In Dede (2014)’s introduction, he poses the following important question:
"In order to make deeper learning possible on a large scale,
Fullan & Langworthy (2014) emphasize that deep learning tasks "re-structure learning activities from a singular focus on content mastery to the explicit development of students’ capacities to learn, create and proactively implement their learning" (p. 22). Referring to Brown and Thomas, Dede (2014) emphasizes how new media and tools facilitate playful learning or ludic epistemology, which encourages participation, creation, sharing and learning through the meaningful engagement (play) with digital technologies. Hence, in order to provide more opportunities for deep learning, Dede (2014) maintains that technology is a tool to promote deep learning and that by immersing students in authentic simulations such as multiuser virtual environments (MUVEs) and augmented reality where students can meaningfully interact with digital objects, technology “empowers teachers to make better use of [deep learning] instructional strategies such as: case-based learning, collaborative learning, self-directed learning, the use of multiple representations and the use of diagnostic assessments” (p. 2).
While Virtual Reality (VR) is garnering much attention as the hottest thing in the entertainment industry, Villanueva (2016) is more enthusiastic about the possibilities that VR has for "stimulating social and political transformations”. In accordance with VR’s potential as a tool to promote social change, Darvasi (2016) identifies the numerous ways VR has been used to “help with autism, improve personal financial management, treat PTSD and manage pain.” Bailenson et al. (2008) describe how "VEs enable transformed social interaction (TSI), the ability of teachers and students to use digital technology to strategically alter their online representations and contexts in order to improve learning" (p. 103).
By getting up close and personal to the subjects, Villanueva (2016) highlights how "researchers have discovered that immersive virtual environments allow us to see, hear, and feel digital stimuli as if we were in the real world”. For instance, students can embark on over 100 virtual journeys from ancient Egypt to the surface of the Moon through Google Expeditions. On the same wavelength, Darvasi (2016) emphasizes Madary and Metzinger’s ardent belief that "VR technology will eventually change not only our general image of humanity but also our understanding of deeply entrenched notions, such as “conscious experience,” “selfhood,” “authenticity,” or “realness.”
Furthermore, Bailenson et al. (2008) outline some of the unique affordances of virtual environments for deep learning, which include: embodying agents that provide personalized one-on-one learning experiences, co-learning through the shared reasoning and dialogue of highly interactive agents, providing visualizations of complex information, synthesizing archived learning patterns to create behavioural profiles of learners and simulating lessons that are too dangerous or expensive to conduct (pp. 106-110).
While VEs contain an enormous potential to benefit 21st century learning, it does not erase the fact that technology is a double-edged sword. Consequently, it is important to keep in mind some ethical considerations for using virtual environments for learning with children and adolescents. Darvasi (2016) highlights how prolonged exposure to technology may induce “addiction, manipulation of agency, unnoticed psychological change and mental illness.” In fact, another concern with VEs is being the eventual inability to separate reality from the virtual environment. Darvasi (2016) highlights how long exposures to VR may bring about Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder, which exhibits how "VR’s capacity to blur the real and the unreal can also deepen the propensity children have to mix-up fantasy with reality.” If students fail to distinguish the real world and the virtual world, how will this affect their functioning in the real world?
While we can “like” and “react” to people’s posts, images or videos on digital social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, Darvasi (2016) points out how “limited and potentially superficial social interactions in virtual spaces may become normalized and we could collectively lose the knowledge and memory of the intricacies of face-to-face communication”. I will admit that although I have hundreds of friends on Facebook and follow a myriad of people on Instagram, I question how well I know these people or if I would actually go through the trouble of meeting some of them face-to-face and enjoying an actual conversation. While technology has the power to connect socially-inept people through online communities such as Facebook or Meetup, what are the consequences of the consequential diminishment of real world interactions? In relation to learning, what’s the point of actually going to school to learn in a physical classroom if there are DTPs where you can learn in the comfort of your own home with other online agents?
To push this question even further, Dede (2014) plays devil’s advocate and asks the time-old question concerning the role of the teacher: "Could DTPs eventually be used to enable auto-didactic learning so that the teacher was no longer necessary?” (p. 12) While we have blended learning environments or online learning environments like Coursera, there is still a professor who is facilitating thinking and discussions. In response to this question, Dede (2014) emphasizes the essentiality of the teacher’s role because "digital technology today will not have the sophistication needed to deliver the complex types of teaching and assessment that deeper learning requires, particularly in subject areas that do not have a narrow range of “right answers” to problems” (p. 12). In other words, while teachers can use VEs to facilitate deeper learning, teachers are still needed to implement appropriate instructional strategies and develop meaningful assessments to check if their students are understanding the “big ideas” and how they fit within the “bigger picture”, encouraging interdisciplinary learning and meaning connection-making. Ultimately, as the image depicts, teachers have a huge influence in their students’ lives – one that even computers cannot imitate or assume.
Similarly, Darvasi (2016) calls attention to how virtual environments “will respond to our body language, occasioning laser precise targeted advertising and neuromarketing, including the strategy of putting us in the very ads and commercials that we are exposed to.” For instance, I noticed how the cookies on my internet browser have kept track of my previous internet searches and is reflected through ads on my Facebook page that specifically target my ‘interests’. With regards to using VEs to promote deeper learning, Knochell and Patton (2015) warn that “unless educators take a lead in developing appropriate pedagogies for these new electronic media and forms of communication, corporate experts will be the ones to determine how people will learn, what they learn and what constitutes literacy” (p. 28).
