Why is Gaming So Enjoyable, Yet Studying is So Hard?

Anyone who has played video games knows that gaming is not easy. In fact, I would go as far as to argue that to become a professional gamer requires the same amount of effort needed for a graduate degree. However, I have always found gaming to be highly entertaining, and studying not so much. so why is that exactly?

I think the first, and most important, aspect that differentiates gaming from studying is the positive annotation attached to gaming. To explain this point, I will use the example of reading. To many, this is a very nice and enjoyable way to spend time, however, I never could associate reading with fun because of all the reading assignments I had to do in school. Gaming has always been about having a good time, even though in many cases it can be frustratingly hard, while studying always relates to long hours of boredom, even though the material is interesting.

Second, comes the stakes associated with each activity. If you lose in a video game you can always restart and improve, however, if you fail the test you might not have a chance to make it up. This allows people to enjoy the game and learn on their own pace rather than having to worry and grind to pass a test.

The third and final point I would like to make is instant gratification. I know this is a controversial point and probably a counter argument to gaming but hear me out. Each time I’m facing a tough problem I can’t solve or fail at a task at hand it always makes me feel better when I open a game and crush everybody else. Studying is associated with a long-term plan and often one does not reap the fruits of his education until years to come. This makes justifying studying that much harder especially when bombarded by assignments and exams.

On a closing note, I don’t expect studying to be as fun as gaming, nor do I think it should be. Gaming can be a great way to blow off some steam while studying to build your future.

How we learn? does it help?

How we learn? Some years earlier, many answers would be: “just from lecturers in classes, or from lab trainers”.

Such responses are not valuable anymore except in very rare cases which I believe are not involved in higher education. I think that educators and learners involved in higher education worldwide are all experiencing networked learning in both of its forms: in connection with other human beings or in relation to learning resources accessible to them or the ones they have believed are worth to be looked at.

As many would argue, that is a good because it can help learners be at the same page intellectually which to my view can result into more equal opportunities such finding jobs, economic conditions, and social live in places where there are many social, economic and cultural issues. In other places, the Net has lessened the tasks to students in non-English speaking countries. For instance, students in African French speaking countries some years earlier struggle to read and get what they want from and English text books they would find in some libraries or have a hard time have some French books that were not sold in their countries. Now they have more ways to access those resources. Though the web, they can google translate article and books, make some orders online and get them via their local postal services or services such as DHL, UPS, FedEx which are now present in some of those places.

However as there are many resources out there in the Web with different accessibility, having learners to be at the level can be challenging and worst if there is no guidance but only them interacting on their own with the materials which they have access to. In regards to this fact, one might have the following questions among many others.

How to access the best resources out there?  Are we using them in a best way and with ethic? Are the resources we have access to credible enough?

To the last question, I think the response will depend on our way of thinking which in turn is related to our culture, background social environment and experience as explained in the article what “Video Games Have to Teach Us”. t

Such questions are not raised in the case of a given course taught by an instructor even though at an individual level some preferences (face-to-face interaction, online course) can occur based on different learning styles. In such cases, thanks to the efforts of teachers who care about the impact of their teaching on their student future and who manage to do their best, each student can always find his or her path. We have the example of this wonderful and inspiring teacher in Jean Lacoste’s teaching innovation statement who has redesigned her course for the reason she has explained in these terms: “I wanted each option to support a specific learning style”. Her determination and the steps she took have resonated with her students and have led to considerable achievements which I think should be the dream of all educators.

To have technology or to not have technology, that is the question.

Engaging the imaginations of digital learners has been an interesting endeavor for me to learn and think about this week. I have gone back and forth numerous times about where I stand on this concept of digital learning. On one hand, I think it creates an avenue of being able to be creative in how you facilitate your class and break down barriers of access for students. On the other hand, as someone that has sat in a classroom before, it’s not uncommon to see your fellow students “abusing” technology, aka watching the person in front of you watch episodes of Grey’s Anatomy.

