Teachers: EDU On Games Does Not Make Everything Okay
My friend, Knowclue, aka Marianne Malmstrom of FollowTheLearning.com, recently published a much longer article discussing her struggles with ‘EDU’ labelled games. We spent a couple days debating some of the points she was making together. During this discussion I found myself drawn to the following metaphor for describing ‘EDU’ in educational business:
The ‘EDU’ stamp on games currently acts as a clearinghouse. Knowclue and I agree on this. A game with ‘EDU’ clears the screening process for use in schools. Games lacking ‘EDU’, like vegetables not labeled Organic, get tossed aside regardless of value. A stalk of celery labeled Organic, according to my local farmer, may have been exposed to as many chemicals as the celery next to it, without the organic label. ‘EDU’ means little in reality but shoppers willingly pick up the labeled item over the unlabeled item without research the relevance.
‘EDU’ does not mean the item offers substance over another product. Careful research, just like my farmer friend encouraged me to engage in, is needed to see if the product actually meets my requirements as a consumer. Engaged educators evaluate their curricular artifacts through the lens of their pedagogical views. If they find something not labelled ‘EDU’ that task becomes more onerous. Projects to use an artifact not associated with ‘EDU’ face rigorous review and bureaucratic obstacles. ‘EDU’ labels clear many of these hurdles with alacrity. Policy makers view ‘EDU’ as a rating scale of acceptability.
Due to this, as educators, we limit our scope to those tools that we do not need to drag through the firewall of bureaucracy. Within this smaller shop of items marketed to education there are some gems and some lumps of coal. Often, after careful research on an ‘EDU’ title I find that it completely lacks any pedagogical value. I then have to fight off policy-makers and well-meaning individuals who want me to adopt something that I can not put into practice. My praxis is viewed as radical when I reject an ‘EDU’ title while confessing to an interest in something beyond the shop of ‘EDU’. The ‘EDU’ marketing undermines my well-reasoned professional judgements.
This misuse of ‘EDU’ leads to an information-starved teacher-as-consumer. Game designers alter their games to fit their assumptions about the educational market. They create “curriculum” filled with worksheets and rubrics. These are the trappings of an outdated mode of teaching rather than learning. I celebrate when I see game designers sharing their praxis. How they build games to teach the player how to do something. How game design theory relates to the pedagogy of education. Game designers and ‘EDU’ companies that sit down and evaluate their games for the intrinsic learning already embedded in their games exceed all expectations. Other companies see a market niche and slap ‘EDU’ on a discounted version of their product and sell a companion “curriculum”. Thusly ‘EDU’ label does not guarantee value.
Value, returning to the metaphor of grocery store labels, does not exist in the labels on the front of the box. Flip the box over, read the detailed ingredients. The product may or may not have relevance for education. Or the specific curricular goals specified. The label ‘EDU’ acts like a product stamp that says, “Reduced Fat!” How reduced? What was reduced? Teachers need the opportunity to delve deeply into these tools like they do during new textbook adoptions. Instead of believing the ‘EDU’ label, game-using-educators need to exist in a culture of careful ingredient reading rather than buying into the rather thin ‘EDU’ marketing campaign. We all need to dig in and (to leap to a gardening metaphor) till the soil ourselves a bit.