The design and use of simulation computer games in education




НазваниеThe design and use of simulation computer games in education
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The Spanish American War broke out. During the late 19th Century, Cuba and Puerto Rico were swept by revolutions. These two countries were all that remained of Spain’s New World empire. Both islands now wanted their own independence. Americans supported this desire and grew angry that the Cuban and Puerto Rican rebels were treated so harshly by the Spanish. These American feelings were backed up by other facts: (1) Americans had invested some $50 million in Cuba, (2) Cuba was the largest supplier of American sugar, (3) Cuba was strategically important because it controlled the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico.... When the American battleship Maine was mysteriously sunk in Havana Harbor... the United States declared war and defeated Spain in less than five months. As a result of the Spanish-American War, the United States took over Puerto Rico as well as the Philippine Islands in the Pacific.

The review questions from the text ask: “What were three reasons that the United States entered the Spanish American War?” and “As a result of the Spanish American War, America annexed: a. Mexico, b. the Philippines, c. Spain.”

For example, ask them why

Let’s compare that description of the war to how one player in The Debating Game looked at these events. I’m going to give a somewhat extended account here of one Judge’s Report because the contrast in content and style is quite striking between what was written by a team of professional historians and educators as a text book and this report produced by an eighth grader as part of a game. Notice particularly the completeness of this description and the way that the judge is not only writing about how the debaters used evidence to make their case, she is also using evidence herself:

Overall Presentation

Pro Side

The Pro side had a great overall presentation. Both speakers could have spoken slower and clearer because it was sort of hard to understand them and they were never short of time.... They sounded convincing by saying things like, “The first casualty lists did nothing to diminish the patriotic fever of a nation aware it was on the high road to international eminence. In fact, coming just after the news of victory at Manila, they spurred enlistments and stirred the hearts of even the most conservative of citizens.” (The Spanish American War by Allen Keller.) This and other pieces of information made their argument sound convincing.

Con Side

Both speakers did a wonderful job on their overall presentation. They both spoke well but it would have been better if they both spoke a little bit louder. The argument was very convincing; they used quotations and statistics. For example they said that 216 people died when the Maine sunk.

Quality of the Argument

Pro Side

Their argument was very well stated. They made it clear by saying the three main reasons for the United States to fight in the war: to gain wealth, land expansion, and power. Most of their argument made sense but it was not convincing how exactly the Maine sank and how the people who were on it died. They made their point clear that the United States went to war with Spain for selfish reasons.

Con Side

Their argument also was very good. Their main argument was that the United States didn't want to become an imperialistic power and they made their point clear by saying that the United States wanted to help Cuba and not take over Cuba. They stated that historian Frank Freidal said, “That Cubans were not strong enough to win but not weak enough to surrender.” This was a good statement because it is saying that the Cubans needed help and that is what the United States planned to do.

Use of Sources

Pro Side

They used very nice evidence. They both used many quotes, for example, one of them said, “It is the duty of the United States to demand, and the Government of the United States does hereby demand, that the Government of Spain at once relinquish its authority and government in the island of Cuba and withdraw its land and navel forces from Cuba and Cuban waters.” (President McKinley sent a letter to Spain)....

Con Side

They also used great evidence. It was helpful that they showed the Judges their sources by laying the books in front of them. They used dates as well as quotes.... They might have not wanted to use as many quotes as they did because they could have just translated the quote into their own words because half of their debate was quotes. They said that the United States knew how it felt to be owned and that was a good piece of information.

Let’s make a few observations about what this judge wrote. First, she was describing a debate in which players covered the essential elements of the war as reported by the text, including “the three main reasons for the United States to fight in the war: to gain wealth, land expansion, and power.” But the debaters also clearly went far beyond the text, using primary source documents and secondary interpretations by historians to make their arguments. (As it turns out, this is even more impressive because the debaters had to prepare for the game before the class had read anything about the war in question.) Second, this judge was describing a debate in which the players were using evidence to argue for a particular interpretation of historical events, ascribing motives to historical actors to explain historical circumstances. They were arguing over whether we can call a nation’s actions selfish, and about whether that definition applies to the United States in its decision to declare war on Spain in 1898. Third, this judge’s report itself was clearly organized to discuss the criteria by which she was asked to judge the debate. This judge was not talking about her opinion, or about which side was “right” or “wrong.” She was evaluating competing interpretations of historical events based on the strength of the arguments presented. Fourth, this judge used specific evidence from the debate itself to make her points, giving concrete examples and using those examples to explain her analysis of the debaters’ arguments.