Personally, I know that I have a bias sometimes regarding incorporating technology into my practices. I know I am very susceptible to being distracted by my phone or laptop and I can impose that bias on others. In my graduate assistantship role, I supervise 13 student staff members and during my weekly staff meetings, I have them put away any laptops or cellphones if they are not involved directly in an activity we are doing. I just feel like the second cell phones are out, it opens up for distractions.

Similarly, to what the Anya Kamenetz article talks about how that one teacher would walk into a room and just see all the students on their phones and not engaging with each other, I have seen this as well. If you do not have phones allowed, it can facilitate conversation between individuals faster I feel than if they did have them out. I feel that we can learn so much from others when we are just in community and engaging with each other.

On the other side of if technology should be in the classroom, I see many valid points and reasons it can be effective and should be implemented. The Anya Kamenetz article talks about how if you make a total ban of technology, if a student has a learning disability, it can unintentionally “out” them if they are using technology. As someone that does have a sibling who has a severe learning disability, I know how important learning assistive devices can be in the classroom. As well as how it can feel to not feel like you have agency in your choice of disclosing to others if you do in fact have a learning disability. It is personal information, and you should  feel obligated to inform everyone you are in a class with unless you want to.

As well as the article talks about how people in industry believe that technology can be the way of the future for the classroom. They made an interesting point along the lines of if they are using it, why not figure out ways to effectively incorporate it into the classroom. I feel that using technology should be intentional and well thought out so that you do not just spend every class trying to get the technology to work or explaining how to use the technology every time. I believe that as time goes on, we are going to keep moving towards being a technological society so how can we use technology effectively in the classroom? I would be interested to see studies that look at various online methods to see what has the best results. I feel that I need to do more research on this.

I thought it was interesting to note in the article that with the technology boom, that they reference apps that can block technology for students while they are trying to do work. I think this shows the pull technology can have on students while they are trying to be productive. I know in my undergrad, my roommate used a website that would block her from social media sites for however long she set it so that she would not get distracted by the internet while she was doing her schoolwork—how ironic that technology was both the cause of the problem and the solution to the problem.

How do you feel about technology in the classroom? Have you ever had it implanted really well in a class you’ve taken or do you feel the impact is mostly negative? I am interested in learning others perspectives on this matter.

Engagement and Intellectual Development – Insert Coin to Play

I am a gamer.  I am an educator.  Though I consider myself a learner in all things I do, I never took time to consider the intersection of those two identities.  In fact, I intentionally made the decision to keep the two separate.  As a child, I spent plenty of time in front of the latest Nintendo console, but when I went to college, I opted not to bring a console with me.  I don’t regret that decision.  As a first-year student, I saw a hall mate move off campus, back to his parents’ home since League of Legends became such a distraction that his academic performance suffered.  As a professional in residence life, I still see students struggle with time management, not allocating sufficient time to study due to multiple late night rounds of Fortnite.

Hence, it felt a bit odd to read and reflect on the educational value of gaming.  However, the software that taught math and reading skills (the Jumpstart K-5 series), the software games that provided cognitive challenges (the Pajama Sams and Freddie Fishes), and even the 3-D platform games of the Nintendo 64 (Banjo-Kazooie, Super Mario 64) all challenged me to think and explore as a kid.  Eventually, I delved more into strategy RPG games (Pokémon and Fire Emblem), but even with this change, as I grew up, games started to feel less educational, and I doubted that games could ever be tools of learning, offering a mindless distraction instead of an intellectual challenge.

My first thought about what might have caused this shift away from learning was simple: strategy guides.  At first these were books my parents would purchase that essentially gave a written description of how to beat a game to 100% completion.  More recently, they come from a simple google search.  However, the strategy guide itself was not the problem.  The real reason these games fail to challenge me intellectually is that they are linear; they essentially have one set of steps that is followed to win.

The story from “Teaching in a Galaxy Far, Far Away” in Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown’s A New Culture of Learning Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change challenged me to consider learning from games differently.  The game mentioned provided a truly interactive experience where students collaborated and exchanged ideas to learn more than they otherwise would have from a lecture.  With results like that, it becomes difficult to argue that games have no educational purpose.

