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Gaming, Social Learning & Authenticity

September 29th, 2009 jonmott Leave a comment Go to comments

James Paul Gee argues that gaming, particularly role-playing gaming, is providing young people with precisely the skills they need to be effective and productive in our new mediated culture and highly networked workplaces.

Gee’s positive view on the impact of gaming confirms what I’ve concluded about the video game “races” my son occasionally organizes in our basement. Gaming has the potential to bring people together in new, different, and socially healthy ways. My son’s game races consist of assembling a group of four or five friends, each with his own game console, copy of a game, and television. With all of them in the same room, they say “Go!” and race through the entire game together. As they race, they talk, compare game strategies, tell jokes, and snack (a lot).

Game Racing

Game Racing

Notwithstanding the warnings of critics, gaming is not (or at least doesn’t have to be) a socially isolating activity. On the contrary, Gee contends that game players overwhelmingly want to join, participate, teach, mentor, lead, and build their gaming communities.

Among other things, Gee argues that game playing enhances the ability to be in communities and collaborate, to be smarter in the community than they are individually. Unfortunately, we’re not adequately leveraging games and gaming principles in our classrooms. Gee argues that we essentially have two educational systems–one that is dynamic, collaborative, and community based and another that is narrowly focused on what an individual can do, without assistance or help from others, in a very narrow domain. In fact, when kids attempt to collaborate in individually focused learning and assessment contexts, the traditional educational environment perceives such behavior as cheating, even when it is merely mimicking what happens in non-technology mediated contexts.

Part of being on a team is being an expert and knowing what everyone else does and how your expertise works together with everyone else’s expertise. We are unlikely to see significant, transformational changes in student learning and performance until we change both the way we teach and assess students. We need to shift our focus from testing how “knowledgeable” our students are to how “knowledge-able” they are. Can they adeptly use a variety of tools to find information, connect and collaborate with others, and solve problems? These are the skills they’ll need in real life. To prepare them for the challenges they’ll soon face, we need to leverage the new affordances of new technologies to replicate these kinds of authentic activities (which can in turn be authentically assessed) in our schools and classrooms.

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