Games, not Grades

Since Daniel Pink recommended this Edutopia video interview with James Paul Gee, professor at Arizona State University, I thought I’d give it a quick review.  It is definitely worth the time – dense with powerful messages.  While most of his messages align with good learning theory (constructivism) and pedagogy, he frames his messages in a 21st century context, urging the need for educational reform.  Here are my big take-aways:

  • We need a major reform in the design of our schools.  Today’s schools are “test prep academies”.  Schooling must focus on helping students learn how to solve problems, collaboratively, so they are able to compete in today’s global economy.  “The group is smarter than the smartest person in the group.”  This aligns with project-based and problem-based learning (not new)… but demands a shift in assessment as well (which leads to his next point about games as assessment)… 
  • Games are wonderful models of learning problem-solving skills – essentially, in a game, the player is constantly assessed.  Games do not make the mistake of separating the learning from the assessment.  The use of continuous and immediate feedback helps the player learn as he/she solves a problem.  In this way, knowledge is something that is produced not consumed.
  • In games, language is presented “just in time”, allowing the player to immediately apply the language to solve the task at hand.
  • Digital tools, including social networking tools, enable youth to easily and quickly join communities centered on their passions.  These “passion communities” are very different than school in that anyone can teach and learn, essentially, roles are fluid.  He mentions that there are very high standards within these communities. 
  • Kids seem to understand (better than the baby boomer generation) that media is converging.
  • Teachers need to be rewarded for innovation.  The need exists to “re-professionalize” teaching, empowering teachers to build their own curriculum, develop their own practices, etc. – instead of using what the “top” pushes down. 
  • We need to make teaching a sexy job.  It isn’t right now because schools are not cool.  Until we design different, innovative educational environments, teaching will not be a “cool” job. 
  • Encouragingly, he states that the U.S. does a good job at reform when they are really scared (references the Sputnik period), and we could be at a tipping point.  The new competition schools have coupled with the innovation crisis could lead to a paradigm shift in education.

Are you motivated to join the reform movement?  I am!  It starts within a classroom… so, let’s go for it!