Monthly Archives: January 2009

A Theory of Cognition

Cognition as (Inter)Activity in the Techno-Cultural World

* How do we learn?

* How do learning, culture and technology belong to or juxtapose with cognition?

* What is cognition in a rich reality, complex and shared world?

New perspectives on thinking and learning view cognition not only as the mental processing of information occurring in the brain, but also, and more importantly, as (inter)activity in our technological and cultural worlds. Techno-cultural theory, which is grounded in the interdisciplinary study of The Learning Sciences, asserts that cognition is inseparable from epistemology and ontology as a complex system of technological and cultural phenomenon distributed over (not divided amongst) mind, body, artifact and activity in socially organized settings. In this view, cognition is not bounded by the skin or the skull, but is a cultural process of coming to be, in-interaction-with the technologies that we use (Petrina et al., 2008, p.386).

Learning can be thought of as:
1) “adaptive reorganization in a complex system” (Hutchins, 1995, p.289) or
2) “assembling what assembles the world” (Petrina et. al, in press) or
3) progress or growth along a trajectory of participation within a community of practice (Greeno, 1997).

Learning and making sense of things are part and parcel of what people do in the world. I believe that we come to understand our being in the world through: 1) interaction with natural and technological resources, and 2) participation within specific cultural contexts which have their own characteristic discourses, values and goals. For example, think of any idea or object (concrete or abstract): you become familiar with the affordances and constraints of that idea or object by interacting with it. At the same time, your experiences are shaped by your belonging to a particular community of people for whom the object has meaning, usefulness and relevance.

This techno-cultural perspective informs my research: in order to investigate cognition and the kind of learning that takes place in game-play and game-design, I must understand that game worlds are not merely digital environments where things just happen, rather, they are distinctive cultures and technologically-mediated communities where people engage in complex (individual and collaborative) cognitive activities and substantial identity development as well (aka: learning).

Your thoughts? PJ

Greeno, J. (1997). Response: On claims that answer the wrong questions. Educational Researcher, 26 (1), 5-17.

Hutchins, E. (1995). Cognition in the wild. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Petrina, S., Feng, F. & Kim, J. (2008). Researching cognition and technology: How we learn across the lifespan. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 18, 375-396.

Petrina, S., Castro, J., Feng, F., Hall, L., James, K., Kojima, D., Rusnak, P. & Trey, L. (submitted 9 May 2008). On learning, and the learning arts, sciences and technologies. Learning Inquiry.

The Juxtaposition of Social Change and Gaming

Times are changing in our technologically connected world and the way we think about games needs to change too. Games do much more than entertain us and research shows how games offer inherently engaging environments for learning complex concepts that are difficult to teach, like sustainable development and global interdependence.

I am most intrigued by the growing genre of serious games about real-world issues, games that encourage youth to become more responsible citizens, including: Becoming a World Hero (UNICEF), eLections: Your Adventures in Politics (Cable in the Classroom), Freedom HIV/AIDS mobile phone games (House of Learning), Climate Challenge (BBC), Re-Mission (HopeLab), Whack TB (Families USA Global Health Initiative), A Force More Powerful (International Center on Nonviolent Conflict), Play the News (Impact Games), Stop Whaling (GreenPeace UK), 3rd World Farmer (IT University of Copenhagen), McDonald’s (MolleIndustria), Karma Tycoon (Do Something Inc), Planet Green Game (Starbucks), PeaceMaker (Impact Games), Nuclear Weapons (The Nobel Peace Prize), Free Rice (United Nations WFP) and Fatworld (ITVS). I advocate that these games for change offer important opportunities to reach and engage youth with the social, cultural, technological and political issues effecting their lives and futures.

According to a large-scale quantitative study on Teens, Games & Civics (Pew Research Center, 2008), 97% of all American teens play some kind of video game: “Game playing is universal, with almost all teens playing games and at least half playing games on a given day.

Not only is gaming ubiquitous in the social and leisure lives of youth, it also occupies an increasingly important role in civic and political life:

76% of gamers help others while gaming,

52% report game-play where they think about moral and ethical issues,

44% report playing games where they learn about a problem in society, and

40% report playing games where they learn about a social issue.

With certainty, the growing genre of games for change matters and the research questions are piling up. How do we learn about social justice by playing video games designed for change? What is the pedagogical potential for long-term thinking and deep conceptual understanding beyond the simulated game-play? What are the relationships between in-game experiences and real-world engagement? How might the popularity of gaming ignite interest in civic and moral leadership? Can communities of gamers playing together learn to change their attitudes and actions at both the individual and collective levels of society? How might gaming contribute to student success in school settings by making learning more responsive, meaningful and relevant?

