Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Learning and Gaming

In his book What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, John Pual Gee shares how both gaming and learning are social activities:

Let me tell you a little story about the social nature of gaming. I don't, in general, encourage baby boomers to rush off and play video games, since the games are often quite hard and can be frustrating for people not willing to confront their own, perhaps rigidified, learning muscles in a new setting. Nonetheless, some older people do run off to play for the first time when they hear me talk (and, indeed, there are a growing number of older gamers these days). One older adult who tried a video game after hearing one of my talks did, indeed, become seriously frustrated. Then his 21-year-old gamer stepson came into the room and asked him "What are you doing?" The man said "Trying to learn to play this damn video game." The son said "For heaven's sake, why would you do that alone?" Ah, so, here is one good learning principle built into gamers, not just games.
I can really relate to this.

For three years, I played a game called Company of Heroes, which is a World War II, real-time strategy game. During my time playing the game, I played with a very good friend of mine, Dr. Brad Bahler, and we both were proud members of Gamereplays.org. And yes, we both were, and still are, 30 year old men with a career, a wife and children.

Inside of our three years playing this game, we became intricate members of an on-line gaming community of gamers. This included becoming discussion moderators, replay reviewers, strategy specialists and game administrators. We wrote guides, made videos, created podcasts and even participated in a mentor/mentee program. Essentially, these positions with the on-line community meant we were openly and actively volunteering our time and effort to help ourselves and others become better gamers.

The time I spent playing the game Company of Heroes and on-line at Gamereplays.org provided me invaluable lessons that have proven to be eerily transferable to classroom teaching.

Like James Paul Gee's story, perhaps the largest lesson I took from gaming is that learning is a highly social, emotional, cultural and deeply intrapersonal activity.


  1. Hey Joe,

    I can totally relate to this. I play WoW. Have for a while now. Before that I played Diablo online with my college buddies. So we're 40 year old men playing games. We too did a few of the things you mention with guilds in WoW.

    I used to think I was open to new things but I still struggle with a few. I struggle with how to effectively allow for student choice in my "curriculum" so they can own their learning and so that the majority of students will stop doing everything BUT what we're doing in class. I haven't quite figured that one out yet, but I think I'm close. I have a place for students to write down questions they have so their questions can determine where we go, but they don't write any questions down!

    The second thing I haven't been able to wrap my brain around yet is how what we use in gaming can be applied in our classrooms. I can't see what I'm doing wrong. I have the tools available for my students to write guides, make videos, create podcasts, and mentor each other but they're just not doing those things. I also don't know how to make what we're learning more like a game aside from buying pre-made software. Have you had your students create their own games with something like Scratch?

    Does it take a lot more scaffolding than I'm doing? I would love to watch a class in action where students are taking control of their learning so they're not "bored." (One of my least favorite words!) I'm hoping that if I can see examples I'll have a better understanding of it so that I help create that atmosphere in my classroom.

  2. Alfonso, there's nothing wrong with 'scaffolding'. I describe this as artfully guiding kids to stuff they never knew existed.

    For example, when I was 10, I never understood the stuff I thought was cool when I was 14. There's nothing wrong with introducing kids to this stuff. The trick is, of course, to not make it feel like "work".

  3. Joe,

    I appreciate the first comment, I would like to have a lot more success with gaming in my classroom. I have read a lot of James Paul Gee's work and would like to incorporate more games into my class. I have tried with lumosity but it is a trial only, not sure those games are the ones that would engage kids for a long time. What games would you use that were free and didn't need a download?
    I have written on games in the classroom and will start with one on my list from Gee, all are problems for my class as they need to be free and not downloadable for us to use.
    My post is here:


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