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Dewey and Video Games: From Education through Occupations to Education through Simulations

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Abstract

Critics like Leonard Waks argue that video games are, at best, a dubious substitute for the rich classroom experiences that John Dewey wished to create and that, at worst, they are profoundly miseducative. Using the example of Fate of the World, a climate change simulation game, David Waddington addresses these concerns through a careful demonstration of how video games can recapture some of the lost potential of Dewey's original program of education through occupations. Not only do simulation games realize most of the original goals of education through occupations, but they also solve some of the serious practical problems that Dewey's curriculum generated. Waddington concludes the essay with an analysis of Waks's critiques and some cautionary notes about why it is important to be temperate in our endorsement of educational video gaming.
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DEWEY AND VIDEO GAMES: FROM EDUCATION THROUGH
OCCUPATIONS TO EDUCATION THROUGH SIMULATIONS
David I. Waddington
Department of Education
Concordia University
A. Critics like Leonard Waks argue that video games are, at best, a dubious substitute for the
rich classroom experiences that John Dewey wished to create and that, at worst, they are profoundly
miseducative. Using the example of Fate of the World, a climate change simulation game, David
Waddington addresses these concerns through a careful demonstration of how video games can recapture
some of the lost potential of Dewey’s original program of education through occupations. Not only do
simulation games realize most of the original goals of education through occupations, but they also solve
some of the serious practical problems that Dewey’s curriculum generated. Waddington concludes the
essay with an analysis of Waks’s critiques and some cautionary notes about why it is important to be
temperate in our endorsement of educational video gaming.
I
In a 1984 article, “The Shame of American Education,” B. F. Skinner wrote of
the fascination that video games hold for children and asked, “What would teachers
not give to see their students applying themselves with the same eagerness?”1For
Skinner, the recipe for pedagogical success was simple — successful video games
were well-executed schedules of reinforcement built around a set of tasks, and
successful curricula should be arranged similarly. Skinner’s influential educational
followers agreed, and, as a result, many of the top-selling educational games of
the early 1980s were built around this principle; they were basically programmed
instruction modules with a thin veneer of “gamification” around them.2
There has been a lot of water under the bridge since then, however, and the
nature of academic support for video gaming has changed significantly. Some of
the strongest advocates of educational video gaming now come from a quarter that
is diametrically opposed to Skinnerian behaviorism: the modern-day inheritors
of the Deweyan tradition. David Shaffer, for example, dedicates a substantial
portion of his book How Computer Games Help Children Learn to the claim
that games “embody some of the ideas about learning popularized by one of the
giants of progressive education, John Dewey.”3Schaffer maintains that certain
kinds of video games immerse children in simulated worlds that pose the kinds
of experiential, structured problems of which Dewey would have approved, and
1. B. F. Skinner, “The Shame of American Education,” American Psychologist 39, no. 9 (1984): 952.
2. See, for example, Janice Davidson and Richard K. Eckert, Math Blaster, 5.25" diskette (Torrance, CA:
Davidson and Associates, 1983).
3. David Williamson Shaffer, How Computer Games Help Children Learn (New York: Palgrave Macmil-
lan, 2006), 123.
EDUCATIONAL THEORY Volume 65 Number 1 2015
© 2015 Board of Trustees University of Illinois
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other scholars sympathetic to progressivism, including Linda Darling-Hammond,
Craig Cunningham, and James Paul Gee, have echoed this view over the years.4
Yet not all progressives are equally sanguine about the Deweyan elements of
video games. In an analysis that will serve as the point of departure for this essay,
Leonard Waks contends that video games are, at best, a second-rate substitute
for the rich classroom experiences that Dewey wished to create and, at worst,
profoundly miseducative.5
My aim in what follows is to address the concerns of Waks and others by offer-
ing a careful demonstration of how video games can recapture some of the lost
potential of Dewey’s original educational agenda. In order to construct this case,
I will begin by outlining Dewey’s program for education through occupations and
offer a brief analysis of why it failed to work. I will then suggest that we should
attempt to revitalize education through occupations and that simulation games
are a promising tool for doing so due to the fact that they address some of the
original program’s most debilitating problems. In developing this argument, I will
make use of an extended example: Fate of the World, a climate change simulation
game. Finally, I will engage with Waks’s arguments against gaming and demon-
strate that although his arguments fall short in certain respects, there are still a
number of compelling reasons to be temperate in our enthusiasm for simulation
gaming.
W W E  O
In the opening pages of the first chapter of School and Society, Dewey discusses
the problem that gave rise to his system of education through occupations. From
his academic post in Chicago, he clearly understood that America was transition-
ing to an industrial society, and he thought that important social knowledge was
being lost in this transition. Dewey felt that in the mid-nineteenth-century rural
America in which he had been raised, people had understood the social systems of
production that underpinned everyday life. He commented,
Those of us who are here today need go back only one, two, or three generations to find a time
when the household was practically the center in which were carried on all the typical
forms of industrial occupation. The clothing worn was for the most part made in the house;
the members of the household were usually familiar also with the shearing of the sheep, the
4. James Paul Gee, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (New
York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003); Craig Cunningham, “Transforming Schooling Through Technology:
Twenty-First-Century Approaches to Participatory Learning,” Education and Culture 25, no. 2 (2009):
46– 61; and Robert Cwiklik, “Dewey Wins! If the ‘New’ Teaching Methods Pushed by High-Tech Gurus
Sound Familiar, It Isn’t Surprising,” Wall Street Journal, November 17, 1997, R17.
5. Leonard J. Waks, “Computer Mediated Experience and Education,” Educational Theory 51, no. 4
(2001): 415– 432.
DAVID I. WADDINGTON is Associate Professor in the Department of Education at Concordia Uni-
versity, Office LB-545-5, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W., LB-579, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3G 1 M8;
e-mail <dwadding@education.concordia.ca>. His primary areas of scholarship are civic education, the
work of John Dewey, and the use (and misuse) of video games as educational tools.
W Dewey and Video Games 3
carding and spinning of the wool, and the plying of the loom. Instead of pressing a button and
flooding the house with electric light, the whole process of getting illumination was followed
in its toilsome length, from the killing of the animal and the trying of fat to the making of
wicks and dipping of candles. The supply of flour, of lumber, of foods, of building materials
was produced in the immediate neighborhood, in shops which were constantly open to
inspection and often centers of neighborhood congregration. The entire industrial process stood
revealed
6
For the urban, early twentieth-century child, these processes and the beneficial
educational experiences and outcomes that accompanied them were often out of
reach — everyday life had changed, and urbanization and industrialization meant
that many children’s everyday realities were vastly different from what they had
once been in nineteenth-century rural America. Industrial and social processes that
had once been widely visible and broadly distributed were being transitioned into
far less transparent centralized industrial processes. Dewey noted, however, that
it was no use simply bemoaning the loss of these valuable experiences that were
falling by the wayside in the face of industrialization and urbanization. Instead,
what was needed was a concrete plan to recapture these experiences through a
new curriculum.7
Education through occupations was one of the centerpieces of Dewey’s new
educational program at the University Laboratory School, and it was intended,
among other things, to recapture the value of these informal production experi-
ences in the home. The teachers at the University Lab School were tasked with
reconstructing educative occupations, and in School and Society Dewey explains
how this was done through the example of textile work. Students would start the
process at the beginning, with the raw materials (for example, wool). They would
analyze the affordances of these raw materials, coming to understand the chal-
lenges of processing them into a more finished state. They would then work the
wool fibers toward their finished state, and, with guidance from their teachers,
they would reinvent carding and spinning devices. Next, with an understanding
of the basic production processes in hand, the children would transition toward
knowledge of the ways in which the modern, industrialized versions of this pro-
cess functioned. This discussion not only included technical details, but focused
significantly on social implications as well. Dewey remarked,
Then the children are introduced to the invention next in historic order seeing its necessity,
and tracing its effects, not only upon that particular industry, but upon modes of social life.
I need not speak of the science involved in this nor, again, of the historical side — the
influence which these inventions have had upon humanity.8
In their account of the Dewey School, teachers Katherine Camp Mayhew and
Anna Edwards discuss the emphasis placed upon the social implications of
6. John Dewey, The School and Society and the Child and the Curriculum (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1990), 12.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid., 21.
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industrialization, noting that life had acquired “comfort and beauty” for some,
which raised “the goading query — why not comfort and beauty for all?”9
The rediscovery of industrial and agricultural processes was not the only criti-
cal aspect of education through occupations — in concert with these reenactments,
the students also simulated social systems. Mayhew and Edwards describe a situa-
tion in which six-year-olds built a simulated wheat farm and its associated supply
chain. The children constructed a pretend play in which they grew winter wheat,
harvested it, ground it, distributed it, and manufactured it into other products.
