Digital Games: Cross Functional Teams and Collaboration

#INF541 Online Reflective Journal – Blog Task 2


There are a class of digital games which require the formation of “cross functional teams” (Gee, 2005). Cross functional teams are “a group of people with different functional expertise working toward a common goal.” The ability to take on and respect these different roles is a sign of good, healthy collaboration rather than simple “group work” where participants work side-by-side but not together.

To access the best gear in World of Warcraft, for example, groups need to be formed in order for certain content (raids or dungeons) to be successfully completed. The kinds of challenges the groups face demand there be a character up front sucking up all the damage from the big bad guy (a tank), someone staying out of trouble healing (a healer) and three other characters doing damage to the big bad guy (DPS – damage per second characters). Characters specialise in their areas and need to stick to their role if the encounter is to be successful; you cannot win a dungeon if your group comprises solely of one class or of people not sticking to their assigned roles (read: a Leroy Jenkins).

Players must understand their character’s abilities and roles, but also integrate and coordinate smoothly with the group as a whole, embodying what James Gee calls “cross-functional understanding” (2005). What you get then is a group coming together in a shared endeavour, each character an integral part of the puzzle. These dungeons constitute an “Affinity Space” – a place where experimental learning happens, where newbies and masters unite, knowledge is dispersed and leadership is flexible. In a World of Warcraft raid group you learn and grow together; fail and succeed together.

A group of people working together, taking different roles, communicating and collaborating? This is good stuff – stuff which indeed hits on many aspects of what we consider to be elements of good learning experiences:

  • It flexes many of Guy Claxton’s characteristics of powerful learners, most notably that of experimentation and the virtue of sociability (Claxton, 2013).
  • It takes a cue from not only a constructivist view of learning, where learning emerges from experiences, but also a connectivist approach where learning is strengthened and enhanced when nodes of knowledge (players) connect and diffuse knowledge.
  • It is an interactive approach to learning, not one in which learners are passive receptacles (Becker, 2011).

What is interesting is considering these informal, affinity based groups alongside the idea of identity and social inclusion as well. It allows students to experiment with different roles and identities, ones which could be altogether different from those they embody on a day-to-day basis. It doesn’t matter how fast you run or what clothes you wear or what your recent writing sample was scored at – in a MMO (massive multiplayer online game) it comes down to how well you know your class, how well you can work together, communicate, collaborate and trust each other. Participation in affinity spaces can bridge barriers and bring people together.

Setting up experiences where students get to be a part of a cross functional team can therefore lead to great learning in and of itself, but can also be used as a springboard or scaffold into offline collaboration too. Cross functional teams are valued hugely in many areas because they can flexibly meet challenges and deliver creative outcomes. Helping students to be active participants in these kinds of groups – to be able to take on different roles (a leader or a follower, a devil’s advocate, an experimenter, or a dreamer) – is good stuff. The importance then would shift into reflecting deeply on your online experiences and taking those learnings into group projects, social interactions, and collaborative learning IRL. Thankfully there are strategies and tools that can assist this – de Bono’s Thinking Hats and NoTosh’s Design Thinking tools spring to mind.

Digital Games are not just the past-time popular media would have you believe, but powerful spaces for learning and powerful prompts into other learning. Using cross functional teams as a training ground for offline collaboration and social inclusion is one of these.

So – who do you want to be today? A tank, a healer or a DPS?


References

Becker, K. (2011). Distinctions between games and learning: A review of current literature on games in education. In Gaming and Simulations: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools and Applications (pp. 75-107). Hershey, PA: . doi:10.4018/978-1-60960-195-9.ch105

Claxton, G. (2013). What’s the point of school?: Rediscovering the heart of education. Oneworld Publications.

Gee, J.P. (2005). Good video games and good learning. Phi Kappa Phi Forum, 85(2), 33-37.http://dmlcentral.net/sites/dmlcentral/files/resource_files/GoodVideoGamesLearning.pdf

Connected Learning and Digital Literacy

Blog Task 2: Write a 500 word reflective piece with demonstrates your emerging understanding of themes or issues of importance in the topic in relation to education and/or personal professional practice. 

 

 ~ Connectivism ~

A word which I’d never encountered before three weeks ago.

A theory which is beginning to make sense to me.

An area I’m growing my confidence in.

 This is my current understanding of what it means:

Connectivism is the next evolution of the learning “-isms”: behaviourism, cognitivism, constructivism. It differs from the others in that connectivism strives to make sense of the impact that technology has had on how we connect and communicate, live and learn (Siemens, 2004).

It is a learning theory for the digital age – one which acknowledges we live in a world of multiplicity. Individuals and communities are nodes of knowledge, scattered about, complicatedly connected. Chaos theory, an integral part of connectivism states that while yes, our information networks are multifaceted, unpredictable and diverse, there is meaning distributed across and within this network of connections (Downes, 2012).

It’s the job of the participant in this new information ecology to uncover patterns, make sense of these connections, and make new connections (Siemens, 2004). To make sense of the chaos. How individuals go about doing this, within learning communities and networked environments, is something which connectivism strives to understand.

To participate fully within the diverse ‘knowledgefield’ technology has afforded us today, individuals need to be “confident in their ability to make connections, understand concepts, critique, create and share knowledge” (Starkey, 2011, p37). If these are some of the competencies integral to living well in the future, then we want students leaving our schools to be well versed in their arts.

While it’s clear that the students of today are changing in response to the digital age it’s a myth that they come hard-wired to participate effectively in this world (the digital native argument). Learning design, therefore, needs to focus on providing experiences that will grow these literacies and competencies. A revamped set of literacies – digital literacies – indeed a reimagined pedagogy, is required.

Ford (2008) outlines one way learning can be designed within a connectivist framework. A central theme of Ford’s work is the flow between the concepts of mediation and autonomy.

The web is the source of a massive amount of knowledge. Students may have the autonomy to surf these networks, but the extent to which they are able to source information, critically evaluate and make sense of information may be limited. The goal is to help students along the path to becoming autonomous seekers and users of information, to be flexible and versatile navigating the digital currents. Mediation is required in assisting students to achieve this goal – in particular, fostering meta-cognitive awareness.

Much exploration has also been undertaken in regard to what exactly these new literacies that students require are. It’s a diverse area of research, with many different frameworks, strategies and models.

Bawden (2008) breaks down digital literacy into information literacy (which is actively finding and using information – the “pull”) and media literacy (dealing with and understanding media “pushed” at the individual). Added into this is the necessary elements of digital citizenship – the social and moral components required for effective participation and safety.

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The Digital Literacy Handbook from Future Lab UK highlights creativity, effective communication, collaboration, the ability to find and select information, e-safety, functional skills, critical thinking and evaluation, and cultural and social understanding as core dimensions of digital literacy.

Finding the commonalities between these facets of digital literacy then moulding them into the particular context of your school and community is key.

We are developing our understandings of the world in which we live in and the future the students of today will enter. Connectivism seeks to understand the role of learning in our new, diverse knowledge ecology, while models of digital literacy aim to provide educators with a framework of skills and competencies required for effective participation within them.

 

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