Resting in Teldrassil
the break … for graduate study and writing (continues)
As much as I love blogging, I’ll be on a break for graduate study and research.
Resting in Teldrassil
the break … for graduate study and writing (continues)
As much as I love blogging, I’ll be on a break for graduate study and research.
The following post was originally published for Ryerson University’s EDGElab blog
This is a picture of learning in action. It’s what happens when you go off-road and really explore and test the limits of things and disaster becomes success. It’s also the basis for meaningful, autonomous and open ended learning and play. And the starting point for EDGElab’s exploration (and destruction) of Minecraft. DANGER: reading the rest of this post may cause: dizziness, disequilibrium, panic … and, possibly, a new way of thinking about games-based learning and play.
In a lab devoted to experiential design and gaming environments (EDGE), we’re mostly known for our adaptive design projects. But we do other stuff here too, like researching autonomous learning and play in games and virtual worlds. For example, Vlad Cazan’s hacks to the Kinect, our Digital Natives study of children’s situated, informal gaming, our explorations of parents playing MMORPGs with their kids and the tensions between adults ideas of learning and play and those of children. We thought it was time to put the ‘G’ in EDGElab and share our recent descent into the terrors and pleasures of learning from the ‘edge.’
“In search of diamonds” Blocky mix (minecraft machinima)
Last week I finally got around to playing the lavatacular 8-bit sandbox PC game Minecraft! In addition to having lots of fun, I’m also thinking all the great forms of learning it engages. Bryan Alexander, was among the first to identify the educational virtues of the game’s simple graphics, play/mechanics and sandbox maker-ness. I’d add: self-directed, autonomous, creative, metacognitive, social and experiential learning. That’s right, the learning that already exists – not stuff you add to minecraft.
Minecraft appeals to explorer type gameplay through open, self directed inquiry, exploring, testing hypotheses, reflecting and goal setting. While the game is lacking the kind of formal learning structures found in other games (i.e., starting areas, tutorials, tips or leveled activity), this is probably the best part where learning is concerned – because there is not only room for the learner but also for many creative adaptations and uses of the gamespace. For me, the fun is all about the misadventures, retries and reflection versus the prescribed narrative, grinding and sensory overload most games pass off as “play”.
Since I haven’t yet been playing long enough to formulate “educational” insights, I’d rather talk about what I enjoy about the game (which is actually all about learning) and offer a few thoughts for educators looking for a meaningful way in. Often, teachers come to games wanting to know “how do I teach with this” or “bring it into the classroom” before they’ve even explored it. They forget two things: gamers are already out there playing it (many of them the kids you plan to “teach”) and all the most essential learning that is going to happen is already happening – type minecraft into Youtube and you’ll get 235,000 results. That’s 235,000 resources that have been developed since this past summer alone.
This post is about the importance of the exploring part – as both the focus of this game and also as a philosophy for learning itself. So say goodbye to an evening or more, get yourself lost, die, make stuff, break stuff, repeat. I’m going to call this a Pedagogy of Noobing It Up.
Happy as I am that some educators have recognised the value and importance of videogames for learning, I’m increasingly concerned about approaches that I think will suck the life out of gaming and play. I’ve already written about meaningful approaches to learning about and with games (which touched on gamification) but I felt a follow up was in order to get at gamification specifically:
1) gamification: the notion that the use of selective game mechanics constitutes a game (or, as I’m using it, selective games as “texts” removed from their cultures or environments in which they are typically played and recontextualised according to schooly purposes).
2) additive: that games are merely a vehicle that learning is dumped into by “expert” educators/subject teachers.
3) creepy treehouse: the act of locating games and play within a context of evaluation, surveillance and assessment (the pedagogical influence of power relations that are largely not acknowledged reflexively on the part of power holders).
Without a real love or investment in the larger culture of gaming, there is a potential to negate a cultural expression that holds real meaning for learners. This may do far more “violence” to their minds and hearts than Call of Duty. In essence, the act of colonizing and inscribing play.
