Do Some Video Games Promote Critical Thinking?

PUBLISHED: Jan 24, 2019

In This Episode.

What’s the relationship between certain video games and critical thinking skills?  According to some recent assertions, select video games promote critical thinking by creating rich worlds in which players must make difficult choices.  To what extent do those choices foster critical thinking?  And to what success are video games being employed in classrooms?  Also, why are Steve and Dave making obscure references to M.A.S.H.?  Find out the answers to all those questions on this episode!

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Podcast Transcript

Voiceover: Welcome to the Critical Thinking Initiative podcast, we bring you research driven solutions to critical thinking education. Why? Because as Bertrand Russell said, most people would sooner die than think. In fact, they do so. And now your hosts Steve Pearlman and Dave Carillo.

Steve Pearlman: And, welcome back to the Critical Thinking Initiative podcast. This is Steve.

Dave Carillo: This is Dave.

Steve Pearlman: And today we’re going to get into the highly popular and I guess, somewhat controversial topic of video games and critical thinking and education. But let’s get into talking to people about the summer institute that we’re thinking about.

Dave Carillo: Yes, we do need

Steve Pearlman: To do that. We’ve had so many requests from listeners who have said that they want more opportunity to explore the research on critical thinking and more importantly, put into practice in their own classes and their own course designs and their own assignment designs. A lot of what we discuss here with respect to critical thinking, if not potentially the critical thinking system that Dave and I are proponents of the one that we have created that solves for all the six fractured. So it’s hard for us to get to everybody. We start to think maybe it’s easier for everybody to start to come to us. So what we’re pitching to you listeners and what we hope you’ll let us know about is simply whether or not the idea of coming to a two or three day workshop over the summer would be interesting. We’re in Connecticut, so it would be in the Hartford area of Connecticut, and that workshop would cover research on critical thinking and more importantly, would allow you to really work through some course designs, assignment designs, assessment practices, all related to critical thinking, working with some colleagues of like minds, hopefully a few of different minds as well different disciplines, different grade levels and working through critical thinking ideas that not only could inform your course, but you could bring back to your institution and can inform your greater institution. You could test out, you could play with and so on, so we don’t have anything finalized for that yet. We are still taking the temperature on the idea, which so far from our last episode has been very hot, but we figure it’s worth mentioning again. So if you’re interested in the idea of potentially of coming to Connecticut for a two or three day workshop on critical thinking, then please do us a favor and email us at info at the Critical Thinking Initiative. Org That’s info at the Critical Thinking Initiative. Org And just say interested in the summer institute? And that’s all we need to hear. And that way, we can start to gauge whether or not this is an idea that has legs for this summer or not.

Dave Carillo: This is not a one off thing. We’re hoping to start to do more of these kinds of institutes and reach as many people as possible in that way.

Steve Pearlman: All right. And so before we also get into the topic of the day being video games and critical thinking in education, there’s just a call from P K.R. President Dr Sarai Anwar Ibrahim for Anwar to focus on critical thinking and education. We have entire nations now and China has already done this, whose covenant is turning the entire focus of education, and certainly they’re more agile and able to do it to critical thinking in education. And for those of us here in the United States, those of you listening here in the U.S., if your institution is not turning its focus, I don’t want to say exclusively, but primarily towards this and your state and your school and your district and your class and so on, then we’re going to suggest that the evidence is really starting to show that the rest of the world is the rest of the world is starting to make this turn. And what the article says is that quote, he said. This will prevent the education system from becoming obsolete, and these attributes will enable graduates to adapt to a constantly changing workplace and economic environment. And that’s just where the writing’s been on the wall. The world is recognizing that agility and critical thinking, flexible mindsets, problem solving are the skills that are going to be needed in the future and parts of the world are turning their attention to this to focus on it almost singularly.

