I read an article in The New Yorker (Nov 6th 2006) on Will Wright, the video game creator of SIM
City, the SIMs etc. Part of the article touched on the influence of computer games on education.
Will Wright had received an email from Lara M. Brown, a professor of political sciences at California
State University. She’d said that the influence is negative. Computer games create children who are reactive instead of active. Who can’t formulate hypothesise or lead off a debate because they want to see ‘what comes at them’. They lack imagination because games provide all images, sounds and possible outcomes. They have difficulty imagining worlds (places/historical times) without pictures and sounds. They can’t visualise.
Wright responded that games teach children how to learn. Current teaching, he said, is narrow, reductionist, Aristotelian. It isn’t designed, and by implication games are designed, for experimenting with complex systems and navigating them in an intuitive way. It isn’t designed for failure. Games require trial and error; reverse engineering in your mind. ‘Teachers are entering into the system who grew up playing games. They’re going to want to engage with the kids using games.’
I am excited by the place of technology in education. I think schools should be far more at the cutting edge, product testing end of IT development, rather than the uninspired recipients. (Although I’m told interactive whiteboards, conceived for education, are finding their way into the boardroom.) The New Yorker article convincingly puts the case for SIM City’s immense influence on urban planning. And the complex systems created for games such as Spore and ‘Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Games’ no more constrain possible outcomes than a scheme of work and marking criteria. Indeed online collaboration, I think, is massively under-utilised in education. As is the potential to draw on, and need to verify, unlimited information through the internet.
I would still hold to, and maintain as a core component of the curriculum, the practice of essay writing. It is, I think, unrivalled in its fortifying of communication and structured thinking.
I was reminded of the importance of ‘literacy’. I don’t mean specifically written/read English, but literacy in the way it has come to be used in Education, as ‘competency’ in whatever subject or field. I was working with a colleague in Malawi who had no literacy in using Excel. What struck me wasn’t that he was struggling with various functions, formulas etc. – I was too. But that he simply was not familiar with the basic operations underlying the use of Excel. He struggled with highlighting cells, copying and pasting etc.etc. In fact, he was having real difficulty with the kind of basic operating procedures that are essential to use Microsoft Office. How to save files, what to click to minimize etc. Why? He’s a bit slow, yes! But, he was learning from scratch something that most of us under a certain age in the UK have learned almost implicitly through exposure. I don’t remember many specifics of my IT education. I’ve always had to learn or relearn processes whenever I’ve done anything substantial on the computer. However, what my IT education has provided me with implicitly is the underlying familiarity, competency or literacy.
What then are the essential literacies of the C21st? The question has something of a tired, clichéd ring about it, but is nevertheless pretty important. I’ve suggested ‘literacy’ in citizenship and entrepreneurship is important for citizens.
‘Literacy’, I suppose, consists of a body of knowledge and the competent application of that knowledge. It doesn’t mean knowing everything, but, crucially, knowing how to approach problems in a specific field (knowing what the paradigm is?). There is ‘literacy’ in citizenship. Is there literacy in entrepreneurship? Perhaps it’s in a familiarity with acting on initiative, risk, and capitalising on the future?
I read something by Anita Roddick questioning the value of MBAs for entrepreneurs. She was suggesting that entrepreneurship is about risk and obsession (I think she used the word obsession, it might have been dedication), and that these are qualities that can’t be taught. Perhaps you’re even just born with them. Certainly she suggested they’re not best taught by business schools which are bastions of stats quo.
I think I would caution Roddick’s fatalism. Business schools may not best teach entrepreneurship, but that doesn’t mean we can’t create conditions in which entrepreneurship can flourish. Although how to teach literacy in entrepreneurship is a slightly different question to how to teach the equally important literacy in IT (or just plain literacy), I suggest the clue to the answer is in implicit learning (see also previous posts) and in the value of experiential learning.