Gaming, cognition, and education - Wrap-up

Yesterday I concluded my series of posts related to gaming, cognition, and education. The purpose of the series was to illustrate some of the powerful learning principles that are present in video games, particularly role-playing games where a participant takes on the role of a character interacting with her environment and/or others. The learning principles that I discussed help explain why a kid who can't sit still in class for five minutes can be mentally locked in for hours at home playing video games.


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The series only highlighted 18 of the 36 learning principles described in Dr. Jim Gee's book, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. I selected principles from the book that I thought were particularly powerful aspects of electronic learning environments. These principles are present in K-12 classrooms to varied extent, depending on the school and/or teacher. However, it is important to note that these principles, even when present, typically occur in K-12 classrooms only some of the time while for video games they are the bedrock foundation of the learning platform and are present nearly all of the time.

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I think that video games, or virtual simulations, or whatever we want to call them, will be a key component of classrooms of the future. The learning principles and potential will be too powerful to ignore for much longer, particularly as we move closer to every student having some kind of computing device with him or her 24 hours a day. Also, educators are starting to recognize that the ability of computers to facilitate students' self-paced learning can free up teachers to spend more time with students who need extra help or who are ready to move ahead. One of the biggest challenges for K-12 teachers is differentiating instruction for a classroom of students with greatly-varying ability levels. Computers running educationally-valuable electronic learning environments can help immensely with this issue and can be powerful tools for savvy educators.

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As the educational and/or 'serious' games movement grows, we will begin to see complex, realistic, accurate simulations of ancient civilizations (e.g., Colonial Williamsburg, the Maya, Great Zimbabwe), historical events (e.g., the Pelopponesian War, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Long March), scientific and mathematical processes (e.g., space exploration, Archimedean physics, Euclidean geometry), and the like. I am looking forward to this day. Right now even the most popular education-oriented games (e.g., Reader Rabbit, JumpStart, Oregon Trail, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?) have been notably simplistic compared to commercial virtual worlds such as Second Life, EverQuest, and World of Warcraft. I believe that education-oriented simulations will be much better at stimulating deeper, richer learning than the textbooks, videos, and learning games of today. It's hard to argue that making authentic decisions in the role of a pharaoh or a slave or a farmer, while immersed in the realistic sights, sounds, and activities of ancient Egypt, wouldn't be a better, more meaningful, and more permanent learning experience than merely reading a few textbook pages, seeing a few pictures, answering some "drill-and-kill" multiple choice questions on the computer, or watching a short video on the subject.

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To facilitate easy dissemination to teachers and administrators (hint, hint!), this 8–page PDF document contains the text and hyperlinks from the week-long series:

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If you'd like to share the series with educators but would rather send them a URL, send them to this post. Here are links to all six posts:

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If you liked this series, please share freely and encourage others to do the same. In addition to the document and links above, here is another tool to help educators think about the cognitive and educational aspects of video games (any feedback you have on this would be welcome). Note that the spreadsheet can be initially completed by individuals or in small groups but must be done on a computer with Microsoft Excel.

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​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
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Is this why time speeds up as we age?

We take fewer mental pictures per second.

Photo by Djim Loic on Unsplash
Mind & Brain
  • Recent memories run in our brains like sped-up old movies.
  • In childhood, we capture images in our memory much more quickly.
  • The complexities of grownup neural pathways are no match for the direct routes of young brains.
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New alternative to Trump's wall would create jobs, renewable energy, and increase border security

A consortium of scientists and engineers have proposed that the U.S. and Mexico build a series of guarded solar, wind, natural gas and desalination facilities along the entirety of the border.

Credit: Purdue University photo/Jorge Castillo Quiñones
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The proposal was recently presented to several U.S. members of Congress.
  • The plan still calls for border security, considering all of the facilities along the border would be guarded and connected by physical barriers.
  • It's undoubtedly an expensive and complicated proposal, but the team argues that border regions are ideal spots for wind and solar energy, and that they could use the jobs and fresh water the energy park would create.
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Climate change melts Mount Everest's ice, exposing dead bodies of past climbers

Melting ice is turning up bodies on Mt. Everest. This isn't as shocking as you'd think.

Image source: Wikimedia commons
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  • Mt. Everest is the final resting place of about 200 climbers who never made it down.
  • Recent glacial melting, caused by global warming, has made many of the bodies previously hidden by ice and snow visible again.
  • While many bodies are quite visible and well known, others are renowned for being lost for decades.

The bodies that remain in view are often used as waypoints for the living. Some of them are well-known markers that have earned nicknames.

For instance, the image above is of "Green Boots," the unidentified corpse named for its neon footwear. Widely believed to be the body of Tsewang Paljor, the remains are well known as a guide point for passing mountaineers. Perhaps it is too well known, as the climber David Sharp died next to Green Boots while dozens of people walked past him- many presuming he was the famous corpse.

A large area below the summit has earned the discordant nickname "rainbow valley" for being filled with the bright and colorfully dressed corpses of maintainers who never made it back down. The sight of a frozen hand or foot sticking out of the snow is so common that Tshering Pandey Bhote, vice president of Nepal National Mountain Guides Association claimed: "most climbers are mentally prepared to come across such a sight."

Other bodies are famous for not having been found yet. Sandy Irvine, the partner of George Mallory, may have been one of the first two people to reach the summit of Everest a full thirty years before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay did it. Since they never made it back down, nobody knows just how close to the top they made it.

Mallory's frozen body was found by chance in the nineties without the Kodak cameras he brought up to record the climb with. It has been speculated that Irvine might have them and Kodak says they could still develop the film if the cameras turn up. Circumstantial evidence suggests that they died on the way back down from the summit, Mallory had his goggles off and a photo of his wife he said he'd put at the peak wasn't in his coat. If Irving is found with that camera, history books might need rewriting.

As Everest's glaciers melt its morbid history comes into clearer view. Will the melting cause old bodies to become new landmarks? Will Sandy Irvine be found? Only time will tell.

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