Thursday, October 9, 2008

Teaching critical thinking, teaching attitudes

There's a fundamental problem in game curricula that a pamphlet cannot repair. When you teach game design, you are teaching critical thinking. You are teaching habits and attitudes that contribute to success as a designer. And you are teaching people to DO, to actually design games (generally to begin with, non-electronic ones, and electronic ones later).

What you should not be doing, because it's very little help, is teaching people to memorize a lot of material and regurgitate it on multiple-choice tests. Yet most teachers are content with that memorization as "teaching", not just in game curricula, in all curricula. I recall one college teacher who insisted on teaching the Windows 2000 operating system even though the school's computers only had Windows 98. She showed the students slides from the textbook. She said "they're scoring 80% on the tests", and I said, "but I bet they can't DO diddly squat." In another case a LONG time ago, a college taught COBOL at a location where none of the computers (Apple IIs) could compile COBOL. "Do"?

High schools have become pure training centers, where students are taught to memorize the answers to the end-of-class tests. The kids get to college and have no clue about thinking or about learning. Unfortunately, "memorize and regurgitate" is the easy way to teach, and multiple choice tests are easy to grade (Blackboard can do it).

Actual successful practitioners are often not allowed to teach subjects because they don't have a degree in the field. Teaching is more and more a matter of "those who have never done, teach".

Until we change this situation--and we're going the opposite way at the moment--teaching at any level will tend to be mediocre, no matter what the actual practitioners hope for.


Ian Schreiber said...

I'm not convinced that we're going in the wrong direction right now.

Take me as an example. This winter I'll be developing one online class, teaching another, and teaching an on-ground course at a second school... all while working on an MFA in game design. Give me a couple years and I'll have the credentials to teach at any school.

I know a couple other game designers who are either considering or actively pursuing advanced degrees for the same reason.

On the flip side, I also see students who are staying in school long enough to get the MFA instead of exiting to industry with a BA. This actually has some advantages; the odds are greater to actually score a game design job right out of college, and once you're in you'll have more of a chance of moving up the ranks instead of being typecast as a pixel monkey.

And what happens when these advanced students put in their requisite 5.5 years in the industry and start looking elsewhere? A few of them will return to higher ed, and they'll have both the academic credentials and the experience to teach and teach well.

Lewis Pulsipher said...

Ian, you and other game pros like you are the proverbial drop in a bucket. More game creation degrees are being started each year than the number of folks such as yourself going into academia.

I confess, though, my comments apply to virtually all curricula in colleges and universities. Practitioners are being forced out, or being shut out, not allowed in.

"Always do right--this will gratify some and astonish the rest."Mark Twain
"A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." Antoine de Saint-Exup'ery

"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." Albert Einstein

"Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler." Albert Einstein

"The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal." -- Aristotle