Thursday, March 24, 2011

And So it Begins

A second blog? I need a second blog? Who knew that my journey into reinventing my teaching practice would bring me here?

Melanie McBride, I hold you fully, well ... maybe not fully ...  responsible for this outcome.

Back in January, my students decided that the unit we were studying would be an excellent basis for a video game.  I agreed and set out to determine how we could accomplish this.  My first thought was to go to the top. I want game design?  I might as well speak with the experts.  I tried contacting a prominent gaming company in Toronto for advice, but alas, my email was ignored.  In hindsight, this was probably a wise decision on their part.  Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

I came across an interesting article by one Melanie McBride, a Canadian educator, researcher and writer focused on situated emergent learning, transmedia and affinity culture in virtual learning environments and gaming spaces. Perfect, I thought, she can point me in the right direction.  I contacted her, requesting some advice on teaching my students how to design video games.  

And so began a lengthy series of emails between Melanie and myself in which she very patiently helped me understand why my approach to this task was incorrect.

 Melanie was adamant about three things: 

1.      Introducing game design into my classroom without having experienced the culture and world of gaming myself was bad pedagogy.  

2.     I needed to talk with my students who are gamers and let them teach me what it means to be a gamer.

3.    I needed to become a gamer.

And so it begins.  I've decided to become a gamer.  My game of choice is Minecraft.  This blog will document my learning process, insights and discoveries as I enter this alien world. I hope what I learn will be helpful to others.


  1. Hi Heidi!

    First off: bravo that you are playing minecraft! Screengrabs please :)

    Secondly, I'm flattered that you credit me with instigating this journey. Please just consider my your first "Quest giver" ...

    Key thing for me here is not my part in this but that YOU took it upon yourself to do so. That is the spirit of teaching and learning that inspires me in return.

    Just to clarify a couple of things (since much of what I offered by way of advice was via email - "bad pedagogy" in this context wasn't in reference to YOUR practice (and I'm sure you know this though I'm not sure your readers do) it means:

    1) presuming to teach something to learners without first exploring that thing (in some meaningful way) yourself.

    What I'm *not* talking about is any form of formal "expertise" i.e., "taking courses" getting "training" or other traditional logics of 'knowing' many educators tend to default to. We default to this because this is the schooly notion of what learning is and how it is evaluated or assessed. Whether that "learning" has any real or meaningful relevance in a situated community of practice is another matter (for we know a great number of people can take courses and get degrees in a subject without truly understanding that subject in a way that may is meaningful to those within that field ... i.e., the journalism student who gets all the training but never really develops a hunch for a good story or the confidence to ask tough questions. Training can't change disposition. Passion isn't trained. Neither is curiosity or creativity).

    Hardcore gamers don't get any credits for spending 5+ years in world of Warcraft or successfully leading raids or getting to end game content. And yet, they are regarded by their peers as "experts" with exceptional "mastery" and knowledge of the game and often enjoy requisite social capital within that community.

    But this is also true of the casual gamer. Somebody who has played even three levels of Angry Birds understands more (by virtue of DOING) than those who have only read about the game.

    I've written extensively about all of this in my blog - which would better serve to contextualize my point here.

    2) It IS possible for creative, critically minded teachers to "teach" with games without being gamers although by making the familiar strange and locating all of the teaching within the learner experts -- though I wouldn't call this teaching, I'd call it collaborative, constructivist facilitation (not the usual definition of teaching but the definition many creative teachers would likely think of when articulating their approach). My only problem with this relates to the concept of game and the underlying presumptions about gaming from the non gamer (and those who haven't engaged even a few pages of gaming scholarship - which illuminates, among other things, the critical dimensions of what games are and the misinterpretations that abound).

    Games are not just platforms - they are cultures and communities. I think many teachers who are not gamers see a human relating to a piece of hardware that presents sensory stimulation. The teacher can identify familiar symbolic structures (i.e., settings, themes, activity types) and then from there asks questions about "how it could be used for 'learning'"...

    Learning is already contained within games and the social relationships and cultural practices that occur between gamers and their culture. Whether it's a few kids sharing a console game after school or playing solo, games engage complex physical, social and cultural knowledge (actually contributing to neural plasticity in the brain, which then contributes to other kinds of functioning - long term goal setting, strategy, mathematical structure (as well as many kinetic, emotional and behavioural response).

  2. Thanks Melanie for providing thoughtful commentary and explaining the thread of our conversations that led to this blog. Once again you've given me more to think about.