Affinity Space Reflection

After consistently sporadic involvement with my affinity space, Teachers.net, I have found more and more enjoyment and value in the diversity of topics, varied perspectives and real world lessons and resources that are available through the site.  The content is near addicting due to the contributions coming primarily from other classroom educators.  Many of whom share similar issues and interests, but each person brings their own individualized skills and strategies to the group..  It is easy to go down the rabbit hole in perusing different topics and trends.  At first impression, the breadth of content was a concern of mine due to the scarcity of responses to some threads.  This has transitioned into opportunities for involvement in the various discussion groups.

Teachers.net is a true community with participants lending support and advice in reference to difficult situations and sharing in accomplishments and successes.  The toxicity that plagues other affinity spaces is absent from this network.  The culture is more of a support group than any individual or group attempting to exert dominance or status..  It can best be summed up as teachers teaching teachers.

The only criticism is still the lack of depth with some threads.  There appears to be a shared mentality among many members that a single response to a post is sufficient in addressing the posters query.  This is occasionally the case, but often further exploration is warranted and in many discussions this development is lacking.

Teachers inherently want to share  knowledge and teachers.net is the digital embodiment of this notion.

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A One-Sided Coin?

Scholarly Critique 4

After being inspired by Cycle 4’s readings and the positives associated with game play, I pursued this theme.  The benefits as depicted in Bavelier et al’s article, “Brain Plasticity Through the Life Span: learning to Learn and Action Video Games” caused me to reevaluate my earlier notions on the effects of games.  Further exploration led me to Mark Griffiths’ article, “The Educational Benefits of Videogame”.  This article builds on the benefits demonstrated in hand eye coordination and reaction time, and examines the direct benefits between video games and actual educational skills.

Griffiths article relied heavily upon research previously conducted by A. Pope in 2001 where they presented 22 boys and girls with PlayStation games and had them play 40 one hour sessions.  They then compared their baseline brain wave patterns with post play data.  The results were conclusive in that the test group exhibited higher brain activity with a decrease in impulsiveness and hyperactivity.  This increased brain activity in turn allows learners to focus more effectively on content thus increasing the efficacy of the learning process.

Griffith takes this information and applies benefits to specific skills.  The tools learned through gaming extend beyond an increase in brain activity. The tools learned in games are directly applicable to four core skills: language, math, reading and social.  Language is developed through following instructions, math relates back to score counters, reading is increased similarly to language with the potential for adding in affinity space involvement, and social is captured through the potential of discussing games and interacting with other gamers (Griffiths 2002).  Although skills are basic and there is little depth to Griffiths’ argument, the fundamental logic is sound.

This article is based on the premises that skills learned in games can span multiple settings.  Most notably, the skill transference between a videogame setting and how these acquired skills and practices are applicable to real world learning environments.  Likewise, this application can be extended to scenarios outside school walls and are essentially helping students with the metacognitive capabilities of learning how they learn.  Basic skills in language, math, reading and community are lesson that are applicable to all settings, digital or physical.

After various readings throughout INTE 5320 and additional related readings dealing with the effects of gaming, the positives in gameplay seem to far surpass any potential negatives.  Even the critique of videogames being detrimental to eyesight has been reversed.  The question then begs to be asked as to how videogames first acquired such a negative designation in the 1980s and 1990s and why the sudden reversal in conclusions.  There are two sides to every coin.  The total discount of any negatives associated with videogames is troubling and calls the motivation and credibility of current research into question.

Not Quite Oregon Trail Quality

Play Journal 2: Civilization Revolution 2 (For Ipad)

With much of the research pertaining to games in the classroom revolving around Rise of Nations and the Civilization games, I thought it interesting to experience one of these games first hand.  I chose Civilization Revolution 2 due to an article recently read that uses Civilization 3 as the media for the study (“Changing the Game: What Happens when Video Games Enter the Classroom?” by Kurt Squire).  The game, as most are probably aware, revolves around building historical civilizations and achieving victory in a variety of manners that include everything from warfare to cultural and technological victories.  In order to successfully obtain these victories, a certain level of historical prowess is required.  To aid in this aspect, there are informational blurbs that the player can access and use to create more well-informed decisions.  The game begins slowly with few resources, inhabitants and other conflicts, but it rapidly snowballs and increases in complexity and challenge.  The overall feel of the game is very reminiscent to other turn-based strategy games with simply more of an historical approach.

There is the possibility that I just don’t have the patience for video games anymore.  I miss the days of Donkey Kong or Super Mario Brothers where anyone with half a brain and 10 minutes can conquer the basic skills to be successful.  Through playing Civ 2, I lost interest very early on, primarily due to the overwhelming number of icons, screens, status bars and other distractions from the main conflict of the game.  I am certain that with time, the different elements would become second nature.  To the novice though, they were a distraction and deterred from the more pleasurable aspects of the game.  The historical content that was included was incredibly interesting and provided an interesting context to the overall playing environment.  The game, overall, did a great job of blending learning elements with a video game.  It is no wonder that educators have turned to the Civilization games to help introduce World History topics.  With the proper upfront training, this game style has the potential to be incredibly engaging and informative.  In many areas, it reminds me of the classic Oregon Trail video game.

My largest critique of the game revolves around the tutorial.  It was far too elementary and left many unanswered questions.  So much so, that I aborted the tutorial and took on the game learning through trial and error.  Had the tutorial been more effective, I believe the overall experience would have been much more gratifying.

Although, not identical in applications, this game does spark an interest to design using technology.  Just as seen in Avan Alex Game’s article pertaining to Gamestar Mechanic, the experience revolves around design.  Of course, in Gamestar Mechanic it all about designing games and in Civ 2 it is all about designing civilizations.  Nonetheless, both games tap a player’s interest to create something new.  This design element provides the opportunity for autonomy which is crucial in game play.  Civilization 2 has the potential to be a phenomenal resource in the World History classroom with the caveat that it will be an enormous investment in time for students to get up to speed and to start acquiring knowledge through the game.

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.

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.