Over the last two decades or so, user generated content – or “mods” for short – have become an indelible part of gaming, especially for the computer gamer crowd. As the name implies, user generated content is any sort of meaningful alteration for an existing game that is generated by the players, including new levels, graphics, or items. At its most base level, what user made content means to gamers is expanding the life of a preexisting game to virtually infinite extents. Ponder for a moment that ID Software’s seminal shooter DOOM was released in 1993 and new content is still being crafted for the title 17 years later, or that 14 years after the release of Duke Nukem 3D, one can download a program to make the game run in a high resolution mode on post DOS platforms.
|Old Duke vs. high def Duke.|
But user made content is about more than just exploring new worlds and situations for basically as long as the player wants; it’s also a way to empower young minds and reverse engineer the learning process. Take, for example, your average math problem. Throughout high school, I was asked to “solve for” a given variable in an equation. It was then up to me to find a solution (which, incidentally, took hours upon hours to pull off, was entirely useless, and made me hate school, but that’s fodder for another post).
But what if it were the student giving the teacher a math problem? What if it were up to the learner to construct an equation using a newly-learned formula, taking into consideration what would need to be done to create the problem and how one would need to think in order to effectively answer it?
Many educators believe that best way to learn something is to teach it. From personal experience with Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Albert Camus’ The Stranger and several other not-so-near-and-dear works I taught during my tenure as an English teacher, I can attest to this axiom’s truth.
|It's big for such a little planet.|
It’s not unlike how I felt after designing about 100 lessons for my English classes during my student teaching: I felt like I knew everything there was to know about the subject at hand. Just like the game designer becomes intimately familiar with the capabilities of his or her game engine and what makes a “fun” level, I now understand The Diary of Anne Frank, The Great Gatsby and Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption from the inside out – more so than if I had simply read these works. As the one teaching the class, the one creating the content, I had to live and breathe the source material.
A simple way for students to “reverse engineer” what their educator wishes them to learn is to have them construct a lesson. Teachers have been utilizing this idea for decades by having students give short presentations on a particular subject; they expect that the student will become an “expert” in about the time it takes to thaw a frozen pizza. This is an excellent start, but it’s not enough: With only one or two class periods to work with, students don’t have time to commit to memory everything they discover.
Besides, that approach is getting tired. (I know because I tried it.) Today’s tech savvy students demand something more.
The logical evolution of the concept: Our digital native students create their own content for a relevant learning program, such as a video game. I understand that few good educational games exist – and even fewer are worth playing – but I look forward to some future superstar teacher creating just such an application.
|Next stop: End of the level.|