Sheep & Goats

Since “gamification” became a buzzword a couple years ago I’ve been paying a bit of attention while also waiting to see if it is something that is going to stick or if it will become a passing fad (remember when everything had to include a tag cloud?). As I’m working on the advanced IA class I find myself paying more attention to topics that focus on learning/how people learn and motivation–this post from “Gamasutra” strikes at the intersection of both.*

“What do sheep and goats have to do with educational games?”

A few comments…

Sheep learners do as they’re told, and follow instructions disciplinedly. Goats don’t like to do as they’re told, and instead want to know why they’re doing it.

This is an interesting observation. (I’m trying to decide whether I’m a goat in sheep’s clothing or a sheep who longs to be a goat.) But having read a great deal about the growing educational divide between girls and boys (I highly recommend “The Trouble with Boys” by Peg Tyre), it’s hard not to notice that in the context of school girls are often more sheep like and boys are often more goat-like–and in that context sheep behavior is rewarded and goat behavior may lead to a recommendation for a Ritalin Rx.

Thanks to the advent of technology, “we now have the ability to self educate in ways we never had before,” Schell says. Before the industrial age, no one had the luxury of questioning whether their education or skills were purposeful — largely education was directly related to making things necessary to live. A society of sheep, in other words.

Was it that no one had the luxury of questioning whether their education or skills were purposeful–or is it that when you can draw a clear line between what you’re doing and survival that there isn’t a need to pose the question? Knowledge workers and service workers may well question the ultimate purpose of their work–the subsistence farmer knows the answer. In many ways the industrial revolution has been a curse and a blessing–it brought us the Rat Race, afterall.

What does it take to become a curious person? Telling a child that a game might be out of his or her reach makes a student want to defy that instruction, makes the child curious about why they can’t do something and motivated to try to find out.

Well, it might make *some* students want to defy the instruction, but I think that kind of obvious reverse psychology schtick stops working on most kids once they’re in early elementary school. My four year old is already showing signs that he’s catching on and I’ve had the approach backfire.  I don’t think a simple one size fits all “trick” is the right answer to the question–although I think posing the question and then trying to answer it is a worthy goal as well as something that should be of supreme importance to parents and educators.  To that end, I’d be very interested to hear what pre-school teachers think; do they observe that all children are curious or are some genuinely not? Is it really the case that we need to help people become curious or is it more a problem that culture & lifestyle drain our natural curiosity? This is essentially what  John Taylor Gatto argues, and I think he’s absolutely right.

It’s a lot to spend on a piece of paper. Why don’t goats just go and learn things on their own? “It’s not just a piece of paper,” Schell asserts. “It’s not just a piece of paper — what the diploma represents is social proof, and as human beings we care about social proof. We care about the fact that the ‘elders of the tribe’ said ‘yes.'” People who presume higher education will just go away are missing an important part of the human mindset, he says. (emphasis added)

This, I think, is a very powerful observation. And one that should probably motivate me to be more diligent about my kid’s college fund. I think the system is going to collapse or experience some fundamental revolution or shift due to the sheer weight of the debt load it is producing, but I don’t know  that I can afford to bet on it happening in the next 15 years.



*The biblical connection is apparently purely coincidental.

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