Saturday, July 23, 2011

Women and Going Beyond the Game

While it seems to me that many more women are playing traditionally "male" video games these days, there is also a group of women who go beyond the game in ways that, according to James Paul Gee and Elisabeth Hayes, are important to 21st century learning.  An in depth look at this phenomenon and what we can learn from it is described in Women and Gaming: The Sims and 21st Century Learning.

Although not Gee's strongest work in my opinion (I'm not familiar with Hayes), this book does provoke some interesting thought on the state of education today.  I must admit, I rather enjoy reading about what's wrong with how education is done today and potential ways to improve it.  Here are some of the problems with "too many schools" as quoted directly from the summary chapter:

Too many of our schools:
  • focus on information and facts in an age when these are all cheaply available on the Internet
  • focus on standardized skills in an age where people with only standardized will be competing against lower-cost competition in China and India
  • focus on what students know in an age where skills, information, and technologies quickly go out of date
  • focus on preparing students for jobs in an age where most jobs are service jobs and do not pay well or bring people much status
  • focus on individual achievement in an age where almost all real problems, and most high-tech workplaces, demand skills in team work and collaboration
  • underutilize technology and are, indeed, frightened by it as authorities ban Internet sites, mobile devices, and games in an age where almost all deep learning recruits technology
  • treat students as consumers, and often passive ones at that, in an age when young people produce, design, modify, and make choices in their popular culture
The women discussed in the book are said to go beyond the game.  They start out as players, but then find a passion that leads them to become producers and mentors.

For example, one case study described a shut-in grandmother whose only portal to the outside world was the Internet.  When her granddaughter wanted a purple potty in the Sims game they played together, she had to learn how to make one — there weren't any ready-made purple potties available.  From there she became a renowned Sims designer and valuable community member as she helped others hone their skills.

While what these women do may sound simple to technologists, it really does demonstrate the kind of learning that we wish students would do in the classroom.  If only students could find a passion that would drive their desire to gain all the tools needed to solve the problems that mattered to them.

One of the most interesting takeaways from this book was, for me, the idea that not everyone will have a high prestige job in the knowledge market.  That's just not the way the world works - we need service workers just as much as need engineers.  But despite the fact that many jobs available may not be considered prestigious, members of society can gain prestige in other ways (even as a world renowned designer in the Sims creation communities).  I love that technology can give meaning to the life of anyone who wants to take advantage of it.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to think about different models of education and gain insight into how people use games beyond a form of entertainment.  The stories of the women they studied are also interesting in themselves.


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