Moths to Flames, or Artfully Augmented Reality?

ImageListening to Katherine Isbister of the NYU Game Innovation Lab on NPR’s Science Friday called to mind the divide that exists among educators today over technology integration.

One caller complained of the “atomization of human interactions” that he sees from “people running around looking at screens.” He said he didn’t see the point in GIL research that could further encourage our addiction to our (mobile) devices.

Another caller wondered about how the GIL’s research could apply to help rural schools that have taken advantage of federal funding initiatives to put more of those same screens in our students’ hands in an effort to keep them from being further atomized by virtue of the isolated physical space they inhabited.

This is a healthy debate to have, but, for the most part, the debate is over and we have moved collectively and decidedly in the direction of greater technology integration in schools, rural and urban. The reality of that move is much more complex than either atomization and isolation versus vastly greater and healthier interconnectedness.

I used to drive a particularly introverted student to and from school, and he would tell me about the massive multiplayer on-line games that he spent a great deal of time playing when he got home. I sometimes found myself wishing that this student were required to participate in athletics, and, yet, I knew that athletics would likely not be an area that would leave him feeling good about himself.

Talk to students today who play massive multiplayer on-line games and they will tell you stories of interactions they have regularly in virtual spaces with people in faraway countries. Through these interactions, they have learned simple words and expressions in other languages, made new friends, and learned valuable (perhaps painful) lessons about cultural stereotypes. Without access to those games, would students like these go outdoors and have consistently healthy interactions with peers in their own communities? Would they have gone out and gotten in trouble, and learned from those experiences? Would they have spent that gaming time in front of the television watching SpongeBob Squarepants? Who is to say, really?

Talk to people who first met in virtual spaces and are now moving in together and planning futures together, as is the case with one of my close friends.

The reality of what Ms. Isbister called our “moths to flame” tendency is that we’re really interacting much more often with many more people through increasing access to virtual spaces made possible by new technologies.

It is no longer really about whether to further integrate technology in education, it is how – as Ms. Isbister so eloquently put it – to artfully use new technology to improve learning outcomes and quality of life.

I celebrate the Game Innovation Lab for thinking of artful ways to enhance our virtual and physical lives as well as our education. I find it fascinating that new research about “power poses” is informing research at GIL on ways to help students deal with math anxiety to improve learning outcomes.

The Game Innovation Lab has the minds to make a difference in education, to keep us away from the flames and steer us in the direction of artful integration of technology. Thank you, GIL!

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