James Paul Gee, Video Games, and Inquiry-Based Learning

Ok. This idea of postng my current writing on the blog has been motivating and has helped me begin to focus and streamline my writing… and to celebrate my success. I only attempted a very short section of my outline this evening, and here is the result:

Gee’s work, like Prensky’s, illuminates the potential of video games to provide learners with opportunities for inquiry. Implicit in the Active Critical Learning Principle (Gee, 2003, p. 39) is the presumption that interacting with the learning environment in a way that is not passive involves a measure of learner initiative, which can be inqury-driven by their individual interests and strengths. The Probing Principle (Gee, 2003, P. 107) makes this element of inquiry explicit, suggesting not only that a learner should be “probing the world (doing something)”, but that they should be forming, testing, and re-forming hypothesis about the world. Naturally, the direction this cycle of probing and re-probing takes, will be driven by the learner’s own curiosity. This sentiment is formalized in the Multiple Routes Principle, which values learning that allows “learners to make choices, rely on their own strengths and styles of learning and problem solving, while also exploring alternative styles” (p. 108).

An integral element of inquiry-driven learning, perhaps even the goal of inquiry-driven learning, is the possibility of student discovery. This surfaces in Gee’s (2003) Discovery Principle (p. 138), in which he suggests that good games keep overt telling to a “well-thought-out-minimum, allowing ample opportunity for the learner to experiment and make discoveries” (p. 138).

Gee (2005b) also encourages educators and game designers to empower learners; he asserts that “good learning requires that learners feel like active agents (producers) not just passive recipients (consumers)” (p. 25). In light of the fact that different learning styles appeal to (and work for) different people, Gee suggests that “people cannot be agents of their own learning if they cannot make decisions about how their learning will work” (pp. 25-26) and advocates allowing learners to customize their experience. Again, good games, particularly RPGs and MMORPGs, allow learners to heavily customize their experience, even including their identity by manipulating such things as their appearance, physical attributes, and skills. This leads to Gee’s belief that “deep learning requires an extended commitment and such a commitment is powerfully recruited when people take on a new identity they value and in which they become heavily invested” (p. 26).

Finally, games (or other learning environments) must provide learners with the tools necessary to manipulate elements within the learning context, for as Gee says, “humans feel expanded and empowered when they can manipulate powerful tools in intricate ways that extend their area of effectiveness” (p. 26).

Thanks for reading. Please leave comments if you are interested.


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