With all of this in mind, it is evident that teachers cannot avoid technology since its presence is a ubiquitous part in our daily lives. Accordingly, Dede (2014) strongly maintains that “it’s hard to imagine that the nation’s educators could make a real shift toward deeper learning without reinventing their teaching tools and platforms to create new types of instructional environments in which students do their work” (p. 5). It is really up to the teachers to develop their professional capacity to use digital tools in effective and meaningful ways to promote deep learning opportunities for their students. This itself is a difficult task as it asks teachers to rethink and “unlearn” their beliefs about teaching, learning and schooling in general. But once teachers make this huge leap, they will be taking grand strides towards creating these deep learning opportunities and making the learning experience more relevant and meaningful for their students.
While living in the 21st Century where video games successfully capture the attention of children and adults of both genders throughout the world, why is this element of play and entertainment absent from the classrooms? With this in mind, de Castell and Jenson, Gee and Darvasi all examine the educative possibilities that video games have and discuss the research findings the exhibit the high learning potentials that video games possess and how teachers have “played” with them amongst their students.
de Castell and Jenson (2004) elaborate on the importance of attention, which they deem the primary currency of education, and the new struggles that teachers are experiencing in maintaining their students’ attention amidst the globalization and distribution of new technologies.
"Whereas under earlier conditions students had to earn, to merit, to ‘‘deserve’’ their teachers’ attention, nowadays increasingly the tables are turning, and it is the teacher who must earn or deserve the attention of her students — or her students will turn it elsewhere."
In response to this “war for attention” where the new technologies afforded children with greater power by adding value to whom/what they pay attention, de Castell and Jenson (2004) highlight the need for educators to pay attention to what their students pay attention to in order to make the learning material relevant to the world the students live in.
“Lankshear and Knobel emphasize that schools ought to be paying more attention to attention’’ and take seriously into account a range of new literacies.”
Considering this, the main idea I will take away from this reading is the need for teachers like myself to actually pay attention my students—their hobbies, strengths, weaknesses and everything else that makes them special—in order to tailor my lessons to their needs and interests, exhibiting how the learning material can be applied to the real world. Equally important is how video gaming or serious play can be used to enhance one’s education in the sense that anyone and everyone is capable of learning how to play the video game.
"That everyone is equally intelligent (says Ranciere), and that each and every one of us ‘‘learn’’ at whatever rate we are able given shifting constraints is, in a way, precisely what video games do presume — that anyone who plays the game can learn to fight and so on, so that variation in ability is, more than any- thing, a by-product of time spent within the game’s structures."
Moreover, Darvasi (2014) focuses on how alternate reality games (ARGs) can be used as an immersive learning system that amalgamates narrative, digital technology and real-world game play using John Fallon’s model of transforming Homer’s Odyssey into an ARG as a case study. What I find meaningful about this reading is how Mr. Fallon was able to engage his high school students by relating this Greek classical epic to the students lives, individually researching how to use video games and computer programming appropriately to allow students to walk in Odysseus’ shoes and develop empathy and a better understanding of his character and circumstances. This example truly demonstrates the power that ARGs have in attaining the students’ attention, genuine engagement and creating meaning [digital or non-digital] artifacts of knowledge.
“Any motivated teacher can design and run their own ARG without programming skills, specialized technical knowledge or a big budget. This is assisted by the availability of free or inexpensive user-friendly, web-based tools, and digital software.”
Lastly, Gee (2007) deeply analyzes the question of whether or not video games are beneficial towards learning. He subsequently lists a variety of features that games have that possess high learning potential, such as empathy for a complex system, situated meaning, cross-functional teamwork and distributed intelligence through the creation of smart tools. In this section, one of the points that stood out for me was when Gee emphasizes how games create simulations of experience and preparations for action.
“If games could [let players prepare for actions from different perspectives or identities], they would speak to one of the deeper problems of education: that many students who can pass paper-and-pencil tests cannot apply their knowledge to solving real problems”
Similarly, Gee (2007)’s bold statement echoes the concluding thoughts of de Castell and Jenson (2004): “It is ever more important for teachers to make careful connections between ‘what is taught’ and ‘how that relates to the world’ and finding ways of better supporting the kind of active and playful engagement with what it is we want to ‘teach’” (p. 397). If students are unable to see how the learning material is related and used in the real world, then they are unable to see the larger picture and consequently will not apply it to the real world, rendering the learning material as useless.
Another point worth mentioning is the role of failure and how players learn through trial-and-error.
"These features of failure in games allow players to take risks and try out hypotheses that might be too costly in places such as classrooms where the cost of failure is higher or where no learning stems from failure.”
Failure is not viewed as the end, but a method of learning where players are encouraged to learn from their mistakes in order to succeed. If this element of gaming could be transferred into the classrooms, this notion that is similar to a growth mindset, then students will have a more positive attitude towards making mistakes in order to learn from them.