Finally, keep in mind that these were eighth graders who might otherwise have been expected only to be able to identify three reasons given in their text for the start of the war, and to know that as a result of the war, the United States annexed the Philippines.

Oh, that’s from Fast! Forget it!

The reason The Debating Game matters here is that it illustrates how we can build a bridge from learning in the world to learning in games. The rules of the imaginary world of this particular game do a better job of representing what it means to think like an historian than the traditional text-lecture-and-recitation of many history classes. When we read the report of this Judge in the game—and read through the report to see how the Debaters were making their arguments—we can see that these players of The Debating Game were thinking more like real historians than like students trained to answer multiple choice questions about historical facts from a text book.

Wineburg (1991) studied the differences between history as traditionally taught in school and as practiced by historians. He gathered a set of documents about the “shot heard ‘round the world” on the Lexington Green that started the American Revolutionary War: primary and secondary source texts as well as paintings made at different times of the scene of the battle. He gave this set of historical source material to eight historians and eight high school students and looked at how they used the documents to “try to understand what happened at Lexington Green on the morning of April 19, 1775” (p. 75).

The differences were striking. The students read the texts “from top to bottom, from the first word in the upper-lefthand corner to the last word in the bottom-righthand corner.” They saw the documents as “vehicles for conveying information.” They thought of bias as a binary attribute: either a text is biased or it isn’t, either it is, as one student explained, “just reporting the facts” (what another student described as giving “straight information”) or it is a biased account and thus not to be trusted.

For the historians, the documents were not vehicles for reporting facts in this sense. They were accounts written by distinct people at specific points in time, each with a particular perspective. The historians saw a key part of their task as interpreting these documents in relation to one another. They saw the texts “not as bits of information to be gathered but as social exchanges to be understood.” For the historians, the question was never, “Is this source biased?” but rather, “How does a source’s bias influence the quality of its report?” (Quotations from pp. 83-4.)

Wineburg compared how a student and a historian dealt with an excerpt taken from Howard Fast’s 1961 period novel April Morning, which tells a fictionalized story of the battle on Lexington Green. On reading the document, both recognized it was a novel and said that they could not rely on the details from that source. Several minutes later, however, the student seemed to have incorporated information from Fast into his understanding of the battle scene. The historian, in contrast, came upon a claim in a later document that the colonists formed ranks in “regular order.” He remembered seeing the claim earlier and went searching through the documents. When he found it was from the novel, he laughed: “Oh, that’s from Fast! Forget it!” As Wineburg explained:

A detail is first remembered, but the historian cannot remember its source. This recognition sends the historian searching for the sources of this detail, and, when reunited with its author, the detail is rejected. The reason is that the historian knows that there are no free-floating details, only details tied to witnesses... (p. 84).

Contrast this with the student, who knew that information from a novel was suspect, but used it anyway a few moments later having forgotten the original source.

Wineburg concluded that what distinguished the high school students from the historians was not the number of facts that they knew about the American Revolution. Instead, the difference was in their understanding of what it means to think historically. For the students, history is what is written in the textbook, where “facts” are presented free of bias. For the historians, on the other hand, historical inquiry is a system for determining the validity of historical claims based on corroboration of sources in conversation with one another rather than an appeal to a unitary source of truth—a way of knowing based on using specific evidence to support claims rather than trying to establish a set of facts that exist without bias. As Wineburg said:

It is doubtful that teaching these students more facts about the American Revolution would help them do better on this task when they remain ignorant of the basic heuristics [guidelines] used to create historical interpretations, when they cannot distinguish among different types of historical evidence, and when they look to a textbook for the “answer” to historical questions—even when that textbook contradicts primary sources from both sides (p. 84).

