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Author: jglewis

Final Reflections…

Final Reflections…

…’cause it’s a dude looking at a mirror.  IT’S FUNNY.  Moving on…

English 332 ended up being less of a giant wake-up for me than it was a solid reinforcement of some ideas I’ve had as far as how to undergo teaching… I guess a common term used to define this transition in the gaming industry would be “evolutionary” vice “revolutionary”.  I already knew I wasn’t going to follow traditional paradigms with regards to how I conducted a classroom, however, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the research other individuals had conducted was favoring the direction I was moving in, as well as giving me ammunition for when the time comes to defend that particular foxhole.

The course did give me some interesting ideas as to how to incorporate elements of gaming into the classroom, and where to adjust the challenge of the assignments as needed, from a perspective of desired challenge derived from gaming theory.  Deviating from the standard will be a challenge in itself in terms of designing an intuitive and effective program, but ultimately will result in a better education for my students.  I’ll be taking the idea of “social learning skills” and “apprenticeship” quite a bit further than simply giving out copious group projects and forcing my students to wish death upon me far too many times before it mercifully acquiesces to their pleas.  I won’t be “that guy”.

What I will do, largely as a result of my courses this semester, is keep my ear to the proverbial ground.  What are my students doing for entertainment?  How are they communicating “normally”?  What are they reading, to the delight and derision of other teachers?  How can I engage them on level ground, and, without boring or scaring them, give them the access they’ll need to thrive as adults?  In order to teach, I will have to engage in learning myself, and employ one of the strongest human traits so many “bad teachers” failed to use:  adaption.

I will also have to be very aware of things like tool access and “unwritten lessons”, as I call them, constantly asking questions like, “Are they learning to craft a better essay, or are they learning to craft a better essay for me.”  Will the act of writing a paper in my class be an act of creativity, or one where the student plays the time-honored game of “Guess-what-the-teacher-wants”, or that other high-school/college favorite, the writing projects that emphasize mind-reading skill over independent thought.

As final addendum to this, I decided to refresh myself as to just how difficult it can be to learn a completely new concept, employing any and all techniques as I could to finish this.  The result was a completed animation project for my related English 431 course, and though it’s far from perfect, I learned hell of a lot making it.  Bear in mind, I’m not an art major and have had no training in making animation, video, or animated video: https://youtu.be/vSA6UuCN7KA

It’s also the first successful assignment submission I’ve made featuring Dickbutt.  That was your warning and the last I’ll give!

Education isn’t a game. Well, actually…

Education isn’t a game. Well, actually…

…stating what is likely obvious to everyone that’s ever “beaten” a game even at its most basic levels, it is.  Or rather, gaming is education.

What’s surprising about some of the studies I’ve been introduced to during this course has been the relation of the gaming environments themselves to learning.  A particularly interesting approach to learning came from a brief demonstration on cell structure via the game Minecraft.  Though brief, the presentation was brilliantly executed.  The instructor seemed to use an array of classroom laptops and facilitated in the traditional way in a physical room, though the students piloted avatars in the virtual world while he explained the various organelles.

What this ends up being is a very real experience in a virtual environment that the student intrinsically learns from simply by being there.  Unfortunately I don’t have hard facts as to the performance of the students in relation to those taught in the “normal” way to compare, but I’d hazard an educated guess that the students using the Minecraft tour likely learned a lot more and more quickly than the norm.  More importantly, the exercise seemed to evoke both a fascination with the content along with a sense of familiarity (minecraft being a prolifically popular game helped there).

It’s completely upended how I was looking at approaching the classroom as a teacher, and introduces an interesting question… “How do we take this further?”

We’ve dreamed of a fully realized virtual reality since I was a kid watching Star Trek episodes regarding the holodeck (and with the relative power and danger of such a device it surprises me that there weren’t armed guards monitoring the thing at all times, but I digress).