Remix artist Pogo’s Disney remix “Alice”
In 2009, I came across the inspiring work of self-taught Australian remix musician Nick Bertke (aka “Pogo”). As a media teacher doing remix in my own media production classes, I was interested in learning more about Pogo and his creative process. So I interviewed him about it.
What I learned from Pogo, beyond his inspirations and process, is the central role of the philosophies that inform remix. Philosophies that come into direct conflict with the policies and practices of institutional learning. This distinction is one of many that got me thinking about the differences between the real creative production process (i.e, the world I worked in as an early adopter and new media creator prior to teaching), what we’re permitted to do in school. This post isn’t so much about remix but how remix constitutes a site of struggle (and insight) between formal and informal learning.
While many educators have since adopted some of the practices of remix as a component of education (a wonderful thing), the acceptable remix products produced in a classroom are still mediated by explicit and implicit rules and expectations, many of which “nullify” the kind of authentic artistic expression that exists within real affinity spaces of maker culture and transmedia. As Henry Jenkins points out:
“It is not clear that the successes of affinity spaces can be duplicated by simply incorporating similar activities into the classroom. Schools impose a fixed leadership hierarchy (including very different roles for adults and teens); it is unlikely that someone like [maker artist] or [maker artist] would have had the same editorial opportunities they have found through fandom. … Even the most progressive schools set limits on what students can write compared to the freedom they enjoy on their own” (Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture)
As well, truly situated cultures are rarely authorized within education unless they are unpacked by a teacher “expert” (i.e,. one with extensive “teaching” background v. lived experience with the tool or practice) or else reified by novel classroom projects that reflect the teacher’s interests, values or priorities rather than those of the learners.
My lived experiences of these differences – as a learner, adopter, maker and teacher – speak to much larger questions about what is really possible within institutional learning at a time of unprecedented access to the figures, communities and tools that allow learners an alternative means of learning that doesn’t involve “qualified” teachers, institutional spaces or curriculum selected on their behalf. As I see it, we can choose to deny this reality or attempt to find our place with in it.
CONTINUE READING [below]
“Gee and other educators worry that students who are comfortable participating in and exchanging knowledge through affinity spaces are being de-skilled as they enter the classroom”- Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture
Every day, I’m struck by the differences between the experiences I have in situated affinity spaces and those of my educational communities of practice (and the classroom itself). With Jenkins and Gee, I suspect it’s probably similar for learners in our classrooms. As Gee says, this not about a particular software or platform but the rich learning communities and environments that use those tools. Our approach therefore is really about identifying and cultivating investments in affinity groups rather than attempting to artificially produce or stage them (schooly uses of games/social media) around a chosen software or tool.
When I talk with a student who plays World of Warcraft there is a shared recognition of the steep learning curve, massive time investment and knowledge base required of players. This recognition is meaningful because it conveys that I understand their mastery, knowledge and skill in a realm normally nullified by formal education (except if you’re lucky enough to be in Lucas Gillespie’s class :). Jenkins frames it this way, via Gee:
“affinity spaces offer powerful opportunities for learning, Gee argues, because they are sustained by common endeavours that bridge across differences in age, class, race, gender and educational level, because people can participate in various ways according to their skills and interests” (Jenkins, Convergence Culture, p186)
In my affinity space (a family-friendly casual guild in World of Warcraft), I play and learn with people of all ages (10 years old to 60+) of varied educational, socio-economic, cultural, political and experiential backgrounds. The barriers for acceptance in this affinity space are minimal when contrasted with the (often unspoken) hegemonic deference to qualifications, experience, credentials or social capital that determine who is heard or valued in spaces associated with formal/institutional learning.
“By convergence, I mean the flow of content across multiple media platforms, the cooperation of multiple media industries, and the migratory behaviour of media audiences who will go almost anywhere in search of the kinds of entertainment experiences they want.” — Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture
A while ago, in a galaxy far far away, I had an interesting conversation with a student (henceforth “Paul”) who had been asked to leave his class and work independently in another space. I was surprised to find out that it was English class. Surprised because I’ve never seen Paul without a book in his hand. I probed further and he explained: “the books we’re reading in class, they’re obviously really important, but I find them boring. I’m just not interested.” Like other disengaged students, Paul found himself distracted, off task and disrupting others in his class.
