The place between fantasy and reality
GLS - Beyond Games and the Future of Learning


212_00 Three people attending the same conference ate lunch together today. One was an anthropologist; one was an information technologist; and one was a theater professor. They talked about games, teaching, and learning. They shared experiences and mined each others' expertise. They exchanged contact information.

This scenario may not seem particularly noteworthy, but I assure you it is. In fact, from where I sit, that serendipitous lunch meeting was a small revolution.

I have attended professional conferences for all of my teaching life, both in theater and film studies. But I'm off that bus now, and I have no plans to get back on. These national meetings have lost their meaning and value for many of us, though few admit it publicly. The standard academic conference in most disciplines can be characterized as a gathering of highly specialized people engaged in an institutionalized and academy-approved process of staking out arcane pieces of intellectual turf and demonstrating expertise for prestige and career advancement. It's a game we play because we must. Some academics thrive in this environment; many feel strangled by it.

The Games, Learning, and Society Conference is a very different animal. Game developers, researchers, K-12 teachers, and college professors get together for substantive and collaborative discussion about how games can enhance learning and benefit society. Disciplinary boundaries are erased as we gather to analyze how play enhances learning and encourages creativity in solving complex problems. In these discussions, the elementary school teacher's expertise is no less valued than the linguist with the PhD., and cross-disciplinary thinking is not only encouraged, it's considered vital. The sacred knowledge silos are nowhere to be found, and the conversation remains relatively jargon-free.

The sheer number of innovative ideas and paradigm-challenging proposals floating around this gathering is staggering. No one assumes public education will open its doors to these new ways of learning overnight, but measurable progress is happening here and there all over the country. And when Jim Gee - who can fairly be called the father of this movement - says we have reached a critical turning point in educating our students to live in the world we have left them, he brings with him a substantial body of research, data, and corroboration from teachers who long ago moved beyond the sender-receiver model of teaching and learning.

Games aren't the magic bullet that will save our kids. But they have much to teach us about creative problem solving, collaborative learning, community building, and passionate learning. In my next few posts, I'll describe some of the innovative efforts to better understand and leverage the unique properties of games to make kids enthusiastic and motivated learners.

I realize most of you aren't educators, but I hope you will find this work interesting and valuable. If Mr. Gee is to be believed, our beloved pastime may even help save the world.