Category Archives: children

The Role of Play and Learning

foxnewsby Hap Aziz

I originally intended the title of this post to be “The Role of Play in Learning,” but then the typo made more sense to me when I considered it. The idea that play is an essential component to learning is gaining more an more acceptance in the education community, especially filtering up from the work of early childhood educators. This article by Bethany Wilinski, “If Children Are for Learning, Then Let Them Play,” sounds a cautionary note regarding the decline of play and the impact it is having on the attainment of basic skills related to academic achievement among learners. Wilinski’s article cites Alison Gopnik’s TEDTalk “What do babies think?” for insights, and Gopnik’s material is worth a view if you haven’t seen it already.

“Babies and young children are like the R&D division of the human species.” – Alison Gopnik

In looking at the typo, though, I realized that while play is essential to learning, the opposite is also true: learning is essential to play, certainly to continually engage the player. Without learning, play is little more than a series of repetitive tasks with no change in outcomes, no evolution in action, and no stretch to bring the player back to expansion of mastery. Interestingly, a (very) quick scan of the literature hasn’t turned up much in the way of learning as a component of play; most everything I’ve been able to find addresses the opposite, and more obvious, viewpoint.

So I submit the following questions for further consideration on the topic:

  • Can people play without learning anything? What does that look like?
  • Is learning required for play to be fulfilling?
  • Might we assess the quality of play to determine what learning has taken place?

The third question above is especially interesting to me, as the education community continues to wrestle with assessment methodologies. If play can be considered at least to some extent as a proxy for learning, then the assessment of play may provide greater insight into what has been learned. After all, the idea of assessing play, from setting and knowing victory conditions to evaluating individual player statistics across multiple categories of measurement is something we do regularly and fairly well. Well enough for us to improve play and hire or replace play instructors (coaches) based on player performance. Perhaps it is time for us to consider flipping the play and learning dynamic.

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Filed under children, gamification, Hap Aziz, play

The Joy Stick Is Mightier Than The Pen: A Case For Gaming As An Academic Tool

JT Hudnut headshotby Jason Hudnut
Chief Coordinating Consultant: www.theturnpiketeacher.com

(Note: The following article text is the full version of an incomplete copy inadvertently published originally on April 30, 2013 under the title “The Educator as Parent.”)

I have spent my life immersed in the field of education.  I was raised by educators and it seems as if I may even be raising future educators.  But this is not my defining characteristic.  My time spent as a parent is in my opinion, the true nature of what I have become in my adult years.  Parenting in these modern times has allowed me to introduce the lessons learned during my time in the academic profession into the framework of philosophies that I utilize while raising my family.  Tonight, this blending of my personal and professional life was on exhibit in my household.  My oldest child had to leave school early today due to an illness.  He desperately wanted to make up his missed classwork and find out what his assigned homework for the night was. This shed a tiny yet telling light on the modern and technology based world we live in as parents and educators.

I informed my son to call his classmates to find out this information that he required.  It did not take long before I realized we don’t do it this way anymore. As my child sent texts and contacted friends on social media sites, then asked me to go on the teacher web page and find out if the assignments were posted, I realized we have evolved.  My boy has developed an entirely different way of thinking.  He solved his problem in a modern way and soon he was working on ratios and fractions and writing an essay that his teacher emailed to me in mere seconds after I contacted her.  This led me to thinking of some articles that I had read regarding how today’s young students may be influenced to solve problems and develop a unique set of social skills and strategies that may be influenced by the tools they implore while interacting with peers and playing video games.

Hap Aziz, in his article: “Bringing Computer Games into the Teacher and Learning Environment”, posted on January 04, 2013 in this blog, states,

“Computer games have potential educational value. Computer games have been identified as useful instruments that facilitate the acquisition of knowledge through the adoption of specific learning strategies (a cultural characteristic of the information society), and that computer games present immersive experiences in which learners—the players—develop abilities to solve complex problems in a variety of situations.”

I must give credit to the gaming world as my child’s first major experience in which he needed to utilize a technology based skill set. Not only did he begin to build abilities to solve complex problems within actual gaming situations, he developed knowledge of social media and on-line interaction when he was finally allowed by us, as parents, to enter the multi-player gaming experience via the internet. This was a big step to take and allow as a parent.  But as an educator, I knew that I would guide him with the proper and appropriate etiquette needed to gain knowledge and have fun while also maintaining measures of safety and good conduct.  Not to mention the curiosity that has been sparked and the fact based education he has received while role playing in some of today’s most modern historical based games.  I have since found him often times researching American and world history and even building worlds and reenacting with his Legos and other toys.