Mayhew and Edwards comment, “Some of [the children] were to be farmers, some
trainmen, some mill hands, and some grocers in different towns.”10 This kind
of scenario was repeated numerous times: the children reenacted cattle farming,
sheep ranching, irrigation, lumber camps, and coal mining.11 In each case, the chil-
dren would not only be led to understand the details of the production process, but
also the various social roles that were implicated in these processes.
Education through occupations had a number of educational aims. First,
Dewey felt that the tasks that children performed were salutary from the stand-
point of teaching them habits of self-discipline and cooperation. Both the occu-
pational tasks and the social simulations were designed to be cooperative, and
some of the occupational tasks (for example, building a smelter or building a
shed outside the school) required substantial attention to detail. Second, and more
importantly, children were also expected to develop habits of scientific inquiry.
Education through occupations required the children to figure things out; it was
not enough simply to build a smelter from a plan — the children first had to make
several unsuccessful attempts to build it, discovering principles of draft and com-
bustion on their way to developing a successful plan for the smelter. Likewise,
in the textile tasks, the children had to invent their own carding and spinning
devices. The teachers encouraged the children to experiment and to develop habits
of thinking through problems systematically and carefully.12
An additional desired outcome, the outcome that will concern us most in this
analysis, was coming to understand how social systems worked. This, as Dewey
himself indicated above, was a critical goal of education through occupations.
Nineteenth-century citizens had had a better of sense of the technologies and
social systems that underpinned everyday life, but the transition to industrialism
had made acquiring this kind of understanding more difficult. Dewey felt that
this kind of understanding was critical from the standpoint of citizenship — by
looking at sociotechnical systems such as cloth production, he thought, “the mind
is introduced to much more fundamental and controlling influences than appear
9. Katherine Camp Mayhew and Anna Edwards, The Dewey School: The Laboratory School of the
University of Chicago, 1896–1903 (Chicago: D. Appleton Century, 1936), 314.
10. Ibid., 86.
11. Ibid., 92.
12. Dewey, School and Society, 20.
W Dewey and Video Games 5
in the political and chronological records of history.”13 The kind of sociotechnical
understanding that Dewey hoped children would develop has been referred to
elsewhere as “technological transparency,” which is a term that has been adapted
from the work of Jean Lave.14 For Dewey, empowered workers and citizens were
people who had acquired at least some level of familiarity and facility with this
kind of understanding.
Ultimately, however, the various intended outcomes of education through
occupations — namely, habits of scientific inquiry, technological transparency,
and cooperation — amount to a comprehensive educational program that is sub-
stantially more ambitious than any of these individual outcomes. In order to see
this, it is helpful to turn to Democracy and Education, where Dewey discusses the
true meaning of “vocational education.” For Dewey, the development of a voca-
tion, which he defined as “any form of continuous activity which renders service
to others and engages personal powers in behalf of the accomplishment of results,”
was critical for human flourishing on both the individual and social level.15 The
origins of this concept can be traced back to Dewey’s 1891 book Outlines of a
Critical Theory on Ethics, in which he drew upon G. W. F. Hegel’s analysis in the
Philosophy of Right to emphasize the primary importance of developing a work
life that fulfilled one’s own interests as well as contributed to one’s community,
and it also lay at the heart of the Dewey School, as Dewey acknowledged when he
suggested that the school’s “chief task” was to create a form of life that reconciled
the individual and the social in this way.16 Chris Higgins has written of a vocation
as an “axis of salience that defines an environment” for the person who experi-
ences it, and, perhaps above all, one can think of education through occupations
as a proving ground for helping students discover and develop this axis of salience
that will help them navigate their lives.17
This does not obviate the importance of technological transparency, however
— at the end of his chapter on vocation in Democracy and Education, Dewey took
pains to note that preparation for vocation in this broad sense would necessarily
include “training in science to give intelligence and initiative in dealing with
material and agencies of production, and study of economics, civics, and politics,
13. Ibid.,22.
14. David I. Waddington, “Scientific Self-Defense: Transforming Dewey’s Idea of Technological Trans-
parency,” Educational Theory 60, no. 5 (2010): 621–638; and Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, Situated
Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).
15. John Dewey, Democracy and Education (New York: Macmillan, 1916), 319.
16. David I. Waddington, “Uncovering Hegelian Connections: A New Look at Dewey’s Early Educational
Ideas,” Education and Culture 26, no. 1 (2010): 67– 81. See also John Dewey, Outlines of a Critical Theory
of Ethics,inJohn Dewey: The Early Works, 1882– 1898, vol. 3, ed. Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale: Southern
Illinois University Press, 1969); and G. W. F. Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, ed. Allen W.
Wood, trans. H. B. Nisbet (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991).
17. Christopher Higgins, “Dewey’s Conception of Vocation: Existential, Aesthetic, and Educational
Implications for Teachers,” Journal of Curriculum Studies 37, no. 4 (2005): 441–464.
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to bring the future worker into touch with the problems of the day and the various
methods predisposed for its improvement.”18 A critical part of the development of
a vocation was the development of what Dewey called a “courageous intelligence,”
which one might define as the ability to respond knowledgeably, effectively, and
experimentally to the challenges posed by both public and private life.19 Being
well versed in technological transparency gives students the courage to work to
decode the world.
W D’ E  O C O
Despite the fact that Dewey’s educational experiments at the Laboratory
School were widely hailed and helped make him a successful public intellectual,
the system of education through occupations was not especially successful. Today,
Dewey is remembered much more as a key progenitor of child-centered education,
and the actual educational program laid out in School and Society is broadly
misunderstood and largely forgotten.
There are a number of possible reasons for the lack of success of Dewey’s
program, and one of the most significant can be assigned to Dewey himself. In
School and Society, Dewey does not lay out the purposes and procedures behind
his education system particularly systematically. This is partly a result of the fact
that some of the essays that make up this collection were originally given as public
addresses and hence do not fit together especially well, but the fact remains that
School and Society lacks the kind of extended examples and stepwise explanations
that are helpful in explicating a new curriculum.
Yet even if Dewey had transmitted his message more effectively, education
through occupations would have faced two other serious practical problems. The
first of these is the amount of effort that it demanded on the part of the teacher. To
set up a single child to, say, recapitulate the historical development of the textile
industry is not an easy task, and in a class of children, this task is even more
difficult. Conducting a social simulation, especially as the simulation becomes
more complex (that is, with older children and more intricate tasks and roles) is
also demanding. Although the Dewey School managed to put these programs in
place, Dewey benefited (as he should have) from ideal experimental conditions:
small class sizes, highly trained and dedicated teachers, adequate funding, and a
clientele of relatively high socioeconomic status. In a regular classroom setting,
none of these material attributes are likely to be in place, and the teacher,
who is really the most critical component of this curriculum’s success, is likely
to be equivocal in his or her enthusiasm for this labor-intensive progressive
curriculum.
The second practical problem is this curriculum’s vulnerability to what
Edward Haertel has dubbed “lethal mutation” — a seemingly small change in
18. Dewey, Democracy and Education, 318.
19. Ibid., 319.
W Dewey and Video Games 7
enacting a curriculum that makes a substantial difference in its outcomes.20 With
education through occupations, it is all too easy to shift from a focus on learning
about social systems and scientific inquiry to a focus on “learning by doing,” or
“learning through work,” or, in other words, mildly progressive curricula in which
much of the scientific and technological content that makes Dewey’s curriculum
so valuable is lost. Worse yet, it is possible to offer an interpretation of education
through occupations that places much of its emphasis on the development of voca-
tional skill. Notably, the fact that Dewey was vehemently opposed to this latter
interpretation of “Deweyan” education did not stop proponents of strictly voca-
tional education like Charles Prosser from seeing themselves as operating within
the Deweyan tradition.21
R E  O
Clearly, education through occupations faced a number of obstacles, both
practical and ideological, and it is highly likely that these obstacles contributed
to its low level of implementation. Therefore, if the curriculum is to have any
possibility of being resuscitated, at least some of these obstacles are going to need
to be addressed. In addition, the curriculum will certainly have to be updated, as
recapitulations of the history of the textile industry are not what today’s citizen
needs. I will make the case that certain types of video games may offer us a
way to get around some of the most significant obstacles that caused education
through occupations to fail the first time around, but before I make this argument,
it is necessary to make the case for why the vision of citizenship that underlies
education through occupations is still relevant.
