However, I want to talk about something that arose from the post presentation discussions. A healthy debate about the purpose and practically of games and learning ensued but one delegate suggested that personalised learning with games would eventually mean that no teacher would be required in the learning relationship. Another delegate suggested that what we need is a game that will deliver everything we need to teach!
What was interesting for me was that in the ensuing debate about these points Marc Prensky appeared to be of the opinion that we should let the children use the technology in an independent fashion and that learning ‘will happen’. I appreciate that this can, and does, happen but I have some real concerns about this from a theoretical and experiential perspective.
Years ago when I was a B.Ed(P) student at Northern College in Dundee we used to sit through lectures about the theory and practice of education (big respect to Jim Ewing et al.). Without going in to things in great detail I remember learning about Jean Piaget, possibly the father of the field in child learning and development. We learned about his work but also of criticisms of it from people such as Scotland’s own Margaret Donaldsont The main point that stayed with me was that Piaget claimed that if left to their own devices, children could, and would, learn when interacting without the interaction of an adult.
We also learned about social contructivism and in particular the work of a psychologist called Lev Vygotsky. Now Vygotsky talks abot the Zone of Proximal Development. This is defined as the gap between what a learner can do and what they do know, and, what they can’t do and what they don’t know. That gap is the place where the teacher comes in and uses whatever means, methodologies, resources etc to bridge that gap and take the learner forward.
I was working in a secondary school recently where we were introducing mp4 players that come installed with motivational audio files that help students develop effective strategies for study and an awareness of how the brain works and how effective learning can take place. We gave the learners mp4 players, access to a central blog that leads the learning and an individual blog where they would reflect on what they have learned about their effective study and themselves as a learner. However, although the project is at a very early stage there does not yet appear to be any reflective writing or dialogue on the blogs yet. Why? I believe it’s because we maybe assumed that because technology was in place that this reflection would just happen. Up to now it hasn’t and I’m not confident that it will unless we teach these learners about self-reflection and how they can engage with it.
Now I appreciate that learners are becoming more and more connected, that they learn very well on their own with technology and that they are, in many cases more technically proficient than their teachers. I do also believe that teachers need to be using technology in more informed and effective ways but we can’t continue to give them an inferiority complex and reminding them about what they can’t do! We must not forget the importance of the teacher in the learning relationship and we can’t abdicate our responsibility to lead, guide and hone the skills of the digital learner just because they are good with technology…and maybe more proficient with it than many teachers. We’re in this together folks are we not, so let’s support everyone.
The fact that I am a 38 year old digital immigrant (although I would argue that I am reasonably fluent in the techno-speak) was brought home to me with a bang this afternoon. I have had the pleasure of having a work experience girl (Lesley-Anne) from a local school in the Consolarium with me today. I have given her quite a few demanding tasks to do such as researching the Xbox 360 for me. She did this very well so as a reward I asked her to have a go at Zelda: Twilight Princess so that she could let me know what she thought of it. She was really excited by this because she has yet to play this version of Zelda. Here it is:
I had to leave her for an hour or two and on my return she had reached areas of the game that I did not know existed! What a plodder I must be. But, I started to regain some gaming diginity when she got stuck in a dark tunnel and couldn't get out...(ha ha, I sumgly sniggered) but NO...what did she do? Did she moan and give up? No, She escaped the tunnel, got back on her horse and rode to the shop to buy a lantern. More problems, no lantern there! So what was her next option? Straight to Google and a search for a game walkthrough. Within minutes she had found the information she needed, found the lantern and ploughed through that part of the game...breathtaking. Her speed, adaptibility and almost symbiotic interaction with the game and strategies to help overcome barriers was something to see. I think I need to consider employing some of these experts to help drive things here!
On my way through to Edinburgh this morning I decided to listen to the latest edition of the BBC's Digital Planet podcast. This is a really good show that never fails to throw up something of interest and relevance to me in my professional and personal dealing with technology.
The first article featured a new research paper from DEMOS called Their Space: Education for the Digital Generation. It proved to be quite an enlightening listen because they actually had a digital native on the programme! This 15 year old girl talked about how she and her friends used ICT in an invisible way in their lives. The only time it became overtly visible she claims was when teachers, (due to government regulations no doubt she mutters under her breath) told pupils that 'this is a mouse' or 'save your file to the appropriate folder'!!! The contempt was tangible I tell you.
It just so happened that I was on my way to speak to PGDE(P) teaching students about Games and Learning and as part of that talk I intended to introduce Prensky's idea of Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants. This podacts was excellent as it gave me the perfect way in which I could illustrate this from the native's perspective.
Now to read that paper from DEMOS...
Is it the case that computer/video games are agents for creating mindless, emotionless players? Do they simply make games players want to go out in to the real world and battle with another army, fight zombies with a sword blast other combatants to pieces with a range of high-tec weaponry? Are they the means by which we will eventually have social meltdown which will undoubtedly bring the moral panic chickens home to roost?
Okay, I am maybe over-egging the point here. You may have guessed that I do not subscribe to the opinion that games are adversely and negatively influencing players. I tend to think that young children, adolescents and young adults by far and away have an innate grasp of the differences between real and virtual worlds. Whether this was me as a child playing cowboys and indians with my peers or my friends children warring with their home made Lego light sabres, we knew that this was toy play. The same, I believe, a stands for computer games. James Paul Gee discusses this in his What Video Games have to teach us about learning and literacy text. He relates this ability to behave appropriately and differently in the virtual world from what you would do in reality to Erikson's 'psychosocial moratorium'.
Another interesting read on this matter is Gerard Jones (2003) Killing Monsters: Why children need fantasy, super-heroes and make-believe violence.
The author, who is a veteran comic book script writer, explains:
"....why validating our children's fantasies teaches them to trust their own emotions, helps them build stronger selves, leaves them less at the mercy of the pop-culture industry, and strengthens parent-child bonds.
and, more provocatively he argues that...
...packing a toy gun can be good for your son-or daughter. Contrary to public opinion, research shows that make-believe violence actually helps kids cope with fears. Explosive entertainment should be a family affair. Scary TV shows can have a bad effect when children have no chance to discuss them openly with adults. It's crucial to trust kids' desires. What excites them is usually a sign of what they need emotionally. Violent fantasy is one of the best ways for kids to deal with the violence they see in real life."
The reason for this post is that a colleague (thanks Barry) sent me a link that he saw in PC Gamer. The eCircus framework is an academic network that aims to explore the potential that games can play in supporting personal and social development. They have a particular focus on using games characters that have a degree of emotional intelligence within contexts that explore bullying and inter cultural empathy. I look forward to finding out more about this....
At the Handheld Learning conference in London last week I listened to Steven Heppell's keynote. Very interesting and thought provoking yet again. He played a clip of him extolling the virtues of computer games and learning. Again, he talked about what he had observed when watching children/learners play computer games:
The very interesting thing about this part of his talk was when he revealed that the clip was from 1991!
He then went on to show a number of examples from the Be Very Afraid site. This is something to see in terms of what is happening with new technologies, including games, now! Take a look at these two P.5/6 girls talking about their technology project. Look at how confident they are in terms of the vocabulary they use. Digital Natives right enough!
Newsweek has just published an article that talks about how learners can be encouraged to problem solve, to collaborate, to be challenged by computer games contexts and how their self-esteem can be enhanced. Is it a case of, yeah we already know this or is the momentum gathering pace and power? I tend to think it's the second of the two. The steady drip drip of the games in education lobby is making inroads into what is and what will happen in schools...