help you level up, or help you understand another element of the path to your goal. The analogy of “leveling up” can be applied to knowledge and education because every piece of knowledge you gain helps build your experience and foundation to build upon, and to “level up” to the next stage. I think gaming could be a powerful instructional strategy/tool, and I hope to see where it develops in the future. In fact, I became so interested in this topic, I chose it as my focus for my final paper in Technology in Education. I also beat Mass Effect yesterday, and I've moved on to Mass Effect 2. I'll be looking forward to the release of ME3 Multiplayer in March of 2012. I'm pretty sure Joe's going to pre-order it soon! Stay tuned, and I’ll update you on what further support I find on gaming in ed. Until then, keep gaming!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Fresh Start in a New World with Flat Classroom

Earlier, I watched the keynote of the first Flat Classroom Project installment of 2010, by Judy O'Connell from St. Joseph's College in Hunter's Hill, Australia. In her video, Judy mentioned the popular film, "Avatar" and how it can be seen as a kind of metaphor for the Flat Classroom Project. In the film, Jake Sulley is given the opportunity for "a fresh start," on "a new world." "You'll be making a difference," he is told, and these words are his invitation to travel to Pandora on his mission. All Jake must do is say yes, and accept his mission. As we come to see in the film, it is not an easy one, but Jake comes to learn about, participate in, and eventually understand a different culture and group of people different from himself. He learns, however, that he and the people of Pandora, are not so different after all.

Like Jake Sulley, participants in the Flat Classroom Project are given an opportunity to participate in a new world. "The Flat Classroom Project is your Pandora, a fresh start in global learning, it's your opportunity to be world-class students, develop your world-view, demonstrate to all of use the importance of good scholarship and good digital learning." O'Connell is spot on in her analogy, in that the power of the Flat Classroom lies in students' opportunities to expand their perspectives in our world, and see beyond the walls of their physical classroom. Instead of limited interaction with students within our physical community, Flat Classroom makes meeting, communicating, and collaborating with students across the globe, a reality. Children are highly adept at using online applications, Web 2.0 tools such as social media, search engines, as well as other tools supporting creativity. Therefore, they have the perfect set of provisions to support their learning in an online, global environment.

The Internet provides an optimal platform for global education to occur because it "levels the playing field" for individuals anywhere. Using multiple means of creativity and sharing, from text, audio, video, hypertext, and other multimedia, we can show our thoughts and ideas, and give feedback to others, with just the click of a mouse. And because our students today are so used to (and good at) this high level of media creation and manipulation, it is becoming more prominent in classrooms, both traditional and online. Check out this video created by Michael Wesch (in collaboration with 200 students at Kansas State University!) about how today's students feel about changing the face of learning and the traditional "classroom."

The Flat Classroom Project supports both digital literacy skills and learning, as well as global collaboration between classrooms across the planet. In the Flat Classroom, cultural understanding becomes personal, for each student, because he or she is interacting with students from cultures outside their own. What better way to learn about another culture than to speak and work with individuals from diverse backgrounds? The result is that students become less ethnocentric, and more globally aware. By learning about other areas of the globe, we also learn about ourselves. They also work on their skills with Web 2.0 tools, as well as tools essential or online learning and communication. There may come a day where our classrooms, however we define them now, may look a lot different, in that there may be no more "classrooms" but students will host their own learning networks, through online collaboration and communication.

I am starting to look at my own classroom experiences differently. I am starting to think "I wonder what it would be like if everyone in my classes, including myself, became more globally aware?" Would we see each other differently? Would we see what we read about, write about, and learn about in the same way? Will my future students have a better sense of global relevancy, and how will this affect the lessons I teach and the literature I choose to share? As a future English teacher, I am focused on how my students will read and write in the classroom, sure. But now I'm starting to think, how will my students read, write, and SHARE? And where will this lead them?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Better Tell Columbus He Was Wrong, Because the World is FLAT

Brandy Agerbeck's Graphic Facilitation of
 Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat
I originally became interested in the ideas contained within Tom Friedman's The World is Flat  because my dad (principal at Prairie Point Middle School and 9th grade Academy) had been talking about it. Being an administrator, he likes to keep up with changes related to education, and one of the biggest so far in this millennium is the fact that schools are starting to globalize. I remember him throwing me a copy of the book, saying "Ali, you had better read this and prepare yourself, because teaching is not ever going to look the same again." That was in 2007.

