Advice from Shaffer

The Internet will (or has) render(ed) the memorization of declarative knowledge obsolete. In the future, only the ability to be innovative in professional practices will be of value. The Internet enables virtual collaboration within real communities to develop these practices. The practices will be built through epistemic games.

The key is adoption by the stakeholders:

  • the new curriculum which must be developed
  • the teachers who must learn to facilitate these epistemic games
  • the school administrators who must support the teachers
  • the parents who must understand the value of this approach

“What about the students?” you ask. They’re already ready.

The critical topics to explore include:

  • How can we build epistemic games cheaply but with the rich multimedia needed to engage a visual generation raised on television?
  • How can we teach our teachers to use epistemic games to replace their familiar scope and sequence charts, not merely add the games as a diversionary activity?
  • How can we convince our school boards to abandon the practice of teaching to standardized tests and instead focus on teaching students to be the professional innovators through epistemic games?
  • How can we demonstrate to parents that the future valuable practices are what we should be teaching?

Games & Learning – Summary

Shaffer, D. (2006). How Computer Games Help Children Learn. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Chapter 1

  • Rules define games (and play); the need for authenticity implies that writing the rules is the most difficult aspect of game creation.
  • Some roles make players care about winning; other roles make players care about self-efficacy. Because roles (and thus end-states) differ, rules vary with roles. This role-rule pairing creates the narrative, another difficult task.

Chapter 2
The knowledge gained in the game persists because it’s tied to a particular epistemology. Computers don’t simply store symbols, but also process them and thus will lead to a virtual culture based on symbol processing.

Chapter 3
All games are microworlds, and players come to those microworlds with a set of beliefs, make decisions based on those beliefs, and receive responses from the simulation which bring those beliefs to the surface, challenge them, and then refine the beliefs.

Knowing how (procedural knowledge) is what games teach; knowing what (declarative knowledge) is what books teach. The practicum process involves:

  • doing things as a professional (action)
  • discussing what happened with the community (reflection on action)
  • repeating this iterative cycle until the process is internalized (reflection in action

Chapter 4
Games must impose obstacles that are neither too easy (boring) nor too hard (frustrating) to create a condition of flow; levels should be barely achievable. For players to even try to overcome obstacles, they must care, and thus games must provide motivation. Making a game fun provides intrinsic motivation. Playing by the rules is fun, and fun offers self-efficacy–players feel they are able to master the game.

Chapter 5
Symbolic knowledge is developed in solving one problem can be used to solve other analogous problems. Schematic knowledge involves combining facts (declarative) and problem-solving strategies (procedural) knowledge to solve problems. Situated cognition, however, views all activity as part of a community of practice where newcomers learn through legitimate peripheral perception.

For the value of games to extend beyond the game itself, epistemic frames (which exist partly in the mind of the players and partly in the structure of the game) provide the “grammar” of the local culture of a community of practice. These frames are a level of description between and across the symbolic, schema and community views of learning.

Simulations and games are related but distinct:

  • simulations do not have epistemic frames
  • all games are based on simulations
  • games create a virtual world using a simulation
  • epistemic games create the epistemic frame of a community by recreating the process by which individuals develop that community

Chapter 6
Designing epistemic games is challenging:

  • games are built on simulations which are simplified (thus distorted) views of the world
  • simulations without a community of practice and without the opportunity for reflection and feedback offer no real context
  • professions are built on practices which are evolved rather than designed; these professional practices do not offer “general principles of learning that can be used anywhere” but instead provide markers
  • “learning takes place only as part of a coherent system” and thus we will fail if we merely extract professional practices (or game elements) and drop them into existing curricula

Another Agenda

Sprague, D. (2006). Editorial: Research Agenda for Online Teacher Professional Development. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education. 14 (4), pp. 657-661. Chesapeake, VA: AACE. Retrieved from

Like Dede’s article, this editorial sets out a clear vision for the consideration of online professional development for teachers. However, unlike Dede’s proposal, Sprague provides a practical rather than a philosophical rationale:

  • access to experts (not place-bound)
  • time for reflection (not time-bound)
  • possible solution for the retention issue (community involvement)

However, Sprague also acknowledges limitations in moving to online TPD (Teacher Professional Development):

  • online facilitators need training
  • initial costs to build the online resources
  • ongoing costs to sustain the learning community
  • existing programs may view online offerings as competition or diversion, rather thanĀ  opportunity

In looking to the future of online education in general (not only TPD) Sprague mentions the need to help new teachers learn how to teach online and thus connects online education with TPD: delivering professional development to teachers online is an inductive way to show that teacher how to teach online.

Although Sprague’s concerns about which emerging technologies will have the most impact or the correct balance in hybridization are somewhat irrelevant (because the technologies will continually change and because the balance will be determined through research), her agenda, like her vision, is practical:

  • what is the depth and scope of online TPD needed to have an impact?
  • even if there is an impact, what other factors might prevents change (such as the school environment or the conflicting demands of teaching 21st century skills with NCLB)?
  • what are the patterns of change we should observe in teachers to determine what’s working?