Games and Learning

Shaffer, D., Squire, K., Halverson, R., & Gee, J. (2005). “Video Games and the Future of Learning.” Phi Delta Kappan. pp. 105-110. Retrieved from

While the article serves primarily as a review of the potential for games in learning, the reiteration of basic principles is a useful reminder:

  • games are simplifications of reality (simulations)
  • through roles, games allow players to “participate in new worlds” and experiment with new identities
  • games provide situated learning because words and symbols are no longer “separated from the things those words and symbols refer to”
  • games bring “players together–competitively and cooperatively” to develop “effective social practices”
  • games encourage creative construction as players, “write FAQs, participate in discussion forums and become critical consumers of information”
  • games emphasize expertise over accreditation
  • “Games bring together ways of knowing, ways of doing” to create a set of shared values

Shaffer describes epistemology as the way of thinking that characterizes community members and defines an epistemic frame as the grammar of that culture. Although epistemic games require that players be immersed in authentic worlds, they are not left to flounder on their own; instead, virtual players (or real players in a MMORPG) provide guidance and scaffolded support. While describing motivational aspects relative to authentic knowledge acquisition, fun is given scant attention.

Shaffer proposes that games are useful for both new community members (initiation) and experienced practitioners (transformation). A variant on traditional games, goal-based scenarios (or cases) model successful problem-solving for professionals; this case approach could grow organically if professionals were required to create a new case as a reflective activity upon conclusion.


Learning Environments

Bransford, John D., Brown, Ann L., Cocking, Rodney R., (Eds.). (1999). The Design of Learning Environments in How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. pp. 119-142. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

I expected more from this article by virtue of its title and its presence in a book on how people learn. While I appreciate the initial argument–that more is expected of schools now as education changes from a mass production model of sorting, assembly and quality control via standardized tests to one which emphasizes creative problem-solving–the guiding Venn diagram added no new perspective.

lenses of learning

lenses of learning

The lens of learner-centered instruction with its focus on culture is drawn from Vygotsky. The lens of knowledge-centered instruction with its focus on metacognition was more illuminating, particularly in linking this domain to the learner through each student’s preconceptions. Progressive formalization is straight out of Wiggins, although one notion resonated with the reading on networks:

a network of connections among objectives characterizes expertise

I also appreciated the argument activities must be balanced between those that promote understanding and those that promote automaticity.

The lens of assessment-centered instruction with its admonition on the value of feedback offered little new information, and in the section on alignment, the authors failed to explicitly draw the connections between the over-arching lens of community and the more focused lenses of the learner (the community defines values), the knowledge (the community defines what knowledge is valued), and the assessment (the community defines expertise). However, the passing reference to portfolios as formative assessments gave me an idea: in addition to being constructivist, portfolios could provide transparency and serve as proof for those parents and politicians who believe in the manufacturing model of standardized learning.