Gaming for Grades

October 24, 2009

When I think about education and gaming and the arguments that surround the blending of the two, I immediately picture this:
Pendulum 30 DegreesOn the one hand we have the far right.. the conservatives of education whose job it can seem some days to make learning as dry and as uninteresting as humanly possible. These are the people whose knee-jerk reaction to games in the classroom is extreme, based on fear and reactionism and little on actual evidence. (Here is a link to some essays on the Impacts of Gaming.) On the other side of the pendulum swing there are the revolutionaries, the ones who challenge the long-held beliefs and stereotypes surrounding educational practices. They are usually classified as the “radicals” and advocate for an overthrow of the old system in its entirety in favour of what is novel and entertaining.

Now whether or not the picture I have just painted is in fact one based on reality is certainly subject to debate, and certainly has been debated by minds far brighter than mine. It’s just an image that leaps to my mind though when the words “gaming” and “classrooms” are brought together in the same sentence.

I personally am more of a centrist. I believe there can exist a happy medium where students can learn in holistic valuable ways, ways that are innovative, fun, challenging, and yes, involve gaming platforms. I am also in agreement with Sylvia Martinez when she cautions that a label of “educational software” needs to be avoided, or at the least, heavily evaluated by instructors before buying in to the hype surrounding games and educational goals.  The “Nintendo-izatoin” of education is not enough.

I personally spend a lot of my free time immersed in a virtual world and while the majority of my activities center around rest and relaxation, there is no doubt I’m learning a ton along the way as well. Of specific interest to me is the virtual world of Second Life and I have an avatar I created in May of 2008. I spend a large chunk of my online SL time involved in a role playing game. I have created a character that interacts with other characters in a given time and in a specific setting and we collaboratively enact out scenes together. The use of heavily descriptive language is necessary to portray actions that one performs and I’m what is known as a para-Rper, which simply means my preferred style of writing is to compose a paragraph of text in the Local Chat window that does a number of things… it indicates my avatar’s physical demeanor, her facial expression, what things she says to others and in some cases, what thoughts might be in her mind. It is exactly like writing a story only I’m not the only author. I am one of many. Anyone within 20m of me can “hear” me (read the chat that appears in the Local Chat text box) and anyone can respond, or jump in at any time.

There is no doubt in my mind that my language and writing skills have improved over the past year. I have developed a rich character, complete with an evolving background and I’ve freed my imagination in ways I never believed were possible before. I don’t watch TV anymore (not that I did a lot of that before I became a Second Life resident) because I find TV to be too  passive. I think passivity has a lot to do with why students in classrooms find so many of the educational games out there to be boring and un-motivating. Any learning I’ve experienced has happened as a by-product of the fun and engagement and challenge I was experiencing at the time in Second Life. I believe the same sort of principles have to hold true for our students as well, if we are to utilize games to their full potential in the classroom, to reap the very best benefits from them for our learners.

I did a bit of poking around to find out what sorts of educational things were available on Second Life and there are a huge number of in-world islands/areas dedicated to educational institutions and programs. I haven’t had a chance to check them all out yet (there are simply too many for me to have enough time to investigate them all) but there is something for nearly everyone. Here is a link to the Second Life in Education wiki people might be interested in seeing.

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2 Responses to “Gaming for Grades”

  1. Jeffg said

    I love your moving images, how did you do this?

    Good analogy to the pendulum. I agree that most educational practice seem to go from back and forth to extremes instead of meeting in the middle. It seems to make sense to me that a balance is an effective way of dealing with things but that is the Biologist in me. I would love to incorporate more edutainment games into my lessons as I find that it is a great way to reinforce key ideas does give us teachers time to walk around to get to know our students better.

    As far as “Second Life”, after watching the fifth estate (again another extreme story) I realize how addictive the game can be and personally don’t have the time but I am interested in hearing what feelings it brings about in its users.

    • Hi Jeff! The moving pendulum is one that I found on Wikimedia and the pendulum itself is copyright free, no attribution is even needed to use it. That’s the great thing about a lot of the resources on Wikimedia.. many of them are copyright free and the reuse of images, etc. is truly hassle-free.

      As for Second Life, yes, it certainly can be addicting and I postponed signing up for an account for a year after I first heard about it, because I didn’t feel I had the time to spare either. I’ve found though, that I’ve simply replaced other “free time” I had with SL time. It’s a fantastic way for me to unwind and it’s where I do a lot of my socializing as well as a great deal of fictional writing. It’s not for everyone, but it has answered a lot of my needs, needs I’d be hard pressed to meet in a really small rural town otherwise.

      But because Second Life IS so immersive, I think there is terrific educational potential in it, exactly the sort of potential that Sylvia was discussing in her presentation.

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