I've had various conversations with people about my previous post on the student who changed his mind [about Second Life]. Yish makes some excellent points in his comment - he proposes that teachers have a duty of pleasure: "Perhaps we need to make a stance here: we, as teachers, have a duty of pleasure. We should be committed to enabling our students to enjoy learning and enjoy the work that they will do in the future. We also have a duty to enjoy what we do, because otherwise we have no chance with the other two." This is a stance I am happy to support.
I heard some primary school teachers presenting games based learning projects in August this year. These were fantastic projects, the kind which make you wish you could go back to primary school. There were projects with Ninetendogs for 5 year olds, or using a Wii game about oceans to teach about ecology. There were music projects with older children who used Guitar Hero. A common theme which kept cropping up was that the children wanted to spend more time on these projects because then they wouldn't have to do their work.[For non-Scottish readers, this should be pronounced "Wurrk"]. The teachers pointed out that is was unfortunate that even at primary school that children don't associate learning with fun. My god, what have we done to them? In my own teaching, I have had students complain that my modules are "too much like kindergarten". I consider this a compliment,in the light of MIT's Life Long Kindergarten group which aims to promote creativity and design inspired by playful learning which young children engage in, but I suspect it wasn't intended as such.
Another theme which I noticed from these presentations about games in primary schools was that while they were often presented as being about the wonders of game technology as a motivator, there were other factors at work. One is the teacher's enthusiasm, belief and interest; another is the cross curricular strand where the children learned flexibly across a range of subjects,taking the game as a starting point. In addition, parents or the outside community were often involved. And of course, there is the ever present hawthorne effect, that the children knew (and valued) that they were part of something really exciting. So, in my view, the games technology itself is not the full story. It's a catalyst for motivation but the projects as a whole were successful due to the teachers' skill in weaving the games into the fabric of the class using sound educational principles.
Similarly, in Yish's comment, he writes "Saying "oh, here's a cool environment / technology / game, maybe if we use it for teaching students won't be so miserable" assumes that learning cannot be its own reward." I agree: I don't think that it works to use new technology as sugary extrinsic motivation. You have to look at the properties of the technology and see how to weave it into the rest of the learning and teaching environment to achieve the effect you want. In my case with Second Life, I used it because it enabled the students to create their own 3D interactive objects and share them with others. This ought to be motivating, according to what we know of social constructivism and constructionism. But it was only part of a web of other aspects of the way I designed the module. Other important features were a mild form of problem based learning, face to face peer review and support, and learning logs to foster reflection on learning.
And so. It is your duty to take pleasure in your teaching or your learning. Currently, however, it is your duty to enjoy mince pies and mulled wine. Happy Christmas, people!