The recent issue of Edutopia features an article describing the Top Ten Predictions for the future of education. At number four? Serious Gaming: Computer Games Become Potent Student Motivators and Evaluators. The authors suggest that games can be used not just to motivate and engage learners but to assess them as well. As part of the article, Eudtopia interviewed gaming guru James Paul Gee.

He has some very interesting things to say, from how kids learn best to the current global economy to online fan fiction. He starts by discussing current educational practice:

If (students) are going to survive outside of low-level service work, they’re gonna have to have innovation and creativity. So the form of education that we’re engaged in, that basically privileges people who know a lot of facts but can’t solve problems with those facts, is on its last legs.

What’s next is a school that teaches the ability to solve problems and not just solve problems but do so collaboratly. To work in a group where the group is smarter than the smartest person in the group. And not just work in a group but work in a group to create information, not just consume information.

Since researching and writing What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (2003), Gee has been a champion for using video games as learning tools.

All a video game is . . . is problem solving. And most newer games provide the opportunity for players to create their own versions of the game.

But he also believes that games can be part of assessment.

If you think about it . . . a video game is just an assessment. All you do is get assessed along the way as you try to solve problems. If you don’t solve them, the game says you fail, try again.

Assessment is the thing that is the most painful and ludicrous part of schooling but in a game it’s a lot of fun because it’s handled in a very different way.

A good video game is both a formative assessment by providing constant feedback and a summative assessment that will not allow the user to move along in the game unless certain knowledge and skills are demonstrated.

Gee talks about typical school subjects such as chemistry and suggests that we can view them as games. The manual in the game of chemistry is the chemistry textbook. When a gamer plays a game for the first time, she doesn’t read the manual, she just starts playing. She may reference the manual later if she needs to but will not start there. She starts by trying to solve the problems in the game.

We do just the opposite in school. We start with the manual and rarely give kids a chance to actually play the game of chemistry or history or algebra.

Gee, along with Henry Jenkins of MIT, see the rise of what they call Passion Communities. A passion community is usually an online group who are passionate about similar things such as a specific video game. They both suggest that the learning that takes place in a passion community is very different than the learning that takes place in school.

  • not time specific
  • lots of choices
  • not age specific
  • anyone can be the teacher
  • information is fluid, not static
  • very high expectations and standards for all participants

Gee also says that the system has “de-professionalized” teachers. Textbooks, tests, administrators and politicians have taken the job of creating high-quality lessons out of the hands of teachers and given them “scripted instruction.”

This has stopped teachers from thinking strategically about how learning works in their classroom.

The current system also devalues innovation and creativity, at times forcing teachers to focus more on test scores than true learning. Gee seems to think that the pendulum is swinging back the other way.

The new Sputnik is the new global economy and we’ll be forced to rethink how we do school.

I like the idea of asking teachers to be more aware of how the brain works, specifically how games and simulations impact the brain in positive ways. Gee has other things to say. Be sure and go through the entire video!

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