Epistemology

Wineberg argued that in learning history, these students did not, in fact, learn to think like historians. No amount of learning to appeal to an all-knowing textbook will teach students to understand historical texts in context with one another and with the period in which they are written. No amount of correctly-remembered facts will prepare students to sift through the historical record of newspaper articles, partisan reports, contemporary documents, and later historical accounts and from this tangled web of information construct and defend a historical interpretation (Collingwood & Knox, 1946; Doel & Sèoderqvist, 2006; Morris-Suzuki, 2005; Wineburg, 2001). In other words, the epistemology of most high school history classes does not match the epistemology of historical inquiry.

Epistemology, in this sense, is what Perkins (1992) has described as “knowledge and know-how concerning justification and explanation” (p. 85). In analyzing his results, for example, Wineburg refers to Schwab’s (1978) concept of syntactic knowledge, which he describes as “knowledge of how to establish warrant and determine validity of competing truth claims in a discipline” (p. 84). Epistemology is a particular way of thinking about or justifying actions, of structuring valid claims. It tells you the rules you are supposed to use in deciding whether something is true, and epistemology in this sense is domain specific: mathematicians make different kinds of arguments than historians do. Buehl & Alexander (2005), for example, studied the domain specificity of epistemological beliefs from a psychological perspective: whether and how students have different understandings of the nature of justification and explanation in different disciplines. Donald (2002) has looked at the differences in the epistemological organization of fields of study at the collegiate level. In both cases, different disciplines and practices are characterized by different structures of argument and different criteria for verification of claims.

This may seem like an obvious point, but the differences between ways of thinking within subjects are often left out in discussions of thinking. Piaget’s cognitive stages exist across domains: developmental stages that are the foundation of thinking in any subject, in any context (Gardner, 1982). Piaget’s stages are compatible with the idea that different subjects have different ways of thinking: discipline-specific ways of thinking could have features in common for children of different ages. However, emphasizing the distinctiveness of different epistemologies is important because that is how academic subjects are organized—indeed, it is the very reason we have different disciplines in the first place. As Wineburg suggests, “the disciplines that lend us school subjects possess distinctive logics and modes of inquiry” (p. 73).

Epistemology is also important here because it shows why Wineburg’s results are such a fundamental criticism of history instruction in schools. In his study, high school history students and historians had different epistemologies. They used different criteria for deciding that a statement is true or a claim is valid. For Wineburg’s students, true facts were presented in a non-biased text. For his historians, truth depended on one’s ability to support a historical interpretation with evidence from multiple sources. These high school history students and professional historians had different ways of justifying their actions—and thus were actually studying different disciplines.

Which brings us back to The Debating Game. To make a valid point in the game, a Debater has to advance a specific historical interpretation. The Debaters have to make interpretations about what happened in the Spanish American War, and why events unfolded as they did. The validity of those claims are evaluated by the Judges based on the clarity of the argument presented, and on the Debaters’ use of historical evidence from primary and secondary sources. Although the Debaters are explicitly trying to win the debate, the terms by which they do so are a closer match to the epistemology of Wineberg’s historians than to the multiple choice questions of their textbook. Similarly, the Judges themselves are put in a position of advancing an interpretation which they have to defend using specific evidence. Although the Judges are making interpretations about (and using evidence from) the debate itself rather than the war, the epistemology is similar: what matters is presenting an interpretation and defending it with specific evidence rather than appealing to authority to establish the legitimacy of a claim.

Of course, The Debating Game, by itself, can not take credit for creating the epistemology of professional historians. It was part of a curriculum that systematically reinforced the message that history was about trying to understand what had happened in the past by sorting through evidence and evaluating arguments based on that evidence. But by giving players roles whose rules of behavior emphasized the importance of competing interpretations of events supported by specific evidence, the game helped develop a more authentic view of history for the students who played it.

In this sense, then, epistemology is at the heart of what school is about. The intellectual and historical justification for the traditional disciplines—mathematics, science, history, language arts, and so on—are that these are the ways of thinking that are fundamental in anything that students will do when they finish school.

The idea of fundamental disciplines of knowledge goes back to the ancient Greeks, who divided knowledge about the world into the quadrivium of arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy and the trivium of rhetoric, grammar, and logic. If the details have changed (logic, arithmetic, and geometry now go together in the mathematics curriculum for example), the idea that some ways of understanding the world are basic to all the things we do remains the same.

