Monday, July 20, 2009

It's All a Game!

In her book Rethinking Middle Years, Victoria Carrington cites a study which claims that “the average American teenager will have spent at least 10000 hours playing computer games by the time the complete compulsory education” (2006). 10,000 hours, an amount that Sociologist Malcolm Gladwell suggests for the benchmark time that must be spent for a person to become an expert (2008). The two numbers are hardly a coincidence. If nothing else, our students are learning how to live as experts in the virtual world.

Students, and Americans as a whole, are spending more and more time online or connected to the digital world. This class is a case in point. We are meeting in an online forum to discuss the history and future of education. And that future is moving more and more into the realm of the virtual.

My inner Luddite may grumble at the loss of the printed world, of the feeling of ink on paper, but my concern for Proustian sense memory is not the issue. It would be fabulous if every student had a deep desire to take a book, sit under a tree, and devour its contents in a sun-drenched afternoon. That is how I accumulated many of my 10,000 reading hours, with books in cars, on grass, under covers. Alas, students are moving from literacy to visual or digital literacy. And we as teachers will have to adapt as well.

It’s not all bad. In fact, some say that the video game format lends itself as a perfect tool for differentiation and student self-customization. Video games have goals. This is to be certain. It’s how one wins. The narratives of “cyberdramas” can be referred to as ergodic. “That is, the actions of participants impact on the shape and outcomes of the computer game and, further, the game itself requires concerted and sustained effort to navigate (Carrington 2006). If coded correctly, video games can be used to assess, instruct, and guide a student’s learning in the online world. One must find a way to present the knowledge in game form, but the possibilities for student success could be vast.

Case in point. There was a study recently which used video games to teach healthy eating habits to 9 and 10 year old low-income African American children who, presumably, had never been taught proper nutrition. They were told to play a specifically designed advergame, which are online games designed to promote a product. They were then given their choice of healthy and unhealthy snacks. Those who completed the healthier advergame, which promoted healthy eating habits, picked healthier snacks in smaller quantities (Pempek & Calvert, 2009).

We are entering a brave new world. Barring a massive and unforeseen technological change, our lives, our children’s lives, usw., will be lived online in higher amounts. The challenge is – can we as teachers adapt to the new technologies that are available for us? Teachers already wear many hats. We are parents, gurus, mentors, friends, disciplinarians, decorators, authorities. Now we have to add computer programmer to the list.

Carrington, V. Rethinking middle years: Early adolescents, schooling and digital culture. (2006). Allen & Unwin: Crows Nest NSW, Australia.

Gladwell, M. Outliers. (2008). Little, Brown and Company: New York.

Pempek, T., & Calvert, S.. (2009). Tipping the Balance: Use of Advergames to Promote Consumption of Nutritious Foods and Beverages by Low-Income African American Children. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 163(7), 633. Retrieved July 20, 2009, from American Medical Association. (Document ID: 1780612451).

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