Handheld Learning, Day 2, Steven Johnson

Mark Kramer streamed a broadcast of this presentation to qik.

Everything bad is good for you. Increase of complexity in many media formats: TV shows, Internet. However, cultural authorities are providing a much different message. George Will: This is progress: more sophisticated delivery of stupidity.” (video games, computer games, movies on computer…adults are decreasingly distinguishable from children)

Increasing complexity in pop culture: The Sleeper Curve. Nobody realized this trend was happening.

Content, participation, interfaces.

1. Content

SimCity, Civilization are good examples of this: sim games have many interacting parts, multiple resources, multiple variables you can set. They can teach understanding of how complex systems work: ecology, economic, political. Looking at the fansites, to see what players do and ask, shows this: questions about labor, religion, foreign policy, etc.

To show progress, compare how to play PacMan (simple) to Zelda (content is not interesting, but the kind of thinking you have to do to get through the game; you have to figure out what you need to do on the fly; system thinking -> also needed for our lives; v. reading a traditional novel).

TV show Lost (v. Gilligan’s Island) and the Wire. Complicated show with many characters [I’m surprised he didn’t mention “24“]. Thinking on multiple levels at the same time. Lost’s mysteries: ontological, formal, mathematical, historical, geographical, biographical. Most shows have lived in the biographical sphere. All the other layers have been dropped on this show. We’re now adapted to this kind of entertainment, 25 years ago it wouldn’t have worked. It’s been built more like a video game, with outside of show participation (fan sites). Berlin showed an example of a fan-created map of underground layer in season 2 with annotated visual analysis to explain the map. The map is a conceptual safety net for viewers, it’s a game walk-through for a television show. TV has gotten so complicated that we need stuff like this map.

2. Participation

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: buffyology, Wikipedia entry on Buffy, fan fiction -> extension of the Buffy universe. Buffy meetups (buffy.meetup.com) -> technologies about what you can do on the screen and as an interface with the real world.

3. Interface

People who shape the interfaces that we use are becoming more and more important (goes beyond usability). Because of games we are getting better and better at interpreting complex interfaces. Interfaces are getting so complex that it seems like they may be interfering with the actual game (WoW interface example). Ability to see what is relevant and what isn’t, and being able to adapt to new interfaces. What is more important: those kinds of skills or the ability to do algebra? We’re testing algebra, but not these other skills

[so the big question is: how can we tie these skills to education, not just learning, but education??]

Interface innovations are at the core of many changes: blogger, myspace, youtube. Need to understand these to understand society and to be able to make new interfaces. Compare hypertext interfaces of 1995 (text, blue text, images) to interfaces today such as YouTube. (compare to radio to TV transformation, which is less significant in Johnson’s view; took 35 years to happen). Changes on the web happen much faster.

What does the Sleeper Curve mean for education?

  • We say we live in a short attention span culture, but it’s really not. Think about the time involved in reading a book v. playing a game, v. following a complex show. There is actually a lot of patience out there, if people are engaged in stuff that is designed in a way that will capture people
  • Spore: recreate the history of life. Complex system, participation, amazing series of interfaces. Interface follows the history of video gaming. Why not use Spore for education? Response: because school teaches you to become tolerant of doing very boring stuff….

Image Credit: My camera

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