The liberal arts curriculum of our schools, with classes in the basic disciplines of mathematics, science, history or social studies, English, art, and foreign languages is based on the idea that each of these disciplines represents a fundamental way of thinking: knowledge and skills that students need no matter what they will do in life. But what the example here and Wineburg’s work suggests is that school classes are not doing such a good job of teaching kids these fundamental ways of knowing.

And the reason it doesn’t is because that isn’t what school classes were designed to do.

What’s in a game?

The Debating Game is a particular kind of game: a role-playing game in which the roles players take on require them to think and act in ways that matter in the world. To play The Debating Game, you have to accept a particular epistemology: a particular way of deciding when something or someone is right, of justifying what you do, of explaining and arguing for a particular point of view, course of action, or decision. In this sense, The Debating Game is an example of what I have described elsewhere as an epistemic game: a game that requires you to think in a particular way about the world (Shaffer, 2005, 2007).

Knees and toes

By this definition, of course, School is an epistemic game. The players take on particular roles: most are Students, a smaller number are Teachers, and still fewer are Administrators. There are clear rules—whether implicit or explicit—about how to play these roles, and the role of Student in particular carries certain expectations about how you have to think to succeed in the game.

The modern game of School as we know it was invented during the Industrial Revolution, at about the same time as the modern game of Baseball, in fact. And some of the same historical forces—urbanization, industrialization, immigration and migration—formalized and spread both games across the United States. It is in this period—in the middle and late 1800s—that most of what we think of as the structure of School was developed: the so-called “egg crate” school, with identical isolated classrooms, each with individual desks for individual students; age-graded classrooms filled with similarly-aged students; the nine month school year and 5 day school week; the 45 minute school period; and the Carnegie unit, or standardized class of 130 hours of instruction in a single subject.

In developing this basic framework—the grammar of schooling (Tyack & Tobin, 1994)—school leaders in the 1800s deliberately used the factory as a model for the orderly delivery of instruction. Just as theologians in the Enlightenment described God as a divine watchmaker and cognitive scientists today write about the mind as a computer, so factories in the late 1800s were a dominant model for explaining and organizing activity.7 While superintendent of schools in St. Louis, William Harris wrote:

The first requisite of the school is Order: each pupil must be taught first and foremost to conform his behavior to a general standard... to the time of the train, to the starting of work in the manufactory.... The pupil must have his lessons ready at the appointed time, must rise at the tap of the bell, move to the line, return; in short, go through all the evolutions with equal precision (Tyack, 1974, p. 43).

Students were asked to literally “toe the line,” standing motionless and erect with their knees together and their toes against the edge of a board on the floor. After all, as one enthusiastic teacher asked: “How can you learn anything with your knees and toes out of order?” (Tyack, 1974, pp. 55-6). But if the factory model was embraced with enthusiasm, it was also a matter of necessity. As one critic wrote in the 1860s: “To manage successfully a hundred children, or even half that number, the teacher must reduce them as nearly as possible to a unit” (Tyack, 1974, p. 54).

The game of school

The rules of the game of School are well documented (see, e.g., Fried, 2005; Tripp, 1993). The grammar of schooling creates a hidden curriculum: the set of lessons that students take away from school about how they should act in the world, and about what it means to think and to learn (Jackson, 1968). The hidden curriculum is what makes math class and history class and science class all seem so similar, even though the subjects are so different. The hidden curriculum is what makes the textbook’s multiple choice questions about the Spanish American War seem so familiar—because we’ve all seen questions just like these before. Because the hidden curriculum pervades our schools, wherever and whenever we went to school we played more or less the same game.

When School was invented, though, this curriculum was anything but hidden. Quite the contrary, in fact. School was deliberately, explicitly, openly designed to impose a new urban discipline as a means to avert social strife in rapidly-expanding industrial cities. As Tyack suggests, it was a means to industrialize humanity. And that matters because the hidden curriculum of School is still very much with us. We tend to think of School as we know it as something necessary and inevitable. But it is not. It is just one particular game, invented in a particular time and place to achieve certain goals.

