Lisa Galarneau is a doctoral candidate in New Zealand's University of Waikato Screen and Media Studies department and a student researcher in the University's post-graduate games research lab. Leveraging her previous academic work in education and socio-cultural anthropology, as well as extensive professional experience in online learning design and development, her research is looking at spontaneous communities of learning in and around massively multiplayer online games. In addition, Lisa lectures in Mass Communication at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, as well as acting as consultant and advisor to various commercial and non-profit organisations.
Games and Simulations for Transformative Learning
The potential of games and simulations for learning has been argued widely (Prensky 2001, Gee 2003, Aldrich 2004), but it is somewhat rare that pundits outline in detail their benefits as a pedagogical device attempting to achieve particular categories of learning objectives. We must identify to what ends these engaging methods for learning are particularly well-suited, and design learning experiences that capitalize on their most salient features.
It is my belief that the 'sweet spot' for virtual games and simulations lies in their unique ability to afford learners and opportunity to authentically experience something that is impractical, impossible, or dangerous to simulate in the physical world. This experience allows them to construct their own knowledge about a topic, but more importantly, it contributes to an increasingly rich worldview, and possibly a shift in perspective, both factors that may change them as a person functioning in the world.
There are a number of examples from the persuasive gaming genre where such an objective is explicit. The web-based game, September 12th, is enormously effective and much celebrated in its ability to shift player perspectives about what contributes to terrorist activity. This is achieved not by putting the player in the shoes of the terrorist, but by simply allowing them to experience the impact of their mindless decisions when given a gun and simple instructions, 'there are terrorists and civilians'.
James Paul Gee has discussed the ability for games to allow learners to try on new identities, such as that of a scientist in a scientific simulation. Even educational games like the Oregon Trail have allowed learners to 'try on' the identity of pioneer, allowing learners to internalize the experience of being there. This can, of course, be achieved to even greater effect, if the game or simulation is designed with that specific objective in mind. As Gee observes, 'this identity can then become a hook for freeing people up to think and learn in new ways, including learning, or least thinking about, new values, belief systems, and world views'. (GameZone Interview, 2004)
We are seeing an increasing number of requests for training that focuses on fostering soft skills or greater emotional intelligence. In effect, the call is for training that changes some aspect of the learner's behavior, ideally by changing the motivation or perspective that underlies it. Make them more sensitive to diversity, a better leader, a better problem solver, a more sensitive manager, a more effective salesperson. Many of these learning objectives require a fundamental shift in learner worldview. To become more sensitive to diversity, a learner can either learn the rules about what constitutes sensitivity, therefore behaving in a mechanical, yet politically-correct fashion, or they can be led through an experience that encourages them to open their eyes to alternative points-of-view, building a new identity that is, in fact, more sensitive.
Developing perspective-enhancing games and simulations need not be an onerous or expensive proposition. In this presentation, I will explore this idea's roots in educational role-play, as well a number of contemporary and historical examples from various subject areas, ranging from simple HTML and graphics-based simulations through to complex interactive games.