Master of Games

Today is the first day of #INF541. First, I must thank my long term friend and colleague Judy O’Connell. Judy’s inspirational vision and determined leadership at CSU has taken what was once a grass-roots, bloggers cafe conversation about technology, information and learning (in the era of read/write web) into a comprehensive set of courses at Masters level. While many have remained on Twitter or other social media to attempt to raise the profile and scholarship of technology in the classroom, Judy has placed it front and centre of University education.

INF541 is a Masters unit in Games Based Learning. I took a sabbatical from my PhD in Games Media to write the course with Judy and in doing so, it pressed home the importance of integrating game-like designs into learning. I was particularly interested in using the work of people such as Sara de Freitas and David Buckingham to connect game based learning to broader, well established calls for a more robust and relevant media education in both schools and higher education.

While the so called “Web2.0” movement gained the attention of teachers a decade ago, so far the grass roots efforts have gravitated towards individual Twitter fame and pop-up consultancies over any real attempt to expand the research around the impacts on teacher belief, changing practice and ultimately the outcomes of students themselves.  Emotional appeals to authority get attention in the always-outraged Twitterverse, but saying ‘children are at risk of being left behind or ill prepared for the future’ is untrue. This has been the claim for decades and debunked on numerous fronts including the 1970s call for de-schooling society as children are not ignorant or unable to make sense of the world for themselves.

We know very little about the impact of the commercial world’s deliberate targeting of children as consumers though the media. Hashtagging teachers, seeking out consultancy gigs are particular concern of mine these days — they enjoy a position of trust, yet seem to be oblivious to the fact they are making economic and social capital by exploiting children’s (perceived needs). Games are part of the media-lives of 98% of adults and children in Australia, and yet they are routinely banned in schools and completely ignored by the hashtagging ‘feel good’ debates on Twitter, usually primed not through experience, but linear Question, then Answer routines. One of Buckingham’s central arguments is that people think that if they are doing things with technology then they are doing media education and they‟re not.

INF541 explores games, their characteristics and their connections with media cultures. While it uses select focused works of scholars, it also accepts that teachers need to also find and explore much broader media-sources to understand more about how people come to know games, why some ideas in games take hold (such as Minecraft) and other’s don’t. It’s been a real pleasure to work on this course and try to connect games to other courses in Information Studies at CSU. Part of this is a little daunting. INF541’s sister courses have been designed by people whom were in the vanguard of the grass-roots movement a decade ago, and now are successfully, leading, writing and researching at a global scale. People such as Julie Lindsey and Ewan McIntosh, both of whom I first met in 2008 in a blogger’s cafe and whom have a solid reputation among connected networks online and have also made the move to a more academic frame.

It’s hard to imagine even a few years ago, when I did my Masters in Educational Technology, that there could be a unit about games based learning, or that teachers would see it as a viable and important part of media education. It highlights the fast-culture that has been brought about by global connected conversations and access to media. You’re welcome to follow along in the #INF541 media stream, and I’m sure I’ll be blogging the trip.

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