[Assessment 1372] Re: Learning and Assessing in Virtual and Real Worlds

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Marie Cora marie.cora at hotspurpartners.com
Thu Jul 24 12:57:15 EDT 2008

HI Kevin, nice to hear from you! Thanks so much for your post.

You mention the notion of teachers and others considering that gaming is
a 'waste of time' - Gee opens his book with this very thing: he tells
of a small boy engaging in a video game called Pikmin whose grandfather
does consider to be a waste of the child's time. But I kept thinking
that observing the child play the game, listening to his commentary, and
asking him questions would be a brilliant (and straight-forward) type of
needs assessment for the child - where he was excelling, what his
confusion or difficulties were, and finding out what he thinks about his
performance. This is a fundamental in ABE isn't it? Starting with
where the adult student is? No matter the subject matter?

What do subscribers think? Do we do this type of 'needs assessment'
enough? Or at all? How often do we assess skills and abilities by
asking students to bring in what they interact with regularly in the
real world, rather than supplying them with something that might be
entirely unknown to them?


Marie Cora
NIFL Assessment Discussion List Moderator

-----Original Message-----
From: assessment-bounces at nifl.gov [mailto:assessment-bounces at nifl.gov]
On Behalf Of Kevin O'Connor
Sent: Thursday, July 24, 2008 9:29 AM
To: The Assessment Discussion List
Subject: [Assessment 1370] Re: Learning and Assessing in Virtual and

Hi Marie,

Great topic! I had a World of Warcraft compulsion last year, (along
with 10,000,000 other users) and learned a lot from my time online in
this MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game). For one
thing, I had to learn a lot of online lingo. Here's a very short
* "leet" or 'l33t"- the online language used; a dialect of
English that substitutes numbers for letters and leans heavily on
texting and game-based slang
* "noob"- a "newbie"; someone new to the game
* "pwned"- or "owned"; to be defeated
* LTP- "learn to play"; an insult to someone's online skills

The other players in Wow range in age from preteen to middle age, and it
is quite a community. It was interesting to be in the apprentice role
to younger players, especially for an educator who is used to being the
teacher, not the noob. I found myself getting pwned by 12 year-old kids
who have figured out how to tweak the statistics of weapons, character
type, skill attributes, mode of attack and several other factors that
always made my head spin. I grew up playing Asteroids too, and all I
had to do was repeatedly mash the same button! These kids put hours
into their online character (their "avatar") poring over stats, trying
the same missions repeatedly ("grinding") and memorizing fussy names of
coveted items ("poltroons of the lesser fire elementals"). It always
struck me that if their teacher asked them to put this kind of time and
work into school they would moan and roll their eyes, but if it is for
the sake of leveling up, well, then.

But the other dynamic at play is the multi-player aspect; there are many
missions that cannot be done alone, and players belong to Guilds and
must build short-term "groups" in order to get through these levels. If
someone doesn't work well in a group, word travels fast and that person
will have a hard time getting into a group with experienced players.
You can't steal all the loot, not follow the plan and keep yelling "LTP
N00B" in the online chat and expect to be invited back. There is a
"worldwide" chat board, and if someone is a bad group member it will get

With this long background, let me respond directly to Marie's question:
If you look at the players whose character (or characters) have hit
level 70, they are the ones with the best knowledge of game dynamics and
a good social network support that they have built up by sharing and
cooperation. However, if a student tells a teacher that he or she has
three level 70 characters and is part of a solid Guild, the teacher will
not recognize the time, energy and skill invested and instead tell him
or her to stop wasting time online, thereby dismissing everything
learned and accomplished; then the student dismisses the teacher as
being irrelevant. Don't just dismiss video games; they are important to
students, so they should be treated with interest, just as we would do
with other childhood pursuits in which children have invested

There is a dark side; many point to these kids having virtual
friendships while living in isolation in the real world, and when my
daughter grows up I'm going to have to set some pretty strict rules
around how much time can be spent in the virtual world, but I would
argue that through MMORPGs kids learn a lot about how to work in a
group, negotiate power sharing, and how and when to take leadership.

Kevin O'Connor
Assessment Specialist
Framingham Adult ESL PLUS

-----Original Message-----
From: assessment-bounces at nifl.gov [mailto:assessment-bounces at nifl.gov]On
Behalf Of Marie Cora
Sent: Wednesday, July 23, 2008 4:36 PM
To: 'The Assessment Discussion List'
Subject: [Assessment 1369] Learning and Assessing in Virtual and Real

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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