Video games have often been thought of as the antithesis to education, with parents and teachers urging students to put down the controller and pick up a book. However, in today's digital world, it seems less and less likely that our children will grow up without exposure to video games. Not only will children be exposed to the games, but it is likely that these games will have an impact on their lives. As such, Kurt Squire (2008) argues that games can provide spaces in which "we have the opportunity to develop skills, engage in creative practices, participate in virtual organizations, and otherwise explore identities unavailable...in other places, such as in schools (Squire, 2008, p. 119). Therefore, if Squire is to be believed, it is the responsibility of educators to explore gaming as a legitimate form of teaching.
In his article, Squire points to the many ways in which video games are a specific form of education, in which "learning and pleasure are closely connected, with many players believing that learning is naturally fun" (2008, p. 117). This is a far cry from traditional school, where I don't think anyone would argue that many students do not find learning fun. As such, those of us who teach in traditional settings need to leverage this type of interest and somehow bring it into the classroom. Gaming culture is not something for educators to turn up their noses at, but instead something that we can learn from to improve our own practice.
I think that more and more teachers are using games and game culture in the classroom in an attempt to find new ways to engage students. With access to technology becoming more available, trying to leverage the enthusiasm for games like Minecraft and connect them to curricular content is becoming easier to do. But it does take time and effort on the part of the educator, along with a willingness to try new things. I don't think we can simply tell our students to play Minecraft and leave it at that. There has to be intention and planning in place so that the games have a meaningful place in the classroom. If we want our schools to better represent the futures that our students will be walking into, which at this point look to be very technology-infused, then perhaps it is time to dive into a game and see what we can learn.
Squire, K. (2008). Critical education in an interactive age. Counterpoints, 105-123.
The decided lack of accountability for one's virtual self is something that gets talked about a lot...when something happens that sparks the discussion. For example, when teens commit suicide because of cyber bullying (see https://nobullying.com/six-unforgettable-cyber-bullying-cases/ for some examples). In those moments, communities come together and parents speak out about how open the internet is for situations like these to continue. Sometimes laws are passed or people are charged. And then it all goes away again until the next time something happens.
At the end of the day, we live in a very "sound-bite" or "click-bite" culture that uses the Internet to cycle from one story to the next without time for deep thought or at least consideration. In her article, "Mirror Images," Suzanne de Castell points out that "if this were a real frontier, would anyone send his or her children into it without taking the time to build a habitable, humane world?" (deCastell, 2015, p. 219). When these tragedies happen, there is a lot of talk about making things better and how to combat cyber-bullying, but there is no talk about changing the "virtual world" itself. deCastell points out, I think rightly, that "there is no money to be made by doing it [creating a humane and habitable cyberspace]" (deCastell, 2015, p. 220).
So where does that leave educators? We are heavily encouraged, and I would argue invested, in utilizing virtual tools in the today's classroom. We are given access to wi-fi and iPads/tablets/laptops/projectors/Apple TV to push more and more technology into our lessons and activities. I myself have my students using the online journal "SeeSaw" to post their work in class, mostly so parents can see what is happening at school. How are we going to make a safer, "habitable" virtual world if no one is invested in doing so? Educators are required to teach about cyber-bullying and proper online conduct and other specific topics to help students navigate the online world, but at the end of the day nothing is really going to change unless a large demand is made that cannot be ignored. deCastell puts forth a call for action, in my opinion, and gives us a lot of food for thought as we move forward in these two, increasingly undivided, worlds.
de Castell, S. (2015). Mirror Images: Avatar Aesthetics and Self-Representation in Digital Games. In M. Ratto, & M. Boler (Eds.), DIY Citizenship (pp. 213-222). Cambridge: The MIT Press.
It only takes a moment for one to look at current pop culture to see how much influence the past has on the present. For example, it seems like every time one turns around another Spiderman or Star Trek movie is being made, or another British television show is being re-made for American audiences. This type of remix culture can have great influence on education, and the ways in which students demonstrate their understanding of topics being studied in class.
"Put simply, copying is how we learn. We can't introduce anything new until we are fluent in the language of our domain" (Ferguson, 2011). Elementary education is basically one long copying session. Students copy how to read, write, follow mathematical procedures, scientific theories and procedures, and historical events. However, as teachers we are constantly encouraging our students to be creative and try something new. The ease with which we can "remix" these days perhaps makes it more possible for students to apply creativity as they copy.
So how can we remix with young students? The ease with which technology can be applied in the classroom (of course assuming the appropriate budget is in place, which is another issue for another time) makes it possible for students to create their own remixes in any number of forms. For example, students as young as third-graders can create songs using popular melodies about what is being studied in class. In my own third-grade class, students created songs about environmental awareness when studying the physical regions of Ontario. Students can also make simple videos using any number of platforms, including Lego Movie Maker or on the SeeSaw app. Having students retell a story using Lego Movie Maker is a form of copying, but with an element of creativity and remixing involved as they experiment with a new form.
Giving students the opportunity to copy and remix in the classroom will perhaps allow for deeper understanding to occur, as students tinker with the elements to create something of their own. This could also (hopefully) make room for more interest and excitement about a variety of dry topics (the physical regions of Ontario...) and bring current culture into the classroom.
Ferguson, K. (Director). (2011). Everything is a Remix [Motion Picture].