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!

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