The second session was based on the paper by James Gee “Learning By Design”. Therein he describes the fact that gamers learn when playing games. They have to be good at something in order to succeed. Why not, then, introduce these gaming principles in education? Is it possible to do this? Can we learn from games to “upgrade” education?
Gee articulates a number of princibles, applicable in an educational context, which we might use in the classroom:
- Empowered Learners
- Co-Design – Good learning requires that learners feel like active agents (producers) not just passive recipients (consumers).
- Customize – Different styles of learning work better for different people. People cannot be agents of their own learning if they cannot make decisions about how their learning will work. At the same time, they should be able (and encouraged) to try new styles.
- Identity – 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 – whether this be a child ‘being a scientist doing science’ in a classroom or an adult taking on a new role at work.
- Manipulation and Distributed Knowledge – Cognitive research suggests that, for humans, perception and action are deeply interconnected. Thus, fine-grained action at a distance – for example, when a person is manipulating a robot at a distance or watering a garden via a webcam on the Internet – causes humans to feel as if their bodies and minds have stretched into a new space. More generally, humans feel expanded and empowered when they can manipulate powerful tools in intricate ways that extend their area of effectiveness.
- Problem Solving
- Well-Ordered Problems – Given human creativity, if learners face problems early on that are too free-form or too complex, they often form creative hypotheses about how to solve these problems, but hypotheses that don’t work well for later problems (even for simpler ones, let alone harder ones). They have been sent down a ‘garden path’. The problems learners face early on are crucial and should be well designed to lead them to hypotheses that work well, not just on these problems, but as aspects of the solutions of later, harder problems, as well.
- Pleasantly Frustrating – Learning works best when new challenges are pleasantly frustrating in the sense of being felt by learners to be at the outer edge of, but within, their ‘regime of competence’. That is, these challenges feel hard, but ‘doable’. Furthermore, 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.
- Cycles of Expertise – Expertise is formed in any area by repeated cycles of learners practicing skills until they are nearly automatic, then having those skills fail in ways that cause the learners to have to think again and learn anew Then they practice this new skill set to an automatic level of mastery only to see it, too, eventually be challenged. In fact, this is the whole point of levels and bosses. Each level exposes the players to new challenges and allows them to get good at solving them. They are then confronted with a boss that makes them use these skills together with new ones they have to learn, and integrate with the old ones, to beat the boss. Then they move on to a new level and the process starts again.
- Information ‘On Demand’ and ‘Just in Time’ – 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. They use verbal information best when it is given ‘just in time’ (when they can put it to use) and ‘on demand’ (when they feel they need it).
- Fish Tanks – In the real world, a fish tank can be a little simplified ecosystem that clearly displays some critical variables and their interactions that are otherwise obscured in the highly complex ecosystem in the real world. Using the term metaphorically, fish tanks are good for learning: if we create simplified systems, stressing a few key variables and their interactions, learners who would otherwise be overwhelmed by a complex system (e.g. Newton’s Laws of Motion operating in the real world) get to see some basic relationships at work and take the first steps towards their eventual mastery of the real system (e.g. they begin to know what to pay attention to).
- Sand Boxes – Sandboxes in the real world are safe havens for children that still look and feel like the real world. Using the term metaphorically, sandboxes are good for learning: if learners are put into a situation that feels like the real thing, but with risks and dangers greatly mitigated, they can learn well and still feel a sense of authenticity and accomplishment.
- Skills as Strategies – There is a paradox involving skills: People don’t like practicing skills out of context over and over again, since they find such skill practice meaningless, but, without lots of skill practice, they cannot really get any good at what they are trying to learn. People learn and practice skills best when they see a set of related skills as a strategy to accomplish goals they want to accomplish.
- System Thinking – People learn skills, strategies, and ideas best when they see how they fit into an overall larger system to which they give meaning. In fact, any experience is enhanced when we understand how it fits into a larger meaningful whole. Players can not view games as ‘eye candy’, but must learn to see each game (actually each genre of game) as a distinctive semiotic system affording and discouraging certain sorts of actions and interactions.
- Meaning as Action Image – Humans do not usually think through general definitions and logical principles. Rather, they think through experiences they have had and imaginative reconstructions of experience. You don’t think and reason about weddings on the basis of generalities, but in terms of the weddings you have been to and heard about and imaginative reconstructions of them. It’s your experiences that give weddings and the word ‘wedding’ meaning(s). Furthermore, for humans, words and concepts have their deepest meanings when they are clearly tied to perception and action in the world.
- Learning as Fun
Phil, a fellow student of mine and I created a little video about our thoughts on the paper in relation to the popular game “Call of Duty”:
A review of my own practice
I find it hard to implement this principle into my teaching. As a teacher I’m required to accomplish certain goals set by the ministry of education. I have to teach certain subjects and can’t decide on my own to change these. The place where I could introduce co-design is in the way I teach those subjects.
I could offer a number of possible goals for my students and let them figure out how to accomplish them. Students could be enabled to choose their path toward the set goal.