After considering, I see video games as a solid means of engagement, a medium that entices its participants to continue playing.  While engagement is a factor in effective learning, it does not guarantee learning.  A game can engage in the way that Thomas and Brown described, but it can also keep a student up all night and away from learning.  I think what determines whether a game supports learning is whether or not the challenge of that game is consistent with (or just slightly above) the player’s level of intellectual development.  Thinking back on my own experience as a gamer, I consider William Perry Jr.’s 1968 theory of intellectual and ethical development, which characterizes the meaning-making process into the developmental categories of dualism, multiplicity, and relativism.

Dualism is rooted in a way of thinking in dichotomies.  There is right answer and a wrong answer.  The games that challenged me as a child posed structured problems that were solved by dualistic thinking.  They were linear with essentially one correct way to win, and the strategy guide could provide the single correct answer.  As a kid in the stage of dualism, these games provided sufficient challenge that I felt I was learning.

Moving forward from dualism, there is multiplicity and relativism, moving from that state of dichotomies to seeing the value in different views and solutions (multiplicity) to distinguishing some solutions are better than others depending on the context (relativism).  From Thomas and Brown’s example, it became clear, that more open-world, collaborative, and competitive games could actually spawn this type of thinking.  Players do not face structured problems with one answer but can continually work to collaborate and generate new solutions depending on what they presently face in the game.

I also think that some observations from how some players approach video games parallel issues that students face in learning.  Even when a game is less structured with no set solution, it can be approached dualistically.  I think of something like Pokémon since it’s familiar to me, but I believe it can apply elsewhere.  There are several online communities – Smogon and Serebii are two examples – centering around the video games series where experts discuss strategies that involve extremely high level thinking.  That conversation is an impressive example of collaborative learning, but many users then copy the strategies of experts without considering the thought process behind them or critically evaluating the strategies.  On one hand, it’s incredible that so much knowledge is available to the average player, but it’s unfortunate that players lose out on the experience of coming up with their own strategy and instead engage in the dualistic practice of subscribing to one expert’s opinion.

This becomes more problematic when it’s not about Pokémon and the Smogon online community, but instead about science and Chegg.  It seems great that we can provide students with ill-structured problems and that they have an online community where they can discuss solutions in a way that encourages collaborative solutions and relativism in their thinking.  However, if this “conversation” simply involves experts contributing solutions, students aren’t actually learning.  

Hence, considering video games a means of learning has provided me a few points to ponder:

Though video games are one medium that can bring about engagement, they are not always the best solution.  What other methods can we use to create truly engaging learning experiences?

A game is only valuable if it challenges players to think at or beyond their current stage of intellectual development.  It’s an important consideration in any educational method.

While the exchange of information and ideas is essential for collaborative learning (about Pokémon or academic subjects), it can result in experts teaching solutions that reinforce a tendency to subscribe to dualistic thinking.  How can we ensure that students begin thinking in stages of multiplicity and relativism?

A step back for a run forward


“….Money alone won’t improve graduation rates. After students make it past the bursar, they need to attend classes that set their minds on fire.”

These were the ending lines from an article on igniting students’ minds published in The Chronicles of Higher Education. These lines caught my attention because it was only the last week I was commenting on a blog how making education free/cheaper could change the focus from making money after education to actually diving deeper into your passion. However, this is a very realistic statement. Garnering interest in a field is an arduous task and it is very easy to kill the passion with the conventional pedagogical methods.

As I read Sam’s story in the chapter “Arc-of-Life Learning” in the book, ‘A New Culture of Learning’, it can be understood the classroom learning is just not going to be enough to ‘cultivate’ knowledge. We have to take a step back and understand the drawbacks of the classroom system. While we learn the negatives, we still need to make sure not to forget the benefits that the face-to-face teaching can provide, as detailed in this article. The article suggests four purposes where classrooms can be used as modeling thought process,  sharing cognitive structure, giving context and telling stories. The author described in detail the four purposes. Towards the end, the article informs what has not been considered for those purposes: information transfer and inspiration. I do not completely agree with those points. I think both the information transfer and inspiration are required during the lectures. Modeling the thought process and sharing the cognitive structure both needs information transfer. If the process is performed properly, the inspiration is passed involuntarily. I accept that information transfer and inspiration should not be the only reasons for the lecture but in most cases, it is not a reason anyway. They both are an inherent part of classroom teaching.