Not surprisingly, the epistemology of School is the epistemology of the industrial revolution—of creating wealth through mass-production of standardized goods. School is a game about thinking like a factory worker. It is a game with an epistemology of right and wrong answers. It is a game in which Students are supposed to follow instructions, whether or not they make sense in the moment. Truth is whatever the teacher says is the right answer, and actions are justified based on appeal to authority. School is a game in which what it means to know something is to be able to answer specific kinds of questions on specific kinds of tests. As Zoch (2004) and Fried (2005) suggest, contemporary schooling is characterized by passivity, epistemological uniformity, and rigidity.

Now, not every school or every classroom is like this, of course, and the hidden curriculum of school is about more than what happens in the classroom. There are sports teams and playgrounds and a host of other interactions that Students have in the game of School that shape what they learn about the world from playing. But in the era of No Child Left Behind, which links school funding to how well students perform on high-stakes standardized tests, it would be hard for a public school student to conclude at the end of the day that learning in any subject means more than learning how to identify the answer that someone else has already determined is right.

Better games

In other words, our sons and daughters go to school in factories. They are not working on a shop floor operating heavy machinery, but from the building to the curriculum to the schedule for the day, almost everything about School was designed—deliberately designed—in and for life in industrial America.

The problem is that industrial schools don’t particularly encourage innovative thinking. We live in an era where global competition is sending overseas any job that relies on standardized skills and knowledge. When information can travel overseas with the click of a mouse, and barriers to trade in goods and services have been lowered to create a global economy, work flows to where it can be done for less money. As Brown and Duguid (2002) explain, the jobs in high-wage economies will be in “areas where making sense, interpreting, and understanding are both problematic and highly valued—areas where, above, all, meaning and knowledge are at a premium” (p. 95). Davenport similarly suggests: “It’s not clear exactly what workers in the United States, Western Europe, and Japan are going to do for a living in the future... but it is clear that if these economies are to prosper, the jobs of many of the workers must be particularly knowledge-intensive” (p. 22). Already today nearly a third of the jobs in the workforce in the United States require complex thinking skills, and barely a quarter of all workers are up to the challenge.8 In a post-industrial world we need to build better educational games than industrial School.

Better educational games don’t necessarily require new technology. The Debating Game helps players to think about issues the way historians do: to understand complex situations and develop and defend their own point of view on controversial issues. But whether or not new technologies are required to build better educational games, it is clear that we need to ask: Can we use computers to build games in which players learn to think creatively—games in which young people can learn the epistemologies of innovation they need to succeed in a digital age of global competition?

The answer appears to be that we can.

Consider, for example, Civilization, a well-known and widely-played strategy game that lets players build an empire throughout human history. Players choose a civilization to lead, and beginning with a stone-age settlement make strategic decisions to invest in technological development or trade, to use diplomacy or cultural exchange, religious conversion, or open warfare to help their civilization grow and thrive. The game is based on a historically-accurate model of advances in technology, religion, and the arts, and Squire’s (2004; in press) studies of the game suggest that as players master the game system, they can begin to ask and play out historical experiments. While “experiments” are not the usual activity of historians, simulations are a growing part of other social sciences. Many world history textbooks, particularly at the middle school level, tell a story about Western progress. In contrast, Civilization gives players an opportunity to think in terms of a materialist-determinist approach to history (Diamond, 2005). In this view of history, geographical location, ease of trade, and access to raw materials create structural conditions that shape historical developments. In this sense, the game Civilization is a particularly rich context for thinking about one particular epistemology of historical inquiry.

But games only work in this way when we recognize that we need to think carefully not just about what kinds of things players do in a game, but about what justifies those actions. How do you know in the game when you have made a good decision or a bad one? What kind of evidence is available to base your decision on, and how are you supposed to evaluate that evidence? What makes something “true” in the sense that you can use it to guide your choices in the game?

These are, of course, very different issues than the questions asked by some about games. These are not questions about whether games can make learning more “fun” or more “motivating.” These are not questions about whether and how games can teach traditional content better than traditional instructional methods.

Rather, as I have argued elsewhere (Shaffer, 2005, 2007), thinking about games from the perspective of their epistemologies opens up a new and important way of thinking about education itself. To prepare for life in a world of global competition that values innovation rather than standardization, young people need to learn to think like innovators. Innovative professionals in the real world have ways of thinking and working that are just as coherent—and just as fundamental—as any of the disciplines. The work of creative professionals is organized around what I call epistemic frames: collections of skills, knowledge, identities, values, and epistemology that professionals use to think in innovative ways. Innovators learn these epistemic frames through professional training that is very different from traditional academic classrooms because innovative thinking means more than just knowing the right answers on a test. It also means having real world skills, high standards and professional values, and a particular way of thinking about problems and justifying solutions.

