Shaffer and Gee on How epistemic games can solve the coming crisis in education

Before every child is left behind: How epistemic games can solve the coming crisis in education. (Via David Williamson Shaffer.) This article Shaffer co-authored with Gee, and not surprisingly I found much I was interested in. Also, they build on the popularity of Thomas Freidman’s The World is Flat as they make their case for epistemic games, so some of you might find this a timely and relevant article.

If you are skipping these posts, don’t worry there’s only 1 more to go. In the meantime, these quotes are categorized based on the section of my own paper they might appear in. They appear with minimal annotation, and they appear sans any formating – I’ve dragged and dropped from my outliner.


– [ ] Re: The World is Flat: “But this crisis is not just a crisis of
economics or politics. At its core, this is a crisis in
education—a crisis in education unlike any we’ve seen before….
The coming crisis is this: Young people in the United States
today are being prepared—in school and at home—for “commodity
jobs” in a world that will, very soon, only reward people who can
do “innovative work” and punish those who can’t.” (Shaffer & Gee,
2005, p. 1)
– [ ] “The foundation for innovation ha to be laid from the start… it
starts in kindergardn and before” (Shaffer & Gee, 2005, p. 6-7)
– [ ] “But the problem is that innovative work is by definition
something that can not be standardized” (Shaffer & Gee, 2005,
p. 12)


– [ ] In a literal sense: “But today it is not nearly good enough to be
able just to read that textbook—you have to be able to produce
and not just consume, to make knowledge and not just receive it.”
(Shaffer & Gee, 2005, p. 9)

Engagement and Motivation

– [ ] “Contemporary video games are profoundly engaging and motivating
to young people.” (Shaffer & Gee, 2005, p. 15)


– [ ] “Epistemic games are about having students do things that matter
in the world by immersing them in rigorous professional practices
of innovation [23]. In this approach, students do things that
have meaning to them and to society, supported all along the way
by structure, and lots of it—structure that leads to expertise,
professional-like skills, and an ability to innovate. So we have
the immersion dear to liberal pedagogies and the structure dear
to conservative ones.” (Shaffer & Gee, 2005, p. 12)
– [ ] “The key step in developing the epistemic frame of most
communities of innovation is in
some form of professional practicum [25, 26]. Professional
practica are environments in which a learner acts in a supervised
setting and then reflects on the results of his or her action
with peers and mentors.” (Shaffer & Gee, 2005, p. 14) Also
social and ZPD related.
– [ ] “new technologies connected to computer games, video games, and
simulations—as well as handheld computing devices and the
Internet—can let students learn to innovate by participating in
simulations of professional practica” (Shaffer & Gee, 2005, p.
– [ ] “with epistemic games students don’t have to wait to begin their
education for innovation until college, or graduate school, or
their entry into the work force. In these games, learning to
think like innovative professionals prepares students for
innovative work.” (Shaffer & Gee, 2005, p. 19)
– [ ] “Instead of learning facts, information, and theories first and
then trying to apply them, the facts, information, and theories
are learned and remembered because they were needed to play the
game successfully.” (Shaffer & Gee, 2005, p. 21-22)

– [ ] “Epistemic games of all kinds make it possible for students of
all ages to learn by working as innovators. In playing epistemic
games, students learn basic skills, to be sure. They learn the
“facts” and “content” that we currently reward. But in epistemic
games students learn facts and content in the context of
innovative ways of thinking and working. They learn in a way that
sticks, because they learn in the process of doing things that
matter. Epistemic games thus give educators an opportunity to
move beyond disciplines derived from medieval scholarship
constituted within schools developed in the industrial
revolution—a new model of learning for a digital culture and a
global economy.” (Shaffer & Gee, 2005, p. 24)


– [ ] Islands of expertise: “These islands may be rooted in dinosaurs,
mythology, computers, science, or art, but their real import is
the preparation they give these children for life-long learning
as they face the ever increasing demands of complex language,
symbols, and practices at higher and higher levels of schooling.”
(Shaffer & Gee, 2005, p. 7)

Socially Negotiated

– [ ] “Innovative practitioners use the knowledge, skills, and ways of
thinking of some professional community (in the broad sense of
professional). Learning to innovate always involves becoming part
of some group of people with a common repertoire of knowledge
about and ways of addressing problems in the world. What’s more,
these professional communities already know a lot about how to
make innovative practitioners. If they didn’t, the communities
would die out. So communities of innovative
practice—professionals in the broad sense of the term—can tell us
a lot about how to help students prepare for innovative work
[23]. ” (Shaffer & Gee, 2005, p. 13)


– [ ] Hard Fun: “Rigorous learning requires lots of time and lots
of engagement and motivation [21]. But aren’t games fun and
learning work? Well, actually, no [22]. Skilled professionals (in
the broad sense of the term) draw deep pleasure from what they
know and do. That is what keeps them challenging themselves at
the cutting and ever growing edge of their competence. Innovation
is fundamentally playful, but far from driving away rigor, such
pleasure and playfulness drives the practitioner towards greater
challenges and higher standards of accomplishment.
In other words, epistemic games are games that let players learn
to work and, thus, to
think as innovative professionals. Epistemic games are games that
let students develop the epistemic frames of innovation.
Epistemic games are fun, but they are fun because they are about
innovation and mastery of complex domains. Epistemic games are
about knowledge, but they are about knowledge in action—about
making knowledge, applying knowledge, and sharing knowledge.
Epistemic games are rigorous, motivating, and complex because
that’s what characterizes the practices of innovation upon which
they are modeled.” (Shaffer & Gee, 2005, p. 15)
– [ ] “To be clear: epistemic games are not necessarily games that are
played strictly for pleasure – but then pleasure isn’t what makes
a game a game in the first place. Pleasure is the by-product of
good game design and good game play. Play is the world someone
enters when he or she wants or needs to resolve in imaginary form
desires that can not be immediately gratified. In play, we
participate in a simulation of a world we want to inhabit, and an
epistemic game is play that gives learners access to a particular
form of innovative thinking. When it succeeds, it is fun, not
because fun is the immediate goal, but because taking on a new
set of values are an essential part of an epistemic frame, and
thus of an epistemic game.” (Shaffer & Gee, 2005, p. 20)

Role of the Teacher

– [ ] “The structure that supported learning these skills and abilities
was built into the design of the game, and supported by adults
who held the players accountable to professional standards of
excellence” (Shaffer & Gee, 2005, p. 17)
– [ ] “schools, as currently organized, make it difficult to prepare
students for innovation through epistemic games. Teachers can’t
spare the time from getting students ready for the next
standardized test, and, not surprisingly, innovation is difficult
to accomplish in 40 minute chunks of time, spread from room to
room and subject to subject throughout the day… But schools
could be about epistemic games rather than assessment games—and
solving the innovation crisis in our educational system through
epistemic games would also address other crises that plague our
schools: crises that have received more publicity in recent
years. For example, research has shown for some time now that
even students who pass typical school tests cannot actually apply
their knowledge to solve problems” (Shaffer & Gee, 2005, p. 21)


– [ ] Re: The World is Flat: “So now here’s the good news—the first
good news we’ve had about our education system in quite some
time: The very same technologies that are making it possible to
outsource commodity jobs make it possible for students of all
ages to prepare for innovative work.” (Shaffer & Gee, 2005, p.


Shaffer, D. W., & Gee, J. P. (2005). Before every child is left behind: How epistemic games can solve the coming crisis in education. Under review by Educational Researcher.