Lara Croft is my new teacher

Lara Croft was perhaps one of the greatest teachers of all time. Tombraider was one of the games that redefined gaming through it’s immersive, strategic interactivity – together with a back-story and ‘cut’ scenes that rewarded players for perseverance and solving problems. Sure she has sex appeal, but that was not her biggest asset. Tombraider in many ways set the scene for today’s massively multiplayer online role-playing games such as Runescape and World of Warcraft.

Problem solving, improving performance though the acquisition of skills and meta-cognative knowledge. Sound familiar? Games have a pseudo-pedagogy all of their own which can be leveraged into learning and teaching in education.

Games teach kids a high degree of visual and auditory literacy – as well as ‘reading’ and now writing, social skills and collaboration.

Where is the alignment with pedagogy?

1.    Goal orientated learning
2.    Problem solving
3.    Critical thinking
4.    Literacies for learning
5.    Tenacity and exploration
6.    Selection of ‘tool’ best suited to solve problems
7.    Sense of mastery and achievement
8.    Ability to apply congnitive knowledge to situations
9.    Collaboration
10.    Social behavioural modeling.

Of course there are expections and issues is some games ‘context’ and ‘content’. I would not advocate simulated ‘real’ violence such as Grand Theft Auto for example, though interestingly one of the US Army’s best recruitment tools – is a game called Americas Army. I’m not going to get into the social and ethical debate of some ‘titles’, but stick to the underlying ‘learning’ that games are teaching or kids. Herein lies a separate debate, but like everything they see or hear – some of experiences and activities are harmful, some positive. We can even leverage this into discussions of social and ethical values in society. They are doing it anyway remember. Just poll your class for ‘titles’ if you are in any doubt.

The internet has transformed gaming – and therefore informal-learning. Learning does is exclusively ‘at school’ in the way it once was – social learning models are active at home – be that through using and reading MySpace or playing World of Warcraft. Games are online to ‘win’ you simply have to work with others – and model ‘winning’ techniques and behaviours.

Games are goal orientated, and to get to the ‘top’ of your game – they know that they have to start at the bottom – and through the various skills outlined, they ‘level’ up. They accept defeat only temporarily – as you always re-spawn and try again. In this way – gaming uses the ‘zone of proximal development’. The problems can be neither too easy that they are not worth doing, or too frustrating that they give up. Game designers are very savvy when doing this. Its all the more amazing to hear adults comment when watching kids play games ‘I have no idea how he can take all that in’. They can because they are multi-literate and able to predict the model and methods. Games often stick to a very tried and tested approach – reward for problem solving, through effort and experimentation. This leads to cognitive knowledge. If anything, I think that exploration and play, is where kids learn much of what some are calling ‘digital native’ – they were not born with these skills – they learned them – and Lara, was their teacher so to speak.

If teachers use a similar approach – chunking tasks, building on core skills to solve problems though experimentation and inquiry then kids will bring a huge amount of game-cognition to the classroom. Of course, learning needs a context, content and discipline. In gaming there is a back-story, the context – and the problems being solved are the ‘content’. The tools to solve it are provided by the software.

So rather than hand over a text-book, use the text book as the ‘level guide’ – a point of reference when you are getting stuck in a problem. Use a forum – a place to ask questions, and get answers. Make the goal ‘massive’ and ‘authentic’, but chunk it into incremental levels – though individual classroom activities.

Don’t focus on the tool – Gamers know that to beat the ‘boss’ you have to select the right set of tools in the context. Students need to be selecting the right tools (blogs, wikis, rss, delicious, forums, podcasts) within a short period. My view is that a 7th grader with zero Web2.0 exposure, should be using all these in around 10 weeks – after that, they should be selecting and justifying their choices to the teacher and their peers. Let them teach each other the mastery skills – stick to the context and the content.

Get off the tools curve early – the cognitive skills are there, so focus on the context and the content. Take a risk – let them apply their vast gaming skills to learning. Adopt Lara’s pedagogy, they will see it as far more relevant than a 19th Century one.

I am not suggesting – playing games (though I am not against it) in the classroom, but I am suggesting that playing games – just might make you a better teacher – as you can adopt a lot of the methods and cognitive processes that they have – into learning and teaching. It will also lead to better appreciation on how educational MUVES such as Quest Atlantis and Second Life can be leveraged into learning. So if you’ve never played a game, or think it’s not relevant to you – then think again – it is relevant – because games teach kids so much. Grab the 10 day World or Warcraft trial – it may just be the potion that gives you insight into what Lara has been teaching them for over a decade.