With the recent trend in popularity of gaming devices such as Oculus Rift coming about, perhaps an even more visceral experience in learning can be created.  How much easier might a test be when an experience related to the question is unforgettable?

Exciting times lie ahead!  Also, that’s the second image I’ve posted in an assignment with “MFer” in featured in some way.  At some point I should break some sort of record…

Are you afraid? What is it you fear? The end of your trivial existence? When the history of my glory is written, your species shall only be a footnote to my magnificence.

Are you afraid? What is it you fear? The end of your trivial existence? When the history of my glory is written, your species shall only be a footnote to my magnificence.

…to quote from our unconventional teacher.  Part time malevolent reality-warping super AI with a God complex, part time calculator, and (evidently) part time instructor.
Source Quote: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOFZ5fv_pb8

 

I have to admit that when I played System Shock 2 as a teenager I wasn’t really paying attention to the educational aspects of the game… sort of how every student does the first time through their school career.  I had the presence of mind to recognize an excellent game, but for the most part was unaware I was incurring some small-scale education, sometimes from SHODAN herself.  As game theorists and our reading of “What Video Games have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy” would tell you, it turns out she’s actually kinda good at teaching us.

It helped that she’s an awesome villain, to the point that you can’t help but like her a little bit for it, but you don’t start the game knowing who is who.  You begin with a simple and eloquently done tutorial to grasp the basic mechanics of how the game works, and then it unceremoniously drops you into a horror plot.  Even then, the learning process is still happening, though you’ve now graduated from blowing up stationary objects to being thrust into a situation with few resources, a lot of very dangerous and sneaky opponents (System Shock 2 is one of the first examples of a “Survival Horror” game, although it was simply called an FPS at the time), and a number of dubious and dangerous options.

Thankfully, you’ve got Captain Polito to help you along during those first tough stages.  She’s quite buddy-buddy with you very early in, and helpful in a limited way due to being stuck on a different part of the ship.  As the ship seems to be disintegrating around you and worm-infested prior humans are running amok, having a normal face to deal with comes as quite the balm as she directs you toward rectifying the situation and staying alive… at first simple objectives (crawl under the destroyed corridor, find a better weapon, jump here, etc) followed by increasingly complex ones (find the key, reactivate the power grid, hack the security system to clear out The Many) with multi-faceted options for the player as to which approach they wish to take.  In this, System Shock 2 is effectively three different games in the same setting, depending on how you choose to go about the game.  Whether you choose the stealth, brute force or psionics approach, they’ll all work in different ways, and make the game play out entirely differently.  About midway through the game, (SPOILER ALERT) SHODAN reveals herself as impersonating the now-dead Captain Polito.  She then informs you of just where you are on the proverbial pecking order and tells you how to deal with The Many directly.

So throughout this game you’ve been absorbing the challenge of your chosen role,  learning what sorts of alcoves are most likely to contain desperately needed supplies, where to find sensitive materials on the ship that you need to progress, and which weapons to use against which enemies more effectively.  By the end of the game, you’ve mostly mastered this act and the game almost seamlessly plays as a true first person shooter vice survival horror, with more emphasis on upping the challenge and combat difficulty than on learning new lessons.

A very similar sequence can be seen in both Portal games as new skills are gently introduced throughout the game, until the puzzles begin combining elements in new and devious ways, creating the challenge element.  Incidentally, that game also has a malevolent AI, this one named GLADOS, and she likes to test things and lie about cakes and murder people with gas.

Sounds an awful lot like the novice-journeyman-mastery cycle.  I haven’t had any of my prior teachers admit to being a malevolent Skynet-esque super villain, but I’m open to the idea.

Duality of texting

Duality of texting

Texting has always seemed to be in a weird spot when it comes to legitimacy.  It’s not a skill you would list on a resume, and you’ve probably never used it in anything academic, official or overly creative in nature, though the question of its importance is an interesting one.  It’s not really respected as a literary element, and yet it has impacted our way of communicating in a fundamental way.

