Monday, August 15, 2011
How Computer Games Help Children Learn: Chapter 5
A good majority of this chapter focuses on professional identity and how thinking and working like a innovative professional can help youngsters prepare for being successful as adults. To explore this topic, Shaffer discusses his experience of teaching a journalism practicum to a group of undergrads and grad students and goes into quite a lot of detail about what it means to be a professional journalist. He breaks down several key aspects of journalistic professionalism in regards to areas such as identity, skills, knowledge, epistemology and values. The big question raised in the chapter is how does a journalist become a “smart” journalist? Shaffer first discusses a schema-based view where developing a particular set of skills, values, and knowledge are used to solve problems. As he says, “learn the right facts and rules and belief, and then apply them in the right place” (p 140). Another aspect he discusses is situated cognition, where “newcomers learn a community’s common ways of solving problems...by doing things that members of the community do”(p. 141). Basically, he is saying that another way journalists learn to be journalists is by acting like journalists and from learning from more experienced journalists. Becoming a member of a professional community helps to develop a strong sense of professional identity. New journalists can learn to solve problems by seeing how more experienced journalists solve them. While these aspects are important, they alone won’t make a “smart” journalist. The final aspect that Shaffer raises is needing an epistemic frame to tie everything together. As he explains, “epistemic frames are about setting the terms by which actions, decisions, and claims are judged and justified”(p. 163). The final step is learning to think like a professional is being able to make smart decisions and justify actions. It is about applying knowledge in order to solve problems, essentially thinking like a professional.
Science.net is a game based on the successes of this journalism practicum. It is an epistemic game aimed at middle school students, where players are asked to take on the role of a journalist and create a series of science related news stories for an online newsmagazine. The game revolves around developing the same key elements as the journalism practicum: identity, skills, knowledge, epistemology and values. So much of journalism is about following a set of rules- both stylistic and formulaic. The game uses these rules as a framework. The game also explores how to be a journalist in the following ways: how to follow a lead, writing to formula, writing as a watchdog, writing for story, reflecting on action through war stories, news meeting, and copy editing. It also focuses on values important to journalism ethics, such as verifying sources and being objective in the writing. By the end of each of the case studies, both the journalism and middle school students developed a strong identity of being a journalist, which continued long after the case studies. Shaffer makes the point that when they act and feel like journalists, they end up thinking like journalist. As he concludes, “the point is not to train young people to be professionals, but to train them to be the kind of people who can think like professionals when they want and need to be” (p. 165).
My thoughts on this game is that it is probably the one game mentioned in the book that I probably wouldn’t be excited to play. Namely because a large amount of it focuses on writing. I hated writing more than anything else when I was in middle school. Like the debate game, I think science.net can be done without actually having the software. When I was in eighth grade, we did a month long journalism project where as a class we made a newspaper. I am sure it was not nearly as in depth as in science.net, but we did all the same things as in the game. We developed a variety of stories and did copy editing, worked on layout and printing. My teacher used to be a journalist for many years and was known for her journalism unit. She also was the advisor for the school paper. The point I am making is that the concept of thinking and working like a professional that Shaffer makes in this chapter doesn’t seem to be as tied to the technology as in other chapters. Since he doesn’t go into much detail about the actual game interface, it is hard to know for sure, but I feel any student who works on the school paper would get the same experience as playing this game.