Thursday, 6 October 2011

McGonigal suggests gamers can save the world!

Jane McGonigal
Pierre Levy
Howard Rheingold
This week's topic of connected learning has made me think back to all the blogs, research, videos related to the potential power of connected minds (backchannel thoughts of hive mentality, Borg ships filled with connected minds). When I was studying at UBC, we explored many ideas around cyberculture, including Pierre Levy's work in the area of collective intelligence, Howard Rheingold's expertise in facilitating active engaged virtual communities or networks, our government's now defunct Connected Canadians strategies aimed at building a knowledge economy, and, more recently the many mobile mobs that seem to be driving social change. My current favoured approach in this area is Jane McGonigal's suggestion that harnessing the energy, ingenuity and dedication of World of Warcraft gamers could help us solve the major problems of the world (see her TED presentation . It's just oddball enough to have some validity.
Allison Littlejohn's position paper presents us with a "grand challenge", that we "have to learn to solve real-world problems faster and more effectively" Her premise is that if we pose problems " a large number of people, rather than just a few individuals, the knowledge of ‘the many’ will afford greater diversity and ideas to help solve a given problem." And certainly we have many good examples of really unique, diverse, helpful ideas derived from throwing a problem out into the cybercommunity - I know this as crowdsourcing.  Howard's newer book focuses on mob actions (see Smartmobs) coordinated by mobile devices - a crowdsourcing phenomenon gone physical.
Yet the position paper is looking at learning in a networked environment (in the hopes that if we understand learning in this situation we'll know how to use this approach to solve problems??). George Siemens and Stephen Downes have published and taught extensively on this topic. Allison focuses quickly on workplace learning; how do we develop expertise in the workplace. And her conclusion (I still need to read some of the research she cites as my first response is serious doubts) is that "expertise" is "best situated within continuous workplace learning, where people work on real-world, common problems, rather than being contained within formal training." I can think of instances where this would be true but I can also think of instances where, without some serious grounding in basic knowledge underlying "real-world" problems, assigning people to work on those problems is inefficient. And to me it is still more efficient to build foundational knowledge with guidance and focus on specific subject areas; the value of diving into the network is to build on the foundation, modify it, expand it. I know people who have built a foundation from piecing together fragments but my tendency is to think that this is slower than if you work under the formal guidance of an "expert" who can teach.
And finally (for the moment cuz I'm sure I'll learn more after I go and check my network nodes) her contention that learning is "either" individual or social?  Funny, the reading I have done suggests that learning is a continuum (or do I mean a continuous process?) and that I begin my learning internally (individual) but I test out, modify and solidify my learning through engaging socially. Isn't that why we've always asked students to explain their ideas, stand up for their beliefs and justify their positions?


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