Play time’s over. Learn something.

Posted: March 3, 2011 in Academic, News/Current Events
Tags: , , ,

The Huffington Post website posted an interesting article yesterday that caught my eye and brought back memories of my experiences in school. In the article, Tina Barseghian, Editor of MindShift, a website about the future of learning, describes how video games are better teachers than the humans academic institutions employ to instruct our children. While I agree with many of the concepts proposed, I cannot say I agree these values are fully learned from just video games (please note, the author does not propose video games are the sole source of this learning). Take, for instance, the idea that video games enforce the desire to conquer an opponent. The author does mention the social aspect of video game playing, however, I would argue that kids are confronted with this opposing forces and viewpoints more often in the real world than they are onscreen.

Take for example little Billy who is confronted his friend suggesting he copy Billy’s paper to get it done quickly, so they can go play video games. This dilemma presents Billy with a choice: do I let my friend cheat just to make him happy, or do I defend my own work and risk losing the friendship? I believe this choice and others that children encounter in their day to day dealings with their peers does more to build their character and decision making skills than video games. Alternatively, video games help kids satisfy their desire for immediate gratification. As the article points out, whether kids are successful in a particular game or not will be determined within the game.

Which brings me to the article author’s second point: this system of immediate action and reaction makes formal testing unnecessary. For instance, if you could know all of the possible outcomes of any action you took, you would not need a test to tell you whether you would succeed in any particular endeavor. The article even quotes a leading authority on learning: “If you design learning so you can’t get out of one level until you complete the last one, there’s no need for a test.” (also see: Descartes’ Meditations). Of course, this is not to say that people can absolutely know every possible outcome of their actions from only their individual point of view. The idea that our own sensory experiences give us perspective from only one viewpoint (our own) was espoused by Baruch Spinoza. This means children playing a game can only view that virtual world through only one lens- that of the character they control onscreen. Social experience tells us that we derive greater satisfaction and knowledge from our interactions with others than we ever would from a book or school. Accordingly, on this point, I agree with the article’s author.

Despite the research on learning cited in the article and what we intuitively know to be the most conducive our own learning, no one singular technique can possibly be considered “correct.” This is the problem with modern education in most schools in the United States. Teaching to a single, all-important test to determine knowledge? This is no way to ensure learning is actually taking place. I agree with the author’s sentiment: change the system of education. Either that, or video games will replace books as kids’ preferred mode of learning.

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