One promising sign of relevance is that the citizenship education challenge
that we face today is similar in some important respects to the challenge that
Dewey confronted. Dewey was concerned about citizenship in the context of
an emerging sociotechnical system (industrialism) that had made many of the
locally developed understandings about the way things worked obsolete. He
was worried about the fate of the citizen in a society in which scientific and
technological change was the major driver of political and economic change. As
I noted previously, education through occupations aims to develop citizens who
are both inclined to intervene and are capable of intervening in the increasingly
national and international problems that affect their lives. These citizens are not
experts, but they are what science education scholar Noah Feinstein has called
“competent outsiders,” which he defines as “people who have learned to recognize
the moments when science has some bearing on their needs and interests and to
20. Haertel, cited in Ann L. Brown and Joseph C. Campione, “Psychological Theory and the Design of
Innovative Learning Environments: On Procedures, Principles, and Systems,” in Innovations in Learn-
ing: New Environments for Education, ed. Leona Schauble and Robert Glaser (New York: Routledge,
1996), 259.
21. Charles Prosser, Vocational Education in a Democracy (Chicago: American Technical Society, 1949),
36.
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interact with sources of scientific expertise in ways that help them achieve their
own goals.”22
Today, we are faced with a scenario in which a key citizenship challenge that
concerned Dewey — understanding the currents of scientific, technological, and
social change that underpin one’s society — has become significantly more com-
plex. The industrial system has grown immensely since Dewey’s time and is now a
global phenomenon. In addition, a complex and rapidly changing information sys-
tem has grown atop the industrial system, affecting it in turn. The pace of scientific
and technological change is rapid, and it is difficult to understand the implications
of some of the discoveries and inventions that will, inevitably, affect us. Beyond
these developments, but also linked with them, are a number of global environ-
mental challenges, including global warming, ozone depletion, nuclear waste dis-
posal, desertification, and resource depletion.
Being an informed citizen with respect to these questions, even at the level
of a minimally invested “competent outsider,” is a tall order indeed, but it is a
worthwhile one, and all of Dewey’s original educational goals are relevant in the
achievement of it. If a citizen has a systematic understanding of the network of
relationships that cause global warming, he or she will understand that voting
for parties that support the exploitation of the tar sands could cause tremendous,
irremediable future difficulties while nonetheless yielding short-term economic
gains. A disposition to dialogue and cooperate with other individuals could grow
new communities on the Internet and on the ground to lobby for the causes that the
citizen is able to identify as important. The habit of experimentation could, on the
social level, serve this person well in helping to think through and engineer positive
piecemeal social change, while also being useful in manifold ways (including in the
labor market) on the individual level.
There can be little doubt that these outcomes are worthwhile; the problem
is in bringing them about, and as I pointed out in the preceding section the
original Deweyan program is impracticable. This sets up a challenge: if the ends are
worthwhile and should be kept in place, new means must be found. With regard to
this task of finding new means, some of the spirit of Dewey’s original program has
been captured by diverse efforts of the science-technology-society (STS) movement,
which has attempted to bring socioscientific problems (such as global warming)
closer to the heart of the science curriculum, which is currently still mostly
focused on knowledge of canonical science content.23 In this account, however,
22. Noah Feinstein, “Prepared for What? Why Teaching Everyday Science Makes Sense,” Phi Delta
Kappan 90, no. 10 (2009): 180. It should also be noted that this conception of the citizen is very much in
line with what Dewey says in The Public and Its Problems, partly in response to some of the concerns
raised by Walter Lippmann. Dewey comments, “It is not necessary that the many should have the
knowledge and skill to carry on the needed investigations; what is required is that they have the ability
to judge of the bearing of the knowledge supplied by others upon common concerns.” John Dewey, The
Public and Its Problems (Athens: University of Ohio Press, 1927), 209.
23. See, for example, various papers collected in Science Education as/for Sociopolitical Action, ed.
Wolff-Michael Roth and Jacques Désautels (New York: Peter Lang, 2002).
W Dewey and Video Games 9
I would like to reach beyond STS to talk about the educational possibilities
of simulation video games, which I argue can realize some of the original key
tenets of Deweyan education through occupations, particularly scientific inquiry
and technological transparency. I will further contend that video games have the
power to solve some of the practical challenges that posed significant obstacles to
Dewey’s program. In the next section, in order to illustrate the Deweyan potential
of simulation video games, I will take a close look at a climate change simulation
game, Fate of the World.
L  FATE OF THE WORLD
In Fate of the World, the year is 2020, and the climate crisis has finally come
to a head. As a result, the UN has decided to create a new agency, the Global
Environmental Organization (GEO), with absolute power to regulate worldwide
environmental policy. The player is given the responsibility of running this organi-
zation, and the core mission is to avoid having the average global temperature rise
more than three degrees by 2100. The game proceeds by turns of five years, during
which the player is asked to decide upon policies in each major global region.24
The amount of data that the player must process in the game is substantial.
Each turn, the player receives a summary of global events (generally fairly nega-
tive), as well as a summary of how his or her policies are being received in each
region. The player must also observe a vast network of statistics — agricultural,
business, and industrial output; employment; disease; population growth; water
scarcity; deforestation; resource consumption; and, above all, emissions. These
data are presented in the form of graphs, but the player can also dig down into
the game’s underlying model to see how the various variables are related.
An extended example may be helpful here. Early in the game, the player will
observe that China is producing an enormous amount of carbon emissions. Given
that emissions are the single most important statistic in the game, it is critical that
the player figure out where these emissions are coming from and develop a strategy
to combat them. Using the model, the player can dig into the regional breakdown
of China’s emissions, discovering that most of the emissions are being produced
from energy generation. This results in a further need to drill down into the data, as
there are several different methods by which energy is generated. Once the player
has dug three layers down into the game’s model, he or she can discover that most
of China’s power plants are coal-fired, which is undoubtedly the source of many of
the emissions.
At this point in the game, the tempting policy for the player is to enact
a regional ban on coal use. This strategy, however, has substantial negative
impacts in the game. China has to generate energy somehow, and it has few
nuclear, oil, solar, or gas-fired plants to fall back on. Industry and commerce
use much of the energy generated by the power plants, and the production of
these sectors falls precipitously once the coal ban deprives them of the power
24. Red Redemption, Fate of the World, digital download (Oxford: Red Redemption, 2011).
10 E D U C A T I O N A L T H E O R Y V 65 N 1 2015
necessary to run. Mass layoffs result, which has a substantial impact on Chinese
incomes and employment levels, causing political instability and high levels of
discontent with the player’s policies, not to mention substantially lower tax
revenues.
For the player of Fate of the World, it swiftly becomes clear that the sys-
tem encompasses a complex network of variables, and that quick, simplistic, and
radical approaches to climate change are unlikely to work from a policy stand-
point. It is necessary to dig deep into the system, to discover the relationships
between variables and monitor their fluctuations over time as different kinds
of policies are implemented. In the case of the Chinese emissions problem, a
more helpful strategy is to pursue a number of more modest and gradual policies,
including building renewable energy power plants, working to change citizens’
attitudes, and launching a campaign to gradually reduce industry’s reliance on
coal. This policy will eventually lead to a steady decrease in Chinese emissions,
which will allow the player to focus on other pressing challenges that the game
generates.
The Chinese example highlights a significant aspect of Fate of the World:its
unusual level of seriousness in simulating a social system. Within the context
of this game, there is plenty of room for experimentation in terms of enacting
policies, but mistakes are punished severely and on an ongoing and compounding
basis, much as they would be in reality. In addition to this, the game’s internal
model generates a relentless stream of problems and difficulties for players to solve,
which gives them a clear sense that global warming poses an enormous collective
challenge. Invariably, as the simulation proceeds, economies flag, government
money runs out, floods and superstorms strike, and populations become restive.
As a player, one has a sense that one is constantly just a single small mistake away
from seeing the world slide into disaster.
Now that I have provided an overview of what Fate of the World does, I
would like to shift the discussion back to the key goals of Deweyan education
through occupations: technological transparency, habits of scientific inquiry, and
a disposition to cooperate. Turning first to technological transparency, the most
important educational outcome of Fate of the World is undoubtedly its ability to
do something that is very difficult to achieve in the classroom: simulate a complex
social system on an ongoing basis. One does not simply gain an idea of the problems
of global warming on a retail basis; one develops a much more systematic and
thorough understanding of the overall shape of the coming disaster. In my own
experiences with the game, I felt that I came to understand the underpinnings
of a phenomenon that I had previously merely understood at a surface level.
As a moderately well-informed person, I had known that global warming would
potentially cause significant future problems at some unspecified date, but by
playing the game, I experienced these problems much more directly, came to
understand their causes better, and developed a much more in-depth understanding
of the links between the various factors that make the broad phenomenon of global
warming such a serious collective action problem.