My newly rediscovered interest in how gaming could benefit education led me on a web surfing journey.  On this journey, I discovered some insight provided by Agnieszka Wetton on www.Scoop.it, who provided a wonderful statement within her Gaming in Education blog introduction on September 29, 2012.  Wetton stated,

“Over the past decade, the use of digital gaming in education has prompted considerable attention in exploring how and why games might be powerful tools in the classroom. As a result of this interest, there is a considerable body of resources available on Game-based Learning (GBL) and its potential benefits for education and learning.”

I certainly was thrilled to find this information and followed the leads presented on the Scoop.it! web pages.  I have obviously been aware of gaming tools in the classroom and have certainly applied several in my 20 years of teacher and education administration. But this new web surf opened up my eyes to the most modern conversations that will hopefully lead to a modern approach and application of these tools in the classrooms that we teach in and that our children learn in.  Two articles in particular jumped out at me. Both were “scooped” by Wetton. The first one is from: http://trove.nla.gov.au, and is dated September 29, 2012. This scoop referred to a wonderful book titled, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy by James Paul Gee.

Gee takes an in depth look at how video games benefit individuals.  He investigates the effects on cognitive activity and improvement.  Gee looks deeper into the development of identity building and perception of self in society.  He even presents information regarding the increased ability to follow directives and grasp specific concepts and meanings within the community as a result of gaming and how this improves and enhances the learning process.

As I researched the concepts presented by Gee, I felt as if I had won some sort of court case.  Not only as an educator but as a parent, I have been making a case for the positive benefits that gaming, technology, and on-line interaction have had on the students and children of today.  I found at last, some validity to fuel my stands on the debates over such matters.  But I wanted a bit more proof to make my case.  And I found it as I continued to follow the leads that Wetton scooped on her blog.  My next stop, also found on  http://trove.nla.gov.au, from September 29, 2012 opened my world to the concepts of Marc Prensky.

In his book, Don’t Bother Me, Mom, I’m Learning! : How Computer and Video Games are Preparing Your Kids for Twenty-First Century Success and How You Can Help, Prensky also builds that case that gaming on computers and game systems can be beneficial to modern children.  He does maintain that a limit needs to be established regarding certain appropriateness and time constraints, but Prensky does believe that in order to be prepared for the 21st century; children stand to make significant gains from the concepts learned in the gaming realm.  He contributes increases in the abilities to collaborate, take and assess risks and build and follow through with strategic planning.  Prensky even goes so far as to show how parents can build on individual ethics and value based growth is attributed to the time spent learning the guidelines, structures, and relationships necessary  while navigating in the gaming world.

So, the next time your kid, or one of your students states how much they would rather be gaming instead of doing homework or studying, you can rest assured that there just may be some benefits to the specific choices that can be made in your response.  We have learned that gaming can be used in the classroom as a powerful academic tool.  Much more work is needed in this field, but the advancements of the home gaming system consoles and personal computer game structures is blazing a trail towards this work.  We can, as parents and educators, make specific choices to perhaps slip a bit of beneficial growth into the pleasure that the modern youth gets out of gaming.

It is necessary to limit the time spent playing as well as being very proactive when it comes to censoring the content that is allowed to be viewed and presented.  But we can all feel comfortable, that…YES…there are unique, and very specific as well as appropriate benefits to the worlds that are introduced to our young ones as they sit in front of that screen and dive into their favorite dream world.  Think about it, most of us only had video games with an X competing against an O in some form of sports of space combat.  We have come a long way as I sit here watching my son role play a character and making tactical decisions during the ride of Paul Revere or The Cuban Missile Crisis, in full three dimensional life-like movie quality graphics.  Hey, can daddy have a turn buddy?

Sources:

Aziz, H. (2013). Bringing Computer Games into the Teacher and Learning Environment. Retrieved from                 https://hapaziz.wordpress.com/2013/01/04

Gee, J.P. (2007). What Video Games have to Teach US About Learning and Literacy. Basingstoke:                           Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Retrieved from http://trove.nla.gov.au

Prenksy, M. (2006). Don’t Bother Me, Mom, I’m Learning! : How Computer and Video Games are           Preparing Your Kids for Twenty-First Century Success and How You Can Help. St. Paul, MN:                Paragon House, 2006. Retrieved from http://trove.nla.gov.au

Wetton, A. (2012). Gaming in Education. Retrieved from www.Scoop.it!

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Legacy Systems and the Anchors that Work Against Change

by Hap Aziz

Back in October, 1995, a small computer company called Be, Inc. (founded by former Apple executives), released a new computer into the marketplace. This machine was called the BeBox, and from 1995 to 1997, less than 2000 of these computers were produced for developers. The BeBox had a lot of unique features going for it such as dual CPUs, built-in MIDI ports, and something called a GeekPort that allowed hardware experimenters both digital and analog access directly to the system bus. One of my personal favorite features of the BeBox was the pair of “Blinkenlight” stacks on both sides of the front bezel. Functioning like a graphic equalizer, they depicted the real-time load of each of the CPUs in the machine.

