Games and Pedagogy; On What It Means to Talk About How We Teach With Play
Since I’ve been going to lots of talks in my department that focus on people and their teaching philosophies (gotta love job search time) it’s been forcing me to think more about what it would look like if I gave a talk about about my own pedagogical teaching practices (don’t worry folks, I’m not going anywhere any time soon).
At this point, I’ve been teaching for pretty dang close to 25 years and at a couple of different levels and what has never really changed is the way that I approach teaching and learning in the classroom (and out). As a young elementary school teacher (thank goodness for special alternative licensing) I had had enough teaching methodology just to make me dangerous, but it was also enough to leave me a lot of freedom to think about best practices for getting to curricular outcomes. I didn’t see methodology as a hard and fast thing like some of my colleagues did (and thankfully I still don’t).
Being 22 at the time and a hardcore gamer, I was convinced that the best way to learn things was going to be through play. So everything in my classes became a game. Behavior issues? A game, see if you could fill the race blocks to get to the finish line before the end of the week for a class prize (outliers got to go the penalty box so that everyone didn’t suffer for the actions of a few). Cultural or history facts? Cheesy game shows complete with game show host and helpful assistant to turn the answer cards. The team who won got an extra treat, but everyone got a treat for playing because….CANDY! You name it we gamed it. Had this not been the poorest area in the district and had their been a computer newer than the ones that I first learned to do simple code on in high school 8 years later we may have done more with them there, but we were limited to playing reading games and Oregon Trail in the lab on our allotted one day a week. And that was during what was supposed to be my prep period, but the lab guy that the district had hired was both legally blind and far from tech savvy so to have any kind of positive pedagogical experience the kids really needed me there too (oddly, I just remembered that the guy was blind so he had a hard time tracking student actions and reading their screens to problem solve in the dimly lit, cinder block walled room that seemed to be a transformed storage closet).
When I left the public school for the sweet gig as a graduate teaching assistant at a university with a real computer lab all bets were off. We started with stuff like LAN based academic minded Daedalus Interchange and that just showed me the possibilities for stuff like MOOs and MUDs in the classroom. We could play games….and code….and learn stuff about books, writing, and research, all while playing a game and having a blast. And the best part about it? The students didn’t care or even notice that they were learning this stuff, but I could definitely see the improvement in their more traditional assignments. That was all I needed to reaffirm my burgeoning pedagogy.
So this week I look back over my teaching history and think about what I do and why it has been fun (no pun intended) to think about how the notion of play has informed my pedagogy long before I was actually teaching (with) games in the classroom and I wonder how well received that pedagogy of play would be in less game friendly circles. But that’s too much for me to worry about when there are things to do and games to play.