At a recent TEDxNYEd Talk Will Richardson presented his vision for the future of education. He says that “Its time we stop trying to do schools better and we start trying to do them different”. He calls for a classroom of “global collaboration solving real world problems through deep inquiry”. James Paul Gee writes “If learning is to be active, it must involve experiencing the world in new ways”. Gee agrees with Richardson that new domains of content, of learning and learning opportunities need to be acknowledged. While Richardson waxes poetic about his call for change, Gee provides a more realistic forum for active learning, producing and critical learning: video games.
Educators have now started to “game” their classroom, setting up the syllabus to represent aspects of gaming, such as creating avatars, forming guilds(peer collaboration), completing tasks and adventures (readings, assignments and essays) with the goal of leveling up(getting a good grade). This new way of structuring the classroom is intended to motivate students to be active learners. There is a sense of control, agency and internal purpose that the student has, just like when playing video games. While this seems more like edutainment than the mass uprising and activism for change that Richardson calls for, I think it is a great start to introducing new ways of looking at education, especially in a direct, hands on way for students.
Despite how exciting gaming the classroom sounds and appeals to the students, there has been some resistance to it, even by people who support the field of education and video games. The blog “Not your Mama’s Gamer…Not just another gaming site” was created by three women who are active in the gaming world and who bring their passion for games into their academic professional lives in rhetoric, composition and gender studies at Purdue. Recently, alexlayne posted her CCCC presentation on gaming and education. She raises an interesting point that gaming education paradoxically alienates education even more because a divide is created, demonstrating to the class that learning can only be fun when taken out of the traditional learning context and restructured into something new and entertaining, like video games. alexlayne says that gaming the classroom is in direct conflict with the purpose of gaming the classroom: it doesn’t make learning more appealing, it just makes it bearable while it has to be done. Does restructuring the syllabus in an entertaining and New Media-appropriate way really change the face of education and create life long learners through an education system that life preps not test preps (Richardson) or does gaming the classroom just make school entertaining?
Perhaps Gee and alexlayne are not exercising their critical learning skills. They are researchers and professors so engrained in their respective semiotic domains that they are trapped in what Gee called the producer paradox. Both Gee and alexlayne are concerned with restructuring the classroom environment as a potential solution/way of adapting to changes in learning, communication and new media. Yet Richardson seems to go above and beyond just the classroom, learning, and education. To Richardson, it is not a matter of legitimizing video games or comic books or blogs in the academic world as forums for engaged learning about current events, political issues and grammar. Richardson is calling for a restructuring of schools and schooling from places where information is available and given out to places where information can be brought in from the world and collaborated on, reflected upon at what Gee calls a “meta level”, remixed, produced and shared with a global community where production matters and more importantly, with a global community that cares.
I understand that currently, in the real world educators have their classroom and have to utilize the space and time for teaching, learning and educating. And that small preliminary changes, such as making the syllabus and classroom learning environment more entertaining are necessary steps leading to the bigger picture of the evolution of education. But, I think that Richardson’s thoughts should remind educators to be open to change, especially while the rest of the world is rapidly changing.