Friday, May 21, 2010

games & learning

last night a friend of mine told me that her son is among the first group of students at the new quest to learn school here in new york city. i had not heard of the school before but am very impressed at the ways in which the folks putting the school together seem committed to taking advantage of our evolutionary predilections to offer a real learning opportunity.

my wife and i are home schooling our children precisely because we bemoan the ways that school steals the fun and excitement out of learning. should the q2l model take off, perhaps we can save education in this country after all. learning ought to be a game...challenges that demand of us a combination of data acquisition, pattern recognition, organized expression, and novelty are the ones that we engage enthusiastically and effectively. they are the ones that will receive our loyal efforts even when the problems are difficult. games can be excellent at this. the sheer amount of things i learned from my interest in professional baseball and football as a child continues to surprise my wife and i think my involvement in dungeons & dragons probably did much to encourage certain ways of thinking that continue to benefit me now as a researcher. that's just two kinds of gaming situations that promote long-term learning and manipulation of what is learned in new and sometimes very helpful ways.

the q2l school asks students to learn through games, helping them to understand complex, dynamic relationships in scientific and social systems. the school's approach immediately calls to mind jane mcgonigal's faith that video games can save humanity (as widely publicized in this video).

mcgonigal argues that in video games we are inspired to work hard and to collaborate with one another. they encourage us to feel like we have something to offer and the ability to do well. playing video games is training the youth in optimism, forming social bonds with fellow players, blissful productivity, and the development of a sense of meaning. all of these, she argues, are precisely what we need as a society. several of the games she's involved in actually change people's behavior. an oil shortage game, for example, has led to different usage patterns among the players. thus a conservationist game can provide a conservationist attitude more broadly. her thesis is, of course, a dramatic and debatable one. all good theses are.

in some sense, the q2l school should test some of mcgonigal's ideas as well as some more pedagogical issues about how people learn and what enables them to do so effectively. i don't know much about the school yet, but i look forward to reading more as it develops in the coming years.

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