I spent yesterday at the VAIS (Virginia Association of Independent Schools) Annual Conference which kicked of the day with a keynote speech from Dr. Jane McGonigal, author of Reality Is Broken: How Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change The World. Many of my friends and connections rave about Dr. McGonigal's work, so I went into the event wanting to hear something that challenged my thinking and inspired me to a new outlook for education.
Full disclosure: I haven't read her book and only know what I hear from friends and from the address yesterday.
In all honestly, I was not terribly moved by anything I heard. It may not be fair, but from the start, I was less than enchanted with the presentation. For starters, she wasn't even at the event! Her address was Skyped in from California (I believe). I don't have anything against video conferencing, but the experience did not have the best first impression.
Second, I kept wondering, "What significant role does she see gaming filling that is not being filled now?" Is this purely an argument centered around attention spans and that kids generally like playing video games and not being in school? No big surprises there.
Dr. McGonigal's book is a best seller (mine isn't), so I don't want to be too critical. After all, I haven't read it, but based solely on what I heard yesterday, I am no more convinced that gaming will or should become a major aspect of education than I was when I entered the conference.
Related to these thoughts - I just finished reading a great short ebook by Chip and Dan Heath, The Myth of the Garage. Chip and Dan are the authors of Made to Stick and Switch (both highly recommended).
The Myth of the Garage is currently available FREE for Amazon Kindle.
One of the pieces in The Myth of the Garage is an article exploring why some technological innovations last and others don't. The Heath brothers use, as examples, why Google and the iPod succeeded while Second Life and the Segway haven't even come close to making the impact they were being predicted to make. The basic suggestion posed by the authors was, "What job are you looking to employ that item to fill?" While it is impossible to predict the future with 100% accuracy, viewing ideas through this lens appears to have some merit.
Google is hired to provide free, fast, and mostly accurate internet searches (among other things). The iPod is hired to provide easy, on the go access to our music collections.
The Segway asks you to pay $5000 for as a "walk-accelerator" (though the authors do admit it has a nice part time job working with tourists). Second Life has no real "labor skills" but does have a "fascinating resume."
Now, let's go back to the gaming issue presented passionately by Dr. McGonigal.
What "job" would gaming do in education? For what position would we "hire" video games?
I am all for using various tools to inspire, motive, and build collaboration and creativity. I agree that video games can help perform those functions. I am, however, less willing at this time to claim that gaming will be the "game changer" in education that I heard it being predicted (or claimed) to be. That is not to say that it may not be someday, I just don't see it now.
As with any idea with merit, such as using gaming in education, time and use will predict its impact. The question posed above about hiring gaming, if nothing else, may help us avoid some over-optimism. After all, aren't we also being told to limit screen time as a "research backed" recommendation by doctors?
I enjoy gaming as much as the next person. As a matter of fact, I own 2 gaming systems (I also have 2 children - you figure it out). I do agree that gaming can be used to engage students in a way no other method can.
I also believe that students understand that gaming is NOT reality. School IS reality. Test scores ARE reality. Part of the lure of gaming is the immersion into a different world with different rules. It is an escape from reality. I don;t want students to "escape" the reality of education.
You may get good scores playing Call of Duty, but that doesn't make you a Navy SEAL.