Favorite Quote of the Week

“Technology alone can make us neither free nor self-directed. The key lies with the individual, not the institution.” – Ken Carroll

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Week 11 – Alternate Reality Learning: Massive Gaming, Virtual Reality, and Simulations

I will admit it – I am not a “gamer.”  In fact, I am probably more inclined to think that those who do “game” are often wasting time.  What value could possibly come from spending hours in front of a screen playing a game?  This week’s topic has caused me to challenge that assumption.  I wouldn’t say that I’m entirely “sold” on the idea of gaming, but I’m certainly more open to it than I was before. 
First of all, for those who like to game (lots and lots of boys do), then it might be a very good idea to use their natural interest in games in order to teach them something.  I have two sons who love video games.  One, in particular, would spend all day playing video games if I would allow it.  I have found various educational computer games for him to play and he really likes that.  It has been a great way for him to develop some math and reading skills.  All of my children – daughters included – often respond very well to a new game to play on the computer.  It’s like they don’t even realize that they’re learning – it’s just fun.  This type of gaming has been more “acceptable” to me as their teacher.
But, what about taking it a step further – what about the use of virtual worlds like Second Life and others?  This is an area of which I am much less familiar.  While I’m not ready to create a space in Second Life, I am very intrigued by what “worlds” like this can offer.  Mostly, I have learned this week that virtual worlds and simulations can serve as wonderful training tools when a real world scenario is needed.  Students can participate in near-authentic environments, solving problems and applying what they have learned (and for learning completely new things). 
I have also reflected on the idea of how gaming is now becoming more of a social rather than a solitary activity.    Because of this, collaboration can occur in a virtual, simulated environment.  Within the context of a game, students can work together with others to solve problems, etc.  I can see how this could be an effective teaching tool. 
With all of that being said, I think there are still dangers.  Bonk and Dennen write, “…the social support, challenge, feedback, and sense of identity that players receive online in MMOG often provides psychological fulfillment that they may not be receiving in real life.”  To me, this can be a danger.  When gamers start replacing the real world with their virtual world, a dangerous line has been crossed.  When virtual worlds are preferred over the real world because of the fulfillment one receives in a virtual environment, then what was once a tool for learning and positive social interactivity becomes a hindrance to personal well-being.
The bottom line for me is that games can be an effective tool for learning.  However, I am still cautious about the potential negative effects.  For this reason, it’s important to be intentional about their use within an educational environment.  Games should not “rule” the classroom.  Kept in proper balance, they offer much potential. 

Bonk, C. J., & Dennen, V. P. (2005). Massive multiplayer online gaming: A research framework for military education and training. (Technical Report # 2005-1). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Defense (DUSD/R): Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative. Retrieved on June 25, 2010, from http://mypage.iu.edu/~cjbonk/GameReport_Bonk_final.pdf
Korzeniowski, Paul (2007, March 27). Educational video games: Coming to a classroom near you? TechNewsWorld. Retrieved on June 25, 2010, from http://www.technewsworld.com/story/56516.html


  1. Lynn,
    Healthy skepticism seems to work for you as well as an open mind. The right time and place to use games as a learning resource can be beneficial for the learner.

    I am not a huge gamer but I do play some games. I like to play a couple of mindless games when I am thinking about a project. I do not know what happens in my brain but it helps me to think, clarify and bring depth of concepts to the surface for me.

    I have been working with some fifth grade students on learning to use Logo. They started out learning to program the turtle to write their names and we are now working on creating very simple games. It has really caused the students to not only think about the game they are creating and all that goes into creating such a simple game but also to think about all the behind the scenes programing that must go into creating the sophisticated games they play on their computers and game systems. The problem solving and critical thinking skills they use are phenomenal. This project has added to their perspective on games and gaming. Maybe your children would enjoy this slant on gaming too.

    Thanks for your thoughts and openness...

  2. I have seen some simulations that were intended for sales training and they were excellent. When I worked in oilfield equipment sales in Texas, we regularly had to do role play with one another as part of our training. It was hard but very effective. I think that technology can offer some alternatives that would permit trainees to hone their skills without travel and in less time than a lot of meetings would take.

    I hope that those who are going back to the drawing board on virtual worlds are successful in creating something that is engaging and effective in education and not so tied to being an odd knock-off of the real world. I think Second Life was kind of addictive for those who got into development but there was not a lot of pleasure or learning advantage for anybody else.

    Do you do any programming, Lynn? I think Cyndi's suggestion to use Logo with your kids is so great. I have read about it but I don't know if it is open source or not. If it is, I would like to try to get my younger granddaughter to try it. When I look around the academic world these days, it seems like programming skills are incredibly useful. Even if you never get proficient, just comprehending the process makes so many things fall into place. I wish that every child would have some exposure to it.