Why Gaming Isn’t Going to Catch On Bigtime Anytime Soon…

…even though it really should.

At the EdCamp at Waterloo on Saturday, I attended a conversation on Gaming in Education.  At one point, we went around the room and talked about applications that have been used in the classroom.  The list included:

  • Halo
  • Minecraft
  • Pioneer Land
  • First person shooter games
  • Scratch / Alice
  • Smurf Village
  • Find the Animals / Talking / Pocket Pond
  • Crisis
  • Call of Duty
  • Words / Scramble / Hanging with Friends
  • Draw Something
  • Angry Birds
  • Must
  • Webkins
  • Lego Mindstorms
  • Civilisations

Each offering had at least one fan and described how it was used by them.  But, the discussion came around to the issues that those interested in gaming should be aware of.  And, there were suggestions offered.

  • Getting the software installed on school computers – if it’s not installed, run the software from a CD / DVD;
  • Getting access to a website that’s blocked – tether one’s cell phone and use the data from there;
  • Nervousness about using it in class – don’t, instead start an after school gaming club;
  • Concern about other teachers’ or administrator’s impressions – let them know in advance that gaming is happening and that there will be noise and enthusiasm;
  • The appropriate use of instructional time – use the activity for group collaboration; procedural writing; problem solving.

All of the issues are real and legitimate and the creative solutions proposed do get around the problem.

BUT, and this is a big but, all of the issues are significant blocks that indicate that the system is not ready for and not prepared to support the activity.  I mean, if using Minecraft and being part of the Minecraft community is worthwhile in the classroom, it should be easily accessible.  Kudos to the creative that find ways around the blocks but

  • if it’s educationally worthwhile, why should they have to do it?
  • the creative may find a way, but will all teachers?
  • what message is being sent to students about the value of the activity when it’s not as easily accessible as their favourite word processor?

There needs to be a momentous change in attitude if this is to become legitimate.  Recently in my university course, I wasn’t there when the topic of Scratch and Alice was discussed.  However, I did have to read the reflection wikis and read comments like “I’m not sure that programming should be taught in school – not every student is going to be a programmer.”  As you can imagine, I did have to take this issue on and share my opinion.  If you extend that logic, not everyone is going to be a mathematician so why do we teach everyone mathematics?  Not everyone is going to be a historian, why do we teach everyone history?  My point, which I hope I made well, was that perhaps not everyone will be a programmer but certainly everyone needs to know the computational thinking behind setting up a cell phone or programming a furnace or connecting a home computer to the internet or even just estimating the price of a purchase or the size of a tip to be left.  I encouraged them to read Douglas Rushkoff’s “Program or Be Programmed“.

It was early in my career that the lights came on for me to the value of gaming.  My context was as a computer science teacher and it only took one programming assignment about creating a payroll to realize how uninspirational such a topic could be.  We quickly branched into writing our own games after looking at some commercial products.  Consequently, the projects became richer and more complex and students were concerned about interface design, checking all conditions, trapping errors, and all that good computer science stuff.  One only needs to download a few projects from the Scratch repository to see how sophisticated the products can be.  I love showing off this project written by students at Leamington District Secondary School.

And, yet, we still have educational systems that:

  • need convincing that blogging can be part of a literacy program;
  • need to embrace the fact that there’s more to life than standardized testing results;
  • don’t embrace bringing personal computing devices to the classroom;
  • block internet content because “we know what’s good for you”;
  • associate effective computer integration only with creating word processing or presentation files;
  • fill in your own blocker here.

For every teacher using gaming effectively, there will be hundreds that haven’t ventured into that realm for any of a myriad of reasons.  Some are attitudinal; some are institutional; some are philosophical; some are …

I hate writing this type of post but I do feel that it’s reality.  Please let me know below how far off the mark I am.  I just got the very distinct feeling sitting in that session that I was in a room of outliers.  A great group of trouble shooting, successful in their own right educators, but destined to be outliers for some time to come.

OTR Links 04/02/2012

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.