Instead of inquiring further into his disengagement in the chosen text, I chose to ask, instead, what did engage him. I asked what he was reading. He smiled sheepishly and held up his book. It was a novelization of first person shooter videogame. “Cool. What do you like about those books?” Paul explained that the stories had a lot of action, interesting characters and took part in a setting he enjoyed participating in – both as a reader and game player. He also told me that he wrote fan fiction (a form of writing not typically engaged as part of the English writer’s craft course).
There are millions of people like Paul reading, writing and engaging in fan fiction and cultural production. They demonstrate their fandom and investment in these communities via literacies of participation and mastery. In this they are masters of their (cultural) universe – just as English teachers are masters of the domain of English literature. And it is a form of vital cultural participation Henry Jenkins refers to as “convergence culture.” I’m going to refer to the works of cultural production celebrated therein as a kind of “convergence canon” (i.e., definitive memes, remixes, maker culture and other works).
This post, and the resulting unit I’m presently teaching, are inspired by Paul’s story and dedicated to those who are disconnected from a curriculum that doesn’t reflect their interests (or does so in a marginalizing way).
Gamers enjoying the “retro recroom” at gamercamp
Institutional and informal game play: What’s at stake for learning?
The image above is from Gamercamp, a Toronto gaming unconference where I moderated a panel on “Play”. What I saw there and pictured above was an awesome example of truly holistic, situated, informal learning. And the kind of thing I would like to see in our schools. What do I mean by situated and holistic learning?
1) autonomy –nobody was forced to be in this room, they just wandered in
Unlike other conferences, gamercamp envisioned the event as a “non-stuffy” experience where participants had the freedom to move around, check things out and play. Nobody was expected to dress up in a suit and tie. In fact, we were encouraged to show up in PJs … this is just one, of many, things I loved about it.
With educators finally embracing electronic games as a legitimate context for learning, there is some debate about how to situate games/gaming in schools. In addition to exploring this question, I’m interested in the ways gamers transgress the limitations of institutional/formal learning and the nature of authentic gaming spaces/contexts (outside of school) as a key to learning with games but also the very future of education.
My second Machinima: Epic Journey: Travel forms in WoW
Have you ever wanted to fly (like a bird)? This is just one more thing you can experience in a synthetic world that you can’t do in reality. And I stress the word “experience” versus activity – because the brain doesn’t distinguish between “real” or “unreal” but rather generates emotional and physical responses based on our sensory perceptions of real or unreal. Check out the PBS video from Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction lab to learn more about the science of virtual perception.
Hurrah! The other day the New York Times feature “Learning by Playing: Videogames in the Classroom” was the big talk among many of the Twittering teachers I follow. While many edu-gamers have long known the value of games for learning (and I’m not talking “educational” games), the really interesting story for me is the sudden reversal in perspective from non-gamers now ready to adopt. Synthetic worlds and gaming scholar Edward Castronova also remarked on the article’s “gee whiz” factor and challenged some of the biases and misconceptions that inform it:
“the article is interesting for other reasons too. It begins with “Intrigued by the willingness of millions of consumers to pay real money for things that do not exist…” and ends by referring to “pretend items.” Joining the spirit of the article, then, I’d like to say that while I read this pretend piece of news, and I did notice that it doesn’t exist, I am not willing to spend real money on it. The article is just a goofy, unreal plaything produced for people who waste their days in the fantasy world where the New York Times is treated as if it is were a source of unbiased information.”
Given the mainstream acceptance of tech panics that preceded this development, I think we need to reflect on an educational culture of deference, legitimacy and authority that prevented us from getting here sooner. We also need to ask whose voices and perspectives really matter when it comes to understanding games and gaming cultures.
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