Wednesday, 8 April 2009

H809: Week 7 roundup

Ok, I think I've always been about a week behind with the posts but it also looks like people on the course are trying to play catch up too, and I've been pretty busy with PhD work, so I am probably a bit more behind than usual. And yeah, I haven't caught up on the reading for weeks 8 and 9 either...

But anyway. Week 7 has been interesting, but before I go on to that I wanted to post a couple of interesting links that have popped up on the forums since last week. The first is to a blog post called "How Online Communities and Flawed Reasoning Sound a Death Knell for Qualitative Methods". The second is related to last weeks discussions on audiences, and is a link to a New Scientist article on how the media can distort research findings. There was a little more talk about audiences and ethics as well, with it being pointed out that often a researchers write for themselves in order to clarify and work through ideas (i.e. you are your own audience) and that the notion of "informed consent" can be a tricky one when dealing with minors and those whose first language isn't English.

As for week 7 though, the main theme (and for the rest of this block) is learning theories. The discussions in the forums and on the blogs definitely suggest there is a fair amount of confusion going on here in terms of just what constitutes of learning theory and which ones go under what headings. One of the tutors posted a link to a summary of learning theories by Helen Beetham that fits in closest to my own thinking, which I hope helps clarify some of the confusion.

As for the readings, there were two papers this week. The first was by Conole et al. (2004) called ‘Mapping pedagogy and tools for effective learning design’. The paper attempted to provide e-learning practitioners with a framework to relate learning theory to practice. At least some of the debate in the forums related to how the criteria used to classify different learning theories (individual - social, reflection - non-reflection, information - experience) could be applied differently, and so perhaps the framework proposed would be better for enabling practitioners to see how their perceptions of different learning activities vary from each other. For a brief summary and interesting reflection on the paper see Juliette's post on Learning Theories (Part 2), where she also raises the question of just what is a learning theory exactly. Part of the weeks activities included trying to put the previous blocks (weeks 1 to 5) readings into the summary headings provided by Conole and colleagues such as behaviourism, constructivist. systems theory etc. Sonja had a go on her blog at Mapping papers onto theories. She also considered her own teaching in terms of learning theories.

The second paper by Jones and Preece (2006) is called ‘Online communities for teachers and lifelong learners: a framework for comparing similarities and identifying differences in communities of practice and communities of interest’. I think one of the most interesting points made in connection to this paper within the forums was about how the researchers developed a framework based on theory to inform their research but it still isn't clear from the paper alone how they came up with the factors included in the model. In relation to using theory to inform practice, I'd like to think these factors have come up as significant in previous research., especially as a lot of them (e.g. common ground, trust) are familiar from when I studied Human Computer Interaction at Bath. However, without having a copy of the previous publications referred to in front of me, it's difficult to know for sure. For an example of how the framework Jones and Preece present could prove useful for other research purposes, check out JM's post here. Juliette has also posted her reflections on the paper in Learning Theories (Part 3), including a consideration of the difference between theories and frameworks, echoing some of the discussions occurring in the forums.

Finally, all this talk about learning theories has gotten me thinking about how they relate to game-based learning. If I am going to use the categories used by Helen Beetham above, then I need to start with behaviourism. At the most basic level, I reckon that you could safely use a behaviourist perspective to discuss how players learn game controls - it's a simple case of pairing the right buttons (stimulus) with the right actions occurring in the game (response). As you move further into the game though, the constructivist learning principles start to come through - you are an active participant in this process, you have to try things out and regulate your performance while the game attempts to scaffold your activities by starting the game out easy and then making it progressively more difficult. If you are playing with other people, co-located or otherwise, social constructivism kicks in as your peers help you out, and/or you start engaging in collaborative activities. Finally, maybe you now start to see yourself as a "gamer", so apart from playing the game, you start to engage in other activities around it - talking about it with friends and online, reading magazines/blogs, contributing to walkthroughs etc essentially participating in a community of practice - or what James Paul Gee is talking about when he talks about "semiotic domains" and "affinity groups" of players.

For a really interesting take on how video games embody different learning theories see Ian Bogost's "Persuasive games" chapter 8. He mentions the three perspectives I used in the previous paragraph but what I find most interesting is how he explains the media effects argument as a behaviourist perspective. The idea is that violence in game-play will be reinforced and thus more likely to occur in real life, implying a direct transfer between the two environments. I doubt that the real story is as simplistic as this - otherwise I really would have beaten up an awful lot of people up by now, and probably stolen a couple of cars - but I guess you could argue that this is essentially what simulations are trying to achieve: a realistic a mapping as possible between the virtual and the real so that behaviour learnt within the simulation will directly transfer to real world situations. And I could see how that could be useful for certain kinds of training, but I always thought this was a situated learning approach, where you are essentially simulating how you would behave in a community of practice. Now I'm thinking,that you would still be doing that but through a process of reinforcement... But if I don't agree with the media effect argument, how can I defend using this same approach for educational purposes? And is this really how we learn from video games? I do know I am interested in games based learning, not simulation based learning or even serious games (which often seem quite similar to simulations), as I think they can provide with a very different sort of learning experience but I need to do a bit more reading and thinking before I can verbalise that.... Hmm, now I'm confused. But it's late and I think that's enough for today so maybe I'll come back to it later.

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