W Dewey and Video Games 11
While this type of understanding of social systems was something that Dewey
wanted to accomplish by means of education through occupations, it was nonethe-
less hard to accomplish in the traditional Deweyan classroom. This is not only
due to the practical challenges I discussed earlier, but it is also due to the fact
that it can be difficult to see the forest for the trees when one is conducting these
kinds of simulations on an in-person, in-classroom basis, without the aid of com-
puter technology. Imagine, for example, how easy it would be for children to get
sidetracked during an in-classroom simulation of predator/prey relationships as
opposed to a computer-game version of the same relationship. As amusing as this
sort of “live action” simulation might be for the students, it is arguably less likely
to lead quickly to the sort of systematic understanding that interested Dewey. The
more complex the social phenomenon under discussion is (and global warming, it
must be said, is one of the most complex), the more this would hold true. Arguably,
there is no better way to model a complex social system than by using a computer
simulation. There are some caveats that are attached to this statement, but I would
like to postpone discussion of them until later in the essay.
Technological transparency is not the only Deweyan goal that simulations
work toward effectively: they are also excellent tools for helping learners develop
an experimental attitude. There are four principal reasons for this. First, the system
virtually requires user experimentation — if users do not provide the system
with input of some kind, the simulation usually either grinds to a halt or moves
swiftly in the direction of disaster. Second, habits of experimentation are usually
scaffolded by the system itself. Within the context of Fate of the World, one has
to decide to play cards representing policies, and the range of those cards is fairly
restricted. In addition, within the starting context of many simulation games, the
system also provides hints to the users, encouraging them to try out promising
strategies and showing them how to monitor the results. Third, the system allows
users to experiment with relatively little penalty. Within a lab environment, a
failed experiment means cleaning up and restarting from the beginning, but within
a computer simulation, correcting a mistake is often simply a matter of opening a
save game file from before the mistake was made. Fourth, and finally, simulations
make the results of experiments clear and visible. In Fate of the World,asinmost
other simulation games, one can (and generally must) chart one’s ongoing progress
versus the goals of the simulation. For example, emissions graphs generated each
turn demonstrate instantly whether a region is going in the right direction and
facilitate the identification of both failed strategies and new test beds for future
action.
Yet although Fate of the World and, more broadly, computer simulations
are potentially very good at generating both technological transparency and the
disposition to approach situations experimentally, they are likely to be far less
good at generating some of the other important outcomes of education through
occupations. The habits of self-discipline and cooperation that the Deweyan
classroom produced cannot be instilled through playing a game like Fate of the
World, which is an intensely individual experience. The advantage of the kinds
of cooperative occupations taken on at the Dewey School were that they brought
12 E D U C A T I O N A L T H E O R Y V 65 N 1 2015
children together to work on projects that required thoughtful, long-term personal
interactions. As it stands, most simulation games are not capable of generating this
outcome.
This may not always be the case, however. In the past ten years, multiplayer
gaming has become the norm in many genres, including first-person shooters,
real-time strategy games, and, perhaps most significantly, massively multiplayer
online role-playing games such as World of Warcraft. As researchers have docu-
mented, and as is obvious in any event from the nature of these games themselves,
cooperative team skills are necessary for success.25 With the rise of networked
gaming, one could conceivably build a game like Fate of the World that required a
cooperative approach to the social problem being simulated.
To summarize, Fate of the World, and other games like it, provide a space
in which two of the most important educational outcomes of education through
occupations — technological transparency and scientific inquiry — are made
possible. As I will explain in the next sections, simulation games also solve some
of the most difficult practical problems of progressive education; at the same time,
however, they create significant new problems that, while they are less obvious
than some of the old challenges that faced progressive education, still have to be
addressed.
S O P
It is not difficult to see how relying upon simulation games sweeps away some
of the toughest problems that originally faced education through occupations. The
first and most significant gain is that these games represent an enormous labor
savings for the teacher. As I noted previously, the original Deweyan social simu-
lations were labor-intensive, requiring the teacher both to set up the simulation
and to take sole responsibility for leading the students through it. In a simulation
game, by contrast, these tasks are managed by the game itself, which, at least in
the ideal case, will have a curriculum carefully scaffolded into it. Simulation games
also depend far less heavily on teacher knowledge for their operation. Recapitulat-
ing the essence of nineteenth-century industrial development is not easy, and even
if one has a sanguine view of teachers’ existing background knowledge, requiring
them to figure out how to translate this knowledge into a social simulation that
keeps students on track is a tall order.
In an important way, simulation games deliver on the worthwhile part of the
original promise of the Skinnerian teaching machines of the 1960s and 1970s: a
self-guided curriculum. These machines purported to shepherd students through
curriculum materials with only minimal aid from teachers.26 The proponents of
the system claimed that a curriculum that proceeded in baby steps and a carefully
25. Mark G. Chen, “Communication, Coordination, and Camaraderie in World of Warcraft,” Games
and Culture 4, no. 1 (2008): 47– 73.
26. B. F. Skinner, “The Science of Learning and the Art of Teaching,” in Cumulative Record (New York:
Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1959), 145– 157.
W Dewey and Video Games 13
calibrated reward system would enable students to develop the appropriate learn-
ing outcomes simply by working through the program. This research program (at
least in its original form) failed, largely because of its artificial and overly regi-
mented approach to learning.27 Simulation games, however, avoid this problem by
offering students an entire social system to discover. Although students are scaf-
folded within the simulation to some extent, they must be active inquirers within
the context of the simulation’s world rather than passive consumers of a preset
curriculum that has been chopped into bite-sized behaviorist niblets.
However, while they provide significant guidance to the student, simulation
games do not (or at least should not) marginalize the teacher unduly. Unlike the
supposedly teacher-proof teaching machines, a game like Fate of the World would
require substantial support from a knowledgeable teacher in order to make it work.
Although these games often do a good job of helping students learn to navigate the
simulated world, even the most able students will occasionally benefit from help
when they get stuck or when they are having difficulty seeing the affordances of
the system. Perhaps more importantly, teachers also need to add extra content
to the simulation by discussing it in class. Imagine, for example, the productive
classroom discussions that could be undertaken about Fate of the World. Assuming
that the simulation captured their interest, students would be motivated to discuss
the problem of global warming and to look carefully at our current feeble attempts
to deal with (and avoid dealing with) this problem.
Simulations also address the problem of lethal mutation toward vocationalism
that has always dogged Deweyan simulations of social systems. As I pointed out
before, when one works with concrete occupations, it is very easy to slide from
the avowed pedagogical purpose of learning about how things work into simply
learning how to work. A well-designed social simulation, by contrast, shifts the
classroom inexorably in the direction of macro-level questions. One no longer
addresses the world at the level of the individual thing; one deals with social
systems and the data that accompany them. One has to address the concepts and
phenomena that comprise this system because they are the core rules that make up
the micro world that one is dealing with, and if one does not come to understand
them, the simulation simply either fails to progress or degrades significantly.
In other words, good simulation games are constructed such that they are very
difficult to dumb down. They can, of course, fail to engage the interest of students,
but they are otherwise resistant to redirection from their original purpose.
C N P
So far, I have made an argument that simulation games are able to deliver some
of the benefits originally promised by Deweyan education while dodging some of
the serious practical challenges that Dewey’s system faced. There are, however, a
number of criticisms within the literature on video games and education to which
27. Fund for the Advancement of Education, Four Case Studies of Programmed Instruction (New York:
Fund for the Advancement of Education, 1964).
14 E D U C A T I O N A L T H E O R Y V 65 N 1 2015
this argument must respond.28 One criticism, offered by Leonard Waks, holds that
simulation games simply cannot deliver the quality of experience that is demanded
by Dewey’s own educational principles. Another, perhaps more worrisome, line
of argument is that simulation games have the potential to promote problematic
patterns of thinking. Both of these claims have merit, and I will explore each of
them in turn.
Waks begins his argument about the quality of experience in simulations in the
same way that I began this analysis: with a quote from the first chapter of School
and Society. Dewey comments,
Again, we cannot overlook the importance for educational purposes of the close and intimate
acquaintance got with nature at first hand, with real things and materials, with the actual
processes of their manipulation, and the knowledge of the social necessities and uses. In all
this, there was continual training of observation, of ingenuity, constructive imagination, of
logical thought, and of the sense of reality acquired through first-hand contact with actualities.
No number of object lessons can afford even the shadow of a substitute for acquaintance
with the plants and animals of the farm and garden acquired through actual living among them
and caring for them.29
Using this quote as the point of departure, Waks constructs an argument that
has two basic poles: the first concerns the advantages of direct experiences with
natural materials, and the second addresses some of the miseducative aspects of
simulations.