Dave Carillo: Right. I’m probably quoting someone here, and I know that we mentioned this before, but I’m going to just say it again as a as a concept that that I think is going to become more and more relevant as we start to see more of these calls. And it’s that the job market today is not going to be the job market in five years. It’s not going to be the job market in 10 years and as such, settling for whatever’s going on in the classroom now because this is what we have as a job market now is not really setting anybody up for anything and in fact, maybe pushing us further backward than we might even feel falling in some sense. So it just serves another yet another wake up call to the kind of overarching moves we need to make in this country in terms of critical thinking.

Steve Pearlman: Other nations in the world are taking note of this in the interest of their citizens and their young people. And the question is to what extent we’re going to do it here. And I don’t think that. Given our educational structure, we’re necessarily able to do it as immediately and holistically across the board from the top down, but certainly different institutions can make these shifts more easily and certainly lots of classes can do that. So it’s something to really start taking note of, not just in terms of its overall importance, but the way the rest of the world is taking note of

Dave Carillo: It, right? Absolutely. And that’s what the critical thinking initiative is all about. We know that the critical thinking outcomes in this in this country have not been good for some time. We know the six basic fractures that prevent stronger critical thinking outcomes, and we’ve solved for those six fractures in a way that pretty much anyone from grades K through FD can adopt in their own classrooms. So we should go talk about video games now.

Steve Pearlman: Let’s talk about video games. Great.

Dave Carillo: And hopefully at the end of this, we’ll have come to a conclusion as to why I still can’t build a reasonably good fort in Fortnite. Still?

Steve Pearlman: Still, I played as well for a while, as you know,

Dave Carillo: And you got me into the game. You son of a bitch. Yes.

Steve Pearlman: That’s all part of a grander scheme. Exactly. Tell you about right now

Dave Carillo: Getting into some sort of shriveled Gollum,

Steve Pearlman: And I could never build anything at all in that game, and I hated it. I don’t even like the building aspect of the game. I think that’s what prevented me from doing. It was right. I didn’t enjoy. I liked hiding. Hiding was really my key skill.

Dave Carillo: I love to hide in that game and it is probably the worst strategy that someone can have.

Steve Pearlman: Well, one thing that’s for sure Dave and I have played video games. I grew up playing some video games early in the starting in the Atari age, and I certainly wasn’t what you would call a heavy gamer through most of my life, but I dabbled.

Dave Carillo: It’s hard to be considered a heavy gamer in the age of the Atari. Twenty six hundred.

Steve Pearlman: There were kids who came over to school and just played until they fell asleep, basically.

Dave Carillo: Yeah, I guess you’re right, and we have totally dated ourselves now, right? Because if there is any question as to whether we’re ancient or not, we’re telling you we are.

Steve Pearlman: Well, I can. I can remember when a friend of mine got pong, which was the first I bear.

Dave Carillo: I don’t remember Pong per say, but the Atari twenty six hundred when I first saw that blew me away. I was like, Dear God, the sure is now.

Steve Pearlman: It changed the world as the world. Yes. Yeah, exactly. So as we take our quasi Luddite stance here on video games based on the research, I don’t think we want to come off as too hypocritical with the sense of admitting that video games can be fun and entertaining. But are they educational and do they foster critical thinking? So what we’re going off here is an article from a year ago by Matthew Hanrahan, who is the editor in chief of Games Industry Biz, and the title of the article is games are the largest provider of critical thinking education in the world. And so seeing this somewhat polemic title, I think David, I took notice of that because that’s a fascinating assertion to be making about critical thinking, right?

Dave Carillo: They basically blew the critical thinking dog whistle and we perked right up. This article represents a perfect type of artifact for our podcast, at least the way I’m seeing it. It’s obviously making a grand statement, but it’s taking on a subject that raises just as many uncertainties and questions as it as it tries to answer and whether anybody out there feels that we have the right to do so or not. We have taken it upon ourselves to bear some of the responsibility regarding the vetting of arguments around critical thinking and critical thinking pedagogy.

