Saturday, December 31, 2011

Gee and Learning

Let's take another look at these principles from Gee:


6) "Psychosocial Moratorium" Principle - 
Learners can take risks in a space where real-world consequences are lowered.
7) Committed Learning Principle
 - Learners participate in an extended engagement (lots of effort and practice) as an extension of their real-world identities in relation to a virtual identity to which they feel some commitment and a virtual world that they find compelling.
8) Identity Principle
 - Learning involves taking on and playing with identities in such a a way that the learner has real choices (in developing the virtual identity) and ample opportunity to meditate on the relationship between new identities and old ones. There is a tripartite play of identities as learners relate, and reflect on, their multiple real-world identities, a virtual identity, and a projective identity.
9) Self-Knowledge Principle
 - The virtual world is constructed in such a way that learners learn not only about the domain but also about themselves and their current and potential capacities.
I think that P6 is kind of obvious. Learners are happier in a safe space. I think I've probably read that a dozen times.

P7 seems to be the interesting implication of P6 in a video-game environment.  Players have to care about the game, and the identity that they assume in the game, before they will put serious effort into it (Gee 59).

P8 and P9 are the real gold here.  P8 is about how assuming an identity is part of the learning process - we step into the shoes of a scientist and pretend to be one, when we really sink our teeth into science.  To really learn and understand writing, you have to adopt the persona of the writer.  And by doing so, the learner starts to think about the reasons that these identities look the way they do, and what modifications can be made to these identities.  Conversely, learners in these situations start to think about their own identity - prior to this adoption of a new one - and they can begin to reflect on the identity they normally assume, and how it can be adjusted, or the consequences of elements within it.

Let me illustrate with an oversimplified example.  Ted wants to try science.  He assumes that scientists use "big words."  He starts to try using big words.  Of course, he has to feel like he won't be made fun of (or that it won't hurt when he is), and he has to think that it's worth trying.  Once he begins experimenting with this identity - Ted the Scientist - he starts to think about why scientists use big words.  Can Ted be a scientist without using big words?  Not exactly.  Can Ted use big words and be a scientist - is it an essential part?  Yes, but the "big words" matter.  What are big words for, really?  Hopefully, Ted starts to think like this about what it means to be a scientist.  The next step occurs when Ted asks himself, why don't I use big words?  Do I want to?  What will happen if I do?

P9 comes from all of this.  Taking on identities, discovering what you are good and bad at, with the constant feedback provided by the video game, and with the experience of multiple games, and multiple scenarios, and multiple successes and failures within each game, helps learners discover a great deal about themselves.  Video games - and learning in general - are about much more than so-called "hand-eye coordination," although that is a component skill.  There is much more at stake, and learners gather quite a lot of data about themselves and their abilities as they play.

The video game example and the example of Ted as a scientist use Gee's notion of a "projective identity," a kind of identity experiment that a learner will adopt for the sake of playing a game or engaging in deep learning.  I think that this is the most exportable idea from this set of principles.  I think that getting students to adopt this - assuming that they will be motivated to do so - can be really powerful.  The key is the voluntary buy-in.  That's hard in a classroom.  That's where "affinity groups" come in, and that's where Gee's earlier comment - about "mindless progressivism" can be challenging.
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