Monday, February 12, 2007

Using Video Game Design Principles in the Classroom

Here is a great idea that the University of Chicago came up with at the North Kenwood Oakland Middle School along with the Center for Urban School Improvement's Digital Youth Program:

The challenge we chose to accept was to use video game design principles to design a course to develop students’ digital media skills, media critique skills and overall computer literacy. If successful teachers could effectively take advantage of the resources afforded by the school’s 1:1 computing environment. Our solution - a 90 minute weekly media arts class set up as a simulated record label taught by two members of the Digital Youth after school staff who are involved in the music industry. Each sixth grade class was given the goal of creating by the end of the school year; 2 recording groups, 7 songs, 2 music videos, a publicity campaign that included a 30 second radio promo, a website and a CD. The culminating activity for this Media Arts class is a record label launch party.(from Pinkard: Videogames Inspire a Different Design for Classroom Learning)

The prospect of asking large public schools to infuse technology into their curriculum is harrowing enough sometimes, and asking them to then use the model of a video game, long considered the arch-rival to academic rigor, is one I wasn't really able to visualize before I came across this article. I like the idea of creating a multi-layer project under the guise of a far-off product release or showcase. It's authentic to the students and according the article, fulfilling enough for them to use higher-level thinking skills to accomplish. Meanwhile, the students will never see it this way. Through their eyes, they are making something happen, making something appear alive where there was nothing in the beginning: it has value and meaning rather than second-hand obligation. It always reminds me of when I start saving money for something; as the amount in the bank grows, the momentum becomes palpable and you begin doing whatever you can to see it continue and increase. In the end, the correct environment was created.

I am curious as to what the discussions are like among group members in this project and how they have set it up; what was the bait? Thanks to Scott McLeod for turning me on to anti-teaching, and the merits it has in creating questions, rather than demanding answers. Mike Wesch, the author of Anti-Teaching, comes to the realization that the environment where learning takes place far outweighs the benefit of "good" teaching. He states:

Borrowing from Marshal McLuhan’s famous aphorism, “the medium is the message,” Postman and Weingartner argue that the environment (or “medium”) of learning is more important than the content (the “message”) and therefor teachers should begin paying more attention to the learning environment they help to create. The emphasis is on “managing” this environment rather than teaching per se.

The project created in the North Kenwood Oakland Middle School is a fantastic example of this. A non-traditional setting where the students determine the outcomes based on questions that they themselves generate. An environment where structures and scaffolding were not limiting, but rather acted much like a game situation; when one problem or question was satisfied, another level of questions presented itself. There's the connection then: let us design lessons not to replicate the pace, or even the technology of the video game, but rather its emphasis on challenging the learner with a series of tasks that engage them and move them along a semi-determined path.

If anyone has any similar lessons or designs like this, I would love to start moving toward this with my staff. I know there is a bridge to gap between where the students aptitudes and interests are (see "Manifesto"), but the difference does not have to be made up solely by technology. Mike Wesch does it with little technology, save the digital cameras for recording the outcome, with close to 400 students. This is possible.

1 comment:

Patrick said...

An addendum to this is Jeff Utecht's post regarding David Warlick's workshops being conducted in Shanghai at his school( He goes into some great detail on the elements of gaming that we should include in our designs.