Social Change (In A Nutshell)

Again, I suppose this should be titled “Social Change in a Constructivist Learning Environment.” In any case, this post follows of the format of the “Nutshell” overviews that have preceded it. Like the others references to constructivist theorists, educational technologists, and video game scholars will be offered throughout this piece. Actually I suspect that nearly every sentence in this post will eventually be a paragraph in the dissertation.

On a personal note, it’s amazing to look back on who I was when I started this PhD in 2003… the change has been gradual, but it’s hard to believe how far I was then from being someone who would write something like this particular post. I suppose my education at Walden, which was named after Thoreau’s book and where the university’s mission is to “effect positive social change”, has worn off on me.

Any thoughts to share on this subject? Please leave a comment. :)

A constructivist learning environment is not complete without explicit social goals.
Societal development is as much a part of the constuctivist philosophy as individual development. Constructivist thinkers have long focused on the cultural importance and implications of educators’ work. Modern educational technologists and video game scholars, too, are concerned with how educational technologies, including video games and simulations, can effect positive social change.

Many constructivists believe that the function of education is not only to enculturate students, but to be individually and culturally transformative. Not only is it important that the citizens of a democratic republic be well educated (in the traditional sense), but it is also important that they understand how they can each change (or create) their culture and society. Constructivist educators aim to nurture students who will be innovative and transform traditional ways of thinking. To do so, students must learn to resist (or at least critically evaluate) the dominant culture and dominant ways of thinking.

Constructivists have long placed tremendous value on both equity and diversity in education. They also look to education to provide students with windows into other ways of living, and thus help them develop a sense of empathy for other individuals and other cultures. Constructivists also hope to inculcate in each student a sense of service and a desire to contribute to a common good. Ultimately, constructivists are concerned with students developing what traditional educators might call character.

Contributing to society and effecting positive social change are not things that students engage in only after their education; in the constructivist way of thinking, schools are communities (or small societies) where students can contribute at any age. Too, a constructivist school will be intimately connected to (and contributing to) the surrounding community.

For any of this to be effective in the 21st century, though, schools must also prepare students to cope with the ever increasing rate of societal change.

Video games and simulations, particularly multiplayer games or massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs), can be a social context for cultural learning. Furthermore, video games and simulations can be used both to help students learn how to pursue social change and to inspire them to effect positive social change – as the serious games and games for change movements have demonstrated. In MMORPGs (and other similar games) it is not unusual for young students to be contributing to a adult social group, sometimes even as a mentor to adults within the game. Simulations (and games with simulation like features) can both be made to exemplify cultural ideologies, and also made to help change prevailing ideologies.