By Serena Mackey
We raise a plugged-in generation. Attached to music, games and social networking, the learners of our culture are digital natives, wired since birth within the technology that now drives commerce, media, relationships and education. Often accused of being impatient and lacking ambition, our current crop of students are natural products of their environment, and require a new learning habitat. The shape of the landscape is defined largely by technology, and more by the interactive options available on gaming systems, iPods™, and smart phones. Interactive games have not only changed the way students play; it has had a profound impact on how students learn.
Join Roland in this three-part series and journey into the lives of our students, how they spend their time, how they learn, and how we can best engage our students. We will discover how to adjust our teaching to match their learning, and apply strategies directly to music classrooms and private music instruction.
Digital games provide constant motivation. Designed to keep players playing, they are carefully constructed to provide continual feedback to the player. Move one way, and an instant consequence defeats the player; shift another way, and a safe portal or new world opens. Like gambling, playing games keeps our students engaged through intermittent reinforcement and appeal to adrenaline-driven emotions of fight or flight.
By offering rewards, obstacles, complex storylines and competition, games keep their players glued to the responses of their characters. Even in non-human games like Super Mario Bros., characters react based on personalities and real-time gaming events.
Digital games, however, do not isolate our students, as critics first claimed. Opportunities for collaboration bring teens together in online LAN parties where groups of teenagers, each with a laptop, interact online and in person. Kurt Squire at MIT in Cambridge agrees that video game playing occurs in rich socio-cultural contexts, which brings friends and family together. Gaming serves as an outlet, according to Squire, and provides the “raw material” for our youthʼs culture. Gaming is a social phenomenon. Kids play for the sake of play, encouraged not by external rewards, but by the thrill of the experience.
Capturing the interest of all ages, gaming is a daily activity in 80% of American households. Gaming teaches specific skills that can only be developed in the critical, fast-paced world of interactive games. Recently termed “bricolage,” the ability to piece together information quickly from a multitude of sources is a skill unique to this culture. Watching, listening, predicting and reacting happen in real time in the gaming world, and the challenge of succeeding in this environment hooks players. Our children are acquiring hypertext minds that leap around, making “multi-tasking” their normal brain function. Sorting and solving on several layers at once in the gaming world rewards quick thinking and learning from experience and repetition.
All of this has important implications for the way students learn and directs educators to harness new education strategies. Join us for What They Learn and So How Do I Teach Them? in upcoming issues.