In the first pole of the argument, Waks notes that Dewey was concerned about
the opacity of the modern world. In other words, although modern technologies
lend themselves easily to use, they often do not lend themselves to disassembly,
analysis, and reconstruction. To use the terminology of philosopher of technology
Albert Borgmann, many of the machines we use every day are “devices” that are
entirely opaque in their function — they work beautifully when they are switched
on or started up, but that is the extent of our understanding of them.30 Crude,
natural materials, by contrast, are much easier to understand in terms of their ways
of functioning. One plants a seed, and one can observe the process of it growing
from a seed into a plant that can be used for food. In addition to transparency, these
materials also offer both flexibility and challenge. Lumber, for example, can be used
to build many things, but only if the children pay careful attention to the planning
and building process, as well as to the qualities of the material itself (for example,
its hardness, its knottiness, its dryness). Waks valorizes the quality of experiences
in which learners use these types of materials to conduct experimental projects.
He comments, “Only by starting with crude materials and subjecting them to the
28. See, for example, C. A. Bowers, Let Them Eat Data: How Computers Affect Education, Cultural
Diversity, and the Prospects of Ecological Sustainability (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2000).
29. Dewey, School and Society, 11.
30. Albert Borgmann, Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life: A Philosophical Inquiry
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984).
W Dewey and Video Games 15
kinds of purposeful handling lying within their understanding can children acquire
the intelligence embodied in the finished material.”31
In a critique that is a corollary of this “power of crude materials” argu-
ment, Waks also levels the charge that simulations are “ready-made cognitive
objects abstracted from living experience.” Unlike the messy, flexible, produc-
tively chaotic experiences of children growing a garden together, in which learners
gradually become more sensitive to the complex natural environment, simula-
tion games offer a much more rigid environment. He notes that that the puzzles
involved in a simulation game emerge much more predictably and can be solved
more neatly. As a result, he suggests that they are “drastic abstractions” that, if
overused, will eventually reduce learners’ sensitivity and response flexibility when
they are faced with real-world environments.32 Habituated to the cut-and-dried
puzzle solving of the virtual environment, learners will apply their simplistic and
hasty interpretations and solutions to the real.
Waks begins the second pole of the argument by highlighting four Deweyan
criteria of miseducative experience:
1. it can induce callousness to the materials of subsequent experience;
2. it can lead to an inflexible or mechanical response pattern,landing
learners in a behavioral rut;
3. it can through its immediate pleasureableness promote a slack or
careless attitude; or
4. it can, by being fragmentary rather than cumulatively linked, promote
scatterbrained habits, dissipating energies and leading to split and hence
poor control in subsequent experiences.33
Waks then applies these criteria to SimCity, a popular series of simulation
games in which one plans and manages a city.34 Much of this criticism stems
from the fact that SimCity functions largely in a “sandbox” mode in which the
user can simply tinker endlessly with the city. This means that if the player is
ineffective and/or inactive, the game does not deliver much negative feedback,
which could potentially lend itself to both carelessness and routine behavior.
Furthermore, the simulation’s lack of defined goals could indeed lead the user in
the direction of fragmentary experiences, as it is possible simply to fiddle around
endlessly with one’s city, building a police station here and a fire station there,
but never really getting anywhere. Waks’s claim about callousness stems from the
observation (undoubtedly correct) that children like to spend time blowing things
up in SimCity, which he thinks may create a blasé attitude toward real risk.
31. Waks, “Computer Mediated Experience and Education,” 425.
32. Ibid., 428.
33. Ibid., 418.
34. Ibid., 426.
16 E D U C A T I O N A L T H E O R Y V 65 N 1 2015
Let us first deal with the second pole of Waks’s analysis: the SimCity argu-
ments. With the exception of the callousness claim — which, while there is not
space to address this point here, has been disputed by video game ethicists —
all of Waks’s criticisms have broad validity and should actually be taken much
more seriously than they have been so far.35 However, their validity is nevertheless
contingent upon the type of game being played. SimCity is vulnerable to Waks’s
analysis, but Fate of the World, as well as other games like it, are much less so. In
Fate, users are directed to solve clear and specific problems, and although multi-
ple approaches to a problem are possible, it is difficult to get sidetracked from the
game’s goal of coming to understand social systems. Furthermore, Fate is not the
only carefully structured and challenging social simulation that could be placed in
this category. Around the time of the publication of Waks’s article, one could have
cited Railroad Tycoon I (1990) and II (1998), as well as Capitalism Plus (1996).36
More recently, one could point to Defcon (2006), an acclaimed nuclear war simu-
lation/strategy game; Dwarf Fortress (2006), an extremely complex and difficult
social simulation game; and Prison Architect, a game currently under develop-
ment.37 All of these games, and perhaps Fate most of all, have a learning curve that
is relatively steep, but this is the price of admission to a social simulation that does
not correspond to the aforementioned criteria of a miseducative experience. Com-
plex, well-made simulations make up for their lack of immediate pleasurableness
with the particular satisfaction of solving challenging problems. Granted, these
games are a minority in the marketplace, even among simulation games, but there
is no reason that we should not choose deliberately among available games for good
curricular reasons.
Turning now to the first pole of Waks’s argument — namely, that Dewey
thought there are unique affordances associated with natural materials — we must
acknowledge that it too makes an important point. Even if one replaces some of the
Deweyan occupational tasks with simulations of social systems, it will be vital for
children to have some relatively unmediated contact with the environment. The
goal of technological transparency in agriculture, for example, is greatly facilitated
if one has some idea of what one is really dealing with, at bottom. Waks is also
right to point out that the crudeness of the natural material offers important
challenges to the children. Whereas with a Lego block (or, better yet, a virtual Lego
block), snapping things together is a neat, speedy transaction, banging together a
couple of boards or growing a plant is subject to much more productively messy
chaos. Dewey always placed significant importance on gaining a consciousness
of how humans have progressively developed power and control over the natural
environment, and this emphasis on natural materials does seem to serve this goal.
35. See, for example, Miguel Sicart, The Ethics of Computer Games (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009).
36. Railroad Tycoon I, PC/Mac (USA: Microprose, 1990); Railroad Tycoon II, PC/Mac (USA: PopTop
Software, 1998); and Capitalism Plus, PC (USA: Interactive Magic, 1996).
37. Defcon, PC/Mac (UK: Introversion Software, 2006); Dwarf Fortress, PC/Mac/Linux (USA: Bay 12
Games, 2006); and Prison Architect, PC/Mac (UK: Introversion Software, forthcoming).
W Dewey and Video Games 17
Although we may now have some doubts about Dewey’s triumphalist rhetoric on
this point (“The earth is the great storehouse, the great mine”), we can nevertheless
recognize his point that unmediated interactions with the natural world have an
important place in the curriculum.38
Waks, however, seems to have a more far-reaching interpretation of Dewey
than the one I offer in this essay, as is evident in the following claim:
Thus, for Dewey firsthand manipulation of natural materials is the natural foundation
upon which subsequent learning-for-action may securely be built. Only by starting with
crude materials and subjecting them to the kinds of purposeful handling lying within their
understanding can children acquire the intelligence embodied in the finished material. Only a
firsthand, aim-directed, problem-based manipulation of such materials can supply the model
for the full extraction of meanings
39
Our everyday educational experiences in certain domains, however, some-
times seem to contradict this. To take just one example, it is not at all clear
that interacting with crude materials in this sense is the best way to begin to
understand the fundamentals of what computer systems mean and do in every-
day life. Although it is helpful to understand how computers are manufactured,
what they are made of in terms of crude, natural materials, and how they work
at the level of hardware, these are not the best starting points to begin learning
about them. Even if one interprets “crude materials” more broadly in terms of
computer software (which, in this case, could mean learning the fundamentals of
a programming language), the case is still dubious, as some of the difficulties with
Seymour Papert’s LOGO demonstrate.40 What is much more important, from the
standpoint of intelligent citizenship, is to understand the basics of how computers
work on the everyday level (programs, networks, and so on) and the kinds of social
difference that these tools make. In this particular case, this is best accomplished
through working with the tools themselves (and not their crude antecedents) as
well as through thoughtful discussions of their social impact.
The corollary of Waks’s “crude materials” argument — his suggestion that
simulations unduly prepackage and simplify the real world — also has a lot of res-
onance.41 Still, there are at least three possible responses to this critique. An initial
rejoinder is to point out that simulation games are not nearly as cut-and-dried as
this kind of critique alleges, especially these days. More sophisticated simulations
like Fate of the World present players with problems that, while diagnosable, are
productively messy in terms of how they are presented and that admit of several
38. Dewey, School and Society, 19.
39. Waks, “Computer Mediated Experience and Education,” 425 (emphasis in original).
40. D. Midian Kurland et al., “Mapping the Cognitive Demands of Learning to Program,” in Mirrors of
Minds: Patterns of Experience in Educational Computing, ed. Roy D. Pea and Karen Sheingold (New
York: Ablex, 1987), 103– 127.