Thinking in these terms lets us build epistemic games: games that recreate the process of how people in the real world learn to think like creative professionals. With these games, young people don’t have to wait to begin their education for innovation until college, or graduate school, or their entry into the work force. In these games, learning to think like professionals prepares players for innovative thinking from an early age.

This approach to games and education opens up a number of big questions: What role can (and should) such games play in how we educate children for life in a high-tech, global, digital, post-industrial world? Should these be part of the curriculum of school? Should they be played at home—or on portable game players—like commercial video games? What should games for learning look like, and—more important—what kind of learning happens when children play them?

These are important questions that are only beginning to be addressed. The answers thus far are promising, as my own work (Shaffer, 2005, 2007), and the work of others represented in this volume show. My point here as been to suggest that these questions are made both more fruitful and more urgent when we look at the new possibilities games provide for education through a very old lens: the lens of epistemology and the question of how people think about problems that matter in the world.

References


David Shaffer

Educational Psychology, Curriculum and Instruction, and the Academic Advanced Distributed Learning Co-Laboratory

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Richard Van Eck

Six Ideas in Search of a Discipline

University of North Dakota

Okay, so there are really far more than six ideas in what we are now calling the field of digital game-based learning (DGBL), but with apologies to playwright Luigi Pirandello (1925), I made it six so the title would work. The title of his original play, Six Characters in Search of an Author, revolved around six characters in a play that had not yet been written. As an egregious example of placing the cart before the horse, this play also captures the essence of where I see the field of DGBL right now--more a collection of coherent but loosely organized ideas in search of a discipline. In this chapter, I propose to discuss ten critical tasks that can help define the field of DGBL, but of course this list is not exhaustive and many may disagree with the relative importance of each. Although this list reflects the ideas that seem most relevant to me, my purpose in outlining these ideas is to start, rather than end, a conversation.

In my opinion, DGBL is at a crossroads, and the choices we make right now will determine whether we become a field or fade away as just another "flavor of the day" in education and instructional technology. When we first began discussing DGBL in the late 80s, we were dismissed as, at best, educators who wanted to make learning "fun," and, at worst, contributors to the slow decline of standards, hard work, and the traditional school. Proponents of DGBL intuited that games could be effective tools for learning since much of what went on during gameplay required mental effort and focus. This was not enough to generate a persuasive argument, however, for two reasons.

First, these intuitions did not rise to the level of theory, which precluded even the design of research to study DGBL. To be sure, we had a rich history of research on play theory, and even on the use of games (e.g., board games, card games, math tournaments, and role playing) in limited domains (e.g., business, mathematics, and history). Digital computer games appeared to be different from earlier kinds of games, though, and inspired dreams of deeper learning and greater roles in learning environments because of their ability to engage learners in constant iterative cycles of thought, action, feedback without any human intervention. Games seemed a natural extension of our hopes and dreams for computer-based learning and individualized instruction, which many thought would revolutionize education.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, members of the educational establishment, at the urging of a traditional-minded citizenry, co-opted the argument: "school is not about fun, it's about learning." It didn't matter that DGBL proponents wanted the debate to be about learning theory, because what nearly everyone else focused on were the issues of fun and motivation (synonymous terms for many, but distinct concepts to educational researchers who see motivation more in terms of self-efficacy, goal setting, persistence, and perseverance). If we wanted a debate at all, we had to address these issues up front. So, those interested in taking games seriously as learning tools spent the better part of the next 25 years being just as vociferous in our contention that the impetus for using games as educational tools was about effective learning principles, NOT really about fun.

