Education’s Digital Future—Gaming to Learn talk at Stanford University 2013

March 1, 2013 § 2 Comments

Even after three decades of research on combining digital games and learning in schools, the successful turnout at the talk showed that it is still a hot topic today.

The event was organized by the Stanford University Graduate School of Education as part of their departmental seminar and forum. It was also open to the public to allow greater discussion and debate. Indeed, the lecture theater was tightly packed with graduate students, professors, industry consultants, and even parents with babies. This diverse audience clearly shows that we still care about how we play and what we learn from it.

The forum invited four famous key speakers: Malcolm Bauer, Professor James Gee, Professor Dan Schwartz, and Professor Constance Steinkuehler. These speakers offered different perspectives, research interests, and thoughts on policy-making decisions, and shared current developments in the field. The brief answer to the question of what our digital future is: It is still in progress.

The panelists gave an optimistic report of what we have found so far—essentially, that games create good experiences, which may lead to more engagement, interest, and motivation to learn, plus practice at problem-solving skills. Mr. Bauer, the director of assessment at GlassLab Games, gave examples of how fun and learning can be connected through his son’s case of playing a game and solving mathematical problems.

But although there are possibilities and great potential, are these games going to be implemented in schools? The challenges we face today, as Professor Schwartz noted, are that the positive results seen with these games cannot match up with a school’s measurements of facts, normative explanations, and procedures. He stressed that we should measure what counts for good decision-making. On top of that, Professor Gee expressed that we should try to avoid creating games as digital textbooks, but rather use digital technology as an infinite space in which to have a collective intelligence. In other words, we should create a social networking space to discuss and solve problems. He then briefly listed his twenty-three rules for his “Big G” concept.

The forum was also given a little beacon of hope when Professor Steinkuehler mentioned that the Obama administration took an interest in this field two years ago. She stressed that games are architecture for engagement, which is key to learning. She ended on a high note, suggesting that there should be more collaboration among academic researchers, industries, and policy makers, who should work together to make this happen.

For me, this sounded slightly too optimistic and utopian, especially when Professor Mitchell Stevens in the crowd raised questions of desire and the problem of violent games. But I left the talk with one major question in mind: Why is it still so hard for mainstream education to accept digital game-based learning? Should “Big G” really be the solution, as Gee listed in his rules? Surely, there must be different sizes of ‘G’, as people learn things differently.

While I was frowning at this, another audience member walking next to me smiled and jokingly said, “It’s all part of the game.” I realized that even after thirty years of research and development, this field is still fascinating because we continue to question whether or how we should combine digital games and schools. There is no perfect formula for learning, but this solution just sounds more fun than others.

Event Link:


Leaving a mark: can you learn from a digital mistake?

February 27, 2012 § 1 Comment

Around my parent’s home you will find a impregnable burnt patch on my cooker where an attempt to make desert went badly wrong having been distracted by the football; there will be an peculiar dull  stain on a lightly coloured carpet where something spilt as a consequence of me driving a remote controlled car onto an Uncle’s toe; stitches on a patched up teddy bear whose head and body parted company after a heated sibling argument turned slightly barbaric.  These artefacts surround us – as dents on our cars, broken or damaged things all around our houses, even on ourselves through accidents or fights – reminding us of mistakes or blunders we might have made, hopefully prompting us to learn and not make the same mistakes again.

Interestingly, the underlying nature of digital technology does not allow for us to learn from our mistakes in technological endeavours in the same way.  As technology becomes more and more prominent in our day-to-day lives, the more it seems to provide backups and redundancies to ensure we can always “go back” – a digital luxury which I hope does not become an expectation outside of our digital environments.  These worries I agree do in some ways sound farfetched and possibly exaggerated – perhaps it could be argued that these issues will only become a real concern if we quite literally live and breathe in binary.

However, if take into account real facts – the lowering minimum age of technology users, and the increased usage of technology as a social medium – will future generations grow up thinking problems or wrong doings, both inside and outside of digital environments, is a just a “Ctrl Z” or “Respawn” away?

Bhaveet Radia

A Digital “Life Portfolio”

November 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

A rainy afternoon on the Internet led to me reading old emails from what felt like a lifetime ago – emails from school friends moaning about how rubbish our parents were; discussions about our geography teachers mysterious absence for the past few weeks and the naïve yet seemingly necessary conspiracy theories derived from this; and of course never-ending reveries about girls.  These emails prompted two thoughts or feelings – firstly the nostalgia of growing up and school life; and secondly, a real sense of a life trajectory and real feeling of distinction between the person I was when writing those emails, to now.

Digital or E-Portfolios are typically used for students to keep track of their learning experiences and outcomes throughout their various endeavors inside and outside of the classroom or workplace – providing the ability to reflect on their experiences, to scaffold future learning, and may also be used to evidence experience and attainment to others.

But, is this the only thing that is worth documenting or reflecting on, perhaps not.

After my ancient email reading outing I began to think about the potential that digital communication and social networking, coupled often with widespread and intense usage, have inadvertently created what I’ll call a “life portfolio”.

A “life portfolio” is not an entirely new concept; we have all reminisced about the “good old days” when returning to visit old friends, all hidden behind sofas when a parent mercilessly shows a video of you singing in a school musical which they insist on sharing with what seems like any willing visitor, that graduation photo on your windowsill – these “life portfolio” artifacts surround us all.