Steve Pearlman: This is the mantle we’ve taken up, and the extent to which we are successful or valuable at doing this is something that our listeners and the rest of the world will determine, and maybe they maybe think we suck at it. But I think that this is exactly what interests us and exactly what we’re trying to do, at least with the podcast. And the article is fascinating because it actually makes some claims about the nature of learning and education that are kind of important. And yet at the same time, its overall claim that video games are in fact teaching critical thinking then becomes a greater claim and a farther reach that I’m not sure. Well, I’m sure it doesn’t achieve it.

Dave Carillo: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. One of the strengths of this article is the fact that it points out not as clearly as we like, but it does point out one or two key elements of the kind of pedagogy necessary for strong critical thinking. Before we get into this, it’s just important to know the players involved in this particular article. One of the elements that Matthew Hanrahan includes in this is the Near Future Society, which is a charitable foundation that’s asking developers to embrace games as a tool for critical thinking. And so the near future society, the article goes on to say, was conceived by Oliver Lewis, who is a former diplomat and current VP of corporate development at Improbable and Improbable is a game company that. Produces an operating system. I think it’s called Spatial OS, so it allows game developers to develop types of games and stuff, and so we’re getting a lot of quotes from people who are intimately connected to the gaming world and not necessarily objectively

Steve Pearlman: In this first respect. Hanrahan, actually, and the people in the article actually touch on an aspect of video games from which education needs to take some note. And I’m not going to quote anything specific here, but that is that basically what he’s advocating for is that video games are problem based learning where you’re dropped into a world and you have to try to figure things out as you go. And these things have real world consequences and so forth. And the other thing that he’s advocating for here in terms of what video games do is what James Gee called situated learning, which is where you are placed in the situation of the knowledge that needs to be applied rather than learning knowledge first and then maybe encountering a situation or never encountering a situation at all, that the situation is the context in which you begin the learning. So to take GE’s idea very quickly and he talked specifically about video games, maybe we’ll read a clip. But if you’re going to be a carpenter and you show up on the carpenter site, you immediately start to do things that a carpenter would do. You might only at first be schlepping wood around for other better carpenters, but you’re doing something that’s valuable and important, and you’re in that context. And when you go to learn something, it’s as you need it.

Steve Pearlman: So as you’re going to hammer nails in your learning, then which nails you need, you’re learning, then which kind of hammer to use or nail gun to use, or what have you. But it’s happening in the context of actually putting a board up, whereas school differently would be a class on what it is to be a carpenter in the history of carpenters and how to use a hammer and what kind of nails there are and a test. And then some day later, maybe you’re actually going to go on to actually do carpentry in theory instead of just getting there on site and starting to be a carpenter. So Gee’s premise of situated learning premise of problem based learning all absolutely critical. We’ve talked about them a lot before, and we think education needs to do a lot more of them. Based on all the research. They can be extremely powerful, not just toward creating critical thinking, but overall student engagement and outcomes on all kinds of different levels. So let’s applaud the notion of that. And I want to agree with Hanrahan, in fact, that game designers have figured out how to do a lot of this masterfully, that they get people involved. They allow them to fail forward with low stakes but meaningful stakes.

Steve Pearlman: They are decision makers. They get a little bit of knowledge at a time, as applied in context, and they are masters at trickling this forward so that people stay engaged in their games in that sense. What the article is advocating for in terms of pedagogical factors, I don’t know if the article makes the best case for them, but the article’s premise in certain respects, therefore, is sound pedagogically, according to the research. So let me actually read a little from G here, and I’m in his book Situated Learning and Seventy Four and Seventy Five, he lists twenty five different things that gaming does that create learners and where people learn the way they do in life, where they learn and situated problem based mastery models. And I’ll just read a few of them here. Number six, they build in choice from the beginning. Number 15, they give information just in time and on demand number 17, they let learners create their own unsupervised sandboxes, i.e. let them be able to customize what you’re offering and number twenty two. They allow learners to practice enough so that they routinized their skills and then challenge them with new problems and force them to rethink these taken for granted skills and integrate them with new ones. Repeat, and I’m going to add one more number.

