Will Wright recently spoke about the learning potential in Spore, and Andrew Revkin elaborated on some of these ideas in his New York Times article The Man Behind Spore Explores Gaming as Learning.
How refreshing to read so many positive, intelligent responses to gaming and learning in the comments section (including this nice curated overview of the comments that Revkin posted a few days ago). Even the people who defend television as the more intelligent choice for learning make the comments lively, if only to remind us how quickly we normalize what was once scorned.
(At DML2011, three of our DML Competition Game Changer winners: Creatures Classified, DIASTEM, and Mission: Evolution will be showcasing their Spore adventures, so thanks to Will for sharing some of his insights into the collective learning he has been observing in Spore.)
Ron Davison wrote in response to Revkin's post that, "Games provide flow but rarely provide meaning. Education provides meaning but rarely provides flow. Time to bring gamers into the classroom?"
Those of us working in this area know how well that goes (think EOGs as bosses), but Davison's comment does raise questions about persuasion. Reading about gaming as learning will never be as compelling as playing an actual video game. Nothing is more persuasive than experience, which is what our kids are teaching us about digital media.
People try to compare books to games, or real life to games, or television to games, but those analogies miss the point. Gaming should be compared to learning, and we are only beginning to understand how to do that and why it matters.
Yes, it is time to bring gamers into classrooms. No, the majority of classrooms are not ready for it. Not until a critical mass of adults play (and create and build in) video games with kids to see and experience what happens. Only then will adults show up at school and ask why gaming is missing from the coursework.
After yesterday's post about the importance of parents playing video games with their kids (mothers, that includes you), it made me wonder how long it would take to get gamers into classrooms if more parents experienced the learning potential of games. What will it take to reach the tipping point?
When my son is assigned a lame project for school, I can't help but compare it to the deeply engaging, creative, inventive thinking and learning that happens during gameplay. Not just during the game, but in the world. Not to mention reciprocal benefits: he may never get fired up about homework, but when I refer to it as "leveling up," he understands the parallel in concrete terms.
To be immersed in a game means learning to research, read, communicate, socialize, strategize, problem-solve, invent, create, build, and count. Games can involve physics, geometry, algebra, and require perseverance, self-control, mastery, and trouble-shooting, and that doesn't include what the content teaches. Games also crash, patch, freeze and glitch, teaching kids about the hardware and software involved in digital literacy.
Gamers may need to update their video cards, or repair characters from the software files, or think in sophisticated ways about the way the Internet works (especially when it doesn't work). They need to understand privacy, security, teamwork, agency, and in our case, economics, specifically how to save enough allowance to pay for the monthly subscription.
Having a shared understanding of the game's narrative gives kids and adults a chance to use the same language whether discussing humor, leadership, manners, conventions, design, teamwork, whatever may surface.
To be precise, though, applying gaming principles to the classroom does not necessarily mean playing video games in class. As Lee Sheldon commented on Revkin's article, "Speaking specifically to the point of using games in education, I'd like to caution people who immediately assume the answer is video games or virtual worlds in the classroom. Far simpler, cheaper and more accessible to everyone is designing the coursework in a class as a game. No tech needed."
When Sheldon designed one of his classes as a game, he caught the imagination of hundreds of educators. (Sheldon has a forthcoming book by Cengage due in May, The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game.) Sheldon has more flexibility to innovate like this at the college level, but there are take-away principles that we can map to all classrooms.
When Revnik writes, "I think far greater potential lies in using gaming technology and design, along with explosively expanding communication channels, to foster global collaboration and knowledge sharing," he is speaking in ambitious ways about serious, sophisticated efforts. Just as science and technology needs the humanities, kids need adults -- parents, teachers, mentors, librarians, coaches, whatever we want to call them -- to help get them prepared for an undertaking as complex as one that Revnik proposes. The playing field is there, but we need to get our multi-generational game on.
Countdown to the 2010 DML Competition Showcase features Where Are They Now? updates on the 2008, 2009, and 2010 winners. The 2010 DML Competition winners will showcase their projects at the Designing Learning Futures DML Conference on March 4, 2011 in Long Beach, California.
Visit our DML Countdown page to view more updates from featured projects.