“Thick” Authenticity & Workifying Games

This reading critique was written by Monet Spells for Educational Technology (CS 6460, Fall 2014) at Georgia Tech.

“Thick” Authenticity: New Media and Authentic Learning
by D.W. Shaffer and M.Resnick
Workifying Games: Successfully Engaging African American
Gamers in Computer Science

by B. DiSalvo, M. Guzdial, T. McKlin and A. Bruckman

These two readings complement one another in their support of authentic learning experiences that can be applied, adapted, and meaningful for learners. Workifying Games outlines a study done to engage African American male gamers with computer science concepts through video game playing and testing. “Thick” Authenticity establishes a context within which to understand the importance of measuring and reiterating effective educational processes.

In Workifying Games, the researchers assessed societal facts and problems relating to employment, education, and pursuing computer science studies or professions. The main drivers of the study were the historical evidence of African American males underperforming in academic settings and being unemployed or underemployed; the need for more computer scientists in the United States; and the tendency for (white male) gamers to leverage their recreational hacking into an interest in computer science. The researchers addressed each of the facts by encouraging African American male gamers to hack or mod video games, with careful respect to the value they place in sportsmanship. The researches leveraged new media (video games) to create an authentic learning experience (genuine interest in computer science), and utilized scaffolding (video games) to introduce a new topic (computer science). By eliminating initial resistance and offering relevant rewards, the researchers were able to make an impact on the students. How does this compare with other definitions of authentic learning experiences, as outlined in “Thick“ Authenticity?

According to “Thick“ Authenticity, effective learning environments need to exhibit all of the kinds of authenticity: personal, real world, disciplinary, and relevantly assessed. The last principle claims that means of assessment should reflect the learning process. This system is reasonable for skill-and-drill classroom settings where instruction is reiterated with practice problems. However, does this attitude towards assessment imply that if an educator creates a learning environment founded on community, conversation, and discussions, that the assessment should be the same? How does a community, conversation, and discussion-based assessment function? Does this mean that participatory learning environments are, at the core, inauthentic learning experiences if the assessments aren’t also participatory?

I am also interested in exploring the quote “…as computers replace pencil and paper, intellectual pursuits will change.” This is a something we’ve touched on several times in class. What are the important fundamentals for students to learn, especially as fields develop? We’ve discussed educators placing importance on certain antiquated concepts as a right of passage for students. For example, students of woodwork still learn to sharpen tools, though technological advances have all but eliminated the need for manual sharpening. Would it be beneficial if educators treated these fundamental concepts as black boxes instead of making students learn them? Would skipping over the “old”, outdated parts leave more room for students to learn and explore the future of these industries? If so, who decides what is truly important? Do students ever want to learn the history or fundamentals of a field before getting their hands dirty with the “cool” stuff? If not, does this invalidate their ability to effectively contribute to a participatory learning environment?