What if educators, instead of trying to create educational video games that engage and spur learning, focused on the games that people are already playing, and found ways to have learners reflect on those games? Instead of learning games, or the gamification of learning (which I think is a cool idea as well), what about the learnification of gaming? Turn entertaining games into learning opportunities. Students are already engaged. Why not ask them about what they are already engaged in? Students have knowledge, what knowledge do they have?
In a 2008 Edutopia interview (included below), James Paul Gee, an academic who has written extensively on games and learning, says: “The first thing the teacher needs to do is to understand what kids do and the range of it; she has to understand what her own children do. Let them teach you how they engage with games and other digital media. Let them talk about it, reflect on it, because this is very good for their learning. For them to become meta-aware about what they do, how they do it, why they do it, what more they could do with it — that itself is a good teaching tool. So the first thing you’d need to do is be an ethnographer of your own kids, with respect for their knowledge and letting them teach it, and for the diversity of kids’ interests.” (http://www.edutopia.org/technology-integration-experts)
This is an interesting perspective, one that I think fits well with Paulo Freire’s pedagogy of the oppressed: have students learn their own world, not just ours. And don’t think of education as a bank, where the teacher fills the students’ minds with knowledge, or as video games as being best put to use by educators as filling student’s minds with what they ought to know (based on what the designer thinks they ought to know), but rather as part of the students’ worlds that form their own experiences of reality. Start from where the student is.
If a student is interested in a particular video game, what kind of game is it? Why do they like it? What kinds of words would they use to describe it? What strategies help them when they play it? Why is the game fun? Who are the characters, and how do they interact? If you lived in the game world (as a full-time character) what skills would you need to have to succeed? What secrets? How would our world be different if the game world suddenly became our world (would people disappear, or look different, or be always trying to kill you, or be very blocky)? Do students think of themselves as being “in the game” (do they identify with their character in the game if it is a game where players have a character)?
Can this kind of learnification be used to learn anything? And will it work with every audience? Well, if the audience doesn’t play games, no. And if you are teaching trigonometry, you probably need a different approach. But reflection practices and developing a rhetoric in a domain can be potentially empowering things for learners. This is a very specific kind of learning, following a specific kind of pedagogical model (a form of constructivism). If all cognition is situated cognition, where are our students situated, and how will knowing that help us to understand their cognition?
Note: This kind of activity could also be gamified. In a class, when a student references a game and how it applies to a subject everyone is learning in the class, they can be given “points” and can “level up” to achieve different objectives in class discussions (students’ roles in discussions could be a function of mastery levels).
This kind of learning would be student-specific, and would require time and a great amount of skill by the person given the instructor role. If you think it is impossible, think about parenting. If learnification of activities is not occurring in parent-child relationships (i.e., reflection, prediction, dialogue about concepts, relationships and things), something is missing. If you are a parent, you should already be practicing learnification with your children. This is not mere enculteration–it is personal and social examination of what is, in order to inform what can become.