41. In the past few years, as political figures who offer libertarian solutions (for example, Ron Paul)
have gained popularity among techies, I have wondered whether gaming has facilitated an allegiance
to simplistic approaches.
18 E D U C A T I O N A L T H E O R Y V 65 N 1 2015
different kinds of solutions. A second response is to point out that this kind of
simplification is pedagogically necessary: in order for the simulation to capture a
complex phenomenon that would otherwise be unworkable from an instructional
standpoint, certain background assumptions need to be built into the system and
the system needs to be simplified to the degree that it can be manipulated effec-
tively. In both Democracy and Education and in some of the early educational
writings, Dewey recognizes this when he speaks of the importance of school pro-
viding a “simplified environment.”42 Third, and finally, one can point out the
critical role of teachers in mediating the “simulation gap”: teachers need to have
discussions with students about how simulations correspond to reality and how
they radically depart from it. Given that gaming (simulation/strategy gaming as
well as other genres) serves as an everyday reality for an increasingly large number
of children, this is a critical task for schools to undertake.
Waks’s criticisms are, to my knowledge, the only explicitly Deweyan critique
of video gaming, and since my aim here is to vindicate video games from a Deweyan
perspective, they needed to be addressed with particular care. Before concluding,
however, I would like to highlight briefly two other serious potential problems
with simulation gaming: efficiency mindsets and technocratic thinking. Unlike
Waks’s critiques, which, while important, can be remedied to some extent, these
problems are more deeply rooted.
Efficiency-mindedness is a phenomenon that is easy to see in Fate of the World:
as with many strategy games, one needs to find a strategy that will consume
relatively few resources and yet offer maximum yield. If, for example, the player
expends too many resources on social welfare and economic stimulus policies, then
there are fewer resources left to fund the construction of solar power facilities or
the implementation of new emission regulations. Fate of the World is, at its core,
what one might call a “spreadsheet game” — it forces the user to scrutinize a range
of data and to ask the same question over and over again: “How can I get the most
for the least?”
Given that “the most” is, in the case of a climate change game, environmental
benefit, one might think that this is unproblematic. But the fact remains that,
regardless of what resources are being allocated, when one thinks this way, one
is thinking in the mode of efficiency maximization. Philosophers of technology
like Martin Heidegger and Jacques Ellul have identified this way of thinking
as the dominant destructive characteristic of modern technology. For Ellul and
Heidegger, it is not the technologies themselves that are significant, but rather the
thinking behind the technology.43
The difficulty with simulation gaming is that it is the apotheosis of this kind
of thinking. Within the framework of a game of this type, everything that matters
42. Dewey, Democracy and Education, 20; and, for some of these early writings, see John Dewey,
John Dewey: The Early Works, 1882– 1898, vol. 5, ed. Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale: Southern Illinois
University Press, 1973), 87.
43. See Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society, trans. John Wilkinson (New York: Alfred A. Knopf,
1964); and Martin Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology,” in The Question Concerning
Technology and Other Essays, trans. William Lovitt (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), 3–25.
W Dewey and Video Games 19
is a resource that can be harnessed, and one must think about this constantly in
order to survive in the game environment. Simulation and strategy games are thus
a training ground for a particular kind of thinking that is arguably abundant in
some of the most ruthless and least ethical members of society. Furthermore, the
ubiquity of the quest for efficiency within games means that players are often
unable to identify this implicit emphasis and criticize it, and even in the event
that one is able to identify it, it still implicitly reinforces a bad pattern of thinking.
Repeated action may build a habit, even if one is able to bracket the significance
of that action with the proviso that “it’s just a game.”
A second problem with simulation gaming, which is even more visible than
efficiency-mindedness in Fate, is technocratic thinking. Fate of the World,per-
haps even more than some other simulations, places the player in the role of the
knowledgeable, powerful expert. As the chairperson of a fictional global organiza-
tion, one can set policy in every single region of the world. It is simply a matter of
interpreting the immense amount of data the game generates and making appropri-
ate decisions. All costs are accounted for within the game itself, and the poverty,
climate refugees, and deaths that may result from some of the player’s harsher poli-
cies are just more lines in the spreadsheet. Dewey wanted students to get a sense
of the power and control over the environment that civilization had been able to
develop over time, but simulations often go far beyond this and give the impression
that effective social reform is simply a matter of choosing the correct rule set and
having the courage to implement it. This constitutes a radical oversimplification
of social reform that could have significant miseducative consequences if one were
to view the game as more analogous to reality than it actually is. Furthermore, if
one is to recall the famous debate between Dewey and Walter Lippmann, in which
Dewey argued in favor of the participation of individual citizens and Lippmann
encouraged the delegation of power to an elite group of experts, it is straightfor-
ward to see how the setup of a game like Fate of the World favors Lippmann’s
technocratic vision of democracy.44
A C L F
Although efficiency-mindedness and technocratic thinking are two of the
most significant educational difficulties with video gaming, there is no shortage
of other critiques that I could take up in this analysis. We could, for example,
revisit Skinner’s enthusiasm for video gaming and analyze the ways in which
the educational video game industry has used his insights as design principles.
We could also reprise analyses of how simulation/strategy games tend to glorify
imperialism and colonialism.45 There are a number of compelling reasons to be
cautious about the use of video games in education, and despite the best efforts
44. See Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion (New York: Macmillan, 1922); and Robert Westbrook, John
Dewey and American Democracy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993).
45. Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter, Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010).
20 E D U C A T I O N A L T H E O R Y V 65 N 1 2015
of critics like Waks, caution often seems to be in short supply when educational
researchers discuss and analyze video games.
We could also agree with Waks that simulation games are not in themselves
sufficient to deliver the kind of comprehensive educational experience that Dewey
envisioned when he developed the program for education through occupations.
A simulation can help students understand social processes, but it is unlikely to
help them develop the broader notion of a vocation as an “axis of salience” that
helps people navigate their lives, nor is it likely to develop the particular harmony
between individual and social interests that Dewey hoped to promote. If used in
isolation or if chosen poorly, simulations are unlikely to develop the kind of citizen
Dewey wanted his educational system to build, and as some of the critiques that
have been explored in this essay indicate, they may even promote some tendencies
that run counter to his cooperative, democratic vision.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that simulation games can recreate complex
and pivotal social systems in such a way that children and adults can experiment
with and learn about them at a profound level. Anyone who is sympathetic to
Deweyan educational principles should be excited about these possibilities. Devel-
oping a degree of technological transparency with respect to key social challenges
is an aspect of Dewey’s educational program that is critical for today’s citizens,
and it has historically been very difficult to accomplish. The technology may have
arrived too late for Dewey and the other pioneers of progressive education, but it
is here now for us, and we should use it mindfully to create powerful educational
experiences.
THE AUTHOR WOULD LIKE TO THANK the three anonymous reviewers of the article, as well as
the editor of Educational Theory, for their significant contributions to the development of this piece.
Thanks are also due to the Canadian Philosophy of Education Society (CPES) — an earlier, shorter version
of this piece was given as a keynote address at the 2013 annual meeting of CPES. Finally, the author
acknowledges the contribution of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada,
which provided financial support that facilitated the development of this article.
... Though initially treated with suspicion due to worries concerning their violent and addictive nature, over time video games have managed to garner hope and excitement in the eyes of educators aspiring to capitalize on the complex modes of interaction taking place in these games to promote worthwhile educational aims (Charsky, 2010;Gee, 2008;Squire, 2006;Waddington, 2015). The complexity and interactivity characteristic of video games has led to their depiction as facilitating authentic and situated modes of learning, an antidote to the conventional teacher-centered and passive model of conventional schooling. ...
... The problem is that much like in the case of schools, players often focus on success within the game itself, rather than on the environments it simulates. This, in turn, cultivates modes of conduct guided by an "efficiency mindset": a pervasive commitment to evaluating any given task according to a reductionist calculus of maximizing success in the game (Waddington, 2015). Thus, for instance, in a game like Democracy players are likely to seek and capitalize on loopholes in the game's design that allow them to maximize their chances of winning, regardless of the extent to which they simulate a relevant aspect of real-world scenarios. ...
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Video games’ capacity to facilitate complex and interactive modes of engagement has led to their portrayal as particularly effective means for designing authentic and situated learning environments, which overcome the artificial and abstract nature of conventional teacher-centered schooling. Focusing on the intentional use of progressive-oriented video games (or “serious games”) towards educational aims, this paper sets out to go beyond this dichotomy by introducing the designability paradox of educational video games—arguing that video games’ designed nature both attenuates and accentuates the artificial and abstracted nature of conventional schooling. While video games are more authentic and situated in terms of the modes of participation available to players and intricateness of the simulative environment, they concurrently intensify the artificial and abstracted characteristics of conventional schooling as they represent an increase in the intentional design of learning environments and their separation from external contexts. Based on these analyses, the second part of the paper offers a more nuanced characterization of the types of authenticity and situatedness facilitated by educational video games along two axes: distinguishing between fictional and conceptual authenticity, and between situatedness that embeds or elicits learning. This classification is intended to offer a more nuanced understanding of learning in educational video games, and how they should be integrated into educational settings. Accordingly, the paper concludes by identifying three diverging foci of the integration of video games into classrooms: generalizing the learning taking place in the game, formalizing players’ in-game experiences, and contextualizing gameplay via critical analysis of the game.
