Amazing research findings about video games (with a twist): They actually CAN teach you history!

Master Chief Story

OK, so here’s a short battle report amongst the fights for Reach in Halo Reach (who would’ve guessed!), which I and my wife casually started playing again after quite some time.

An urge came to write about narratives and the general understanding of a (game) universe. I have played through all the Halos (except the Wars) several times. I love the world, the general concept and the story. Still reading this official Xbox magazine Master Chief special issue that came home with me from EB Games, I finally have to admit it: I never had any clue when most of the things happen in the Halo world, and what the hell for am I running around all sorts of galaxies blowing up aliens and activating all sorts of massive relays and bombs and whatnots by “pressing X”.

After skimming through the magazine, which in my eyes does a pretty decent job in presenting the Halo universe and putting everything on a timeline, I got an “aha!” moment. Now I understand many things about the subtleties of the narrative, and get the general picture what actually takes place throughout the Halo timeline. Yeah I know, it’s an important revelation, but so what?

At least for me, this never kind of dawned on me during the game play. I’m always so deeply occupied with doing the missions, staying alive, getting those supercool head shots and trying not to flip the darn M12 Light Reconnaissance Vehicle aka Warthog all the time – my wife hates when this happens as she’s the person operating the cannon. Notable is that she does not always enjoy my driving neither in the virtual or the real world.

After reading some of the stuff in the magazine, I also realized how things took place in relation to other events (for example events in Halo: Combat Evolved in relation to Reach). Still, during playing or while ‘in the game’, these things were quite far from my radar. So, at the same time one could question the importance of story, but without story, the whole Halo universe most likely would not feel as Immersive (I try to get away from that word, but let it slip this time) and captivating. It would not be coherent nor interesting.

So from this very deep autoethnographical account we can derive some definite conclusions: video games are excellent medium for learning! Yay! Stop all ed journals from posting anything about this matter anymore. 🙂 It would be interesting to experiment on a wider scale in the future how such video game + reading material such books or in-game text support learning history also in formal learning settings (or if there’s something that ruins this), and what sort of a role personal characteristics might play.

I don’t often enjoy the discussions about the educational value of games, especially when it often goes to the “either or” stance of if games are better than reading (“because nobody reads anymore!!!”). And then there’s the people saying “books will be replaced by blaa blaa [your favorite future prediction here]”. Book is a technological concept that gathers text that communicates something. A book is not important in itself, but what it as a construct affords. Papyrus left the building already a while ago, and we don’t write on boards of clay boards anymore – although I sometimes feel blackboard gets quite close to this antiquity. Still I do not think text and writing somehow vanishes from the picture. Format of books might change, but communication stays – or I might be totally wrong, and in the future we communicate only through Minecraft-style sounds and odd avatar gestures that have become the new norm.

Reflections on thinking, learning and the message

Learning as a process or a phenomenon is something I sometimes try to escape in my reasonings, as some days I can not even stand the topic because of the too mixed up discourses around it. But for some reason it comes back to thoughts, often with new flavours. Call it passion, call it whatever.

When I moved to Australia, I had to choose just a couple of “real” paper books with me. What I left behind was almost a roomful. Although some consider it after his golden era, I had grown fond of Heidegger’s ‘What is called thinking?’ (Was Heisst Denken?, 1954) and brought it with me. I do not consider myself as Heideggerian, although a certain person (you know who you are) have suggested that. Still, I cannot deny that introduction to his thinking has indeed provided new venues for my own.

As the name of the book implies, it discusses thinking, and simply summarized, with an assertion that we are still not thinking.

Most thought-provoking in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking. (p. 6)

My reason to write this is not to try to explain what Heidegger possibly meant with the series of lectures of which the book builds on. What interests me here is examining the arguments with higher education learning as the focus.