Steve Pearlman: Twenty three. They offer learners developmental, not evaluative skill tests that allow them to judge where the outer edge of their competence is and let them make decisions about what new things they need to learn on their path to mastery. So G is identifying the fact that video game is basically do those things and a lot more with respect to learning and construct these environments where there’s a lot of self assessment, there’s a lot of reengagement, there’s a lot of contextualization. Everything is happening, all at the same time. You don’t get a bunch of knowledge about how to play the game, then start to play the game. And all of these things that she talks about are associated with stronger learning outcomes and stronger engagement. I don’t know if the article is really as cognizant of all of that, but at least we know that it is. And it’s worth noting that now the article is just alluding to those more broadly. That’s at least the claim that the article is making that those things that the game does creates better critical thinkers. Now, the claim that those things are valuable, I embrace the conclusion that it creates better critical thinkers. That’s a very different kind of conclusion, and that’s, I think, where we also have to do some more discussion here.

Dave Carillo: Well, I think that there’s a lot to unpack in terms of what you just said. And I’m seeing a couple of things and I just took down some notes as you were talking. And one of the things that this article and G in a sense in developing his own his own discussion about games is at least allowing us to see if not mentioning it. It explicitly is this is this essential conflict between school and almost everything else, right, if we’re going to go ahead and say the most valuable elements of these games mirror the kinds of learning mastery, learning of problem-solving that allow us to be successful in the games, but also allow us to be generally successful in life. What we’re doing is setting school against real life. Right. So that’s the first sort of conflict that I see arising here is what we need to do is then draw on the kind of research that we’ve seen in terms of what’s going on in classrooms overall, which is mostly lecture, mostly rote memorization. You know that Ferrari and paradigm, where the teacher knows and the students don’t know, and the teacher tells them students don’t tell. And that’s a huge conflict going on here that this article forces us to consider. So that’s the first thing.

Steve Pearlman: I like the way you synopses that, and this is what we are always talking to. Faculty and our faculty development group about is that school is the only place you learn like school. Right? Everywhere else in life, you don’t get a bunch of information and then it test and then hope sometime later that you have a context for applying it and even the things that you were talking about. If we move beyond those lecture based or information based situations into where there might be more class discussions and supposedly more constructive learning that still isn’t necessarily correlated with stronger critical thinking outcomes. Yeah, and we talked about that in the past. So again, it all circles back to this idea that school is sort of this unique environment. But video games are more mirroring the way we naturally learn as humans in life

Dave Carillo: Or at least some video games, and certainly not. And look, this is something that this article does try to draw the distinction about. There’s a new type of video game or a new type of concept for a video game that does these kinds of things more specifically. For example, the article mentions 11 Bit Studios, which is a division of a larger company, and they mention two specific ones this war of mine and papers, please. And both of those games are focused less on the either or kill or be killed. Destroy everything in your path towards a goal and more along the lines of negotiating grey areas. So, for instance, I don’t know if you’ve seen papers, please, but that’s a game where if I understand correctly, it’s a game where you play the role of Border Guard or checkpoint guard. And the whole point of the game is to get better at reading people’s identification papers as you let them in and out of certain parts of your country. You have to figure out who’s safe, who’s not, who should be let in, who shouldn’t. And you constantly are faced with identification papers that present more and more complex problems for reading and analyzing the information in that kind of thing.

Dave Carillo: And this war of mine is also interesting, and I read a review about it, but essentially you’re still in a war zone. But this is a situation where rather than killing people, you have to figure out how to survive and keep other people alive while various other elements of the game are killing people. And that’s really compelling. And if I remember correctly, this war of mine is based on the siege of Sarajevo and these kinds of games that are working to explicitly create these areas of complexities. Moments of complexity that game players have to navigate are closer to the kinds of things that we want to be doing in school. But one of the weaknesses of this this article is the assumption that even if the game is explicitly saying, here’s this gray area that you have to negotiate, well, there’s a whole bunch of questions that come to mind. One, Are we just going to assume that if there is a complexity there, that this complexity is valuable in terms of teaching anybody anything and this overarching idea of transfer?