The question that we now face is if not classroom learning then what could be an effective method? The answer is that there is no definite answer. The article in The Chronicles of Higher Ed and the book chapter suggests that we have to incorporate technology in the classroom. More importantly, they suggest how the technologies should be used to connect students outside of the classroom. As we discussed in the class last week, humans (and other animals) have evolved by “doing” stuff and continuing forward we need to keep that factor always involved. Having a lab aspect of the classroom can help. If the resources are not enough for that, have a collaborative project on it. If it is possible to integrate a game, it can do wonders as can be seen from several examples in both the article and the chapter. If a game is not feasible, online interaction with a broader community on certain projects can gather interest. The bottom line is to actively engage students such that they can easily forget to party. If the education is fun in itself, there would be no need to look for fun from outside sources.

It is very clear that the world is fast changing and adopting new technologies every day. The pedagogy has to keep pace with that. Otherwise, we would keep enrolling students but could never educate. Sometimes to complete a marathon, it is necessary to take a step back and change the strategy to overcome the challenges.



How ‘Reacting to the Past’ helps address present-day problems

This week’s readings for GEDI F18 focused on engaging and inspiring students through the use of problem-based learning and gamification. I found the article by Mark Carnes, History professor at Barnard College, most interesting. The article describes how Dr. Carnes, with the help of hundreds of scholars, created an elaborate series of games called “Reacting to the Past” that has elicited such positive responses from students that the students:

(1) were discussing the games for hours after class

(2) were passionate and dedicated to their roles in the game

(3) volunteered to come early to class to continue to play the games.

This example shows that even if students aren’t necessarily learning the prescribed course material (though they should be through the game), this pedagogical practice is engaging and helps the students learn to solve problems and work in teams, which are important skills to master.

One of the readings mentioned (though I can’t figure out which one now) that gamifying the sciences is easy (paraphrased). My thought is that any game that is effective at meeting a desired goal is challenging to develop, no matter the subject. For example, as Carnes describes, it took hundreds of experts to create “Reacting to the Past.” I can imagine that to produce an effective educational game it does require the knowledge and creativity of many different people. Like Robert Talbert says, students learn more when they have access to an expert’s experiences, thought processes, and learned mental models. What then could be better than having access to all of those experts embedded in a single game?

I started looking into the efforts being made to use gamification in Chemistry education. A quick Google search produced fewer results than I expected. I found one recent article in the Journal of Chemical Education that discussed the use of gamification to help students understand the concept of limiting reagents in stoichiometry. (I should add that the title of the article is “Clash of Chemists: A Gamified Blog To Master the Concept of Limiting Reagent Stoichiometry,” (which relates back to last week’s discussion on blogging.) The game asked students to come up with an analogy to represent the difference between stoichiometric and nonstoichiometric conditions, e.g., if you have 4 pieces of bread and 2 cups of peanut butter you can only make 2 peanut butter sandwiches because you’re limited by the 4 pieces of bread (assuming each sandwich is made of 2 pieces of bread). By the way, this is an example of a nonstoichiometric condition because you have excess peanut butter (assuming you put less than 1 cup of peanut butter on your sandwich). The game involved points and competition among peers. The feedback from students who participated in the game was generally positive and these students performed better in the class on average relative to their classmates. I liked this simple approach to a complex problem that is usually challenging for students to comprehend.

Thus, here is a list of the general chemistry topics. I don’t think anyone else in the class is a chemist, however everyone is required to take general chemistry. Does anyone remember a mental model, story, or have an idea/experience that could help students understand one of these topics? Or maybe add a game idea for a topic in your own field.

  • Acids, Bases and pH
  • Atomic Structure
  • Electrochemistry
  • Units and Measurement
  • Thermochemistry
  • Chemical Bonding
  • Periodic Table
  • Equations and Stoichiometry
  • Solutions and Mixtures

Is teaching really a form of learning?