Again, due to the fact that my goals are set, I feel I’m forced into a certain way of teaching. Last year though, in geography, I worked on an iPad-project. The students were supposed to make a study about a touristic area in the world. They were given a number of options in how to present their work. We used 4 Apps on the iPad: Keynote (a basic presentation tool), Blurb (this tool enables you to show photos as a presentation and record your voice on top of that), Comic Life (make your own comic book) and iMovie (a basic movie making tool). Groups of students made different choices to present their work. They chose the one they felt was best for them.
The students really liked the fact that they had multiple options to choose from. It offered them a kind of freedom to approach the task. They weren’t as much bound to a set of rules like with a “regular task”, now they could be more creative and create a more personal presentation.
Part of the assignment about tourism is about the impact of it on local communities. What influence have tourists on the local economy, ecology, etc. Students are required to reflect on this. They have to empathize and try to figure out what the consequences are.
In my opinion, these kind of exercises require and stimulate higher knowledge. This transcends the mere facts of the matter, but expects from the students a kind of reflection. They are expected to know the facts and this time apply them on real world scenarios.
Manipulation and Distributed Knowledge
Manipulation is a principle used in many books in our school. The used method asks questions that almost lead you to a certain point where new knowledge is offered. Distributed knowledge, however, is something not, or barely, present in modern education. I think school focus far to much on “pouring knowledge in the heads of students”. Students have to reproduce a lot of facts, but true immersion in a specific aspect is almost none existent, due to the fact that all students have to accomplish the same set goals and cannot “wander about”, looking for things that really interest them.
In a real class situation, you could divide students into expert-groups. They learn new knowledge and then return to their “home-group” to teach their peers the newly gained knowledge. This way you make use of experts who have to teach (requires higher knowledge of the matter) and who, in turn, learn new things from others.
This too is found in many books/methods used in schools. Students start of with easy problems, to evolve to more complicated scenarios.
I like working like this in my classes. setting the scene, as it were, with a couple of approachable questions to make a point, only to evolve to deeper, harder problems from different parts of the world. For instance, I recently talked about world population and the challenges it brings along. We started of researching where many people live, where they don’t live and why, only to talk eventually about what the implications are of a world with 7 bln people in it!
Sometimes assignments do tend to be “pleasantly frustrating” for students. They are challenged and try to push themselves to find the answer. But, in all honesty, this is not always the case. Due to the fact that course materials are most of the time “generic” (i.e. fit for every student and not tailored to every students personal needs) students don’t always get that kick out of being pushed to the top of their capacities. I feel that education mostly offers a certain level and not always gives students a genuine personal learning path.
Doing this in the classroom would mean that as a teacher you should have access to exercises of all levels and be able to offer these at the appropriate time to the right students. This reminds me of the way the Khan Academy is setup. Only when a student completes a certain number of exercises (of a certain level), they are offered the next step in their learning path. This way they are constantly working at the maximum of their capacities and learning new ways to extend these capacities.
Cycles Of Expertise
During my ICT-course I offer my students pdf-documents that enable them to work at their own pace. I often give them a heads-up what chapters should be finished at what point, but most of the time they can take the time they need for doing assignments. Like the Khan Academy, we should let students learn at their own pace. Only when they are ready, the “game” evolves to the next level!
I dream of being able to offer students courses where they can learn at their own pace, giving them the time they need, and in the meantime coach these students when they need help. Unfortunately the educational system doesn’t offer this possibility. We are still using a system of education setup in the industrial age, where they move forward a group, not as individuals.
Information “On Demand” and “Just In Time”
The pdf-documents I use in my ICT-course also offer the possibility to look something up when they have forgotten about it. Students have access to the materials all the time, they can find information when they need to.
Again, I feel that our educational system isn’t student centered enough. We still force them to work at the same problem at the same time. Students should find their way through on their own (with the help/guidance of teachers).
So far, I have no experience with this.
Isn’t this a bit similar to letting students first have a go at “simple” exercises, and only after that try out the hard ones?
So far, I have no experience with this.
I think students would like to have a go a things, knowing they can’t do anything wrong, that it won’t have consequences.
Skills as Strategies
In my ICT-course, the students learn a lot of new (computer) skills. They use these in a lot of assignments but always in a new way.
Letting them “play” with these skills forces them to think ahead, try out new ways of achieving their goal.
I always try to offer my students a mind frame during my lessons. Give them anchors to fall back to when I’m teaching something new.
Letting them see the bigger picture enables them to learn the new information better because they can see its use.
Meaning as Action Image
Again, the ICT-course is good example of this. Letting the students try out new skills in “simple” assignments, let’s them come into contact with certain methods of accomplishing goals. When they are required to tackle the harder ones, they can use this knowledge.
Student-centered learning is essential in this. They have to do things themselves, they have to figure out how certain aspects work and use this knowledge to accomplish new goals.
Learning as Fun
I do my absolute best to add “fun” to my lessons. A lot of the time I do this in the form of humor. My goal is to motivate students intrinsically. This isn’t always the case, but I try.
Learning should be fun. Students should “want” to learn, like to learn,… If they are, learning will come more natural and without a lot of the problems we encounter today.