From Theory to Practice

Scholarly Critique 3

Kurt Squire’s article, “Changing the Game: What Happens when Video Games Enter the Classroom?” immediately caught my attention as it was the concrete application that I had been yearning for.  Much of the reading thus far in INTE5320 has dwelled within the hypothetical and theoretical.  I sought a publication that applied these theories to a brick and mortar classroom and examined the effects: Squire’s article provided this tangible examination of game implementation with secondary students.  Civilization III was introduced to two classes with a varied composition in the hopes of providing lessons associated with world history.  The effects were varied, but did contain tendencies that shed an interesting light on the positives and limitations of games in the classroom.

The purpose of the study was to identify teaching strategies that generate motivation in students.  Researchers found that the student’s past aptitude and success in traditional classrooms directly impacted the efficacy of motivating factors in Civilization III.  Traditionally successful students found the game to be far more tedious and ineffective, bordering on frustrating, than students with a more checkered educational background.  Societal concerns revolving around real world application and acceptance into colleges based off nontraditional means plagued the skeptical students, while the counter group shared little concern about the far reaching impact of this type of education.

Through the premise of the game, students were tasked with growing their society.  In order to successfully accomplish this task, students needed to gain a far reaching understanding of not only their society, but other societies of the time as well as geographical constraints and government structures.  With the breadth of information students needed to absorb during play, it was difficult for them to retain much in the way of details.  What was gleamed were far reaching lessons that were applicable to the way the world functioned and functions: a much more applicable knowledge base than dates and facts.

Constraints in the game, which manifested in the form of failure of a player’s society, served, in fact, as the learning mechanism.  As examined in the article, failure in typical classrooms is seen as a negative whereas failure is essential in a game-based learning environment and provides the jumping off point for true learning to occur (Squire 2005).  This instrumental role of failure caused disillusion in many, but also inspired a comparable number of participants.  When a student’s society failed, it was back to the drawing board to learn the root cause of failure and strategies to avoid the same mistake in the next go-around.  Too often in traditional schools, failure is met with a letter grade and ushering students onto the next task or unit without revisiting the root of the problem.

Following the conclusion of the article, I am incredibly interested in what other games have been used on a wide scale within a classroom setting, specifically in the English arena.  Civilization and Rise of Nations is commonly cited, but I am curious what other games are being introduced into traditional classrooms and what successes and difficulties they are encountering.

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Teachers.net: First Impressions

After selecting teachers.net as my preferred affinity space for INTE5320, I have had an opportunity over the past few days to dig deeper into the community and come to appreciate all of the resources the site has to offer.  In addition to the myriad of chatboards available through the community, there are live chat options, job boards, exemplar lesson plans, news and a host of other useful materials.  Most relevant to INTE5320 and the Affinity Space Project is the available chatboards.

The variety of discussion forums at first glance is impressive in regards to the number of topics and groups available.  An entire group is dedicate to technology in the classroom with numerous subgroups that focus on everything from LMS’s to gamification.  Upon delving deeper than first glance, the participation in many of the discussions is sparse or even non-existent with some posed questions going months without a response or receiving only two to three cursory responses.  On the flip side, other threads are highly active.  At this point it is still difficult to assess just how active a community teachers.net really is.  My fear is that with the number of highly specialized groups, the site is spreading its members too thin.  Nonetheless, there is already a plentiful amount of beneficial information on the site, provided both my members and site facilitators.  I am excited by the prospect of learning and collaborating with teachers from different backgrounds and skill sets.  Teachers.net, might not have an overwhelming following in all areas, but the platform is sound and the potential for great things is certainly present.

Learning Journal 1

My participation through the first two cycles has been devoted near exclusively to Hypothesis.  This platform has allowed a certain amount of whimsy while still creating an engaging atmosphere to delve deeper into aspects of the reading.  It is incredibly fluid, user friendly and has allowed a much more productive learning environment than linear discussion forums.  The specificity within comments that are directly attached to paragraphs, sentences or phrases are much more beneficial than generalized statements and analysis often found in disconnect discussion threads that try to tackle a piece as a whole.  Through my participation, I came to the interesting revelation that this course, at least thus far, is not so much centered on using games in education, rather modeling education after the positive attributes involved in games.  The idea of modeling a classroom or learning experience based off the positive aspects of games was something I have not considered.  Rather, games were more of a tool and a plug-and-play type of resource than an exemplar model for education.

Absent from my participation is the Twitter element.  Despite reading tweets from classmates, I have chosen not to participate, as I have always had and continue to have a negative perception of Twitter.  I have social qualms with the platform on a variety of levels which I will not go deeper into in this post, rather it is suffice to say that I do not enjoy the platform and choose to participate through other mediums to engage with course content and peers.

Beginning this course, I entered into the content with the preconceived notion that video games had the significant potential to be detrimental to a child’s development.  I still subscribe to this view in part, but do recognize the benefit that some video games hold.  As seen in the case studies presented in Reed Steven’s article in Cycle 2, these gaming environments can function as learning microcosms that can help learners and teachers identify learning styles and habits.  I have not abandoned my first thoughts, but a light has at least come on behind this closed door, encouraging further exploration and the potential to step through the barred door of video games as a valuable resource.

The internal Canvas network has proved valuable on some procedural items pertaining to the course, but does not appear to be checked or utilized with much fidelity by the class a whole.  Hypothesis as a network has been very useful so far.  It has provided an opportunity to think differently about specific aspects of the text and also gain clarification on different theories and terminology associated with gaming.

