Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cartoony Loony

Before I watched James Paul Gee's video interview, I never considered that the mastery of mindless video games closely parallels the process of learning in a school environment. Trying to make a connection between the two never crossed my mind, for, as childish as this may sound, I've always associated video games with free time and fun and learning with...sweating in a stuffy classroom that lacks air conditioning and being forced to do tasks that I probably wouldn't do by choice.

Gee points out, however, that video games can, in fact, function as a learning tool. In a video game, a player starts out with a small set of skills. The player must learn to use these skills effectively in order to complete a small number of tasks. Once a player completes these tasks, he must test his ability to use his skills in a battle against a boss. After he defeats the boss, he can advance to the next level.

Similarly, when a student enters a classroom, he brings a set of cognitive skills with him. The teacher assigns him homework and projects as a means for him to utilize these skills. If he finds success in using these skills on homework and projects, he is also likely to find success on an assessment (ie: BIG TEST!), where he is asked to once again demonstrate to the teacher ("BIG BOSS") that he is ready to advance to the next step of his academic journey.

Okay, so the parallels between video games and classroom learning exist. But why are video games still generally more enjoyable to students than going to class? Why would I rather role play as a blue hedgehog and run around in loops trying to collect golden rings when I could just be myself and do my homework and hopefully feel the same sense of accomplishment?

Let's say that my life was a video game.

For our purposes today, this is me.

In order for this game to have a purpose, I need a task to perform.

Okay, we've got our task. Now let's carry it out by using my amazing set of questioning skills to find my quantitative article. success.
Hey, look at him!

He has a mustasche. Therefore, he MUST be a quantitative article. (Please don't ask me to explain my logic on this one.)

Good. Now the next challenge is getting him to go to class with me so I can turn him in for a Participation Assignment.

He doesn't want to go willingly, so I have to turn on my charm and make him a deal he can't refuse.

Oh hey, now we're facing the Big Boss. Hopefully my quantitative-article-finding skills are worthy enough to advance me to the next level!

AHHH! NOOO! I have to do that again?!

I think if I had to play this video game, this is the point where I would turn it off, throw it in the fire place, and ask my parents why they got me such a terrible Christmas present. What makes this game of my life so dull? Why would I much rather spend hours of my life lost in a foreign land as Sonic the Hedgehog or even as Pac Man, trapped in an endless loop of mazes? It's the fantasy factor, in my humble opinion. Sure, I have skills as a normal human. I can draw well, I can read, and I write - but what fun are those ordinary skills if I could be somebody else for a while who can shoot lasers out of her eyes or run at the speed of light or snack on others in order to attain their super powers (Kirby, anyone?)

Gee brings up a good point about one of the advantages of learning via a video game: those who play video games seem more encouraged to try failed tasks again. Video games come with extra lives, which serve as built-in tool to encourage gamers to go back and fix mistakes. Students do not always feel as encouraged to try again when they make mistakes in the classroom. Ordinarily, when a student makes a mistake, it sometimes takes a larger push to get that student to attempt the task again, especially if his failure to accomplish the task the first time took a toll on his self esteem.

I also read blog entries from the Cool Cat Teacher Blog. A particularly striking entry involved the questioning of why we, as people, don't always take a stand whenever something bad is happening around us. We commonly assume that somebody else is going to take action, and in many situations, nothing is done. That brings me back to a story I saw on the news a couple years ago. An elderly man was at the gas station and two younger men started to beat him up. Meanwhile, a large crowd of people stood and watched, nobody bothering to step in and do anything. What are we so afraid of? Responsibility? Embarassment? Are we just in shock that these situations can and do happen?

Something of a similar nature happened in Shari's class today. While our class was in the midst of "circle time," I heard a scream coming from outside. Nobody, including me, bothered looking out the window to see where it came from. Realistically, the scream probably came from a kid who was playing with another kid. But what if that wasn't the case? What if the scream was emitted by a kid who was being kidnapped? None of us would ever know, since none of us looked out the window. Therefore, nothing would have been done about it. Things like this make me sad. What makes me even sadder is knowing that I am part of the problem.

Anyway, to end on a lighter note: I did complete the quantitative article collection stage of my EDUC 695 video game and have advanced to the qualitative article stage. Wish me luck!!


  1. The Cool Cat Teacher Blog that posed the question was interesting because I had never really thought about why people don't intervene. But it would be so tiring to go around in our everyday lives on the lookout for trouble. And kinda depressing.

    Nice artistic skills ;)

  2. Hilarious use of cartoons! That whole sequence was terrific. It sort of encapsulated so much of the angst they we all are feeling about trying to process so much info so quickly. In the long run, whether we found the perfect article for 695 or not will fade oh so fast. In a high school minute...

    Yes, the crowd mentality that someone else will take care of a situation is one of those frightening aspects of humanity. I believe someone has studied this phenomenon. Don't think I want to read the article though.


  3. Hi Stephanie,
    You mention an excellent point about failure! Whereas the school environment discourages failure, video gaming uses failure as a means of learning to succeed. This has real-life application, as life often involves failure before success. Good luck with the quantitative article! I feel your pain! :)

  4. Wait, will there be more cartoons next week? I want to see what happens next! (Mental note to self: how can I incorporate more cartoons into class...)

  5. Great Cartoons. I think the next article we need to read should be a How to Make Educational cartoons that are HILARIOUS for students to read. Way to integrate other classes into this assignment. You'll be a great teacher someday.

  6. I only ended up on your blog because of Pat's suggestive email, but I'm here to stay! Your posts are generally hilarious!

  7. I don't recall the screaming that you're referring to from Shari's class, but the psych concept that it represents is the "bystander effect," it's a form of the diffusion of responsibility. I'm not sure how many people noticed it and then categorized it as a child playing as opposed to a serious problem, but given the assumption that somebody else will take care of it, nobody from our class in particular did anything.

    I'm about to take a test for my online Psych 101 class right now or I wouldn't have had that concept on the tip of my tongue. It's certainly something to think about and keep in mind for our teaching practices. Demonstrations of "good" behavior etc.

    Very cute comic btw. I also will add your blog to my google reader list. :)

  8. Ok, I'll admit, Pat made me curious. Nice comic, it was fantastic and, as I scrolled down, I actually laughed out loud! I like that you brought up Gee and gamers' willingness to keep trying. Even those who are opposed to gaming can't deny that many skills videogames encourage can be great tools in class!