A title that provocative really should be based on at least some speculation. Maybe with me looking bug-eyed and highly excitable. Nope. Everywhere I looked to try to make the K-12 gamification focus we encountered in the last post a fringe ambition–on the periphery–I just ran into more graphic, open declarations. From people with the money and power to make their visions a reality. A 2011 book laying out these aspirations approvingly pointed out that the “Microsoft game-testing lab ‘looks more like a psychological research institute than a game studio.”
That author, Jane McGonigal, of the Institute for the Future, is a keynote speaker of this month’s annual International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in San Antonio, Texas. She explicitly mentions Robert Torres’ Quest To Learn charter school vision in NYC as a means of reinventing public education as we know it. That Gates and MacArthur and Pearson Foundations vision of Reimagining Education. http://reimaginingeducation.org/ shows it is now the feds vision too.
Before I talk about the book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World and its prescriptions for using immersion role-playing games and alternate reality games to encourage students to want to reinvent reality, let’s talk about how we get to this point in K-12. Last week President Obama issued a directive to the FCC “to take the steps necessary to build high-speed digital connections to all of America’s schools and libraries.” http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/connected_fact_sheet.pdf . The directive on Jumpstarting Learning Technology says our schools “do not prepare our student’s for a collaborative and networked economy” . Which really does sound like the kind of reenvisioned needs economy I have been telling you is integrally linked to these ed reforms. Anyway, here’s a full extended quote:
“We must make our schools an integral part of the broadband and technology transformation–particularly when that same technology can be harnessed to drive empowered, more personalized learning. From digital textbooks that help students visualize and interact with complex concepts to apps and platforms that adapt to the level of individual student knowledge and help teachers know precisely which lessons or activities are working. This technology is real, it is available, and its capacity to improve education is profound.”
That’s the real fundamental shift. All that wonderful personal data plus there’s no longer any need to use print to mentally envision what an author is describing or how things work. The video in the digital textbook or videogame will show the student. Not influenced in the least by the fact that the creator of the game or textbook publisher openly acknowledged that as “we’re making these games, we dream of the other revolutionary things swarm intelligence might make possible. Low-carbon futures, mass creativity, living happily with less.”
Swarm intelligence by the way is part of what massive online player games can create. The idea is that “experiencing communitas in an everyday game can spark a taste for the kinds of community action that makes the world a better place. Learning to improvise with strangers toward a shared goal” teaches that “swarm intelligence”–which game designers hope “makes people better able and more likely to band together toward positive ends.” I am really tempted here to bring in a comment about cultivating the little c era of association and community using the the benefits of a profoundly different new technology but I will refrain. Maybe. But even the White House says it is a new age–the Digital Age–and certain notorious political philosophies do believe that new ages grounded in new technology call for a new kind of consciousness. Do you agree?
At the 2008 meeting of the professional group for education professors, the AERA (yes that is the group that elected Bill Ayers to an executive position), Eva Baker of the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing–CRESST–presented a paper called “What Do We Know About Assessment in Games?” She pointed out that Games work well when the point is measuring, as in the now federally-required measures of Student Growth. Rather than evaluating, as in traditional testing of the now-defunct knowledge unsuitable for the Digital Age. Her work seems to be the foundation for what GlassLab is now doing. You “embed the assessment in the transactions of the game and build it into a game’s underlying engine.” The game then becomes the “types of learning to be experienced.”
But that would require coordination with game developers. Good thing then Eva (who you may remember also evaluated SBAC and PARCC for the Hewlett Foundation to ensure these would be measurements of Deep Learning) was a speaker at the 2012 Serious Games Summit. And CRESST is listed as a sponsor of the 2013 Summit. Also conveniently Jane McGonigal started writing her book soon after Eva’s AERA speech. Laying out a vision on the Rise of the Happiness Engineers. The game designers who use the elements of Positive Psychology so that gaming can set off “the orgasm of positive emotions” such as awe. McGonigal quoted Dacher Kalter as saying that:
“The experience of awe is about finding your place in the larger scheme of things. It is about quieting the press of self-interest. It is about folding into social collectives. It is about feeling reverential toward participating in some expansive process that unites us all and ennobles our life’s endeavors.”
I am not trying to spook you. But if these are the intentions of the designers of the games that are now to constitute what is learning in the 21st century, it matters. The Institute of the Future does a great deal of consulting to famous companies and foundations. Apart from Jane’s high venue speeches. Jane believes that games “have an important role to play in how we achieve our democratic, scientific, and humanitarian goals over the next decade and beyond.” Now her goals (or Eva’s or these foundations) may not be yours but they are the goals being designed into the objectives of these games.
And whether the student exhibits the desired beliefs, values, and attitudes (suitable for Transformation) is what is being assessed and measured as Student Growth. Jane by the way described her vision of a Sustainable Engagement Economy in the book. It reminded me of Shoshana Zuboff’s Needs Support Economy with its distributed capitalism. She also envisioned reinventing the workplace except she sees the new attitudes coming out of the gaming experiences as driving the desire for change. Making reality more like games is how she put it.
Reading Reality is Broken really is alarming since there really is no intermediary between the vision of the future designed into these games, the psychological and emotional methods incorporated into the games, and the student. And it’s not like I am inferring the vision here. There are many more troubling, to me, examples in the book. But the book reminded me of another troubling book I had read from 1988 called Global Mind Change: The New Age Revolution In the Way We Think. So I went back and reread the marked passages. It was a reminder that if you want social transformation, which that author Willis Harman certainly did as well, you need to target the unconscious belief system. Harman even mentioned our old friend Milton Rokeach (see tags if not familiar). Here’s the vision:
“This concept of unconscious beliefs and the extent to which they are capable of shaping and distorting our perceptions of everything around us–and within us–is so central to understanding the global mind change that we shall make a temporary digression to look into it more deeply.
Each of us holds some set of beliefs with which we conceptualize our experience–beliefs about history, beliefs about things, beliefs about the future, about what is to be valued, or about what one ought to do.”
That’s precisely the real Common Core implementation targets. That’s what Digital Learning is designed to assess and reshape if needed. The assessments have to be performances and activities because as Harman said in 1988: “persons may not realize they have these unconscious beliefs, but the beliefs can be inferred from behavior–from slips of the tongue, compulsive acts, ‘body language’, and so on.”
Now think about this next quote and whether the phrase common core may be a metaphor and not just a factual statement about skills and knowledge and consistency among students.
“In the innermost core of the belief system are basic unconscious assumptions about the nature of the self and its relationship to others, and about the nature of the universe.”
The Game Designers say that is what is being targeted. Ed professors and ed labs and implementation theories openly call these reforms “second-order thinking” and “Irreversible Change” because it is the unconscious being targeted.
We are priming the emotions and using virtual reality to practice how to change reality. While simultaneously leaving the mind empty of knowledge of likely consequences.
Which might foresee a Revolution more likely to deteriorate as the French one did than build something wondrous. As the American one did.