There are all kinds of things to take away from the readings this week, but I just want to touch on a few things that I really got from them. I want to talk just a little bit about digital communities and games in learning before getting to the real question that these topics raise for me: how can we be sure that we provide equitable access?
Digital Communities and Gaming
As the Jenkins reading points out, interest-based communities were not created by the rise of the internet, but online communication has definitely shaped how they operate now. As someone who is active on some online coding forums as well as in gaming communities, I can say from first-hand experience that the stereotypical gamer alone in the basement is becoming outdated very quickly. Online gaming communities often find ways to meet in person to extend their friendship. Both the online community, and the meet-ups, are thanks to advances in recent years that are also facilitating education. Thinking about programs like the Khan Academy and other online learning centers, there is often a community feel built in, where users can ask questions, answer others’ questions, and work together to learn.
Gaming as an avenue for learning has an incredible amount of potential. I am always amazed at the capabilities we have even now, and the amount of learning that goes into playing a game. Although I am not familiar with all of the games discussed in the Schaffer article, I have played some of them, and plenty of other video games. Anyone that has played even something as simple as Pac-Man knows that an incredible amount of learning takes place (learning to predict where the ghosts will go based on where you are). In fact, even something as simple as Pong requires learning that is directly applicable to physics education: how do you predict where the ball will go based on its current trajectory and the position of the other bar?
What happens, then, if we combine these two areas to benefit education? We have online learning communities, and the ability to create more. We can adapt existing games as well as create new ones to serve new purposes. We can do incredible things if we take advantage of these two avenues to create collaborative games/virtual worlds for our students. Definitely, there are obstacles, and we have to keep our objectives in mind especially when working with things that might be fun. With that in mind, however, we can create immersive learning environments with strong communities anywhere we go. I’ll finish off this section with what I believe to be a fantastic example of what we can do, in this case with the MinecraftEdu mod for Minecraft: animal cell video.
While my research interests don’t necessarily include disadvantaged students’ learning, having spent time in districts where internet access is sparse makes it easy to remember that as amazing as these new technologies are, they may not always be available. Should schools update themselves to give access? Definitely, but what about when the students go home? Do we produce books instead? Educational books, at least for young people, are becoming harder and harder to sell as we transition online. Put materials/games on a CD so that students can access them even without internet? CDs too are becoming less and less common, and we still run into the issue of updating content. Is it equitable for Learner Jim to receive quality and/or content updates that Learner John can’t simply because he doesn’t have internet?
I absolutely love the idea of using games (particularly with online learning communities) for education. However, with a large number of potential learners don’t have internet access, or even reliable computer access, we face a problem. How can we be sure that we provide equitable access to new instructional resources when something like 1 in 25 adults (not to mention their children) don’t have internet access because it is cost prohibitive (from Zickuhr & Smith, 2012)? This is a difficult question, and one that I’m not entirely sure has an easy answer (financially or politically).
Because this is online, I feel the need to do this:
TLDR: Digital media open up a wide range of learning possibilities for students young and old. We can create incredible things with online communities and gaming. However, we face the challenge of ensuring that fair access is available.