Games for change is a new frontier of unknown opportunities as research is just beginning to understand how simulated learning experiences transfer to the real world. While the potential for games is breathtaking, a positive advocation is not complete without a serious reminder of the dark side lurking within diverse gaming experiences. We are circularly implicated as gaming plays an increasingly vital role in our lives: we make the gaming technologies that then shape who we are and how we exist in the world.

If the games we design and play have considerable effect upon our moral and social identities, then we have an enormous responsibility to create games that are valued for their contribution to the quality of life that is worth living. The current reality, however, is that gaming is a medium with distinctly political and/or economic agendas, and most games (including educational games) are created in the absence of any coherent theories of learning without a solid underlying body of research. As such, it is no surprize that the vast majority of the top-twenty selling video games contain heavily disturbing and violent content (Entertainment Software Association, 2008).

Games are not culturally benign and a major concern is the equitable representation of gender, race, class, religion and sexuality—and not the further dissemination of white, western culture. Access for all is another challenge for the serious games movement and no matter how meaningful games are, there is no magical built in guarantee that everybody will be included. Therefore, collaborative efforts between students, parents, educators, governments, social organizations and game developers are important to enable disenfranchised youth to participate in the learning opportunities afforded by digital networks and gaming technologies.

We need to be mindful of both industry developments and academic research, especially as gaming is evolving from a rather vexed history to a much sweeter spot within the field of education. Now is not the time for passive acceptance, it is the time for critical thinking and continuous questioning about the roles that games can and should play. My marked enthusiasm is not that I believe the world’s problems will be solved by simply playing games, but rather that game experiences stimulate new ways of thinking and open up questions for discussion about deep-rooted issues of social justice. For example, how might the future of education be shaped by playing games for change in the post-industrial school? What kinds of games will we need to play to learn and practice the social, organizational and technological skills required for participation in a globalized culture? How might massively multi-generational teams of students and experts join together to explore and solve real-world challenges by making social-change games?

Our children look to us to teach and inspire them in meaningful ways, and it behooves us to seriously consider how playing games for change might help humanity move towards the goal of a more benevolent future for our planet earth home. Playing video games can create a socially-responsive space for learning as well as an authentic pedagogical place for developing the sustained engagement that will perhaps make today’s gamers the most socially conscious generation in history. Parents and teachers, I hope that you will play these meaningful games with your children: for fun and for change.


How do we learn PEACE?

Did you know there are well over 1,000,000 texts about peace… each read by an average of three people, including the author and the publisher? [source: joke!]
Who really wants to read about peace? From the reactions I receive about my interests in Peace & Gaming, peace is not generally valued as a cutting-edge or critical area of gaming research. Peace is just a lovely little old lady idea, merely a sweet or trivial topic of inquiry…
In my search for a more scientifically verifiable and rigorous approach to studying peace, I am enlivened by the work of world-renowned quantum physicist, Dr. John Hagelin (PhD from Harvard). Impressively, Hagelin’s work includes some of the most cited references in the physical sciences and his outstanding research contributions have earned him official recognition as a scientist in the tradition of Einstein. Dr. Hagelin is unique among scientists in being one of the first to apply advanced knowledge for the practical benefit of global human concerns.
According to Hagelin, permanent world peace is real and can be achieved by stimulating technologies from the science of consciousness. Yes, there is an actual science of peace because the field of consciousness is the field of unity, the field of bliss on a tangible, powerful physical level millions of times more powerful than a nuclear force… if we can just access it. Consciousness can access peace, as Hagelin believes, thus we need more peacemakers who develop their nervous systems to the point where they become lighthouses radiating peace. Together, these peaceful people will stimulate the unified field of peace, simultaneously strengthening and unifying the world’s diversity in happiness, prosperity and invincibility.
Dr. Hagelin sheds his light further: when individual awareness expands to become universal, it creates a ripple in that universal field just like it were a ripple in the electromagnetic field. When we stimulate the fundamental field of consciousness and unity, this ripple propagates in all directions at the speed of light. Research shows that to have a really powerful effect, you need these ripples rippling in close proximity to each other, thereby creating not a ripple, but a tidal wave of unity, peace and coherence. This coherence, unity and peace gets communicated through the field of consciousness and that’s why it is important to understand that consciousness is fundamentally a shared field that underlies and pervades us all.
Rather amazingly, the strength of numbers is such that it doesn’t take that many peaceful people to influence a difference. Hagelin’s research shows the that the radiated influence of peace in the environment grows roughly as the square of the number of people doing it together. This n2 (n-squared) effect amplifies the power to be enough to produce a demonstrable, repeatable, publishable effect upon crime rates, terrorism, even stopping warfare in war torn areas like the middle-east.
The Transcendental Meditation technique is described as a mental procedure that allows the mind to quiet itself and to practice of peace as a higher state of human consciousness. In October 2008, David Lynch (yes, the celebrated film-maker who is also a peace-maker and a long-time transcendental meditator) met with Israel president Shimon Peres in Jerusalem and secured his support for a large peace-creating group in Israel, to be composed of 500 Palestinians and Israelis who will practice the Transcendental Meditationprogram together. Hagelin’s research indicates that this group should be large enough to create a measurable influence of peace in the region.
Peace is a powerful technology, a quantum science that exists as a higher state of human consciousness. David Lynch explains this concept with the simple metaphor of how darkness goes away when the sun comes up. The sun doesn’t have to drive the darkness away, the sun just comes up and it glows. Similarly, once the unified field gets enlivened with a higher state of human consciousness, then negativity goes – it just goes…

