Grand Theft Education

The readings this week extended our notion of learning environment. Jean Lacoste’s teaching statement shifts the focus from a generic one-size-fits-all approach to a customizable learning experience that uses the Web as a part of the classroom infrastructure. I was struck by how his teaching philosophy attempts to create personalized experiences within large-lecture classrooms. My worry is that his video lectures nullify the need of face-to-face interactions if his classroom management style is still heavily reliant on lecturing. If his lectures were to be more about Q&A, then he’d  still be doing the work of video lecturing but without the feedback of a live audience.

Talbert recognizes that the lecture format may have outlived its place in the classroom as a method of content delivery. I couldn’t help but notice that the context setting function of lectures is still critical for guiding students through lessons and plays an important role in the learning process. The PBS video highlighted how learning can be “smuggled in” through games and reorganizes the classroom through student-produced content. Following Paul Gee’s chapter, I wonder if games themselves can be used as instruments for facilitating learning without the need to set context. Learners may be better able to to determine what the game means to them without being guided through a context setting lecture. If Gee’s optimism is to be taken seriously, then lecturing might be detrimental to learners because the context in which the information is presented and interpreted is still largely set by the professor which limits how much ambiguity is involved in the initial process of meaning-making. Carnes, however,  focuses the conversation on the power that games can have to carry the classroom into other spaces. Games can inspire when used correctly and if we’re supposed to foster the creative spark in each individual, the pedagogical potential of games cannot be overestimated.

Reflecting on my own experiences, it’s clear that the games that grabbed me as a kid told me something about myself. Mathblaster and Simcity at FEA summer camp just didn’t get their hooks in me quite like Deus Ex or Way of the Samurai. Maybe I should’ve known that I would study politics and not engineering because the games I loved reflected the open-ended nature of the questions I’d become interested in as I got older. Maybe the hours spent in front of the screen playing Fallout before it was an FPS or the openness of Bethesda Studio’s digital worlds indicated something I already knew about myself.  Maybe I can tell my folks that those hours of Tony Hawk’s Pro-skater were hours spent in the classroom as it challenged me to have better timing and put together more fantastic combinations against the tyranny of the clock. Or maybe education should focus on developing the interests and talents that students already hold rather than stamping out another basic unit to be yoked to the industrial process. But will the Boomers who still won’t get the hell out of politics understand that? Will we be stuck waiting for an enlightened Gen Xer to grasp the nature of learning outside of the factory education? Or is it going to take someone from the digital generation before we see any real change?