This week, for my Emerging Tech class, we are discussing gaming/social networking and how they can enhance education. It’s kind of funny; 13, 11, and I were talking about games they played in school last week and I was telling them that the only games we ever played in school were SEVEN UP (everyone had their head down except for seven people; if you were tapped, you raised your hand and then tried to guess which of the seven tapped you); MISSISSPPI (where you try to misspell it to trick the other team and rush the opposing side); and if we were lucky, we got to play Oregon Trail on the lone computer at the back of the classroom.
Oregon Trail was a fun video game — you got to simulate what it would be like to have dysentery and watch your family die off as you ventured across the US. I was fortunate enough to have a Tandy1000 (thank you, Radio Shack) at home, where my brother and I would play Where in the World is Carmen San Diego. Theoretically, both of these games had learning potential or at least didn’t have ill intentions.
Today, when I think of games, I think of Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto — both of which (to me) are horribly violent. I know that 13 likes to play Sims with her friends but when I looked into it, characters can fornicate and honestly, talking about sex alongside a video game isn’t really the life I’m trying to create. My brother and I used to play an older version where we’d build houses and then catastrophically burn them to the ground. Alas, I was a bit reluctant to think about gaming as an educational tool.
A similar game that my professor shared with the class is called Second Life — I had no idea this was a real website and honestly thought it was just a name used in a bit on The Office. Thus, I tried to keep an open mind that a learning value exists and spent the last few days reading. A LOT. We had two optional books to read: Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal and It’s Complicated by Danah Boyd; I checked both out of my school library through their inter-library loan program.
In the Boyd text, there is a clear and consistent point of youth using social networking to extend their social conversations and engagements. To me, this makes a good bit of sense. Boyd mentioned early networking sites like Friendster — now here is something I could relate to: I remember Friendster. (It’s a site I haven’t thought about in maybe a decade+ but when I read its name, I instantly recall having an account). My boyfriend and his friends were very into networking and I got sucked into their bubble. I also managed to convince my best friend to join too: I remember one of her selections being ‘not that I know of’ for the ‘Children?’ question and a poll about what everyone was contributing to our Gold Cup tent. Aside from that, I don’t really remember utilizing the tool.
This ‘social extension’ bit that Boyd focused on throughout really gave me pause. This is exactly what I use my phone for. My best friend now lives in Florida and most of my remaining close friends are either in PA or DC; the handful of friends I have in MA are still an hour or so away, so texting is really the only option for keeping in touch with quick updates or just casual conversation. It makes sense that teens would utilize technology for the same purpose, especially given how busy teens can be.
I think back to my high school days; I was president of student council, involved in school musicals, worked as a cashier at Giant Eagle, and then I had the lesser involved activities like chorus, saxophone lessons, track, French club, SADD, and probably others. I was involved in A LOT and thus had a bustling social life. I saw friends after school at all of the club meetings and then usually on weekends too. When I was 16, my parents forced me to get a license and bought me a car so that they’d have a break from toting me here, there, and everywhere else. Having my own car definitely allowed for ease of socializing (even though I was the last of the group to turn 16 and only ended up with my license when my parents told me I’d have to walk everywhere if I continued my refusal with driving)… alas, I try to think of what life would have been if I wasn’t afforded those social opportunities but had access to Internet and social networking options. I could see how the virtual world could fill that hole.
I continue trying to keep an open mind. I know that 13 uses tools in Google Classroom to conduct group work (occasionally with the use of a phone call) and this seems to serve a similar purpose of a group meeting at the library after school but offers all students the learning opportunity. I think that there are definitely areas where integrating social networking can help improve upon social-emotional needs students may have.
I’m not yet sold on the gaming piece — the prude in me still needs a little time to adjust. I do recall, in reading the introduction to Reality is Broken that games allow users to create feelings of success through various channels and offer opportunities to “take an active role in changing our lives and enabling the future… [and] build up your ability to enjoy life more, to solve tougher problems, and to lead others in world-changing efforts” (P 14). I will see if through reading this book, my mind is changed at all on the gaming piece.
Until then, I have two additional blog posts I may write from connections I made to passages in Boyd’s book. I am really enjoying reading this as it is challenging my typical line of thinking but in a very productive way. I recommend this text for anyone who has teens or works with teens and is trying to figure out how to properly establish technology-based boundaries.