When I was doing my undergrad studies, I (as a social coordinator at my college) invited a new assistant professor (AS)  to give us a little about his life as a new professor. One of the lessons I never forget is he said the first day I taught at the college and was walking out of the class and another “full” professor (x) met me by a chance and asked me a question: “what would you do if a student asked a question and you do not know the answer?”. Professor AS said simply I’d say I don’t know! professor X was shocked and went crazy, asking him to not do that as it would affect him negatively! professor X thinks a professor should not show the inability to answer any questions and always should make himself as “a man knows everything in the planet”. Professor AS’s approach is to mislead his students when they ask questions he doesn’t know! YES that what he does, unfortunately!

The good part of the story is that professor AS didn’t take X’s advice and instead he approached his way by saying “I don’t know the answer and I promise you I’ll look for it and bring the answer with my next class”. Two years later, professor AS said I’ve learned a LOT from my students. They keep me everytime thinking and looking at things differently! although I’m teaching a basic and “non-interesting” course, I get challenged by my students and never stop learning.

This story raised a big concern for me since I was an undergrad student (10 years ago). I asked myself:  how many times professor X has refused a chance of teaching himself and benefit from his students? How many times professor X misled his students and block their creativity? On the other side, how many times professor AS has learned and improved himself? how many times his students get motivated and encouraged in the class? how much interest the professor is giving every class?

Takeaway message: whatever you teach and regarding how basic/boring the course is, there is a great chance you learn every class!

Games in Education: Learning by Doing

Here is the definition of the game from Wiki: “a game is a structured form of play, usually undertaken for enjoyment and sometimes used as an educational tool”. And a video game is an electronic game that involves interaction with a user interface to generate visual feedback on a video device such as a TV screen or computer monitor.” In my view, the meaning of these terms at least two points: First, the game can be regarded as an educational tool; secondly, interaction is an indispensable and even the most important part of the game. In other words, playing games is also a kind of “learning by doing”.
Mark Carnes’ ideas about “active-learning” are very interesting. Essentially, I think the learning style that he describes is role-playing. During the gaming process, students need to actively collect materials and build a world of their own and this adventure is of course exciting. However, what I want to emphasize is that games in education are still at an experimental stage. Two and a half hours of the schedule per week may not be able to adapt; on the other hand, the time and energy that students spend on it will inevitably increase dramatically. Can the games in education improve the graduation rate problem at the universities? I also have deep doubts about this because the education evaluation system still uses credits and grades as the key criteria. If these fundamental factors do not change, then this model will be difficult to promote.
Personally, I have a positive attitude towards games, including video games. As a student majoring in public administration and political science, I learned about the operation of the government in Western countries including the United States through a game called “Democracy 3” before I came to the United States. It is considered as a sophisticated political strategy game which has a unique user interface that makes visualizing the connections between laws, policies, voters, and situations easy. I must say that I learned more about the US politics from this game than I learned from the boring textbooks. Other examples include “Minecraft”, my nephew in elementary school really likes the open world of this game. The game developer, Microsoft has already treated Minecraft as “a collaborative and versatile platform that educators can use across subjects to encourage 21st-century skills”. Other games, such as League of Legends and Dota2, have higher requirements for teamwork. With the development of AR and VR technology, I am optimistic that games can break the boundaries of the classroom and play an increasingly important role in education.

The game UI of “Democracy 3”Image result for democracy 3Image result for democracy 3

We. Are. Not. Robots.

Last Monday, I found myself telling my students what I wish I never had to tell them at all: “I’m talking at you for almost an entire class period right now. Shout at me if you have questions. Here’s my administrative hoo-ha. Fifty-minute marathon. I’ll never do this to you ever again.”

Each syllabus day, I always later reflect on the fact that I need to make that class more engaging. My conflict is this: I hate talking at my students, so there’s the option of telling them to read the syllabus, themselves. However, I also hate when my professors leave the class structure up for interpretation, assume their own clarity, and get going because, as I’m sure we’ve all heard from a professor or twenty, “We have so much to cover.”

Like, yeah, what makes your class so unique? Does each subject not have an infinite amount of information to relay? If a teacher doesn’t think so, they should reconsider.