But as exciting as the hardware was to computer geeks like me, the real revolution was in the Be Operating System, or the BeOS, as it was called. Written specifically to run on the BeBox hardware, BeOS was optimized for digital media applications, and it actually took full advantage of modern computer hardware with its capabilities of symmetric multiprocessing, true preemptive multitasking, and a 64-bit journaling file system (which for practical purposes meant you could shut off power at any time without going through a shut-down process, and when you turned the machine back on, you would find that your open files were still intact).

BeOS was able to accomplish all sorts of things that Windows, the Mac OS, and Linux could not by shedding nearly all of the legacy “baggage” that the other operating systems continued to carry. The Be team was free to rethink the underlying software systems paradigm at the very deepest levels, and the results were truly astounding to those that saw the BeBox in operation.

The moral of the story is that the greatest transformation is possible when we rethink processes and technologies that have been in place for years, decades, and even generations. This is significant when we think of education, because the majority of our education systems are indeed legacy systems, designed and implemented to facilitate processes that were put into practice over a century ago. Even our “modern” Student Information Systems and Learning Management Systems are limited by the “legacy anchor,” and as a result, we see little true transformation in the teaching and learning space. Education timelines are based on year “blocks” of content, and each block is targeted to a particular age group of student (why is every student of approximately the same age grouped in the same grade?). The foundation of the classroom experience is still the lecture, and with online courses we work to “fit the lecture” into an asynchronous mode. Assessment and evaluation processes are, well, pretty much the same as they have been, only with more variation in execution. Schools and institutions of learning are hardly any different than they were in the 1700s–a group of students go to a building where they meet in a room and work with a single instructor. Even in the online environment, we build virtual analogs to the physical world: a group of students go to a URL where they meet in discussion forums and still work with a single instructor.

What would true transformation look like, given the technologies that are available now? How would we write a new, legacy-free education operating system for the 21st century? Those are two very big questions that could spawn a series of lengthy discussions (and, frankly, I need to write a book about it), but I have a few principles that I would offer up:

  • Education should be non-linear from the perspective of time spent on task. That is to say, a concept such as “4th Grade Mathematics” where all 9 year old children are expected to learn the same content over the same amount of time should go away. Little Julie may master fractions and long division in three months while little Stanley may take half a year. At the same time, little Stanley might be happily absorbing 18th century American literature, while little Julie is still working on more basic reading comprehension skills.
  • Places of education should be built to meet specific learner needs rather than be built around the same specifications of classroom space, administration space, cafeterias, gymnasiums, and so on. Why does every elementary school look like every other elementary school, and not just across stretches of geography, but across time as well? The elementary school I attended in the 1960s would function with little modification for my daughter who is in elementary school now. Surely learners (at any age group) are not a monolithic group with singular needs, yet we build places of education as though they are.
  • Education should offer multiple pathways forward rather than a single path that results in matriculation to the “next grade” or failure and repetition of the previous grade. In the world of computer game design, multiple pathways forward is commonplace, allowing players with various skills to progress according to his or her particular strengths–and in making progress, the player is often able to “circle back” and solve particular challenges that he or she was unable to complete earlier in the game. In the same way, a learner may bypass a particularly challenging content area, yet come back with greater skills acquired in a different “track” better able to solve the original challenge.
  • In fact, the idea of “grade levels” is in many respects antithetical to the concept of the lifelong learner. Why measure start points and end points as set dates on a calendar? Rather, education milestones should be set and achieved on a skills-mastery framework, and this process is ongoing for the true lifelong learner. The ramifications of this would be profound on a social level (the singular graduation moment may no longer exist), but from the perspective of personal growth and fulfillment, the benefits could be tremendous, and there will certainly be just as many–if not more–opportunities for celebrations of achievement.

Ultimately, bringing significant transformative change to the education-industrial complex will require rethinking of almost every segment of the teaching and learning process, including the manner in which we engage technologies to support that process. Being willing to discard our legacy baggage will be extremely difficult for many. Yet doing so will be the only way in which we might remix our 21st century technologies of smart devices, mobile connectivity, social media, the Internet, and more into an educational system that meets the diverse needs of our 21st century learners.

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Skylanders and Online Education: Flying the Friendly SkyEd Skies

by Martin LaGrow

Recently I posted a blog called Reimagining Online Education in which I proposed that academic institutions should emulate social media games and take learning management systems in a more interactive direction (https://hapaziz.wordpress.com/2011/12/19/reimagining-online-education/). After writing the blog, I purchased the Activision game Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure for my kids (OK, maybe for myself too), and quickly became enthralled. It is engaging, self-directed, self-paced, rewards mastery, and progressively scaffolds on previous achievements—everything online education should be. It begs the question, “Are there elements of Skylanders game play that would translate to a new online learning environment?”