// PJ

How do we learn tolerance, diversity & acceptance?

Please do watch this video: Instruction Manual for Life. I think you will enjoy how it deals with issues involving tolerance for difference, diversity and acceptance. Quite a profound message conveyed through the simple metaphor of a cupboard.

Light your way, PJ

Flash game as a vehicle of social protest?

ATTENTION: You now have 3 minutes to Raid Gaza:

With certainty, this new little flash game provokes many thoughts and questions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I’ve played this game with my nine-year old daughter, and after several attempts, we have learned:

–> This is a senseless struggle; Israelis are winning at a rate of 25 to 1.

–> The Palestinians are firing rockets at Israeli settlements, pretty much at random, depicting the Arabs as crazed, senseless terrorists who are acting without reason, without “aim.”

–> The screen layout with Gaza cramped against the shore and Israel with the wide open spaces and pastoral fields emphasises the basis of the original conflict – fighting for ownership of historically sacred land.

–> The Israelis have access to a huge arsenal of high-tech weaponry as the US is an endless source of $$$ for Israel – why bother sending in any troops who might get killed and count against your score when you can just constantly bomb Gaza with missiles on the US dime?

–> The insanity of using violent military action to solve conflict – you are given bonus points if your rocket destroys a hospital which emphasizes the sick, unconscionable reality of the real-life situation. For example, yesterday an Israeli rocket hit a Gaza school killing 40 people, and my understanding is that the school was targeted because the Hamas were launching rockets from the school.

In my opinion, the unpalatable horrors of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are strikingly communicated in this game in a very real way. The game play uses very dark humor: the winning strategy is to thoughtlessly build/spend, get aid and kill as fast as you can (meanwhile the background music plays a ‘classy bar loop’). Although over-simplified, biased and disturbing, Raid Gaza! is definitely successful at raising awareness and sending out a sharp and concise message (there are already 394 reviews and the game was just released one week ago). I think that adding political commentary to a flash game should happen more often as people not interested in war politics will be enticed to participate in the discussion. Browsing through the comments, I find a mixture of political commentary and lively debate, simple reviews of the game and the typical kinds of inanities that one might expect on a website that is likely to experience high traffic from teenage males (who like saying things just to get a rise out of others).

I think this game is targeted to reach out to an audience who would not normally discuss or pay attention to the details of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. Although insensitive and one-sided, I wonder if people would be as likely to forward Raid Gaza! to their friends to play if the game was less disturbing? If you feel uncomfortable with the virtual game violence that is based upon actual conflict, perhaps that is the point?

What message do you think this game is trying to communicate? What might improve the game and it’s delivery? How might this game be use as a point of entry to encourage a deeper understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian political issues? Can this game be responsibly used in a classroom educational setting to learn about conflict/resolution?

FYI: a brief interview with the Raid Gaza! game creator:

Save Israel is another simple flash game that, unlike Raid Gaza, clearly takes the Israeli side: You can save Israel by first alerting the city (click on it) and then blow up the impending rocket (click on it).

Peace, hope and healing for the Israelis & Palestinians…. PJ