And until I came to college, and began my teaching program, I didn't really understand what he meant. But after seeing how much more there is to learning than just sitting in a classroom for 6 or 7 hours a day, seeing myself communicate and collaborate effectively online with my peers, creating my own, original work and sharing it with others, and being able to stay in contact with my friends when they went back to China, I knew something had changed. Something was different, and my own idea of what I was to become as a teacher was starting to change too. Our world, our communication, our ability to see ourselves as part of this vast networks of people and knowledge, no matter our location, was losing its rigidity. The walls had come down, like they did in Berlin almost 22 years ago, and that was only the beginning.

Now, we know that according to our understanding of astronomy and physical geography, the world (our Earth), is not actually flat. But our "world" in the relative sense is indeed been leveled. At every stage and opportunity for different groups to interact, we are shrinking. We are no longer limited by our geographical location, as Columbus proved with Globalization 1.0, when he set sail and opened trade between the New World and the Old. Nor are we limited by our ability to innovate and make changes in markets and labor, exemplified by multinational company expansion, breakthroughs in hardware, and a heightened sense of relevancy in commerce, which were the dynamic forces behind Globalization 2.0. Today, we are at stage 3 in the globalization process, and it is shrinking the world even further than the previous .0s. Globalization 3.0 is unique because it focuses on the "newfound power for individuals to collaborate and compete globally," (Friedman, 10). Not only will the 3rd era of globalization be powered by the increased involvement of individuals, but its participants will be more diverse. Today, anyone with an internet connection has the potential to communicate, collaborate, and compete globally. That is why we are asking ourselves as educators, "How can I fit into the global scale, and how can I help my students come to understand, participate in, and appreciate the ability to go global?"

Coming to terms with the world being flat may take getting used to, especially because for some, it is hard to understand what you have never experienced before. But for students we will teach today, they have already been participating in a global platform by their activity online, and I think with support in the classroom, students can come to understand just how amazing this type of communication is. Flattening the classroom is just like flattening the world, removing geographical and communicative limitations to make room for growth. Students in the Flat Classroom Project meet other students from different areas of the world, and get to work with them towards a common goal. This allows them to not only learn about the material of the project they are doing, but it enables them to learn about other kids, their own age, from different backgrounds and areas. It helps them realize that, though we might speak different languages at home, or dress differently, or do other things in different ways, we all have the common ability to think about and share ideas. We all have a voice, and now it can be shared so that everyone can hear, no matter where we are. And that is AMAZING.

I think the biggest benefit that flattening has brought to our world, and will bring to our classrooms, is an expanded sense of relativity to students. Though we may be just one person, we are not limited in our ability to reach out and communicate with others. "It's a Small World After All" has never been more true, and yet so contradictory. Our world seems so immense in size, but when you really look at it today, we are all a lot more connected than we ever have been before. I want to help my students understand that they are individuals, yet are able to contribute their own voices, experiences, and knowledge to a much "bigger picture," with an audience that is limitless. Through flattening, ethnocentricity begins to fade, and I think this allows students to see themselves as part of a group of high-potential future innovators. Who knows what will happen next, with the playing field as level as it stands today.

So I called up my dad, after watching Friedman's lecture again, and told him this:

Dad? You were right. Teaching won't ever be the same again. You'd better tell your history teachers to adjust their lectures, because the world isn't round. It's flat."

And he knew exactly what I meant.