James Paul Gee, Video Games, and a Context for Learning

This I wrote last night. It is not nearly as brief as the Prensky version, but may be more meaningful… but of course, I am not the best judge. Feel free to leave comments.

Like Prensky, Gee discussed ways in which video games can provide a context for learning. Gee (2003), a linguist and cognitive scientist asserted that “words, symbols, images, and artifacts have meanings that are specific to… particular situations (contexts)” (p. 24) . He also suggested that “the theory of learning in good video games is close to… the best theories of learning in cognitive science” (p. 7). In the constructivist tradition, Gee argued that learning involves situating (or building) meanings in context, and that “video games are particularly good places where people can learn to situate meanings through embodied experiences” (p. 26). He highlighted examples in which “the player (learner) is immersed in a world of action and learns through experience, though this experience is guided or scaffolded by information the player is given and the very design of the game itself” (Gee, 2005, p. 59). Gee (2003) understood that “meaning and knowledge are built up through various modalities (images, text, symbols, interactions, abstract design, sound, etc.)” (p. 111), which video games can provide in spades. The learning context itself took on a special meaning for Gee, because he believed that “thinking, problem solving, and knowledge are ‘stored’ in material objects and with environment” (p. 111).

Gee (2003) focused on the way that video games can provide a learning environment that is “set up to encourage active and critical, not passive, learning” (p. 49). He believed that active critical learning was based on experiencing (seeing, feeling, and operating on) the world in new ways (p. 23), and on being able to not only “understand and produce meanings” in the domain being learned, but also being able to “think about the domain at a ‘meta’ level as a complex system of interrelated parts” (p. 23).

However, Gee was most interested in the way that good games can facilitate learning by requiring players to take on a new identity and form “bridges from [their] old identities to the new one” (p. 51). He felt that “all deep learning – that is active, critical learning – is inextricably caught up with identity” (p. 51), and he tapped into the tradition of Piaget’s little scientists when he offered the example of “a child in a science classroom engaged in real inquiry, and not passive learning, [who] must be willing to take on an identity as a certain type of scientific thinker, problem solver, and doer” (p. 51). This concept he extended to the many roles that students might play in good role-playing video games, which he reported made him “think new thoughts about what [he as a player] valued and what [he] did not” (p. 56). He suggested that game designers and teachers “need to create a game-like biology world in which learners can act and decide as certain types of biologists” (Gee, 2005, p. 85) in order to help students become “authentic professionals [with] specific knowledge and distinctive values tied to specific skills gained though a good deal of effort and experience” (p. 51). Gee felt that good games can facilitate learning that “involves taking on and playing with identities in such a way that the learner has real choices” (p. 67).

Even at a more basic level, Gee (2003) believed that “basic skills are not learned in isolation or out of context; rather… a basic skill is discovered bottom up by engaging with the domain” (p. 137). Gee also suggested that learners should get “lots of practice in a context where the practice is not boring (i.e. in a virtual world that is compelling to learners on their own terms and where the learners experience ongoing success)” (p. 71).

Gee offered the following recipe for providing students with a context for learning.

“The recipe is simple: Give people well designed visual and embodied experiences of a domain, through simulations or in reality (or both). Help them use these experience to build simulations in their heads through which they can think about and imaginatively test out future actions and hypotheses. Let them act and experience consequences, but in a protected way when they are learners. Then help hem to evaluate their actions and the consequences of their actions (based on the values and identities they have adopted as participants in the domain) in ways that lead them to build better simulations for better future action. Though this recipe could be a recipe for teaching science in a deep way, it is [also] a recipe for an engaging and fun game. It should be the same in school.” (Gee, 2005, p. 63)

Though there is more I could post (from my Prensky section), I ought to be getting back to writting about Gee. ;)

Thanks for reading.


PS. Almost all of this refers to the 2003 What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy and 2005 Why Video Games are Good For Your Soul. Formal references will have to follow… after I write them for the KAM.