The culture of acquisition – and why we don’t have one.

Adults do value children’s play and talk to children about their play. Teachers often say “I like the way you’re working,” but rarely, “I like the way you’re playing.” unlike parents. No wonder children get confused.

Play with children is appropriate, especially during the early years. Nothing beats playing games with your kids, either as a parent, or to re-discover the inner kid in yourself that as an adult is demoted to a secondary experience in life.

A games console in the staffroom? Are you nuts? – Well, plenty of creative companies like Google don’t think so, but that’s another story.

Why adults should engage in game-play.

If adults pay attention to and engage in children’s play, children get the message that play is valuable. If we stop playing, they learn that play is the opposite – which is perhaps a legacy of the role of schools to provide nation-state work forces, where play is seen as non-productive.

Games create a playful atmosphere, yet adults (as teachers) seem to find it difficult to provide materials which children can explore and adapt in play, despite often being parents and responding to the demands of their children about what games they want, and how they want to play whether this is Saturday runs to the Netball Courts, or playing Xbox Live.

When play appears to be stuck or unproductive – a common critisism of eLearning games, teachers find it hard to ‘know’ what other game to use, especially if we’re talking about commercial games-worlds. For those who are using virtual worlds, such as Second Life, they draw on the social, emotional factors associated with them, but tend to still think like an instructionalist czar. They are more than willing to clobber you with theory, before playing Warcraft.

All too often the aims of research are so tightly tied to the way ‘learning’ in immersive worlds takes place, it’s no great shock that most research only looks at games, rather than situates learners in games.

We see lots of studies about the culture of games and players – they way they form identity, affinity groups, collaborate etc., but this doesn’t translate to seeing students persistently interacting with games, rather we try to draw arguements into our virtual world classes offer some of the archetypes of games – but fundamentally maintain the ‘teacher’ as the authority – alpha avatar.

We talk a lot about cyber-safety and digital citizenship, and do this almost exclusively in relation to 2D social media and websites.

Teachers need to enter games worlds (not just say “im too busy with my PLN” and wikis, I’ll get to it) … if they are truely interested in intervening  to ensure safety online. Game use dwarfs all other use of online interaction with others – and has become an elephant in the room. EdTech merchants can’t sell game safety to teachers and parents, so we largly allow the media to freely attack game-space as being dangerous – despite almost all of it lacking any evidence that directly links games to the stereotypical image that has been constructed for a social purpose.

Even in older children’s play, social conflicts often occur when children try to negotiate. Adults can help when children cannot solve these conflicts by themselves. Adults should identify play which has led to problems for particular children. Finally, adults should make children aware of any hidden risks in challenges they set for themselves simply by playing online games.

To illustrate, I think you can do a lot for in-school bullying issues, not by locking up the bully in a lunch-time detention, or excluding them from school – but by using games to help negotiate better behavior, empathy and co-operation with the school community. But imagine that – the bully get’s to play Xbox at lunchtime.

Socialisation is always problematic and not automatic and professional socialisation competes with other kinds of socialisation. Teachers don’t need professional development about what games are, rather how they exist in society and culture. To do this requires socialisation of games in teacher-education.

All teachers that enter into using technology also enter into a powerful experience that will influence on their approach to teaching through the degrees of support and resistance they offer.

I don’t get into the debate about ‘are games better than’, because the question is more about cultural belief and commercialisation that it is about learning. Games are not the same – they are not in the same semiotic domain, nor are they appearing from the ether.

We can split hairs for another decade – and listen to people push more ways to blog. Education does not have a ‘culture of acquisition’, whereby the teacher acts more as a facilitator than dictator in the learning environment. It has a culture of training, competence before performance that leads to massive problems as ‘knowing about’ a particular curricular approach is not the same as ‘knowing how’ to use that knowledge in practice.

Where teachers are unable to implement new pedagogical practice, particularly in relation to roles and responsibilities and tactical instruction –  we see them adapt new tools to old processes and form affinity groups to declare it innovation, rather than simply the evolution of technology itself.

If teachers, don’t play with children in game-worlds, and do it seriously for extended periods of times – then don’t expect anything to come out of game-based-learning, except more eLearning games, and people PowerPointing their limited view in conferences to augment a decaying message.

This might sound rant-like, so here’s a final thought. Piaget (1962) suggested children become interested in formal games with peers by age five or younger. Older children’s more logical and socialised ways of thinking make it possible for them to play games together. Games with rules are the most prominent form of play during middle childhood. And he didn’t have an Xbox.