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Currently I am reading broadly in areas relating to education, gaming, training simulations, performance studies, research methods, human-computer interface design, drama, theatre, process drama, virtual theatre and virtual worlds…

The educational aspects are getting me thinking about the nature of education in the future… what it is that we need to incorporate in learning/teaching processes in order to meet the demands of the changing face of society.

It seems from everything I’ve read that schools are back in the firing line, that many think that schools are failing again. Perhaps we need to look at what will be essential for living in the 21st century.

We will need to be able to quickly modify our practices to suit shifting social and personal demands. It seems very likely, as expressed by a education professor at a QUT symposium during 2005 (The Deadly Habits of Teaching), that we might need to embrace a notion of “ignorance” as a desireable trait - that is to say they at times we must be able to ignore everything we know, or more correctly everything we presume, and look at the world/situation with fresh eyes. When what we have been doing stops working it seems futile to keep doing it ad infinitum.

We will need to “unlearn” it is suggested… I tend to think that a better description is something like the dramatic convention of suspending disbelief. We need to hold all that we know in one hand and also recognise that we might need to construct new frames.

John Hartley has reported on several trends in education.. that the process of learning will be closely aligned with commerical providers developing and selling “educational resources” (learning objects, systems, programs, online study, etc)… and that successful members of the “creative economy” will demonstrate a “yearning for learning”…

It seems that schools are not seen as sites where this transformation will occur. Schools will remain, and we will read more and more about how they struggle to cope and teachers will be subjected to more and more accountability to external standards… what will get lost in the bureaucratic shift to excellence in teaching is LEARNING.

It falls to all educators to examine these assertions and reflect on how they will shape the future. I had a supervisor at uni recently say, teachers are becoming too expensive… in a world of economic rationalism teachers will be seen as expendable. For a time, at least… it is my belief that teachers of quality and excellence will be sought after outside the school system and outside formal education…. and many will go there… because it will be more rewarding on so many levels… and these teachers will be modelled - computer systems will analyse what they do and programmers will attempt to recreate the processes, so teachers will become replicable… no need to train thousands each year… just train a few very good teachers and find a way to reproduce them… sounds highly speculative and possibly specious… already hackles are rising saying that machines will never be able to do what teachers do. I reserve judgement.

As I look around me I wonder where the necessary levels of motivation and engagement will come from, if we are to ensure that learning is “meaningful” and more than just adding value to people as economic spare parts.

One area of human activity draws my attention… I see people, mainly younger people, but not entirely, turning to their computers. They fire up their favourite game, or they install a new game… they attend LAN parties, Sunday mornings at The Bunker in Brisbane often sees 50 or 60 sweaty tired people crammed into the Queen Street mall basement gaming cafe… apparently they have been there all night… playing computer games - CounterStrike seems to be one of the favourites… teams have formed, alliances forged, trust betrayed, some have survived and others have suffered or died, in a virtual character they have invested time and effort in creating.

There is a definite buzz in the air… newbies have come to watch and learn, and to ally with more experienced players - knowing all the while they will be sacrificed if the game play heads in that direction. The interaction occurs on several levels - players engrossed in game play, other screaming across the actual room, others congregating in a corner chatting about how things went, phones ring, messenger systemes work overtime and the focus is the game… or is it??

Is there something else going one here? These people are here because on some level it is engaging, in a way that some other life activities are not… and I don’t believe for a second that everyone in the room is a social misfit. I don’t see all this as inherently unhealthy… sure in a physical sense some of these people might be better taking a walk in the sunshine… but my guess is that they do that sort of thing as well. There may be the occasional person who has developed an “internet gaming addiction” but the vast majority see it as only a part of their life… my own father may have been labelled a “golf addict” in the current climate… but there is balance.

These people, gamers, choose to engage in this activity in a social setting. They each could sit at home and play remotely… but they decide to go out, and to meet with others. That sounds quite healthy to me.

It also suggests some of the factors that I think are missing from our way of thinking about teaching and learning. Gaming offer us:

  • inherent motivation to engage
  • skill is not assumed, it is acquired over time and individual investment
  • it is a social activity at the application level and at the higher order learning level
  • it is distributed over a range of networks - social and virtual
  • it relies on action and story (narrative) on a range of levels - it is both “real” and metaphorical simultaneously…
  • ambiguity is accepted and uncertainty about the outcome helps drive it
  • it can be and is engaged with by an audience - it has a performative aspect.

I’m wondering now, how do we create a system that incorporates these underpinnings to improve and expand teaching and learning?? Lifelong learning is a harsh sentence if we have to endure the same archaic practices that students across the globe are experiencing right now. I don’t dismiss those who are getting the benefit of a wonderful experience and effective learning… in many cases they’ll be doing it in spite of the teachers and education system they are exposed to.

Therein lies my journey for te next few years and beyond… I am an educator… if I am to do my job better I think I need to make myself redundant at some level… luckily teacher is just a part of my self-image… there’s plenty else there to offer the world!!