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 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. 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 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, 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.


  1. Professionalism seemed to be the key for this chapter for me. There was much abut different kinds of writing and the formulas for those types of writing. But I really liked the idea that reporters don't just write for the dispersal of information but that the focus was more focused than just the event. Putting people into the facts really caught my attention. I know there are different kinds of reporting because listening to NPR is very different from listening to local radio news. NPR seems to use richer language and definitely more than just bare facts.

    I also started thinking about how much teacher involvement is needed for students playing these games. While the chapters haven't sounded like there was a hugh amount, I had to think more about that and figure out why not. I could see time needed for conferencing during the game playing in class and that seemed really doable. I am still not sure how we can measure the learning objectively that take place from this kind of activity, but then maybe we don't need to. I am bothered by the push in the last few years to prove we have done what we think we have done. This bothers me because teachers are spending as much time measuring and proving as we do letting the students learn. I like to hope we are moving away from that now and more towards letting students learn.

    “Impacts that transfer from one context to another are, in some sense, the hold grail of education” (157). That's what I really want to do and the idea of making students professionals seems like a really good one. Telling them they are professionals, for an activity, and giving them the props they need to feel professional, seems like it really could have a great impact on their focus and learning. I think even more, is treating them like professionals who are capable of doing what is asked of them.

  2. I'm glad you mentioned th assessment piece. If you can't enter anything in th grade book without a rubric and you don't assess this work it won't be in the grade book and therefore some kids won't do it. They want to know what they are being scored on and how they are doing or else - what's the point? It is very time consuming to make rubrics for everything and tie it to standards. I know there is value to it, but it also takes time away from other activities I could be planning.

  3. The classic issue with using games in the classroom is how to connect/grade it to education. What is its educational value? The problem usually occurs when we use a game just to use a game or we have a concept to teach that we shoe horn a game into. The number of times I have teachers say "well I will have the write about their experience in the game" for assessment is huge. For example, when we used scratch if I just had you write about the program you made I don't believe you would have liked that. This takes the point of using the game in the first place away.

  4. My take away from this chapter is the need for professionals in the classroom.

    I am the "garden person" at my new school so I will use this as an example. My gardening skills are very limited but I can see that the garden is a lab for all types of life science. I know the learning goals but little about the gardening process. However, I can access a group of people who are certified master gardeners, making their living from gardens, or researching growing techniques.

    I see use getting together as teacher and professionals to design a learning experience. I think this is the type of thing Shaffer is talking about.