Sunday, September 15, 2013

Are our games taking advantage of social learning?

Games-based learning strategies are engaging, fun, and effective. The most-utilized games fall into the Cooney Center’s definition of short-form games, focused largely on content recall with one player interacting with the software - and (hopefully) the teacher in the background monitoring progress and adjusting teaching. But that's only one aspect of what games can accomplish.

In my earlier post, I shared 8 characteristics of  transformational learning environments needed in Games-Based Learning. Let’s explore one in more detail.

Respect that people are social learners. They make meaning from, with, and for each other.

The premise is rooted in social learning, which could be an entirely separate post. But suffice it to say, that social learning emphasizes the role of others in how we make meaning. Others provide models; we learn from and with them. Much of what we learn and share is for others.  It’s how we validate, amend or reject our ideas.  Social learning is highly dependent upon the structure of the environment in facilitating others in the learning process.

This is an environment that schools (and most of our games) - despite having lots of people - do not naturally foster. Learning in schools is largely a conversation between one student and the teacher (or one student and a game-designer). Models for learning - even the rare student exemplar - are generally reluctant to be shared because in rote learning situations these models are seen as a stepping stone to copying and regurgitation - and that’s correct… and also where the problem lies.

When we don’t set up experiences where students can see each other’s thinking, results, and rationale, we’re not taking advantage of all those collective learning experiences. Instead, we have 25 one-way conversations with teachers (or game-designers)  - where Student A is largely ignorant of how Student B approached the problem.

One solution is Problem-Based Learning. PBL advocates know this, and structure environments where social learning is encouraged.  The next step for Games-Based Learning advocates is to establish these types of naturally interactive environments:  
  • where the intelligent application of content is required,
  • where multiple correct answers are possible,
  • where students can learn from one another, and
  • where students are intrinsically motivated to find the best solutions to authentic problems.  

Now educators (and game-designers) can rightfully argue that most accountability metrics measure fragmented learning, and therefore throw up their hands and revert to the teaching the testable content. But certainly there’s some room where we can apply all the benefits of GBL (engagement, fun, clear sense of purpose) with the open-ended PBL approach - an approach where we ask ourselves, “How can I approach this content in a way that has “students practicing skills and thinking like a _______?”  (INSERT YOUR FAVORITE ! historian, mathematician, physicist, writer, etc.).  That’s our next step - for educators and game-designers.

These are the environments that foster social learning, where students can explain and test out their ideas. And, in the process, learning becomes a lot more relevant.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Three Want Ads

SCENE: Three strangers at a coffee shop, reading the same page of the want ads.
(This post was originally shared on ASCD's SmartBrief.)

Business leader seeks educated students who effectively work independently and collaboratively to problem-solve by applying information in new ways to produce creative solutions. Contact: pie-in-sky?

Educator seeks a new set of priorities where my content is secondary to the 21st Century skills and attitudes my students will need in the future. I want to be judged by my results on the latter, not my test scores on the former.  Email.

Student seeking a relevant education. I am more than my test scores of recall on ubiquitous information; With the wealth of information and tools in my grasp, I am capable of creatively producing with knowledge today. Contact:

We're losing the battle for relevance in education, and it's getting worse.  The 2013 Gallop Poll found shows that only 44% of high school students find school engaging. That's down from 61% in Middle School and 76% in Elementary. The longer they're with us, the less involved they are. What's wrong?

Coincidentally, the same poll shares that 45 % of students plan to start their own business - that's "plan to" not “are interested in” starting a business.

Business and Financial Education classes are electives, if they are offered at all. And classes in entrepreneurship are like bicycle horns - rarely seen and offered as add-ons.
"Ninety-three percent of Americans believe all high school students should be required to take a class in financial education. While a handful of states have adopted varying degrees of financial literacy curriculum, only four states require high school students to take a semester-long course in personal finance."

That's disappointing for a few reasons.

To function in today's world, we needs students who are equipped with skills in entrepreneurship and financial literacy. According to Brian Page, an award winning educator and working group member of the U.S. President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability,  " Inequality has skyrocketed, and economic mobility, that is the likelihood of a child moving “up” an economic tier, is now worse in the United States than most advanced economies throughout the world.
We need a modern education system with equitable funding and opportunities for every child that prepares our next generation of everyday Americans for the complex reality of our new financial world."

Again, Page notes, "K-12 financial education is in the infancy stages, the catalyst is often legislation mandates of the integration of financial literacy concepts rather than a dedicated course of study. As schools in impoverished areas are being defunded, the limited resources they have must be focused on new and high stakes federal and state education legislation and testing that rarely include financial education."

As an elective class, this mean that most students will never be exposed to these concepts. But it also means that we are taking engaging topics that are holistic, multi-disciplinary, and authentic experiences and breaking them down into subsets of skills, taught in isolation of other subjects to a few students.

We need to foster entrepreneurial thinking; this goes far beyond business and financial literacy. Entrepreneurial thinkers apply the four Cs of 21st Century Learning (creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking) as they:
  1. find and define problems, opportunities, and potential within an open-ended context
  2. display creativity and adaptation in their solution
  3. recognize the dynamic nature of situations. There is no "correct" answer that applies everywhere.
  4. learn skills, content, and entire disciplines for the purpose of action in an authentic arena
  5. are motivated to improve

For better or worse (and I would say better !), students have dreams of opening their own company and are asking to learn more about controlling their own financial destiny.   While we wait for legislation to catch up to reality, we have an opportunity to tap into that desire to make schools more relevant, provide an authentic context to learn traditional content, and produce a generation of entrepreneurial thinkers.  

If we take advantage of this opportunity, we might just find that those three strangers in the coffee shop have more in common than they think.