The thing I find so much more effective about the network learning I do is that it’s asynchronous and done on my time. And yet IM and Skype and others make synchronous discussion imminently possible when needed or necessary. And all of that is what to me at least poses such a challenge to the traditional work of classrooms where we are all expected to learn the same things at the same time.
This is an excellent book for anyone interested in learning and education, but the title is a bit misleading. It’s more about the theory and practice of authentic learning experiences than specific computer games. Many of games mentioned in the book, like the debating game, are not computer-based, but could be computer enhanced. David Williamson Shaffer’s book is really about epistemic games, or “games that are fundamentally about learning to think in innovative ways”.
He begins by showing the fundamental weaknesses of our Industrial School System, itself a game:
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 in which Students are supposed to follow instructions, whether they make sense in the moment or not. 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.
Shaffer shows the need for teaching how to think and how to be creative, instead of how to memorize, and lays the argument for the use of games in learning. Most of his examples are outside of the classroom because it is obvious that these kinds of epistemic games would disrupt classes and the curriculum. The games that are discussed are called monument games, or exemplars of good practice. None of the games is available “out of the box” but the ideas and concepts are critical for anyone who wants to use games in learning, not just playing bingo and using words or figures out of context. The latter does not help learning.
The use of epistemic games is an approach that resembles cognitive apprenticeship. As our society moves from a linear print-based medium of knowledge creation to a networked and computer-assisted medium, we need new, post-industrial learning models:
As the late Jim Kaput and I have argued, if written symbols led to a theoretic culture based on external symbolic of storage, then computers are in the process of creating a digital or virtual culture based on the externalization of symbolic processing. This is the kind of change that has happened three of four times in the course of human evolution – a change of similar magnitude to the development of the printing press and the development of writing and language itself. What it means is that being “literate” in the digital age is not about reading and writing but about solving problems using simulations. What matters in the digital age is not learning to do things a computer can do for you but learning to use the computer to do things that neither you nor it could do alone.
I have emphasized what I see as the core argument of the book. We need to do things differently because the world has changed.
I highly recommend “How Computer Games Help Children Learn”.