... The differences between VR and MR in learning design was highlighted by Hugues, Fuchs, & Nannipieri, (2011) and they emphasised that there is a strong argument available to set aside the technical similarities of the technologies and to treat them separately (Hugues, Fuchs, & Nannipieri, 2011). In many respects, the affordances of virtual reality have been well explored in the literature on the educational use of video games (Waddington, 2015). However, the immersive nature of more advanced VR technologies does appear to enhance these effects (Clark, Tanner-Smith, & Killingsworth, 2016;Martín-Gutiérrez et al., 2017). ...
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The use of Mixed Reality (MR) in Information Systems learning and teaching pedagogies is becoming more widely accepted as providing a reflection of possible realities. The aim of using MR in learning design is to extend the student experience by helping them not only to ‘see the unseen’ through the capacity of MR but also to visualise and interact with complex and abstract concepts. This study expands on the current literature by applying design science to use, survey and evaluate Microsoft HoloLens, a MR device, in an Information Systems classroom. The significance of this study is the use of MR in an Information Systems class to understand and learn the technology and provide an authentic learning experience to prepare the students for technological disruption and the future of work. Student survey responses were positive, with high student satisfaction in the classroom, demonstrating critical and creative engagement with the technological limitations and challenges with the user experience. This paper concludes with suggestions of specific pedagogical models that could be used in Information Systems education.
... Los juegos de simulación se proponen representar una tarea, un rol o unas determinadas acciones adscritas a un trabajo concreto en un entorno virtual complejo, aparentando un entrono real. Este espacio virtual permite el desarrollo de la autonomía, la puesta en práctica de estrategias de ensayo y error, la exploración de soluciones alternativas y la motivación por logro de objetivos (Martín y Prieto, 2014;Sanina et al., 2020;Waddington, 2015). Debido a esas posibilidades de simular y hacer transcender las nociones adquiridas en el mundo virtual al real, este tipo de juego se ha sido utilizado en 8 de las investigaciones presentes en este estudio (9 %) (Campos et al., 2020;Clarke et al., 2016;Habes et al., 2020;Janssen et al., 2015). ...
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El uso de videojuegos en el aula es una tendencia educativa planteada, documentada e investigada desde hace décadas. Este artículo de investigación parte con la premisa de plasmar mediante, una revisión sistemática de literatura, el estado actual de los estudios con videojuegos en contextos educativos formales. Para ello, se realizó una búsqueda de documentos en la base de datos Scopus, obteniéndose una muestra de 7320 documentos, la cual, tras pasar por un proceso de screening, se obtuvieron 90 que cumplían con los criterios de inclusión planteados para esta revisión en el periodo de 2015 a 2020. Los datos hallados fueron sometidos a análisis estadístico, mediante la utilización de software de análisis estadístico spss. Las conclusiones que se extrajeron de los documentos analizados arrojan que en las investigaciones con videojuegos y educación la metodología cuantitativa es la más utilizada por la comunidad científica; también destacan los estudios con diseños descriptivos, los cuales sirven para obtener datos de un modo general sobre el funcionamiento de los videojuegos en el aula. Finalmente, se ha destacado a los videojuegos educativos como los más utilizados en los documentos analizados debido a sus connotaciones didácticas.
... Others have made connections between the educational works of John Dewey and educational gameplay (see, e.g. Waddington 2015). In support of the educational potential of 'wickedness' in gameplay -and the suggestions made regarding the revised role of consequentiality -we consult a particular aspect of Dewey's theory of experience: Discontinuity (English 2013). ...
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In this paper we discuss the potential of digital games to create meaningful educational experiences that contribute to the learning of ethics in higher education (HE) Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) degrees. We describe the design of a new digital ethics game with a focus on the challenges we encountered when applying existing theoretical frameworks for educational games and propose ways to address these challenges. We contend that existing design frameworks fail to account for the ‘wickedness’ of ethical problems – i.e. their inconclusive, complex, and sometimes inherently contradictory nature – as they are centred around consequentiality and consistent game-system feedback to players’ actions. Drawing from a Deweyan account of the ‘educative experience’ we seek to contribute to a domain-adequate theory of transformational experience and transformational play in the context of educational ethics game design.
... 9 Here I am opposing Leonard Waks (Waks 2001) who claims that video games are nothing like learning by doing and learning by occupation, and that they are not something John Dewey himself would have favoured. I don't have space to discuss this particular issue, but I'll refer interested readers to an article by Waddington (Waddington 2015) which provides (in my opinion) a very plausible defense from Waks criticisms. 10 Of course, I am not claiming that this knowledge applies to real football managing. ...
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From the theoretical perspective of the contemporary educational theory and didactics, there are many problems concerning our elementary and high school curriculums (within the educational system of Republic of Serbia). There is also empirical evidence that our education is outdated, ill-construed and with the problematic conception of the learning process in its core. However, those problems are rarely considered and presented from the students’ point of view. In this paper, I am approaching the problems of our educational system from that perspective. I argue that the deep flaws in our education are even more evident to the newest, so-called: gamer generation. As the argument in favour of this negative claim, I offer an analysis of the learning process within the video games insisting that it is – as a sort of Dewian conception of learning – superior to the learning process typically assumed in our school. On the basis of that analysis, I propose that students acquainted and familiar with such learning process would naturally be even more reluctant and less motivated for learning in old fashioned way still present in our school system. As for the closing and positive part of the paper, my main suggestion is that focusing school curriculums around the competences tightly connected to reasoning and discovering (and also encouraging a heuristic approach as the preferable teaching method) can make our education better in both respects: objectively and in the eyes of the students we teach.
... Vienas mokytojas teigė: Apie tokį kompiuterinių žaidimų naudojimo privalumą kalbama ir akademinėje bendruomenėje. Kompiuteriniai žaidimai gali mokiniams suteikti galimybę patirti realiame pasaulyje vykstančius procesus: leisti ne tik stebėti, bet ir patiems juose veikti (Waddington, 2015). ...
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This article aims to reveal different ways of integrating video games, and emerging challenges in Lithuanian schools. The integration of computer games is exposed by selecting the project Big Small Screens. Media Literacy in Schools of Lithuania and analyzing the experience of teachers who participated in this project. The research showed that the project activities invite teachers and pupils to change the perspective of their view and become critics or creators. However, while the integration of video games can bring many positive results, this process also contains a number of challenges. Therefore, after the end of the project, the possibilities for further integration of video games into formal education remain limited.
Chapter
John Dewey's Democracy and Education is the touchstone for a great deal of modern educational theory. It covers a wide range of themes and issues relating to education, including teaching, learning, educational environments, subject matter, values, and the nature of work and play. This Handbook is designed to help experts and non-experts to navigate Dewey's text. The authors are specialists in the fields of philosophy and education; their chapters offer readers expert insight into areas of Dewey work that they know well and have returned to time and time again throughout their careers. The Handbook is divided into two parts. Part I features short companion chapters corresponding to each of Dewey's chapters in Democracy and Education. These serve to guide readers through the complex arguments developed in the book. Part II features general articles placing the book into historical, philosophical and practical contexts and highlighting its relevance today.
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The article is devoted to the analysis of youth civic education, civic engagement, and civic competence in international and national contexts. Over the last decades these themes have acquired importance in research, policy and practice in many parts of the world, including the EU and Ukraine. Citizenship, citizen, civic virtues, civic culture, civic competence are singled out by the authors as the key concepts of the discussed phenomena. Civic competence is defined as a path for a person to be included into a certain political or social community; it is the knowledge and exercising of the rights and duties of this community; it is a civic self-identification and a quality of a personality that necessitates his/her active participation in political or public life and characterizes his/her community involvement; it is a moral value that is based on the sense of patriotism, respect for human rights, sense of duty, responsibility, tolerance, solidarity. The genesis and the formation of the citizenship from the time of Aristotle to the present has passed the way from seeing it as a critical engagement with others; understanding and exercising one’s own rights and freedoms, and towards realizing the necessity of interdependence of the world nations and the world equality. The second part of the article substantiates the importance of youth civic education for both Ukraine and other countries as young people greatly influence the future of their nations. The main structural components of civic education that are presented by the authors include understanding key concepts, fostering respect for law, justice, democracy and common good, encouragement of thought independence. It develops skills of reflection, enquiry and debate. The article also presents the models of civic education for secondary and higher schools and highlights the problems related to the formation of civic education in Ukraine. The emphasis is placed on the use of serious video games as a promising tool for the formation of civic competence actively used in Western Europe. Examples of social projects based on serious video games, web platforms and mobile devices aimed at solving social problems of the society include Nutriciencia project, Ukrainian GameHub project, Hidden in the Part game. Conclusions are made about the need to recognize civic education not only as a subject of the curriculum, but as an integral part of educational policy – central to both educators and the society as a whole, both on the international and national levels.