Heidegger suggests that

Teaching is even more difficult than learning. (…) because what teaching calls for is this: to let learn. The real teacher, in fact, lets nothing else be learned than – learning. (…) The teacher is ahead of his apprentices in this alone, that he has still far more to learn than they – he has to learn to let them learn. The teacher must be capable of being more teachable than the apprentices. (p. 15)

I have to resist quoting the whole paragraph, because that is most likely too much. Some of the words in this argument make me think if he really used these terms or has something been lost in the translation. However, this particular part, coming all of a sudden in the book, in conjunction with thinking as the focus, is interesting to me.

Heidegger suggest we are still not thinking. What does this mean? When we are on our paths in the so called formal education, are we not thinking? We “cover a lot of content” and write essays about them in culturally accepted forms. Does this not constitute as thinking? Dears he suggest that this is not what thinking is about? What am I not thinking when I am writing this blog post? What “withdraws” from me, from us?

I feel a connection could be found from Finland, from Yrjö Engeström’s thinking (the use of word intended), and his theory of Expansive Learning. In one of his books, Kehittävä työntutkimus: perusteita, tuloksia ja haasteita [in Finnish, sorry folks], he refers to Bateson’s levels of learning [in English].

These matters connect with Heidegger and his thinking. For us to learn, we very often think about the content and not with it or how it affects our own thinking and frames of reference. I have not followed this idea through, but for me this sounds something to be also connected with Jonassen’s “learning with technology“. We need to ponder what terms such as “medium” and “technology” mean to us. Information and communications technology. Technologies, weather digital or for example processes, are to support humans to achieve something easier. [How] is information and communications technology helping us learn thinking?

We are fond of consuming and examining content, but we do not pause and reflect upon it, or ourselves in the event of learning.

Reflection is also one of those troublesome terms. With reflection, I mean thinking about our own thinking, and thinking about ourselves in the middle of the event of learning; Do we just try to hack the game of learning, how to beat the system (Bateson’s level 2 learning), or do we actively inquiry into how the learning events and stimuli affect our thinking, questioning our very being and thus really try to learn and think? In general we are too fond of following the routes that please us, that make us feel good, rarely asking could something else that does not seem to please us in the beginning to be more important for our understanding.

To think, is to think and reflect the world and ourselves in it, the stimuli we receive and how they affect us. Great deal of evidence shows that we are very picky in our personal theory making, too often we assimilate new information to our existing patterns of thought. I feel that to truly be in the world, is to question the stimuli, processes, our own thinking and how we are in the events we are thrown to. To look beyond those in a larger systemic context.

So what is the message of learning? As I’ve been attending to a media convergence course conserning myself both as tutor (a role assigned to me) and a learner (a role assigned by me), I feel obliged to refer to McLuhan and his “Media is the message”. What are the messages of higher education as a medium [of learning]? The message is written in the processes, in how we act our roles during the play, on what we spend our time in the university and what we try to achieve, and how. The message is quite easily there to be noticed if one reads the world and the word (thanks to Joan Wink and of course to Freire for this nice thinking tool).

Heideggers suggests that the most thought provoking in our thought provoking time is that we are still not thinking. If we are not thinking in the events of learning, what are we doing?

Quote from Vygotsky: The problem of the environment

“Research has revealed that the emergence of inner speech is based on external speech. Originally, for a child, speech represents a means of communication between people, it manifests itself as a social function, in its social role. But gradually a child learns how to use speech to serve himself, his internal processes. Now speech becomes not just a means of communication with other people, but also a means for the child’s own inner thinking processes. Then it no longer represents that speech which we use aloud when we communicate with one another, but it becomes an inner, silent, tacit speech. But where did speech as a means of thinking come from? From speech as a means of communication. From the external activity which the child was involved in with the people around him, appeared one of the most important inner functions without which man’s very thinking process could not exist.”

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  • How does this relate to using social media or other technology with social affordance for collaborative learning and knowledge construction?
  • How does it affect learning and possibly what else, when these technologies have a built-in asynchronous affordance, that allows us to stop in the middle of a conversation, reflect (use inner speech) and continue a discussion (external speech)?
  • How should we take this to account when designing instruction?