Got the Manual, Can’t Play the Game

Kids have game manuals, but no opportunity to play the games, says James Paul Gee.

In other words, students are learning discreet pockets of knowledge and skills without the opportunity to use them purposefully and authentically.

You can spell the words, but you can’t string together a good conversation.
You know the scientific method, but haven’t done a proper investigation.
You know what an adverb is, but can’t write a lovely description (see what I did there…)
You can define collaboration, but don’t work well in a group.
You know your addition strategies but can’t use them at the supermarket.

Basically, you can talk the talk, but can’t walk the walk. And while the above examples are a bit tounge-in-cheek (there are lots of scientific investigations and lovely descriptive writing going on everywhere), when looking at the big picture, education probably does skew itself the way of knowledge, rather than knowledge + application. Hell, it’s easier to assess right? If all assessment was real life, collaborative, impactful, rich projects how on earth could the Government ever gather the data they need to justify their political and economic decisions? It would be chaos!

This, for me, is one of the great affordances of digital games. They can bridge that gap between learning something and stopping right there, or learning something and then applying it. Games or simulations offer a context in which you can embody your learning – you can BE a scientist, an entrepreneur, an explorer, a historical figure. The experience of actually using learned knowledge and skills makes learning stick and makes sure it’s helpful. It’s a safe place to practise the application of knowledge and skills too – games make it OK to fail.

We don’t need to stop teaching content, knowledge and skills. What we do need to do is start embedding it within rich, experiential learning scenarios. Games offer a chance to do this.

One thought on “Got the Manual, Can’t Play the Game

  1. Hey Mr. Another great post by you. All too funny as well.

    My last blog post mentions a paper by Yam San (2002). The author argues that we work in a paradigm of content delivery where:
    Content + Delivery = Delivered Content

    However, we think quite erroneously that Content + Delivery = Learning

    By teaching VCE Biology I learnt very quickly that Content + Delivery doesn’t equate to learning. It’s a very humbling experience to take adolescents through a content heavy curriculum and then realise that you taught them zilch.

    In today’s digital world kids (me including) never read the manual – they learn by doing. So, in many respects the manual is hardly ever needed – even perhaps metaphorically. As long participants in know where to find the manual when needed – which now is usually in a digital format. (Digitised knowledge 🙂 )

    I also enjoyed your comment on the scientific method – being a biology teacher n’ all. We teach the scientific method but it means ‘bugger all’ to most people. A little bit like the concept of ‘design thinking’. Just ’cause you know the steps doesn’t mean you can do it.

    Yam San, C. (2002). Refocusing learning on pedagogy in a connected world. On the Horizon, 10(4), 7-13.

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