More on playing to learn

/ 22 September 2010

There’s a lovely follow-up section with Paul Gee in the NYTimes, continuing the discussion begun in the Sunday Magazine about playing to learn. Here’s an excerpt I know I’m going to quote at some point:

First, remember, a good school can fail because of political reasons and because the tests used to assess it are based on 19th-century and not 20th-century learning. Katie Salen, the lead designer of Quest to Learn, is a visual artist (and not just a game designer) whose work has often been done in the real world. I am myself against the current mania for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), by the way. What we need are ethical, creative and reflective people who can leverage science and technology to solve real problems and make people’s lives better. Many artists today use digital technologies for “discovery.”

We have had enough of economics and science without ethics and insight. Children should be operating in virtual worlds (where, by the way, they have surrogate bodies, namely their avatars, and where they often engage in art and design) and in the real world. They should be operating globally, which sometimes means using social media to engage with others across the world or actually going to Africa with something to offer. Knowing Katie Salen (a brilliant woman), I am sure Quest to Learn is trying to have the best of both worlds. But if they are not succeeding in this, then get down there and help them. Good schools require proactive parents who support the school’s learning and teachers.</blockquote>

And also this:

Real and deep learning requires two things: 1) Practice that builds up lots of tacit knowledge that is the basis for mastery in action and problem solving. 2) The ability to articulate and explicate one’s knowledge, so it can be tested, added to and transformed. Good games do both. One without the other is dangerous. I just had cancer surgery (successful) and my doctor had great tacit knowledge because he had done thousands of these surgeries. But he also was an articulate expert about what he knew, even in being able to explain it to me. I want a doctor with both types of knowledge. I certainly do not want a doctor who can only read books. However, many people who do not play games do not realize that today, games are really two connected things: they are software that usually stresses decisions, actions, choices and problem solving, and they are connected to interest-driven fan Internet sites where players critique, explain, explicate and modify the game. Good learning has both: a game (or other problem-solving activity) and a community passionate to discuss and extend the game (or activity) and their knowledge. I do not advocate just handing people a game, any more than I advocate just handing them a book. They need mentors, collaboration and discussion, as well as out-of-game learning. The right brain-left brain stuff is largely wrong. We all use all of our brains and deep thought requires the integration of the two.