Media and the Adolescent : Part 1: Edutainment

It's been a while since I last posted. I had been lagging behind in school and my mind was all over the place. For more on that, see last year's post on my problems with modern media.

I wanted to revisit that subject after a quick fiery discussion on Gamification of Education at my college. It's a battle of words between idealists and realists, on both sides. Something that is often dismissed as antisocial or praised as revolutionary. It's probably neither. Rather, it is the first steps in rethinking education for the Information Age.

Gamification
To answer the age-old question "How do I reach these kids?" many teachers (and companies) are trying to connect the attractive and compelling nature of games with the educational and social value of a classroom setting.

They do this sometimes by copying the RPG model. You, as an elementary student, become your avatar. And while you are trying to score points with your teacher to level up your character's skills, you're presumed to have progressed the same.

It kind of feels like you're tricking students. By making the learning process abstract and fun you may be getting the desired response, but does the student learn how this relates to real life? How do we know when a student engages authentically?

When we design and judge these 'games' or 'interactives' with education in mind, we need to ask fundamental questions:

- Where should real life begin and the virtual world end? This could be a whole other discussion, but in other words: which parts could be better done digitally, and should they?
- When are we adding value, and when are we doing things that sound cool and hip? Do we critically assess aspects of games that may be negative in the long run, or do we abuse these methods for our short-term goals?

Social Media

Not every interactive element is fun or engaging. A problem of many Electronic Learning Environments is that they go to waste. Teachers would rather stick to the old way or run into obstacles, students rarely keep up with the material or don't find it engaging enough.

Some people plead for letting more social media into the classroom. Enable the proper restrictions for a safe and useful environment within the larger context of social media. Have students study, collaborate, ask questions, discuss, all within the environment they have made their home: social networks.

Are we perhaps looking at it the wrong way?

How much should education stay away for pandering to the needs and the habits of students? On the one hand we should be critical of media consumption patterns that have formed naturally. Because what's natural is not always what's good for you. We can't, on the other hand, ignore the world we live in. We should strive to use these widely used media for good and for growth.

I would like to think that all this technology has the potential to transform the classroom in amazing ways. At the same time I am disappointed by the crude implementations that are popping up everywhere. 'Solutions' that exploit impulses and mind-numbing behavior, but have good marketing to convince educators.

On that note: In Part 2 I want to talk about impulses, compulsions and addictive side-effects. How we choose to subject children and adolescents to media, and where resulting social problems might stem from. A close look at media-parenting and isolation.

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