Sunday, November 23, 2008
Don’t Bother Me Mom, I’m Learning
Author / educator Marc Prensky’s book begins with a warning: “You are about to hear a message that, while absolutely true, will fly in the face of prevailing wisdom about computer and video games: Computer and video games aren’t as bad as you think they are. In fact, there’s good reason to believe that they do a tremendous amount of good.”
And so it goes in Don’t Bother Me Mom — I’m Learning, a 254-page paperback published by Paragon House that outlines why, and how, the technology provided in games is actually helping prepare children for the jobs and work they’ll do as participants in the 21st century workforce.
In chapters that include, Economics and Business Lessons for a 10-year-old from a Computer Game, and Video games are our kids’ first ethics lesson, Prensky convincingly argues why it’s a good idea to let children have access to such titles as The Sims, Harvest Moon, and Zoo Tycoon.
James Paul Gee agrees. The Tashia Morgridge Professor of Reading at the University of Wisconsin-Madison wrote the book’s foreword, and insists, “Marc knows the power of good video games. He knows the power of the technologies behind them. He knows their potential for social revolution and what gives them their great potential for good. Most importantly, Marc knows that game designers have learned to harness deep and powerful learning — learning in the sense of problem solving, decision making, hypothesizing, and strategizing — as a form of fun, pleasure, engagement, even flow.”
How does this happen? Prensky explains in Chapter 4: “Our kids are not like us: They’re natives, we’re immigrants.”
“Today’s students—kindergarten through college—are the first generation to grow up with this new, digital, technology. They have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, videogames, DVD players, videocams, eBay, cell phones, iPods, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age. As with all immigrants, some of us have adapted to our new digital environment more quickly than others. But no matter how fluent we may become, all digital immigrants retain, to some degree, our ‘accent.”
Do they really think differently? Well, yes and no, says Prensky. “We hear parents and teachers complain so often about the Digital Natives’ attention spans that the phrase ‘the attention of a gnat” has become a cliche.”
But, he points out that kids’ attention spans are not short for everything — like games, music, or anything else that actually interests them. Why? It’s the result of years of experience with digital objects they simply crave interactivity and expect and immediate response to their each and every action.
“Unfortunately, traditional schooling provides very little of this,” he insists. “It isn’t that digital natives can’t pay attention; it’s often that they choose not to. Interestingly enough, they don’t have to succeed, at least not all the time.”
What have we lost? Assuming that Prensky is right about the reprogramming of the digital native’s brain, he concedes the one area that appears at first to have been affected is their inability to reflect. “In our twitch-speed world, there seems to many to be less and less time and opportunity for reflection, and this concerns many people,” Prensky writes — adding, however, that on closser inspection reflection actually may be going on beneath the surface.
“In observing digital natives, I have come to see that reflection, like so much else in their world, is something that is simply happening faster,” he suggests. “Whenever a player loses in a computer game and has to start over, their mind races to the move that got them to that point and they ask themselves, ‘What did I do wrong?’ and ‘What am I going to do differently next time.’ This is reflection at its most effective, although it is rarely if ever verbalized or made conscious.”