A question that has arisen for me in several readings is how do you steer learning objectives in a game if each player’s experience is different?  The answer I have come up with is, you don’t.  Just as each person has different takeaways from a lesson, it is the same with a game.  The answer does not seem to be in controlling the experience, but reflecting upon the experience and sharing learned lessons with the rest of the participatory group, or in the case of this class, sharing out with an affinity group.  At this point, the learner can assimilate those lessons into their own lessons learned.

My curiosity around real world application and games in learning has been piqued.  Up until this point the readings have dwelled more in the hypothetical realm as opposed to actual case studies conducted in a classroom setting.  I am interested in the successes and difficulties encountered in a traditional school setting when implementing the learning theories seen thus far in the course.  In order to pursue this interest, it will be a focus for future scholarly critiques.

Tear it Down to Build it Up

Scholarly Critique 2

Simulations, Games, and Experience-Based Learning: The Quest for a New Paradigm for Teaching and Learning,” authored by Brent Ruben, caught my attention due to its discussion of simulations in learning.  Course texts have repeatedly mentioned the benefits of including simulated learning experiences, and it is a technique that I have had great success with in various classrooms across content and skill levels.  The abstract furthered interest with its mention of seven limitations of traditional or formal educational environments.  The promise of potentially avoiding these pitfalls while incorporating simulations was all the motivation needed to fully explore Ruben’s publication.

The overarching premise of the article is that formal education is broken in seven specific ways and simulations and games provide the elixir.  Ruben goes onto depict each of the seven failures and leaves the application of simulations to remedy these matters up to the reader to decipher.  Modes of failure includes item such as physical space, static teacher-student roles, nebulous or misconstrued learning objectives and an emphasis on knowing as opposed to doing.  Although there is validity to many of Ruben’s claim on a case by case method, the supposed tenets of education that he provides are archaic at best and evoke images of a one-room-schoolhouse.

Out of direct context with Ruben’s seven failures of traditional teaching and learning, the benefits of simulations are outlined.  Most notably, learning through simulations provides learners with a chance to engage more thoroughly with the content.  Practical application of knowledge, collaboration with peers, active-learning and enthusiasm are benefits of games and simulations as learning tools.  The underlying theme is that learning through games and simulations more closely mirrors the real world and therefore better prepares learners for when they exit the formal education setting.

The replication of real world experiences in a low-risk setting for the purpose of learning is a strategy that has been used since the dawn of human awareness.  Through sparing to aerospace flight simulators, the value of this methodology is grounded in proven results and data.  The more authentic the perceived experience, the most benefit and impact it will have on its participants.

The dominant question that arises from the article, and many other readings associated with INTE5320, is why do the majority of articles, books and other scholarly works need to tear down the current educational institution to then voice their ideas of the benefits of games in learning?  There are undoubtedly flaws in our formal school system, but there are untold positives that Ruben and many other authors overlook in their attempt to paint education as a cesspool of laziness and ineptitude in hopes of furthering their argument that schools should function more like games.

Sims FreePlay: SIMply Terrible

Play Journal #1: INTE 5320

With the explosive popularity of the Sims line of games, I could not resist the draw of making that my first foray into the modern gaming world.  Being unfamiliar and attempting to be frugal, I chose to experiment with the Sims FreePlay version available in the Apple App Store.  The objective of the game is to create a functioning town from the ground up by adding houses, businesses, people, etc.  Additions are limited by the amount of money in your account and by time.  The game is meant to be self-led and self-paced with no firm direction except that of the gamer and the motivation to provide for the fictitious citizens of the Sims town.

Upon beginning the game, I was immediately disenchanted by the first task in the tutorial: add a toilet and have your character relieve themselves.  Really??  I was immediately thrilled that I did not spend money on the game.  Overall, I found the game dull, overly complex with a mindboggling number of icons and options and void of any emotional draw.  There is the possibility that my limited exposure to the game did not allow me to get to the point where I had a vested interest in my population and a desire to build something.  However, my experience felt mechanical and preconceived as most actions were simply dictated by flashing icons and decreasing energy levels.  Although this version of the Sims was tedious, it did spark a curiosity as to why people were so fascinated with the chain.  My mind settled on the draw of building something from scratch and the sense of accomplishment that might instill.  Unfortunately, I find no interest in building virtual worlds based on the prompting of predetermined algorithms.

The learning potential, I imagine, gained from the Sims would be a fuller understanding of cause and effect; however, this would be a rudimentary lesson at best.  The opportunity to choose the course and play “your” game was far too limited by constant notifications and other indicators that all but held your hand through the experience.  Games need to relinquish control to the player at some point or it becomes a dictated checklist provided by the game that needs accomplished within certain parameters.  Control is a base desire in human nature and Sims FreePlay failed to provide adequate control of freewill to the player.  A more open platform would have aided the overall design but still fallen short, as who wants to play a video game where they have to tell the characters to go to the bathroom?

Despite the failure of the tutorial to act as a hook and immediately grab the player’s attention, it did function in a very similar capacity as that presented in James Paul Gee’s analogy of a fish tank as presented in his publication Situated Language and Learning.  The tutorial in Sims FreePlay allowed the user to learn the basics of the platform in a 100% hold harmless arena.  A “sandbox” approach may have created more interest and a need for attention as the fish tank scenario presented zero risk.  It inspired less attention than even a “sandbox” scenario with nominal or controlled threats.

For me, my introduction to the Sim World will be followed by a prompt exit and best of luck to my Sim community.