[Assessment 1369] Learning and Assessing in Virtual and Real Worlds

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Marie Cora marie.cora at hotspurpartners.com
Wed Jul 23 16:35:31 EDT 2008

Dear Colleagues,

I hope this email finds you well. This is an unusually lengthy email
from me - just so you know.

Since it's summer, I thought I would throw out something a tad unusual
as a discussion catalyst. Quite a while ago I read a book called "What
Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy" by James Paul
Gee (NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003). The author studies behavior and
learning in people who engage in video game and on-line play, and he
himself becomes immersed in all types of video and on-line gaming in
order to also experience his own learning and behavior within these
environments. It's a remarkable book. There are many poignant
arguments made in support of how gaming induces/encourages intense
critical thinking, stretches the limits of one's intellectual abilities,
compels people to work together, draws out individuals' skills that
contribute to the success of a group, and generally does not
discriminate in terms of expectations of learning - in other words,
video and on-line games are constructed in ways that assume that ANYONE
can engage successfully, and the necessary scaffolding for such learning
is embedded within the games themselves. Needless to say, Gee makes
comparisons between this virtual world, and the real world of school and
education in this country.

Just for full disclosure, the last time I fully engaged in 'screen'
games was a while ago: I was pretty good at Asteroids at one point in
my life. I just never became very interested in pursuing this pastime.
I started to become fascinated again when my husband engaged our
then-4-year-old son (he's 9 now) in both video and on-line games. I was
floored: with almost no instruction other than observation at his dad's
elbow, 'P' was able to take over the games and carry on as if he had
always been playing them. Really complex games. Very soon, he was
instructing dad in various games, and pretty much could beat the pants
off him in video baseball.

At any rate, toward the end of the book, Gee recounts an experience in
which he had moved from a "weak link" (one with far less knowledge) in a
network of on-line players with whom he was engaging, to one who held a
piece of crucial knowledge that he was able to share with his network in
order for the group to reach success. He notes: "If you were to assess
just my skills playing video games alone in my own home, you would
underestimate me. You need to assess me as a node in a network and see
how I function as such a node" (p. 189).

With this rather lengthy introduction, the following section of the book
is really what I would like to hear your thoughts on. Gee writes:

"If we want to know how good students are in science - or how good
employees are in a modern knowledge-centered workplace - we should ask
all of the following (and not just the first): What is in their heads?
How well can they leverage knowledge in other people and in various
tools and technologies (including their environment)? How are they
positioned within a network that connects them in rich ways to other
people and various tools and technologies? Schools tend to care only
about what is inside students' heads as their heads and bodies are
isolated from others, from tools and technologies, and from rich
environments that help make them powerful modes in networks. [Skilled
video game players] wouldn't play a game in these circumstances... Good
workplaces in our science- and technology-driven "new capitalism" don't
play this game. Schools that do are, in my view, DOA in our current
world - and kids who play video games know it" (p. 189).

Gee then goes on to discuss the work of Jean Lave, a leading theorist of
socially situated cognition. Lave argues that "learning is not best
judged by a change in minds (the traditional school measure), but by
'changing participation in changing practices'.and that."learning is a
change not just in practice, but in identity" (p. 190).

Now here is where I'm tempted to write you a bunch of assessment-related
questions to get you to respond within the context of this Discussion
List. But after some thought, I think that the quotes taken from the
book from both Gee and Lave better posit the notions related to
assessment and assessing than I can - what they say is what I want to
hear you respond to.

Ok, I will pose just this question: if you agree with the arguments
posed by Gee and Lave, do you do anything in your classroom or program
to facilitate this type of assessment of learning? If so, describe this
for us.

Thanks for indulging me.

Marie Cora

Marie Cora
<mailto:marie.cora at hotspurpartners.com> marie.cora at hotspurpartners.com
NIFL Assessment Discussion List Moderator

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