EduTech and Gaming

or, “Why my husband just bought me a video game for our wedding anniversary.”

 

A few years ago, I was given the opportunity to help lead a one-to-one technology initiative at the school at which I taught. I had been asking – maybe even begging – for more technology to use in my middle school classroom the year before, so when the principal and tech guy came to me and asked if I’d be interested in helping pilot the new program, I did a jig and hollered, “Heck yeah!” (Or maybe it was a polite and stifled, “Yes, I’d love to.” …My memory fails me.) Anyway, the next August I found myself with a class full of eager adolescents grinning ear-to-ear as they held their shiny new iPads. The barrage began: “Can we get Angry Birds?” “How about Facebook?” “Can we use the calculator in math?” (Then a hushed, “Just use it anyway…”) As the questions continued in a Charlie Brown Wahh-wahh-wah-wahh fashion, I looked around to see a few students checking their hair and make-up in the screens’ reflections, one student almost drop his, a handful of them already organizing their apps and customizing the device, and several photographers trying to capture sneaky candid shots using the iPad’s built in camera.

This was clearly overwhelming. Though not a part of the current “digital native” generation, I have grown up around technology. Since my Dad works for a computer company I had my own computer in my room when I was just a kid (Math Blaster anyone?!). I was bored to tears in ‘Technology in the Classroom” in college. I’ve always been comfortable around computers and technology. And yet, in that moment as I watched my class, I thought, “Well this was a bad idea.”

Over the course of the two years I taught in that iPad classroom, it became easier and more natural. We found organic ways to use the iPads to enrich the coursework and help students learn, even if only slightly at times or in certain subjects. I saw the power that technology has to improve students’ learning situations, to provide opportunities that wouldn’t exist otherwise, and to create new forms of media and outlets for creativity.

But it still got me thinking… there’s got to me more to educational technology than this. Technology isn’t a fad; by definition it cannot be.  How can we use current technology along with what is working in our current educational system to create a better educational system for our kids? That leads me to the title of this post… “Why my husband just bought me a video game for our wedding anniversary.” After much research on educational technology Masters programs, I decided upon and was accepted into the program at the University of London. I began my studies this year, and I am currently enrolled in a course about video games, simulations and education.

Throughout the course we have taken a look at many video games and the theories and arguments that surround them. We’ve analyzed whether or not video games and similar recent media produce a new form of literacy that could be on par with film and written literacy, or that could be used in comparable ways in the classroom. We’ve looked at how having students study games and actually design/produce their own can mirror the creative and transformational aspects of education that produce meaningful learning. It has all been very eye-opening, and very encouraging.  I was right… there is much more out there that can be done! I look forward to the rest of the program and the research that occurs.

However, possibly the most surprising thing about this current course is that I gained a new hobby. Our homework for the first several weeks (along with much reading) was to pick a video game and immerse ourselves in it. That would provide context for us as we examined other topics in the course. I chose TombRaider – the recent reboot – and dove in. And I loved it! I found myself looking forward to when I could play next and I loved completing the puzzles along the way. As a classmate said, how exciting it must be to discover a new hobby as an adult. It really is! Please, don’t knock video games until you try them. One thing I’ve learned from the class is that there are now more people who play video games than those that don’t play.

You might think it’s just not the hobby for you… Well, do you play Candy Crush on your phone? Sudoku on your iPad? Solitaire on your computer? Physical activity games on your Wii? Many people are “gamers” without even realizing it. My Mom, she’s even a gamer. 🙂  Since the beginning of the course I’ve beaten TombRaider, completed Portal, and not-so-casually mentioned that I might like Portal 2 as a birthday gift. Sam surprised me with Portal 2 as an early anniversary gift. I was so excited! Thrilled, really. I couldn’t wait to check it out! In fact, I’ve already played through the first few sections.

Then I thought, what has happened to me?! Ha! But, I’m embracing it. It’s a new hobby that I find challenging and, you know what… fun.  I see how it is such a big part of my students’ lives. And thanks to my grad program, I see its value as a new form of media and literacy.

So, what are you waiting for? Go play a video game. (Or maybe just try a new hobby.)

 

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