Nov 202009

I’ve recently been reading quite a bit about games in education. The ECT program at Steinhardt has an entire course on games, and I have to admit I’m not all that keen on them (simulations are, in my mind, a different but related genre, by the way). It’s not because I don’t think they have value; I absolutely do. And it’s not because I dislike playing them; while I would never colour myself with the Gaming Crayon, I definitely like to play, but rarely for extended periods. After an hour I tend to lose interest, and I’m not sure why. However, I will admit to having spent more than my fair share with the Nintendo Wii (which I specifically did not buy because I knew I would never study), and my all-time game definitely has to be Tetris. I’m also a big fan of the classic ’80s Atari games like E.T., Frogger, and PacMan. I like playing games more with other people than by myself, and I definitely see their social value. Many of the articles I’ve been reading for Frank’s class have lauded educational games because of their problem-solving features, their adept story-telling and story-weaving, their promotion of positive emotions, and many other features that help explain, on a cognitive psychological level, why games help foster learning. And I understand that games can be totally, wildly fun and involving and still teach. I get all of this, and for the most part, I agree with it.

If you had asked me a few weeks ago why I don’t think games will be big in schools, I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you why. I simply haven’t been able to articulate the reason why I don’t think they will ever really be incorporated and integrated into schools.

Until now.

I read this article by Constance Steinkuehler at the University of Madison-Wisconsin and Dmitri Williams at the University of Illinois: “Where Everybody Knows Your (Screen) Name: Online Games as ‘Third Places’.” (BTW, you can see the article with my highlights and annotations via Diigo here, in case you are interested.) The article is about how online games, in a social-networking kind of way, provide “Third Places” for users to hang out, share, explore, and learn. I totally agree with this comparison. The article goes into depths comparing various games and users to the definition of Third Places as defined by Ray Oldenburg in The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community.

The epiphany happened for me when I read this quote (emphasis mine):

First and foremost, third places are defined as neutral grounds where individuals can enter and leave as they see fit without having to ask permission or receive an invitation (as one might in a private space) and without having to “play host” for anyone else. Compare, for example, weekday attendance at the workplace to happy hour attendance at the neighborhood tavern. The former is a second place, marked by financial obligation and rules that structure who is expected to be where and for how long; the latter is a third place, marked by relative freedom of movement. [. . . ] To oblige any one person to play requires that explicit agreements be entered into by parties (much like making arrangements for a recreational team sport), since the default assumption is that no one person is compelled to participate legally, financially, or otherwise. Unless one transforms the virtual world of the game into a workplace (e.g., by taking on gainful employment as a virtual currency “farmer” for example, Dibbell, 2006; Steinkuehler, 2006a) or enters into such agreement, no one person is obligated to log in.

Do As I Say by Viewmaker
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And then it hit me: I think this is why we will never see games take off in current schools. The game cannot be the Third Place because school is a Second Place. Students are required to be there, required to participate, and marked by rules that structure it.

So, it’s my current belief that until schools are reformed into neutral grounds marked by relative freedom of movement, we’re not likely to see games become something big within them.

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Nov 232008

My mind is fresh from a weekend of intense PD with Jeff Utecht, who fervently shared his philosophy and expertise with me and my colleagues at UNIS Hanoi.  It was, in all, a fast-paced but much needed weekend full of tips, tools, and tidbits to think about and implement. I am sure all of who attended Jeff’s sessions had some big take-aways from the weekend; one of the big ones for me was the concept of the community in the 21st century.

What role does the community play in education this century?

The answer, I think, is complicated.  Jeff talked about how the community has to be built first, and how sometimes we as educators don’t get to choose where that community is — whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, SecondLife, or ClubPenguin.  But I wonder: Don’t we as educators have a responsibility to create that community?  Of course we should tap into communities already in place.  But when it comes to the “New Learning Landscape“, I think teachers do have an embedded and non-negotiable responsibility to build the community with our students.

One of the challenges we face at UNIS is that our digital, online community is currently quite closed. While I have argued before that this is not always a bad thing, that the walled garden can be a great place to learn tools and play with ideas, I do think that there comes a time (particularly at the HS level) when the community must branch out.  The fact that our students in grades 10 and 11 all have tablets (the first stage in our 1:1 roll-out) means that their community instantly was widened when they received their tablets.  Having that tablet in their hands means they can reach out all the way across the world if they wish — they are connected. And why should we stop them?  Not only does this new technology broaden their contact base and therefore extend their community, most of our students are third-culture kids who have lived in 4 other countries and are already part of an extended community outside our school doors.

If we are going to commit to the new literacies of the 21st century, we should enable our students to reach out to those communities, to find their authentic audience, and create their own learning environment.  To deny them of this is irresponsible.

I’m grateful for Jeff’s ideas this past weekend and I think it is a great start for the journey with our students down the intertwined road of communities and literacy.  Jeff got us thinking in the right direction, and armed with our wikis, blogs, Twitter accounts, and Nings, I daresay that our teachers and students are well on their way to embracing communities both within and beyond our doors.

And speaking of the community’s role in education, I happened across The KnowledgeWorks Foundation (courtesy of Lindsea, a member of my PLN and a contact of one of the KnowledgeWorks founders).  The KWF is an educational philanthropic organization with some philosophical golden nuggets that make it stand out as an organization.  The trademarked motto of KWF is “Empowering communities to improve education.”  How fab is that?  And if that’s not enough to get you browsing around their site, check out their Mission, Vision, and my favorite, their Values Statement:

Fanatical belief that all students have a right to a great education

Wow!  Finding the KWF was a great way to end my weekend, and I look forward to seeing what their community initiatives in education will bring to education in the USA and elsewhere.  You can also follow them on their Future of Ed blog.

All this excitement about communities, Web2.0, and literacy has made me very excited, but I’ve been so busy that the engagement has also made me rather ill — I have been fighting a nasty cold for about a week now.  So as I sign off this post, tea in hand, I hope that my community of learners and colleagues will understand if I’m “below the fold” for the next little while, laying low while I recover.

Photo1 by ortica*
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Photo2 by Librarian by Day
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Apr 102008

This article from the lovely Creative Commons Blog caught my eye today, particularly because the forum aims to look at “how digital technologies and new media are changing the way that young people learn, play, socialize and participate in civic life.”  Definitely cool (and no surprise that it’s being hosted at Stanford, either).   However, I am rather curious.  They say that proposed topics include:

  • Teen Socialization Practices in Networked Publics
  • Understanding New Media in the Home
  • Hip Hop Music and Meaning in the Digital Age
  • New Media from a Youth Perspective
  • (emphasis mine)

    I feel like this is one of those segments on Sesame Street:  “One of these things is not like the other.”  Socialization and networks – OK.  New media in the home and from a youth perspective – OK.   Hip Hop Music and Meaning – huh?  This stands out rather unusually to me.  My questions:

    • Why hip hop?  Why not other genres of music?  Or maybe there is another topic:  “Classical Music and Meaning in the Digital Age: from Chopin to Garage Band”?
    • Why only music?  Why not video, television, and podcasts? (although perhaps these are the other “new media”)

    Anyone else?

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