The need to reconsider course structure—to reevaluate the information-transfer approach that supposedly solves, but, just kidding, actually torches the so-much-to-cover problem—is what connects this week’s readings. An example is Mark C. Carnes’s “Setting Students’ Minds on Fire,” in which he emphasizes the need for students to become more actively involved in their own education. It’s not simply financial burden, Carnes says, that causes students to drop out (although, of course, that’s not a problem to dismiss, either), but it’s the lack of motivation and interest students have. Even Barack Obama, Carnes quotes, said that, while in college, he too felt he was just going “through the motions.”

The strongest gains in pedagogies, Carnes (and, quite ubiquitously, all the other related readings for this week) says, are found in those that feature teamwork and problem-solving. The examples found in Douglas Thomas’s and John Seely Brown’s A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change echo this assertion. “Play, questioning, and—perhaps most important—imagination,” they write, “lie at the very heart of arc-of-life learning.” 

Through each of the presented stories, Thomas and Seely Brown support the message that schools need a combination of exchanges between massive information networks as well as bounded and structured environments; or, in other words, they support the idea that we need to bridge the gap between the large information-based world and the “intensely personal,” structured one. This, they write, is how imagination is cultivated, and it’s imagination that will drive students to create something new and meaningful.

I wonder how our world could look if every student could have learning experiences like those from the “Digital Media New Learners of the 21st Century”—how we all would benefit from the same kind of academic stimulation. Creative teaching incites creative thinking, which, of course, incites creative, new ideas. Why are we still running with the concept that we suddenly become adults who love being lectured at? 

The kids (particularly the one calling himself the “daydreamer”) in the aforementioned video reminded me so much of my seven-year-old nephew—how excited he is about building new mini race-cars, about learning to draw a new Pokemon character, about asking questions, in general. And while I certainly wonder about and hope for his future education being stimulating, I wonder about and hope for the same of all ages of students. When is it that we have the desire to learn sucked from us? Why must we be drained of that thrill? What can we learn from the teachers doing creative work with these elementary-aged students, and how can we apply that to adults?  

An Example of a Hybrid Learning Environment

In today’s world, asking students to sit through a lecture where a teacher deliver course material is proving to become less and less effective. There is no doubt that lectures have their inherent advantage of maintaining physical face-to-face interactions. In his article, Robert Talbert highlights some of what he believes the purposes for lectures as a teaching medium. These include conveying the thought process and the cognitive structure with which facts and problems are viewed and dealt with. On the other hand, many argue that lectures focus on teaching rather than learning. Mark Carnes writes about the emerging lack of motivation and interest in higher education. Carnes advocates for shifting from “teacher-oriented system” to learner-centered process.” Such process, Cranes argues, could help lead a departure from the classic academic experience.

As learning environments trigger different reactions by different people, there is definitely no one size that fits all approach to education. However, could a hybrid of teaching styles be successful?

In trying to answer this question, I will be sharing my experience with such a program. The Business for International Professional Program (BUSIP) offered by the University of Washington English Language Program (ELP) and Foster Business School offers a unique approach to teaching English and Business through a hybrid of lectures and simulations. The program is designed for international students who want to improve their business language abilities and develop their professional business skills. The program accepts international students from any field who completed their undergraduate education. The program consists of two main parts. The first is the lectures where students learn the themes and concepts of business. This is a typical classroom setting that includes lectures, readings, and discussions. The second part is a simulation of global business that runs throughout the quarter outside of the lecture hours.

The goal of the simulation is to prepare students for the global business workplace. The simulation includes a series of interactive workshops designed to mimic real-life business situations. In the simulation, the students are divided into 12 groups each represent a hypothetical entity. These groups are divided as follows: 3 groups represent different governments, 3 groups represent multinational corporations, and 6 groups represent local companies. In the simulation, each group develops strategies and goals that follow best business practices and seek to achieve them. Throughout the course, students apply what they learn in the lectures and test it in the simulation.

I found this way of learning very helpful to convey new concepts to students and push them to put it to the test. As student practice their management, marketing, and negotiation skills in a close to a real-life setting, they can decide what work and what does not work from what they learned from the lectures. This also helps teachers extract instant feedback that makes similar tools very applicable to a wide range of fields.

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