Steve Pearlman: Well, I think your point about transfer is the critical one.

Voiceover: Steve and Dave will be right back. In the meantime, they want you to know about the critical thinking initiative, faculty and student handbooks. They provide the only unified critical thinking system that is a pedagogy for you, a thinking method for your students, a means of assessment that foregrounds critical thinking and a system that works for any discipline with the Critical Thinking Initiative handbooks. Your students will engage the subject matter of your course more meaningfully. You’ll receive more thoughtful writing and discussion, and you’ll help to cultivate the kind of thoughtful citizens essential for any strong democracy to get the joint set right now. At 20 percent off with free shipping, just use the Discount Code podcast at the Critical Thinking Initiative Dawg. That’s Discount Code podcast for 20 percent off and free shipping. Now back to Stephen Dave

Steve Pearlman: Because all students think critically at some point during their lives. I mean, they think every day during their lives or people do in every decision we’re making. That doesn’t mean we’re all doing deep intellectual thinking all the time, but we’re making decisions and solving problems in our lives, not always as successfully as we like. That doesn’t mean that when they get into another context or into an academic context, they’re really able to demonstrate that. Critical thinking process, they’re really able to work with multiple complex texts, they’re really able to contend with all of this in other kinds of settings, and there’s a difference between having some innate ability to think critically and being able to transfer that ability, build on that ability and more importantly, represent that ability outward. Yeah, sure. They’ve created a context that in some way involves some decision making. It is not nearly as complex as the decision making that one has to do in life. In video games, it’s far more simplistic than that. Most of the time the stakes are much lower and so on and so forth. And it certainly is not as complex as a lot of the really rich kind of intellectual questions that we need people to contend with in this world, contending with ideas of racism or sexism or classism or economics or literary interpretation if we want to make it something a little more specific. I just pick out of the blue. Yeah, those are all far more complicated than what we see in video games. So that brings us to a simple question, which is is there research that actually shows whether or not gamers think critically more than other people? And then lo and behold, there’s actually a study on this, Dave. I am glad

Dave Carillo: To hear that I would like to overlay some research onto this.

Steve Pearlman: I don’t know that it’s the only one, and it might not be a definitive one, but I at least want to share this from two thousand eleven gamers in gaming context relationships to critical thinking by Sue Gerber and Logan Scott. Ok. And basically, what they did here is really important, and I think we need more research to this effect. They took some gamers, heavy gamers and some non gamers gave them a critical thinking test and tried to see what the difference was. And I’m not going to hold everyone in suspense here. Quote results of a survey of one hundred and twenty one adults found that gamers and non gamers do not differ significantly on critical thinking dispositions. However, gamers who play strategy games scored higher on actively open minded thinking than did other types of gamers. That’s interesting. So if you ever gamer a strategy game, maybe you’re performing a little better than other gamers. But on the whole, there is no measurable difference, at least by this particular study between gamers and non gamers in terms of their ability to think critically. Now one thing about the strategy gamers we don’t know, and the article does not account for whether that’s because people who are more inclined to have that mindset to begin with, like strategy games or if the strategy games are in fact creating the thinker.

Steve Pearlman: So there’s a post hoc problem there with respect to what’s the cause and what’s effect. Ok, everyone don’t run out and get your kids strategy games because you think it’s going to make them a better critical thinker. We don’t have that evidence, but we do have evidence for is that frankly, there isn’t really a difference. So what this article is claiming the first article Hanrahan is claiming with respect to how video games create better critical thinkers, though, it’s true that you’re offering them some context of decision making, though it’s true those things can be pedagogically valuable when it comes to fostering and intellectually rich, positive, real, true critical thinking learning experience. The video games themselves are not doing enough in that respect. I don’t know if they ever could, because again, I think they’re always going to be so far limited in their complexity. But we simply don’t see that evidence that they are creating better critical thinkers.

