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Learning Group

Divya Ashok, Katie Byrnes, Ryan Coyer, Henry Doan,
Ali Hassani, Chris Magill, Aaron Schram, Javier Velez


Independent Research Progress Report:

With the information gathering phase of our research complete, our group has found that the theme connecting each of our individual research interests is Learning by doing which includes and replaces the theme we had originally conceived for ourselves, contrasting social and individual learning. Under the theme Learning by Doing we have read authors in the areas of psychology, cognitive science, computer science, HCI, video games, education, education policy, and constructivist theory in education.

Our main preliminary finding is that there seems to be a broad consensus between experts in quite diverse fields that a constructivist model of learning, in which learning by doing is a central piece, is more accurate or preferable to another model, which is called instructivist, teacher-centered, or “computational” depending on the author and the field, in which learners are thought of as passive, and learning by doing is the exception.

For example, Carl Rogers, a humanist psychologist, wrote about learning and teaching in the following way:
“My experience has been that I cannot teach another person how to teach. It seem to me that anything that can be taught to another is relatively inconsequential, and has little or no significant influence on behavior. I realize increasingly that I am only interested in learnings which significantly influence behavior. I have come to feel that the only learning which significantly influences behavior is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning. Such self-discovered learning, truth that has been personally appropriated and assimilated in experience, cannot be directly communicated to another. I realize that I have lost interest in being a teacher. I have come to feel that the outcomes of teaching are either unimportant or hurtful. I realize that I am only interested in being a learner, preferably learning things that matter, that have some significant influence on my own behavior. I find it very rewarding to learn. I find that one of the best, but most difficult ways for me to learn is to drop my own defensiveness, at least temporarily, and to try to understand the way in which his experience seems and feels to the other person. I find that another way of learning for me is to state my own uncertainties, to try to clarify my puzzlements, and thus get closer to the meaning that my experience actually seems to have. It seems to mean letting my experience carry me on, in a direction which appears to be forward, toward goals that I can but dimly define, as I try to understand at least the current meaning of that experience.” (Rogers, On Becoming a Person)

In systems theory and theoretical cognitive science, Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela have advanced a constructivist model known as the Santiago theory of cognition. The central proposal of the Santiago theory is the identification of cognition with the process of life. In this theory, symbolic mediation of knowledge is not seen as an essential aspect of cognition. Rather, learning is seen as the way that organisms structurally couple with their environment, changing their structures, and as a result changing their behaviors, in order to achieve an ever closer fit with the environment. The authors trace the experimental and logical connections from this basic theoretical shift to an argument for constructivist classrooms like the ones made by Carl Rogers, Paulo Freire, John Dewey, and some of the authors we’ve read for this class.

An implication of this philosophy for school teachers is that a focus of their job should be to design and be part of classroom environments which nurture the particular types of growth that we value. Francis Hawkins provides a vivid illustration of the role of a teacher in a constructivist classroom, of the student-teacher relationship, and of the importance of quality materials in her book about a kindergarten class, Logic In Action.

In video game technology we have the capability to create artificial environments specifically tailored to promote certain types of learning. The common perception of video games as a medium is that they are and can only be used for the purposes of entertainment. In our reading, we have uncovered many other (and arguably more useful) applications.

Learning takes on many different forms and occurs in many different environments. In the context of video games, the majority of learning is done on an individual basis (i.e. I learn more and more as I complete each level of game X). In many of the papers that we’ve reviewed, the contention of the authors is that a person can learn much about an environment by interacting with an abstraction or simulation of that environment. For example, “A person playing Lineage can become an international financier, trading raw materials, buying and selling goods in different parts of the virtual world, and speculating on currencies. A Deus Ex player can experience life as a government special agent, where the line between state-sponsored violence and terrorism are called into question.”(, p. 4).

A question arises from that example: “Can video games be constructed in such a way that they teach the user practical and useful information about reality?” Our contention, shared and supported by the research that we’ve read, is that this is possible.

Independent Research Topics/Goals for the following weeks:

Now that we have each completed some individual research, come together again to discuss how these things relate under the theme Learning By Doing. These questions have been suggested to focus our discussion:

  • How will technology create opportunities for learning by doing?

  • Goals, Activities, Assessment for Hands-on Learning in a Design, Learning, & Collaboration Class

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