First, a little background on the game. Skylanders is a first of its kind—a toy based role playing game that works across multiple platforms including an online component. What make Skylanders unique is the “Portal of Power” and action figure-type characters that bring life to the game.  The characters work through RFID. Each one stores in its memory statistics, points earned, unlocked features, etc. This enables the game player to use their figurines on multiple systems, all well progressively advancing its statistics and abilities. The character can be reset at any time if the user wishes to start over.

Aside from the portal and characters, game play is very much like any other RPG. The game plays out in a structured order—users must accomplish one chapter before proceeding to the next (but can repeat chapters at any time). The game player is accompanied by a number of additional characters that provide guidance and direction, even reminders if the user seems to lose focus on the objective of a challenge. And interaction consists of more stimulation than just arcade-game style action, though that is abundantly available. The user must complete several logic-based puzzles and solve problems along the way, keeping the game mentally stimulating. Various tokens, gems, and rewards push the gamer to travel every path, seek out and defeat every challenge, and ultimately provide a sense of achievement by rewarding mastery.

Finally, there is an online interactive piece that is separate from console play. By plugging your portal in to your Mac or PC, you can participate in a Sims-type world, where you develop your own living space and interact with other Skylanders in real time.  Challenges exist there as well, but the game play does not relate to the console version of the game.

The possibilities for leveraging this kind of interaction in online education are limitless. Imagine an online program where each course is a software ‘world,’ accessible via game console or live online environment. Each course world consists of chapters including content and application. Students demonstrate mastery of a level by completing quizzes and solving problems. Success and achievements are stored locally in the students RFID based avatar, which can be uploaded centrally at regular intervals. Interaction and guidance are provided by guide characters. In an Algebra course: “I see you’re having trouble solving the equation.  Why not try balancing before solving?”  “It looks as though you’ve mastered slope/intercept. Would you like to practice again or do you accept the final chapter challenge?”

For students requiring real interaction, an online commons area can provide as much or as little as they’d like. Different areas would be opened to students based on which courses they take. Instructors could host live office hours by meeting with students in pre-established meeting areas of the commons.

Today’s student is accustomed to interaction in virtual worlds for recreation. Menu and text presentation are not easily engaging them in course work. But from Mario Brothers to Zelda, they are no strangers to spending hour after hour mastering skills and garnering achievements on a console or computer. Present learning management systems are not tapping into this intrinsic trait. When they do, you may see a whole new level of achievement and mastery from students who just don’t want to turn off their Algebra course and go to bed

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Filed under avatars, children, education, education technology, future technology, games, online education, simulation, technology, virtual worlds

More Research on Children and Video Game Play

by Hap Aziz

There’s no shortage of opinion around the effects of video games on children–especially regarding the more violent kinds of games. Researchers from Michigan State University have recently published research indicating that video games (even the violent kinds) have a positive impact on the creativity of 12 year old children. In a paper titled “Information Technology Use and Creativity: Findings from the Children and Technology Project” (purchase article here) published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, researchers L. Jackson, et al., found that children that play any kinds of video games tend to be more creative than children that do not play video games. In addition, their study showed that there was no relation to creativity when the same age group of children played with cell phones, browsed web sites, or performed other non-gaming related computer tasks.

This should give parents some hope, as the research appears to be reliable: it was funded by the National Science Foundation, and 491 middle school students took part. Whether or not video game “homework” could be used to systematically and deliberately improve children’s creative capabilities is another discussion, but the idea no longer seems to be completely out of the question as it might have been back in the era of Tipper Gore and video game ratings.

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Celebrating Life on 9/11

by Hap Aziz

Ten years ago today, as the planes were striking the World Trade Center towers, my wife was giving birth to our daughter, Emma Grace. We think of Emma as a reminder from God that even on the darkest of days, life is reaffirmed, and there is joy to be experienced. In the days and weeks that followed the horrific events of 9/11, our family was not drawn down the path of experiencing both anger and loss. Rather, we had a new born baby to take care of, with all the challenges and excitement that accompany the responsibility.

Every year, though, as we celebrate the anniversary of Emma’s birth, we remember the other news of 9/11, and we are thankful that our little family was not personally affected by the events of the day. To us, Emma signifies how the goodness in the world can wipe away the aftershocks of tragedy. So while we will never forget the loss of life and sacrifice of so many on September 11, 2001, our own thoughts are much lighter, and there is always laughter in our house on that day, especially.

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