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It was found that techniques today is the key to effective management of educational institutions in general and teachers in particular. It determines the search for those management tools that can be used effectively in the pedagogical process. The technicalization of pedagogical management contributes to its rationalization, eliminates those actions of the superior and specialists that are not necessary to achieve the expected result of management, formalizes the implementation of management functions. The article reveals the specifics of studying the author’s discipline «Techniques of pedagogical management», which is taught to applicants of the second (master’s) level of higher education specialty 011 «Educational, pedagogical sciences» (specialization «Management of educational institutions») at Mukachevo State University. This discipline is aimed at the holistic formation of the readiness of a future leader to apply the techniques of pedagogical management in a general secondary education institution. The scope of the discipline, subject, purpose, tasks, interdisciplinary connections are determined; the system of knowledge, skills, general and professional competencies. The system of professionally important competencies on which this discipline is focused is also defined: the ability to unite the teaching staff, to turn it into a team of like-minded people; to develop leadership, unconsciously evoke feelings of admiration and respect in teachers, students, their parents, etc.; monitoring the educational activities of general secondary education institutions; strategic planning of educational institution development; delegation of powers; making management decisions, willingness to take due responsibility for them; establishing a favorable positive atmosphere in the team; effective communication with participants in the educational process of general secondary education; rational use of working time; management of the institution by means of cloud technologies; effective use of marketing communication tools, etc. The expected training results of future managers are determined. The structure of the discipline is given: content modules, and topics. The main methods of training and control of applicants’ knowledge are also identified. The specifics of studying the theoretical and practical material of the discipline are outlined.
Chapter
This chapter discusses how John Dewey’s theory of ethics can enhance the pedagogical potential of game-based writing projects. The chapter begins by examining how Deweyan ethical inquiry and the process of analyzing video games both rely on a sympathetic connection to the perspective of another person. This connection allows us to diagnose the material circumstances surrounding collective value systems and understand how value systems habituate individuals into acting in deliberate ways. These concepts are then applied to teaching scenarios in which students design critical video games that explore real-world events. This learning activity demonstrates how creating gameplay scenarios which condition players to inhabit new perspectives on problematic issues encourage students to undertake a nuanced form of ethical critique. The goal of this chapter is to highlight the ethical dimensions of analyzing and creating interactive games to help instructors implement game-based projects into the writing classroom.
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In applying traditional game theory to multiplayer computer games, not enough attention has been given to actual player practice in local settings. To do this, the author describes a team of players in the massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft. This motley group learned how to defeat an end-game dungeon through collaborative improvements on communication and coordination. It focused on sustaining and building player relationships and learning together rather than the accepted norm of obtaining magical items. Trust was forged through a desire to ``hang out and have fun'' and was evidenced by the joviality of their communication. The group's ability to reflect and be consistent about its desires for camaraderie allowed it to recover from a poor performing night, which threatened to disband the group. The team's success depended on its ability to define and retain a coherent group identity and establish shared social incentives rather than individual incentives for participation.
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In this essay, David Waddington provides a basic outline of John Dewey's often-overlooked views on technology education and explores how these ideas could be updated productively for use in contemporary contexts. Some of the shortcomings of Dewey's ideas are also examined—his faith in the scientific method may have been excessive, and some critics have charged that his aspirations for a technology-infused citizenship education were overly ambitious. However, Waddington contends in this analysis that by combining Dewey's ideas with the insights of contemporary thinkers such as Bruno Latour, it is possible to update the notion of technological transparency to create a fresh approach to science and technology education. This new approach, which Waddington calls “critical transparency,” aims to help citizens develop a healthy skepticism toward science and technology.
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The fifty years since the 100th anniversary of John Dewey’s birth have marked the emergence of new technologies that afford a wealth of previously unknown approaches to learning, making it not only possible but practicable for Dewey’s educational vision of participatory learning to be realized on a mass scale. This chapter discusses these possibilities and their implications for learning in the twenty-first century. In The School and Society (1899), John Dewey writes that the best learning occurs when students participate in what he calls an occupation: “a mode of activity on the part of the child which reproduces, or runs parallel to, some form of work carried on in social life.”1 Such participation touches children’s “spontaneous” and “worthy” interests while organizing such interests into “regular and progressive” modes of action such as those carried out in contemporary social life. Occupations “furnish the ideal occasions for both sense-training and discipline in thought,”2 because they grant students “an opportunity for acquiring and testing ideas and information in active pursuits typifying important social situations.”3 Working with his colleagues at the University of Chicago Laboratory School, Dewey developed this idea into a new theory of education that would come to be known as progressive education.4 However, because the phrase “progressive education” has multiple meanings and so much historical baggage,5 this chapter will refer to Dewey’s conception of learning through occupations as “participatory learning,” a phrase used recently by Speaker, Reingold, and others.6 In framing his participatory approach to learning, Dewey looked primarily backwards to a time when people allegedly lived in more direct interrelationship with nature and with the basic tools necessary to harness and shape its potentialities. Dewey and his colleagues placed students in situations similar to those of laborers, farmers, and do-it-yourselfers from an earlier time so that the students could experience first-hand the building of a house, the spinning of thread, and the making of candles. This approach acknowledged that life at the turn of the twentieth century was increasingly disconnected from nature and that direct participation in contemporary industrial practices was increasingly out of reach for children. Not only wasn’t it safe for children to be roaming around a factory floor, but the science or knowledge underlying modern industrial processes was often beyond the children’s understanding. Making candles or spinning thread, Dewey wrote, “engages the full spontaneous interest and attention of the children. It keeps them alert and active, instead of passive and receptive; it makes them more useful, more capable, and hence more inclined to be helpful at home; it prepares them to some extent for the practical duties of later life”7—without exposing them to the hazards or conceptual confusions they might experience if they were asked to generate electricity or work with the tools of large-scale textile production. Dewey did not consider these activities to be preparation for a job; rather, the purpose was to build the habits and skills of life-long learning. “The problem of the educator is to engage pupils in these activities in such ways that while manual skill and technical efficiency are gained and immediate satisfaction found in the work, together with preparation for later usefulness, these things shall be subordinated to education—that is, to intellectual results and the forming of socialized dispositions.”8 Such activities, Dewey believed, presented “plenty of opportunities and occasions for the necessary use of reading, writing (and spelling), and number work,”9 plus had the corollary benefit of providing “training in habits of order and of industry, and in the idea of responsibility, of obligation to do something, to produce something, in the world [and] . . . of observation, of ingenuity, constructive imagination, of logical thought, and of the sense of reality acquired through first-hand contact with actualities.”10 In theory, this participation in what might be called “historically situated” occupations could also be used as the basis for teaching related subject-matter in history, geography, and science, fostering mental quickness, “sense-training,” and “discipline in thought,”11 achieving “continuing purposes and well-planned social action,”12 and building lifelong...
Article
I offer a close reconstruction of John Dewey’s account of vocation in Democracy and Education, bringing out the existential and aesthetic dimensions of Dewey’s idea that vocations constitute perceptual environments for their practitioners. Although Dewey offers this idea to teachers only as an insight about student development, I contend that its most powerful educational implication concerns the growth of teachers. Picking up where Dewey left off, I investigate to what extent teaching constitutes an educative environment for teachers. I conclude that, while the environment of teaching is an exceedingly rich one, the basic working conditions of teachers and the ethos of education often frustrate their attempts to interact with this environment. I conclude with a critique of some of the forces that narrow the range of what teachers notice, feel, and learn in the course of their work.
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Recent analyses of American schools and proposals for school reform have missed an essential point: Most current problems could be solved if students learned twice as much in the same time and with the same effort. It has been shown that they can do so (a) when the goals of education are clarified; (b) when each student is permitted to advance at his or her own pace; and (c) when the problem of motivation is solved with programmed instructional materials, so designed that students are very often right and learn at once that they are. The theories of human behavior most often taught in schools of education—particularly cognitive psychology—stand in the way of this solution to the problem of American education, but the proposal that schools of education simply be disbanded is a step in the wrong direction. Teachers need to be taught how to teach, and a technology is now available that will permit them to teach much more effectively. (17 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)