@missnoor28 is a terrific person to follow on twitter for teachers as she shares an abundance of sources and is always ready to answer a personal request or offer her help. Last week, she asked me to explain a recent tweet of mine: “@ginrob_pt I wish we could block twts with key words. I’d block “Educational Video Games” & pretend tht Huxley was wrong #EduJo#EdTech#Edchat#Gaming,” and then she asked me, “What was wrong with educational video games?”
In order to answer her question, I need to discuss Adios Huxley and Neil Postman. Huxley wrote a dystopia novel entitled “Brave New World” and Neil Postman wrote a book in the 80’s entitled “Amusing Ourselves to Death” Both these books write about the emergence of a culture based on entertainment and about the possible/actual consequences of such a culture. For a quick explanation of “Brave New World” (and a contrast to “1984”) please refer to this link: https://tuckerteacher.wordpress.com/2011/04/18/postmans-forward-revisited/ which is a visual presentation of Postman’s forward. For more information regarding Postman’s point, refer to page 185 in his book “Amusing Ourselves to Death” in Chapter 10: Teaching as an Amusing Activity.
Both works talk about the consequences of arranging discourse along an entertaining focus; this would also hold true in education. When students learn through games, the arguments extends, they learn a shadow curriculum that learning is easy, and that learning is fun. They do not learn that it is fun to learn. The difference is vast.
Feeling that it is fun to learn motivates and rewards engagement and effort; it offers a reward for learning; it makes the learning its goal and focus; it makes the struggle of learning worth it.
The video game “learning is fun“ offers surface engagement; it distracts from the learning and offers a fun activity; it trains students to learn effortlessly, but also to be less tolerant of exerting effort to learn. I think that it was summed up well by the following 2 tweets:
@intrepidteacherJabiz Raisdana Students become frustrated and bored when they realize even what they love requires hard work. They’re too used to surface engagement.
@davemorinDave Morin “Gamification is the high fructose corn syrup of engagement.” – Kathy Sierra
As an analogy consider T.V. Imagine using T.V to provide a language rich environment for your students: This would seem ideally suited to the educational needs of the student. They would be provided an almost endless stream of language that they enjoy and that could be tailored to their level and needs; problem with phonemic awareness—Sesame street; problems with sequence – Dora; problem with social rules – Thomas. T.V. offers a rich variety of experiences presented by the Backyardigans or even the news which brought an entire American generation the experiences of Vietnam, the moon landing, and the Kennedy assassination. T.V. is a medium that constantly provides attainable data to the viewer and can tolerate a variety of engagement levels. Would we be comfortable with placing a student in front of a T.V. for even a portion of the day? I suspect that we wouldn’t, even though teachers use T.V. and movies, not just to entertain, but with the purpose of furthering their student’s education. Even though, we sometimes view T.V. as a powerful educational strategy, intuitively, and because of the works of such theorists like Neil Postman we know that T.V. is an entertainment medium, not well suited to instruct or to educate. In fact, we used to blame T.V. for the quality of our students or their motivation, that is, before computers became so prevalent.
After unpacking this analogy and applying its principles to video games, can someone tell me exactly how video games are advantageous over other modes of learning? Surely they can work (for limited purposes) but is it worth it? Don’t they train our student to reject struggle? Are they in a sense bribing our studetns to learn? Won’t it ultimately back fire like all bribery based incentive systems?
That is a little of what I meant when I posted my earlier tweet. We should consider what learning with video games undoes-I have, and have not found them worth the cost.