How Computer Games Help Children Learn
Williamson Shaffer, D. (2006). How Computer Games Help Children Learn. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 978-1403975058
Schaffer believes that learning should be based on the kind of tasks professionals go about in their working lives. He includes the concepts of relevelence and authenticity but takes it a little further in that relevant and authentic learning should be modelled as closely as possible on the kinds of thinking professionals use in their work.
In each of the chapters he introduces a "game" that could be played in a different learning domain. In some chapters, computer games exist which can fill the role of an "epistemic game" in other chapters he talks of classroom activities which enlightened teachers are already using which would lend themselves to a computer game. Chapter by chapter he considers:
Chapter 1 Debating, the Spanish/American war
Chapter 2 Physics, designong with Soda Constructor
Chapter 3 Mathematics, Geometers sketchpad
Chapter 4 Negotiation, bioethics
Chapter 5 Journalism
Chapter 6 Urban Science (God games), Sim City, Zoo Tycoon
Introduction and Chapter 1
The opening pages could be interpreted as an appeal to xenophobia. It talks of America's competitive edge. I think that if any child does not achieve their potential, it is a tragedy, regardless if the child lives in the poorest country in Africa or the world's richest nation. Though it is interesting to look at the PISA data which ranks America educationally below many poorer countries.
The author talks of the need to teach students to be innovative, its worth looking at the Victorian Essential Learning Standards which tackles this issue. I have analysed the VELS in the context of games here.
I like the following from the author "Standardised testing produces standardised skills"
The author talks of the computer as a transformative technology. Other transformative technologies were movable type and film, see more here.
I worry that the author is only talking about epistemic games and ignoring other types of playful learning.
He says "many young people lack role models and mentors" does he ignore the very large amount of mentoring already happening in World of Warcraft?
He talks of the power of simulations (p9) for my view on simulations see here.
Chapters 2 & 3
Chapters 2 & 3 continue the theme of chapter 1 which was in the domain of history. Chapter 2 talks of creating physics simulations and chapter 3 maths simulations.
In chapter 2, kids are given authentic and relevant physics problem solving using Soda Constructor . (I have used it for simulations of forces in a truss.) Digital Zoo was a set of design activities based round Soda Constructor. After playing the game, students design plans became 55% more complex , students considered 47% more features in making a decision, many were considering engineering as a career and 40% had their poster presentation on a wall at home. These are significant outcomes.
In chapter 3 , Geometer's Sketchpad provides similar problem solving in mathematics.
Though Shaffer stresses the epistemic side, the need for kids to think like professionals might, the ideas are not new. They have their roots in the work of Papert with Logo, and its offshoots like Microworlds. That is that kids can be creators rather than consumers of technology. Computers can create microworlds or enriched "sandpits" for deep thinking.
Schaffer explains how mathematical concepts are not made relevant and authentic by embedding them in a real world narrative, they are visual concepts and need to be solved hands on. It should be noted that Geometer's Sketchpad is one of a number of applications that can put maths in a real, hands on, visual context, Logo was the first, later improved by Game Maker, Etoys and Scratch but see
for a few more.
Arguably, the "desk Review" epistemic process is already around in the concepts of peer tutoring and the idea of public performance in constructioNism.
Negotiation based on the mutual gains approach by Fisher & Ury. A classroom activity negotiations between stakeholders in a hypothetical xenotransplantation project, growing human organs in pigs.
Science.net is a journalism game. After playing 60% mentioned their readers when describing journalism vs. 20%. Before the game, they were 8 times more likely to describe science in terms of school subjects and topics rather than impact on society.
He talks of communities of practice and learning through participations in such communities. He talks of accuracy and verification and formulaic writing and the information needs of citizens in a democratic society.
What he does not acknowlege is that the "free press" produces editorial material, primarily as a wrapper for advertising content and that the community of practice serves this need. A community of practice approach is at risk of producing narrow thinking which is not consistent with the opening of the book which talks of producing innovative thinkers who will think outside the square and respond to a changing world.
Journalism's formulaic approach is most obvious in the TV news man/woman anchor formula. Similarly tabloid print media. Many have rejected this form of journalism and turn to the internet as their news source. I see parallels in my enginerring work. Engineering managers and production managers of large companies have a community of practice. They tend to think and talk the same way. Companies are changing and many have adopted triple bottom line at board level but their engineering managers, locked into their communities of practice with incestuous thinking, are poorly adapted to change. They lack the necessary flexibility of thinking to adapt to changing conditions.
Chapter 6 The future: Urban Science
Urban Science is a "God game" like Sim City or the Tycoon series. The players take the (epistemic) roles of urban planners. After playing, players concept maps became more complex making 72% more connections.