The Endless Ocean, Situated Learning & James Gee

Holiday Fun

At the beginning of the school holidays I asked Miss 4 and Miss 6 what we could do together for fun. Quite a list emerged, including – ride the bikes, play ‘Cinderella’,  take photos, see Toy Story 3, play soccer in the backyard, tease Mum and go to websites –  and ‘Dad, can you fix the Wii’?

The Wii is now fixed and we had fun playing Endless Ocean this morning.

Here’s a brief trailer, for the uninitiated, so everyone understands ‘the feel’ of the game:

 

Learning & the Endless Ocean

So, what about the game? Here’s a few of the opportunities the game afforded for learning this morning:

  • the Endless Ocean does not have a voice-over so Lucy, Miss 6, reads the narrative and instructions aloud to Sarah, who is very quick to point out, when her personal narrator slackens off, that she can’t read – ‘yet’!
  • also, the player must check the cabin for emails and to consult the logbook about the fish species encountered
  • the characters converse and banter 
  • each new species met while diving is logged and more details become available the more the diver interacts; the vocabulary is often very challenging for such young girls with detailed descriptions and scientific names eg. ‘elongated pectoral fins’ and ‘manta birostris’
  • writing/reading for different purposes and contexts
  • the Wii controller requires steady hands and a good eye; it took quite a while before either was proficient but they persisted. Sarah still gets me to hold it while she steers and pushes buttons
  • the compass is an important part of navigating in the game and Sarah is particularly obsessive about heading in the…”east, Lucy, east”…correct direction
  • discussion is still the most important part of the learning process and there was an ‘endless ocean’ of that covered today

The choice of video game is important and this has led me to a number of seemingly simple conclusions about the Endless Ocean:

  1. this game, for us, has a larger context for our learning connected to an imagined future/need/deire as the girls want to scuba dive with me, when they turn 13
  2. it is a tranquil and serene game which is aesthetically pleasing “it’s beautiful”
  3. the characters are young females scuba diving to research and are concerned with our environment. There’s no mall or endless functionality to change hairstyle, lipstick, clothes, shoes etc. like so many games designed for young girls (they like their ‘Princess’ Wii game though ;O)
  4. it relies on written text, some of it very challenging, rather than voiceover
  5. potential – we stumbled on the Japanese language version of the site which is very interesting to Sarah – “what’s that funny writing”

Situated Learning and James Gee

Playing a fun game like this, although some reviewers are less than positive and describe it as ‘boring’, led to reflection about situated learning.

Is it news to any Learning Professional that people do best when learning is ’embedded in an activity, context or culture’ and that de-contextualised learning leads to boredom and disengagement? We improve our skills when having a wothwhile purpose, enjoyed in the context of our ‘real’ or ‘imagined’ life. The language of situated learning is embedded in all kinds of education and syllabus documents but school so often fails to be ‘authentic’. The bell ringing and everyone shuffling off is not conducive to ‘getting in the zone’ for too long at all.

Have you read James Gee’s work or listened to him speak at a conference?

I love most of what James Gee has written. Started off with his books and ideas about video games and then exploring his back catalogue via interlibrary loan and my wallet. It is some of the most important work about language and learning ever written and I cannot recommend any academic work more highly.

Gee taught me that learning is contextual, situated and social. His book, Situated language and learning: a critique of traditional schooling is amusingly brilliant and a completely engaging ‘must read’.

Gee’s ideas on assessment are also very sage.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, I had some validation while writing this post as my youngest daughter came up to me with the cover asking me to read the synopsis – which I did with delight.

‘What’s interact mean, Dad?’

I know, when they find out about the sequel, the girls will want it as a present; I will be happy to oblige.

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2 Comments

  1. What an interesting post! Sounds like your girls are very lucky to have such an engaged dad! And sounds like you are very lucky to have such darling little girls with their eyes wide open to learn.
    I completely agree with your comments about authentic learning. It is SO important to provide learning experiences for our students that feel like fun, compel them to learn, motivate them to seek answers, and just allow them to ask questions! If it is contextualised, some of the answers are more relevant and some of the questions are deeper. And isn’t that what we are trying to achieve?

  2. Darcy,
    Lovely to see you championing such a tremendous resource. We first saw this back in 2008 http://bit.ly/9FWTTh and thought that the immersive/sandbox nature of the game would provide the perfect vehicle for us to use this as the contextual hub in a cross-curricular learning project in the upper primary school. Our frst efforts with the game can be viewed here http://bit.ly/5l4zm We are constantly heartened at the reaction of teachers and classes in schools around Scotland who have been using the game in class and how it is impacting on so positively on teaching and learning. My development officers at the Consoalrium in Scotland are supporting schools with a range of game based learning rojects including another Endless Ocean 2 and another immersive game called Wild Earth African Safari. Again just fantastic learning going on. We’ll be publishing some case studies very soon. The situated learning view is one that is very much informing our practice too.
    All the best
    Derek

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