Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Open Creativity (Game Education Summit -- Part 3)

Lance Weiler and Vicki Callahan talked about their concept of open creativity. Open creativity, as I understood it, was the explicit integration of the audience, players, viewers, students, whatever into the creative process in a transmedia environment. Transmedia, in turn, is the term these guys used to describe what I think Flint Dille is also getting at in The Blur.

The essential element of both open creativity and The Blur seems to me to be that content providers (including teachers) can no longer expect to engage their audience, players, students, etc. through only one media. You can't just make a film, for example and be done with it. You need to have a book and a documentary and a game, etc.

In addition, you cannot expect the audience, players, students, etc to remain passive in the process. They are going to want to participate in (or, at least, have a window into) your process. Weiler probably put it best when he called open creativity an evolution in storytelling involving both amateurs and professionals.

I see something analogous to this in the modern classroom all the time. It revolves around the concept of peer learning. It is one of the most powerful and under-utilized tools in modern education. You almost never see a lesson plan that explicitly takes into account or incorporates peer learning yet almost every teacher depends upon it.

Peer learning has, in fact, been brought up several times in this conference. Not in those terms exactly but it often permeates the presentations. Don Marinelli, yesterday's keynote speaker flat came out and said the the reason behind his program's success was that they let the students be the teachers.

Now, that is all well and good but there has been little talk about what that means or how to implement that in the classroom. This is ultimately why I found the open creativity presentation so interesting. Here is the logic: If the game design analogue of peer learning is open creativity, then what lessons from open creativity can I bring back to the concept of peer learning?

  • Think of learning as a social experience. I am not suggesting that individual reflection is not an essential part of learning but, currently, there seems to be a unwarranted bias towards modes of learning that emphasize individual activities over group activities. Part of this is due to philosophy and part is due to problems of classroom management but the lesson being implicitly taught here is that games may well be a way to overcome this.
  • See the students as collaborators. This not only plays into their preferences it also helps them begin to model their behavior along professional lines. Modeling behavior is a powerful learning tool. Students, for example, who see themselves as scientists rather than as students, do much better in science classes.
  • Plan for multiple levels of interactivity and "unlock" new content as the students achieve. "Unlocking content" is a very game-ish term; e.g. kill the big monster and get a new sword or open up a new story line. I am not sure how this translates into the classroom but I am interested in exploring how the idea of "unlocking content" might change how I teach my courses.
  • Franchise your content. Even Weiler and Callahan weren't sure what this means but they seemed to be pushing towards a time where amateurs who had contributed adequate time and effort into a creative project might derive benefits more tangible than a t-shirt or free tickets. Education already does this to an extent. Peer tutors are often paid and one could see the granting of a degree (particularly a masters or doctorate) to be a license to teach the same material to others. Again, the interesting possibilities emerge from thinking about this activity explicitly as a franchise instead of more traditional ways.
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