Posted by: schooleducator | December 16, 2009

Mapping Virtual Worlds

One of the challenges of parenting and being an educator is how to
redirect a child’s energy away from the “wrong” thing to do.  Just
saying no does not cut the mustard with kids.  It builds up resistance
and creates an us vs. them wall.

The recently released report by the Federal Trade Commission on
mapping virtual worlds sounds the alarm system for parents and
educators and does very little to mitigate fear.  The FTC press
release about the report, “urges operators of virtual worlds to take a
number of steps to keep explicit content away from children and teens,
and recommends that parents familiarize themselves with the virtual
worlds their kids visit.”  Yes, parents need to know and be vigilant
about the sites their kids visit.  However, the FTC report findings
are a classic case of the outsiders looking in.  Instead, policy
makers, educators, and parents need to take the time to talk with
kids, listen to their voices, and develop appropriate vehicles for
education to happen.

One savvy technology educator has done just this.  In a podcasting
class, he asked students to create podcast reviews of some area of
interest.  Topics ranged from restaurant and movie reviews to reviews
of violent video games.  His initial response to one student who
really wanted to review violent video games was to say no.  The
student resisted, pushed back, and challenged the teacher, who grew
defensive at first.  However, upon further consideration and
reflection, the teacher shifted the focus of the exercise and asked
the student to analyze and compare multiple violent video games and
explain to the viewer why these games are appealing to teens.  This
particular student had gotten into trouble with the school many times
for playing video games on his laptop in classes. However, this
project, once the terms of the assignment were agreed upon, galvanized
this student to spend hours researching and preparing his podcast, and
to successfully redirect his prolific energy about gaming into a
productive learning endeavor.

The final product was astounding in its depth of understanding and
analysis. The student situates the viewer into the eyes of a player of
a First Person Shooter virtual video game, and narrates the journey
through the experience.  Careful not to espouse violence in real life,
the student smartly explains the allure of playing a video game, while
at the same time, he underscores the distinction between the virtual
and the real. Instead of shutting this student down, the teacher found a way to engage in a dialogue with the student to turn what could have been a fruitless learning exercise into one that met the student’s interest level and challenged the student to be thoughtful and analytical about FPS games.

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