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