To back this up, in the 1980s and 1990s we conducted research on DGBL based on existing and newly developed theories such as situated cognition and learning (e.g., Brown, Collins, and Duguid, 1989), anchored instruction (e.g., Bransford, Sherwood, Hasselbring, Kinzer, & Williams, & the CTGV 1990; 1991; 1992a; 1992b; 1992c; 1993), and play theory (e.g., Rieber, 1996; Sutton-Smith, 1997; Crawford, 1982). We began to study how commercial games could be designed for educational use (e.g., Jasper Woodbury, CTGV, 1997) or built by students as programming and problem-solving activities (e.g., Yasmin Kafai, 1995). This research, as a whole, showed that the structure of digital games often reflects these powerful theories of learning which have themselves been validated with a variety of media, settings and learners during the latter half of the 20th century. In the meantime, games continued to become more sophisticated and more popular, and game players became older (!) and more a part of the educational systems we proposed to change.

All of this has come to a head in the last 6 years, resulting in a growing acceptance of games as effective learning tools. While we still hear the same arguments about play vs. work, for the most part the debate about whether games can play a part in learning is over. The question at the center of debate now is how games can play a part in learning. This is a question, however, that we are ill-equipped to answer. While we have begun to make the shift from proselytising to theories, models, and prescriptions. DGBL as a field is still in its infancy. We began to build a canon of scholarship and collected wisdom in the 90s through the contributions of books like Gredler's Designing and Evaluation Games and Simulations (1994), articles like Reiber's "Seriously Considering Play," and Malone and Lepper's theory of intrinsic motivation (1987).

This canon was expanded through contributions by Prensky (2001) and Aldrich (2004) at the turn of the new century, giving voice to arguments about the changing nature of learners in school and industry, and practical applications of games as learning and training tools. In the last 3 years, we've seen an explosion of articles and texts on games and learning, with journals that would not publish anything on games and learning now devoting entire issues to the topic, and books like James Gee's ground-breaking book What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy (2003), which many view as the first scholarly text in DGBL in its struggle to become a field.

Three Challenges facing dgbl

In spite of all this progress and acceptance of DGBL, we are in danger once again of having the debate co-opted. We do not yet have the theoretical and research base we need to establish guidelines for practice, and, while we have everyone's attention now, we do not yet know what to say. The longer that goes on, the more likely it is that the debate about how and why games can play a part in learning will move forward without us. The only argument we seem to have been successful in communicating to parents, teachers, and administrators is that we think games can be useful in learning: not how or why. This is not sufficient to guide practice. And yet, guidance for practice is precisely what DGBL will be asked to provide in the next 5 years.

While we have a promising base of research to draw on, previous studies fail to rise to the level of coherent theories and models of DGBL, which represents the first of what I see as three significant challenges facing DGBL. Why is it important to establish theories and models for DGBL? Because with validated theories and models we are more likely to establish effective practical guidelines for DGBL, which is the second challenge facing DGBL. Such guidelines, in turn, will allow us to establish a more coherent body of high-quality DGBL examples, which I see as the third challenge facing DGBL. This latter challenge is important for two reasons. First, this gives us the best chance to show early successes, which will keep momentum and interest going. Second, good examples are needed to help us further refine and validate our theories and models, and to generate new models and theories. This cycle (formulating and validating theories and models, developing guidelines for practice, and studying the resultant practice) represents the basic process that occurs in all established fields of scholarship, and is why DGBL is not currently a field, but rather a collection of ideas. Figure 1 presents an illustration of the research cycle needed in DGBL.




Figure 1. Research cycle for establishing DGBL as a discipline.

I mentioned earlier that there were ten tasks that I believe are necessary for DGBL to become a field, in fact, these ten tasks are a means of addressing the three significant challenges I've just outlined:

Challenge One: Generating & Validating DGBL Theories & Models

  1. Develop new interdisciplinary models

  2. Develop and evaluate tools for game analysis

  3. Blend taxonomies of games and learning


Challenge Two: Generating Guidelines for Practice

  1. Study games and problem-solving

  2. Study "twitch" games and visual processing in professional practice

  3. Reexamine and refine studies of sex differences in games

  4. Study cultural differences in gameplay & design


Challenge Three: Generating a Body of high-quality DGBL

  1. Extend research and design with artificial intelligence as a field and in games

  2. Develop new discourse models for distributed learning & cognition

  3. Develop authoring tools for content integration in intelligent learning games (ILGs)


As I've described above, these challenges are interdependent, and the success we have in meeting each successive challenge will be predicated on the success we have in meeting its predecessor, which makes it somewhat difficult to be precise about the later challenges. Obviously, if guidelines for practice must arise from theories and models of DGBL, which are themselves informed by practice, we can only talk about these challenges in an abstract fashion. Given the importance and complexity of the first challenge, the space limitations in this chapter, and that I have addressed challenges 2 and 3 in more detail elsewhere (Van Eck, 2006c; Van Eck, 2006a), I will devote the majority of the balance of this chapter to challenge one.

