This is a short blog post this week that’s more reflective about the beginning of next area in ETEC 697: Educational Technology in Informal Learning Environments. We are beginning to get into talking about games — specifically computer games and a great multitude and the ways that they support learning. Two particular things strike me as a reflection point to begin this quest:
Gee, J. P. (2009). Pedagogy, Education and Innovation in 3-D Virtual Worlds. Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, 2(1), 3-9.
In this article, Gee, a well known advocate and researcher on games and their possibilities in education reflects on the similarities between construction of knowledge in gaming experience and a similar research thread in science education termed modeling. Much to my surprise, he quotes and uses extensively the thinking of David Hestenes, who spent the last 20 years at Arizona State University developing a pedagogical approach to science education termed modeling. In the “it’s a small world”, I spent two summers at Arizona State University in 1995 and 1996 under the tutelage of Hestenes learning the modeling method for physics teachers. sense that experience, I have been a huge advocate for rethinking the way we teach and learn — initially science, which is what I was trained to do, but more broadly education in general, as the ideas of modeling are applicable across all domains of learning.
So it was with no small amount of pleasure, that Gee took on the notion that good game design creates opportunities for internal models to be constructed by the gamer. Like any instructional approach, there are better examples than others that indicate this, but the notion that a well-designed game requires the learning of, and the application of some framework about the virtual world that must be applied has some real basis at its core.
Chris Dede At Harvard University spent a decade developing a virtual world called River City, in which students were immersed in a virtual medieval world that was facing a health crisis. The students needed to collect data, interview individuals, test samples, build a internal model for what was going on in this community so as to propose possible causes and solutions to the crisis. The underlying goal was for students to develop an understanding of the scientific process, with an emphasis on public-health. There were two aspects of River city that I always found particularly powerful — students were engaged with the rich science problem, that required building knowledge, as well as social exchange in order to accomplish the task. Secondarily, there was a real emphasis on assessment, learning outcomes, to understand better how students learned in this environment. This is a topic for another blog post, but probably the most exciting thing I heard Chris talk about was their efforts to measure learning formatively as the students were playing the game. Programmers found ways to measure where students were going, what objects they touched, the ways that they built resources, so that instead of stopping the students in the midst of learning to see what they knew, it was possible to measure that without interrupting the flow of learning.
There is no doubt that students find games engaging. The thinking of Gee and the potential offered by Dede give two merging pathways to better support these tools and learning.
In the process of thinking about this article, I stumbled across a PBS website that has interviews with Gee and Prensky, amongst others, talking about pros and cons of games in education. The website is:
here is an example of Gee talking about whether games might be educational:
The second topic, which is just a brief reflection, was the recent visit I had at High Tech High in San Diego California with a group of 60 Hawaii teachers from independent schools, looking at transformative models of education. High Tech High has built a reputation as a leading project-based school with a strong school culture on learning communities. In the process of talking to Ben Daly, the chief academic officer, the subject came up about expanding their program to a online environment. They are looking at creating a online Academy, for the students who cannot come to their school — either because it is too far away, or they could not accept any more students. They are fine tuning what an online environment might be like, and I found it striking that a school that values group work, authentic problems, and rich, deep thinking might not succeed well with traditional online classes. Games and virtual worlds, however, provide an opportunity to more than not mimic the kinds of problem-based, engaging, social learning that they value so highly. It will be interesting to see how they adapt their model online, and what tools they develop or utilize to support their philosophical core.