Texting does seem to draw some degree of weight when used in a workplace environment (I’m leaving Twitter posting out of here on purpose, because there’s been many cases where celebrities grossly underestimated the importance of their tweet and got burnt for the effort), in the same manner an email is important, in that it leaves a traceable trail.  Let’s generate two scenarios, one in which an official communication is conveyed verbally, and one via text.

Verbal:
Boss:  I told you to come in early Wednesday.  You were an hour late.

Worker:  You never said anything.  When did you tell me?

Boss:  I don’t remember.  I did tell you though.

Worker:  When?

Boss:  Forget about it.

 

Texting
Boss:  Why were you late Wednesday?

Worker:  I wasn’t.

Boss:  Yes, you were.  I texted you about coming in early.

Worker:  No you didn’t.

Boss:  *points at time stamp on text indicating the conversation including replies* Yes, I did.

 

So here’s a scenario where the legitimacy of the medium is put to the test.  This same scenario could be reversed if someone were accused of slacking off by a superior and proof was required to show proper action was being taken.  As a result of this, texting is given a heightened importance due to it being, in effect, a signed document.  From a judicial standpoint, texting is being used more and more in legal precedents to either prove guilt or innocence, due to its reliability in establishing time, date, history and intentions.  From a political standpoint, a bad text (or tweet) can quickly become the bane of your existence, even if misinterpreted or taken out of context.

Texting is looked down upon in terms of its legitimacy as compared to traditional writing, yet its usage in official function is becoming more and more commonplace, and socially we still seem to be working to grasp the change.

Blogification version 7.0

Blogification version 7.0

Looking through life through the eyes of a tire hub…” – System of a Down

So, yeah, I’ve actually got a discussion prompt this time that relates to the initial image.  Online forum literacy!  If you don’t know how to use it, someone might actually post that image of Samuel L. Jackson in your thread… likely because your thread sucks (IE: you are illiterate in forum posting).

There are certain protocols to posting on online forums.  There’s a vast wealth of information to be had in these places, and generally very helpful people reside in them that tend to hang around there specifically because they want to help interested parties become more interested in whatever topic it is that floats their proverbial boat.  Some forums are generalists (Somethingawful.com, Reddit.com, voat.com) and tend to have a larger user base to draw information from, and others are specialists (www.tomshardware.com is one that I use devoted specifically to computer hardware enthusiasts).  All of them have one thing in common:  You won’t get anything out of asking questions there if you don’t follow proper forum etiquette, and the better you are at mastering that etiquette, generally the better quality of the answers to your questions you will have.

To a newbie approaching such information sources it can be a difficult task to try and find the right answers to a given question because of how you “come off” on a forum post.  Each of these forums has specific functions for searching out prior answers to questions, for example… and if your question isn’t actually unique in some way, chances are you will be repeatedly mocked, followed by having your post moderated into oblivion due to your question already being answered somewhere you didn’t think to look, with a net result of everyone having wasted some time.  Ask the question in a polite and researched way (one where you at least took the tertiary effort required to use the search button for prior answers), and the results will most likely be helpful and positive.

A lot of great minds congregate to these forums and they can be goldmines of information and content, so this is a skill worth having, and goes beyond simply looking up youtube how-to videos.  What if you have a physics question on heat dispersion techniques via different materials and casually asking google simply isn’t cutting it?  What if you could speak with a physics guru who’s been doing this shit for fun for 40 years and just so happens to take interest in your question?  From there, you can see the information exchange at work, and if done correctly, will result in a lot if disseminated information not just for the person asking the question, but for all watching such a conversation.  This is certainly a “new literacy” that has emerged within the last two decades that didn’t exist prior to the dawn of the information age, as the closest parallel would be something like a Senate committee deciding who gets to speak and when based on various rules of priority and seniority and so on… not really something most people would have partaken in.