Challenge One: Generating & validating DGBL Theories & models

First and foremost, we must resist the temptation to define this field from within any single domain or community. There is a natural tendency to approach any new field from within the community in which we are most expert. This is not a bad thing, in that in doing so we bring to bear powerful theories and models that have stood the test of time in other disciplines, and this has important benefits to our field. However, before we take that approach, we must also be cognizant of the ways in which other disciplines and communities approach the same topic. One reason for this, of course, is to avoid reinventing the wheel--if someone has managed to define or validate a principle or concept already, it is a poor use of our time to do the same.

It is also important to recognize that efficiency, while desirable, is not even the most significant reason to be aware of other disciplines. The real sea changes in DGBL are likely to occur precisely at the intersection of multiple fields, disciplines, and communities and because of the synergy of ideas that can occur when multiple perspectives come to bear on a single issue. When we attempt to reconcile the similarities and differences between similar ideas in different disciplines (e.g., narrative theory from English and narrative psychology from cognitive psychology), we generate a dynamic interplay of ideas that quickly leads us to new theories (e.g., narrative in DGBL) that could not exist otherwise. What's more, these new theories then often have a generative effect, leading us back to still other related concepts in different disciplines (e.g., discourse theory in English and psychology and communication, and artificial intelligence and intelligent tutoring systems in cognitive psychology).

By looking to multiple fields throughout our scholarship, we are forced to consider already existing knowledge and ideas from a novice perspective, which allows for new insights not always possible by existing researchers within that discipline. There is value in reading with a fresh eye, not the least of which is that when theory does appear to be sufficient within one domain, we may find it in other domains and adapt it instead of creating new, un-informed theories within our own disciplines.

The problem is that we are not seeking out or recognizing those points of synergy between and amongst the different communities involved in DGBL (e.g., psychology, linguistics, English, education, communication, instructional design, and game development). The debate in the press, at conferences, and on ListServs like Serious Games is lively, passionate, and highly productive. The temptation, however, when ideas clash is to retreat into our own disciplines and generate what we see as "the answer" to the issues we discuss. That's OK, as long as we continue to share those ideas after we generate them and hold them up for scrutiny from multiple perspectives. This is why our texts MUST include texts as seemingly different as Raph Koster's A Theory of Fun for Game Design (2005), James Gee's What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (2003), Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan's edited book First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game (2004), Chris Crawford's The Art of Computer Game Design (1982), and Marc Prensky's Digital Game-Based Learning (2001).9 Such disparate approaches are critical to understanding how and why games work, which is our first critical task in this process.

How Games Work

As I mentioned earlier, this is a more important question right now than the still more popular question of DO games work. We cannot begin to ask this question until we have some idea of why we think they may work under different circumstances. We all have our own ideas about how and why games work and therefore our own ideas of how to design or implement DGBL within a given domain and environment. It follows that not all of these ideas will turn out to be accurate. Therefore, not all of the designs and implementations thus generated will result in the desired evidence that games teach anything. At the end of the day, then, we would only be able to say that some games work for some people some of the time, but we couldn't say which games, which people, or which times. That's hardly the basis of a new field of study.

The good news is that many of us have already begun to lay out our theories of how and why games work. What actually remains to be done, however, is to synthesize these interdisciplinary theories into coherent models of DGBL. My purpose in this section will not be to definitively state how games work--there are many excellent texts and articles out there that attempt to answer that question. I have my own ideas about DGBL which I do not purport to be any more accurate or complete than anyone else's. I have outlined some of these ideas in other texts, in particular my chapter in Games and Simulations in Online Learning: Research and Development Frameworks, edited by David Gibson, Clark Aldrich, and Marc Prensky in which I discuss four principles of learning that immersive adventure and adventure hybrid games embody (Van Eck, 2006a):
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