School Change and the Integration of Video Games as an Educational Technology: An Introduction

As I’ve done before when I felt my motivation for my academic writing waning, I’m going to post some here. Here is a part of the (draft) introduction to my final paper prior to my formal dissertation. It’s about three pages double spaced in Word, so this may be a bit long for a blog post, but if anyone reads it through I’d be thrilled to receive any feedback. :)

Emerging technologies, such as video games and simulations, show a great deal of promise as educational tools, particularly in constructivist learning environments. However a great deal of organizational change is required for schools to fully adopt and take advantage of promising new technologies. It is important for educators, educational technologists, and administrators to understand the nature and complexity of school change, and to act with this knowledge in mind when integrating new technologies. Therefore, the purpose of this breadth portion of the Knowledge Area Module (KAM) is to synthesize the work of Senge, Evans, and Fullan to produce a preliminary working theory of school change that can be used to guide the process of integrating video games and simulations as educational technologies in a constructivist learning environment.

Senge (1990) introduced the idea of a learning organization, explored ways in which organizations can manifest learning disabilities, and suggested a number of disciplines for fostering a learning organization, including the pursuit of systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, and team learning. He provided concrete examples of his theories at work in various industries (Senge et al., 1994), and later focused specifically on their application in the field of education (Senge et al., 2000). Senge wrote in 1990 that “all too often, great organizations are fleeting, enjoying their moment in the sun, then passing quietly back into the ranks of the mediocre” (p. 11). When he turned to writing about schools’ inability to support “the kinds of multifaceted, in-depth relationships between people that facilitate learning” (Senge, 1994, p. 486), especially over the long-term, he blamed this on educational institution’s centralized nature, regulations, and large sizes (p. 486). He later wrote that the assembly-line system of education which “dramatically increased educational output” (2000, p. 31) initially, actually “created many of the most intractable problems with which students, teachers, and parents struggle to this day” (p. 31). Though he felt “we face a vital and yet seemingly impossible task: re-creating schools to serve students who will grow up in a post industrial world” (p. 9) that is precisely what he set out to do.

Evans (1996), too, believed that “radical change is crucial and possible” (p.3). His focus, though was on the difficulties presented by the human side of school change, the psychological factors. Evans (1996), who cites Senge often, was also interested in the nature of change and the capacity of organizations to implement and sustain changes. He was particularly concerned with the culture of resistance found in many schools, and in ways that an authentic educational leader might understand reluctant faculty and thus be able to provide vision tempered by realism. Evans (2004) also considered the role of students’ families in changing school cultures.

Fullan, who cited Senge often as well, also cited constructivist educational theorists such as Dewey. Though Fullan’s early work focused on helping school administrators survive in a system of change over which they had little control (Fullan, 1991, 1997, 1998), his Change Forces trilogy (Fullan, 1993, 1999, 2003a) focused on helping them to understand and even influence the complex systems that surrounded them. His newer works focus on the complexity of reform (2001b), leading in a culture of change (2001a), the moral purpose of this leadership (2003b), and breakthrough strategies for large-scale sustainable reform (2004, 2006). He recommended respecting “the messiness of the process required to identify best solutions and generate internal commitment form the majority of organization members” (Fullan, 2001b, p. 118). He also found that “within the apparent disorder of the process there are hidden coherence-making features” (p. 118).

Each of these authors explicitly or implicitly supported the development of constructivist learning environments and the development of 21st Century Learning Skills. Evans (2001), for instance, called for schools to “emphasize ‘constructivism’, higher-order thinking, and interdisciplinary learning” (p. 149), and Fullan (1999) was interested in “purposeful knowledge creation” (p. 16). They each saw the importance of providing a context for learning. Evans (1996) called for “real-life exhibitions rather than traditional tests” (p. 58), and Fullan believed that “learning in context is the learning with the greatest payoff” (p. 127). Within this context, inquiry-driven learning can be powerful. Senge et al. (2000) found the skill of inquiry to be central to the practice of personal mastery (p. 68), and Fullan (1993) considered “a spirit of inquiry and continuous learning” critical to any change initiative (p. 67). Even the constructivist concept of social negotiation played a role in each of their philosophies. Senge et al. (1999) wrote that “organizations, like all human groups, operate through conversation” (p. 35), and Fullan (2001b) recognized the importance of “social learning… exchanging ideas, support, and positive feelings about” (p. 126). The power of reflection was also a recurring theme in their work. Senge et al. (2000) believed that “educational practice must be informed by critical reflection” (p. 318), while Fullan (2006) noted that “opportunities for the team to debrief and reflect on… practice and progress” (p. 94) was critical. Twenty-first century skills, such as risk taking, are frequently valued by each of these authors as well. Each of them understood that “if people do not venture into uncertainty, no significant change will occur” (Fullan, 1993, p. 25).