Games and Grading I: James Paul Gee

Reader, I’m slowly concocting a new way to teach introductory literary studies. Care to join me?

I haven’t posted for a while, in part because I set myself too large a task: to integrate a number of pieces I’ve been watching and reading lately into a big old essay on grading, video games, and inquiry-based learning (a big idea at Grinnell these days–more on that to come).

Instead, I hereby begin a series of shorter posts about the sources for that hypothetical essay. I’ll bring them together later.

I’ll start with this Edutopia interview with James Paul Gee: “Games, not Grades!”

Gee points out that video games are assessment machines, but they don’t alienate their players the way educational assessments alienate students because, Gee argues, games don’t separate learning from assessment.

I find this initial point powerful but too simple: many classroom environments do ties assessment to learning consistently, even if periodic larger assignments constitute the graded material. Gee seems implicitly to assume that and equivalence between assessment and grading.

My objection may be mostly semantic, however, so I’ll move on to what I see as Gee’s two most powerful insights:

1. Course textbooks ought to work like video game manuals, in that they should function as references that help students solve problems they have encountered in a process of exploration. I realize that in advanced seminars, I do teach students to use critical sources in this way, but I have not achieved the same effect in lower-level courses.

2. “Passion communities” such as those who produce fan fiction “tend to set very high standards” for their members, offering copious feedback to help new participants meet those standards.

As this series of posts continues, I will imagine ways in which college English courses might combine these two insights by creating “passion communities” that learn to navigate the texts of literary study with self-guided intensity.