In many cases a rich and naturalistically collected electronic archive of your life is also available to you – without even knowing consciously you’re contributing to it.  An archive that is chronologically marked, well indexed, and which has a genuine and authentic feel to it – social networking site data.   When looking at old messages, photos from what feels like a past life, past wall posts that make you wince – you can’t help but feel sentimental, and also realize how much you and others have changed or perhaps have not.  Both of these facets are important to our development in learning terms – they provide the opportunity to look at a life trajectory and understand where you have come from and an indication where you are going, helping inform you on future pursuits; and it also provides an opportunity to learn from past experiences through reflection and evaluation.

Looking at the fundamental reasons why social networking sites provide an effective digital “life portfolio”, it could be argued that these are important qualities that all good portfolios should aim to encompass.  Their naturalistic and lived-in nature due to the fact these portfolios are not rigidly structured, and when one is using the site and technically contributing to this portfolio – it doesn’t feel forced, most won’t even know they are; the richness of the portfolio can also be very immersive – there are text messages, links, conversations, photos, videos, comments, and so on – which are also vitally linked together in a web of social interaction and discourse.

In conclusion, social networking sites like Facebook which many people now live through, provides a unique opportunity to really look back, reminisce, and reflect. It can quite rightly be argued that this type of portfolio might be incomplete, lack real structure, it maybe not entirely accurate, and so on – but should we really need to strive for this when talking about a life story, which seldom features total cohesion, structure and accuracy.  A “life portfolio” is about capturing what can be easily and naturally captured, leaving you to fill in the gaps, dot the I’s yourself – to personally unlock its true value.

Bhaveet Radia

Blame it on the Blackberry

August 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

It’s tempting, when you read about how Blackberry Messenger is to blame for the riots to start thinking that maybe the time has come to slow down, pull ourselves together, take a 180° turn and go back down the road to a better place we used to know. Or tempting, at least, to simply express some anger at how hatefully some people use these amazing new means of bringing human beings together. Not that we minded so much when we heard that new technologies were instrumental in turning over oppression in the middle east. But now Facebook, Twitter and Blackberry Messenger appear to be instrumental in bringing about a whole new level of civil unrest in our own streets, and things are turning nasty.

Certainly, the BBM phenomenon is really striking: it has been practically invisible to all but the young people who have been its main users for a very long time now – something that parents are, for the most part, blissfully unaware of. The iPhone might be big among ageing tech-lovers but teenagers tend to prefer the Blackberry, and BBM. As its own advertising material makes abundantly clear, BBM allows you to send and receive messages, create groups, text non-BBM friends:“Don’t hold back: share your thoughts, stories and rants with unlimited characters and emotions”. It costs hardly anything.

A very little while ago a teacher friend of mine asked his class of 12 year olds, just out of interest, how many of them had ever Facebooked in his lessons. At least half put up their hands, and he was – not surprisingly – quite taken aback. Young people have for some time now, through smartphones, Facebook, and BBM, been living in and managing their own vibrant and alternative social world right in front of adults’ eyes, and for the most parts the adults don’t see: the “busy unheard throng” that Miéville imagined in The City & The City. Towards the end of his novel, the invisible barriers break down for a while, and all hell breaks loose in the spaces they all actually share. Order was eventually restored in his cities, and it will be in ours, but we shouldn’t imagine that the unheard throng will go away. And blaming what happens next on the technologies they use won’t help at all.

Do you read me HAL?

September 17, 2010 § Leave a comment

The Internet is not alive, not even in the sense that sourdough is, I know that. But somehow it seems to have a life of its own, bubbling away and growing, throbbing with all the chaos of people using it for all the things they want to do. It moves through our lives on its own terms, it seems, and offers us something we all need a lot: the opportunity to be part of something bigger than just our solitary self.
The Internet is an electronic illusion of coherent life, but the life that animates it is real enough. It is a new manifestation of human co-existence that creates new possibilities for discovery, participation, collaboration, richness. It is what we cannot be on our own: the combined us, which I think is what we all want to experience at some level of our consciousness. The beauty of the Internet for me is that you can enjoy this membership on your own terms. I could not bear to be a member of a church or a bike club, because although part of me wants to be just like everyone else and belong, I don’t like the walls closing in around me. The Internet doesn’t mind what I do: I can watch and listen, I can browse, I can join in, I can commit, I can wander off whenever I want to.
And I can belong to Facebook. Well I do, sort of. Today I thought I’d see how things are going on in there, because it had been a while. Within moments, I received this email: “Hi Chris, Welcome back to Facebook! Let your friends know what you’ve been up to.” It even suggested some people I might like to get in touch with (interesting choices, actually). But I have not let my friends know what I have been up to. This is because (a) I have been up to nothing and (b) thanks to Facebook, I don’t know what the word friend means any more. Still, I guess this means that I do belong, so that must be good.
One of the young people we spoke to in a research interview recently told me that Facebook was great because “it’s all the elements in one place, which is better” and “nowadays you’ve got Facebook on your phone, it almost removes the need for other communications”. Another said, equally approvingly, that “some people are on Facebook 24/7, you can guarantee you can always find them on”. But then again, another (and he was not the only one who saw it this way) had given it up because “I didn’t really like it … the conversations were a bit the same. It’s not the same as speaking personally …”. Well that’s how I feel too – I do not like the required manners of Facebook, at all. And even more, I do not like this thing about channelling everything you do on the Internet through Facebook. It looks to me, right now, that Facebook is growing so fast it could suffocate the whole Internet, replacing freedom and expansiveness with something ultimately lifeless: the inertnet.
So maybe I had better get out while I can. But what will Facebook write to me when I disappear for good? “Where have you gone, Chris?” “Are you trying to leave me now, Chris?” And when I finally cry out in despair, and plead with it to free me from the burden of belonging, it will pause, and then quietly murmur, “I’m sorry, Dave Chris, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

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