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

How Computer Games Help Children Learn – Chapter 6

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

The final chapter brings out several challenges in designing epistemic games:

  • games are built on simulations which are inevitably simplified (and 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;” instead they 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

The proposal for developing a third place which is neither home (family) nor school made sense although the concept of designing such a place (or space) makes less sense than simply recognizing that the space already exists and has been well-described by danah boyd. How we reach into that space with being “creepy” is the challenge.

The final challenge offers the most fruitful direction for future research: which professions are the most fundamental? Because we cannot know what jobs will even exist in 20 years, this question seems impossible to answer. But it’s not. Every epistemic frame has value; learning how to be a journalist teachers students how to be more than a journalist. Thus, the answer is that we should create a curriculum based on a broad taxonomy of professions and allow students to choose based on personal interests. Some games will model analytical thinking skills with particular application in more quantitative professions; others will model behavioral skills with use in more social endeavors. The unknown professions of tomorrow will require different blends and different ratios of these skills, but if we can craft a new curriculum with the right breadth, the specific job title won’t matter. What will matter is that our students will have learned how to think, how to learn, and how to innovate no matter what the future brings.

Articles for further study from the Notes Section:

Taxonomy – Bartle, R. (1996). Hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades. Journal of MUD Research 1(1).

Games – Donald, M. (2001). A mind so rare. New York: W.W. Norton

Microworlds – Hoyles, et.al., (2002). Rethinking the microworld idea. Journal of Educational Computing Research 27 (1&2).

Schema – Dreyfus & Dreyfus (1986). Mind over machine. New York: Free Press.

Hybrid designs

Doering, A. & Veletsianos, G. (2008). Hybrid Online Education: Identifying Integration Models Using Adventure Learning. Journal of Research on Technology in Education. 41 (1). pp. 23-41.

The importance of this article is succinctly presented in a chart defining four models for integrating technology-based instruction. The applicability of the article is that the authors examined how teachers incorporated a computer-based, community-oriented PBL in actual classrooms. Rather than examining teachers’ technical literacy as previous studies have done, the authors ask “how technology is used” and provide real answers.

Previous research suggests three methods that teachers use to incorporate technology:

  1. for efficiency (replacing less efficient methods)
  2. for enhancement (transforming methods)
  3. for entertainment–relaxation and reward (amplifying existing methods)

Doering and Veletsianos define four methods from observing actual use:

 

Focus Community Activities Online
Curriculum Student-student, student-expert Student collaboration Medium (to high)
Activity Student-student Student collaboration and construction High
Standards Student-student, student-teacher Teams, student construction High
Media Student-teacher Passive student consumption Medium

A larger study may provide a full gradient of methods with a near-infinite number of defined paths–or it may provide validation of this four-method topology. Regardless of the methodological count, the article points the way forward in urging us to consider how technology is used in real classrooms. In addition, the article underscores the importance of teacher-teacher collaboration.

Let’s go on an Adventure

Doering, A. (2006). Adventure Learning: Transformative hybrid online education. Distance Education 27 (2). pp. 197-215.

Despite the unnecessary introduction of a new term (“adventure learning”), this article provides a concise and clear vision of an instructional model with solid grounding in contemporary learning theory and immediate practical application in the classroom. Doering positions adventure learning as an online course taken in the classroom while “teachers are facilitators” (differentiated from the other hybrid model where students take a face to face class augmented with online instruction outside the classroom). Combining collaboration and reflection to transform students into the authentic practitioners of Shaffer’s epistemic games, adventure learning relies on real-time community and fantastic (unknown) environments to provide student motivation.

The seven elements of adventure learning provide the practical application:

  1. begin with a researched curriculum grounded in problem-solving and based on learning outcomes
  2. provide collaboration opportunities among students, peers, experts, and content
  3. utilize the Internet for delivery
  4. provide authenticity with media and text from the field (emphasis is mine)
  5. provide synchronous opportunities
  6. offer pedagogical guidelines (for the teacher)
  7. captivate students through adventure

An interesting variable which is mentioned but insufficiently explored in the research is the importance of teacher-teacher interaction.

How Computer Games Help Children Learn – Chapter 5

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

This chapter starts to get into learning theory.  The two major schools are succinctly defined:

  1. symbolic – knowledge developed in solving one problem can be used to solve other analogous problems
  2. schematic – facts (declarative) and problem-solving rules/strategies (procedural) knowledge are combined to solve problems

These views are contrasted with situated cognition: a view that all activity (including thinking) is part of a community of practice where newcomers learn through legitimate peripheral perception. However, I suspect that the views can be merged: declarative facts and procedural strategies can be developed through legitimate peripheral perception and refined through symbolic problem-solving pattern-matching within a community of practice that provides feedback.

Game details amplified the epistemological concept:

  • a profession is learned (and practiced) within  a specific place and time (environmental component)
  • the public reflection-on-action process created the personal process of reflection-in-action
  • each person worked on a small part (which made a complex task explicit) but saw the whole process; this instructor-crafted delineation linked the social space and the problem space

By the end of the game, users were able to:

  • offer suggestions (not simply respond)
  • think of audience (not simply the task)
  • justify choices (not simply choose)
  • see the larger impact (not simply the immediate solution)

In short, players felt like journalists “even though they had come to understand how complex and difficult” being a journalist is. The goal was not necessarily to train players to be a specific professional but to be the kind of people who can think like professionals.

The discussion of the relationship between real identity and virtual identity enacted through projective identity was somewhat confusing; how does projective identity differ from virtual? However, it led to the valuable conclusion that games give players a realistic image of a possible self. By showing that epistemic games transferred not just identity but “the collection of professional skills, knowledge, identity, values” (the epistemic frame), Shaffer extends the value of games beyond the game itself.

Shaffer defines a frame as the organizational rules and premises which exist partly in the mind of the players and partly in the structure of the game; the frame is like a pair of glasses that allows participants to filter solutions as irrelevant and leads to an increasingly accurate reflection-in-action. The epistemic frame is the “grammar” of the local culture of a community of practice, and is “what we get when we internalize the community and carry it with us”

Shaffer claims that epistemic frames are a level of description between and across the schema-based and community-based views; while this claim is not expanded, he does expand on the relationship between epistemic frames and community by noting the common qualities:

  • interpretive
  • stable
  • transient
  • generative
  • ubiquitous
  • epistemological

The distinction between simulations and games was instructive:

  • simulations do not have epistemic frames
  • games create a virtual world using a simulation
  • the epistemic frame “is a property of the communities we inhabit in and around that virtual world”
  • epistemic games create the epistemic frame of a community by recreating the process by which individuals develop that community

Virtual Worlds

Common Sense Media/MacArthur Foundation/USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future http://takeonedigital.blip.tv/file/488039/

This webcast brought together four experts who discussed the activity of youth in virtual worlds. Much of the discussion focused on Whyville and Club Penguin (sites targeted for 8-14 year olds) and Teen Second Life (targeted for 13-17 year olds) but the issues raised seem applicable to the complete age range of youth examined in other studies. While the experts were generally enthusiastic about the affordances of virtual worlds, they admitted to and responded to moderator and audience questions:

  • since you get a “do over” in games and virtual worlds, is this a classroom or a playroom?
  • virtual worlds are inherently commercial; are these worlds simply teaching kids to be good consumers?
  • bullying occurs in virtual worlds; since you can get away with whatever you want, do these negative behaviors carry over to the real world?
  • virtual environments are addictive; how can compulsion be positive?
  • is online inherently anti-social because you don’t interact face to face?

Not every question received answers. However, potential benefits were proposed that may outweigh the On the plus side:

  • virtual worlds are not identical to the real world, but teens kids learn (in a simulated and thus simplified environment) how to be members of a community
  • because you can customize your ‘virtual’ self, teens are experimenting with virtual identity, a concept which ties in with danah boyd’s claim that teens need identity formation experiences
  • setting a timer and helping teens maintain a balance is necessary
  • while virtual worlds are not face to face they are extremely social
  • much of what happens in virtual environments is informal learning as teens explore ethical questions, making choices and understanding consequences
  • in authentic (although virtual) worlds, teens also learn how to use electronic tools to locate rather than memorize information

The discussion highlighted the ability of virtual worlds to create a culture of participation and lower the barriers to creative expression. A remaining question was the role of adults in teen virtual worlds: teens are drawn there partly because adults aren’t supervising, a claim that is supported by danah boyd’s view of social networking sites as the new “mall,” and thus adult intrusion could cause abandonment or rebellion. At the same time, the experts generally argued for parental oversight (computer in a common room) if not outright co-participation.

Speakers

Anastasia Goodstein: http://spotlight.macfound.org/main/public_profile/187/Anastasia+Goodstein
Douglas Thomas: http://spotlight.macfound.org/main/public_profile/90/Douglas_Thomas
Yasmin Kafai: http://spotlight.macfound.org/main/public_profile/188/Yasmin+Kafai
Barry Joseph: http://spotlight.macfound.org/main/public_profile/6/Barry_Joseph