Dave Carillo: You raise two points there that I want that I want to get to. And the first is that the finding that the strategy gamers or did test a little higher in terms of what problem solving was it

Steve Pearlman: Or they tested higher in terms of actively open minded thinking.

Dave Carillo: You know, I wonder about that because one of the other articles that I have here is by Diane Halperin from nineteen ninety eight, and that’s entitled Teaching Critical Thinking for transfer across domains, disposition, skills, structure, training and metacognitive monitoring. And then this one that idea of transfer, which has been around for a while and is an ongoing problem in education, educational psychology, psychology. In this article, though, she identifies four elements necessary for enhancing an individual’s ability to think critically across domains or to transfer right. So in other words, her argument is we could teach someone to think critically in biology and to do that effectively. You have to immerse them in a biological problem and you have to make sure that they are situated. But whether they are able to take the critical thinking elements out of biology and then apply them to say, analyzing a piece of literature is another question. And oftentimes that’s one of the arguments made against the notion that we can teach critical thinking to everybody or across disciplines is that, well, know if they’ve learned in biology, they can’t possibly do it in history and so on and so forth. But that also comes back to this weakness of the overarching claim that video games are educating.

Steve Pearlman: The problematic word there is that it’s critical thinking education. Might there be some problem solving going on and in a video game and in some more than others? Sure. But that in no way means that they’re teaching people to be better critical thinkers any more than choosing a donut or deciding which restaurant to go to or making some other decisions in our life are teaching people to be better critical thinkers. There might be some reasoning involved in these processes, and that’s good, but it doesn’t mean you’re actually teaching them to think better.

Dave Carillo: Yeah, and that? The other thing, too, if you’re going to play this game, then you’re going to recognize that you have to going to solve the problems within this game, and maybe you’re able to apply those problem solving skills to another game that’s perhaps similar or something along those lines. But beyond that, and this is something else that Halperin calls for, is this like larger? This a metacognitive component used to direct and assess thinking? Are you able to in any way reflect on and assess the thinking that you’ve done in these games and do anything with that outside of the game? And that’s the biggest danger in an article like this. We don’t want to just pull a video game into the classroom and say, now we’re teaching critical thinking, and we definitely don’t want to assume that just because a lot of people are playing games, they’re learning to think critically.

Steve Pearlman: Well, Dave, yeah, it just so happens that that’s where I want to go next.

Dave Carillo: Ok, good.

Steve Pearlman: Because because that is exactly what is happening. That is exactly what is happening.

Dave Carillo: I’m not entirely surprised

Steve Pearlman: By that so that I am withholding, I’m constraining and suppressing my conniption at this point. As you raise that point, because that’s exactly what’s happening. So let me tell you about how this kind of thinking is transferring out first. As a disclaimer, there are some educators who are taking what she talks about and problem based learning and situate learning and obviously not invoking video games in any way. So I’m not talking about those educators at this point. There aren’t a lot, but there are some in more power to them. I don’t know if I’m going to reference the names of these articles specifically. I think I’m not because I don’t want to throw them under the bus, but look there. For example, as somebody who looked at what video games do with respect to how it constructs problem based learning and said, Well, look, let’s teach creative writing that way, and let’s build a problem construct around that that students can write about and think about and so forth. Now, problem based learning great. But the faculty member used the video game as the problem, which undermines one of the key components of problem based learning, which is that it’s a real world problem, right? You’re actually engaging something in your world that matters, and I can get into all kinds of other concerns I would have about using the video game for that.

Steve Pearlman: But that’s taking this premise of saying video games involve thinking and worse. It’s taking the premise that these are the things that video game does and that’s entirely misappropriating them because it’s saying, therefore, we need the video game to do it, which is exactly where the fallacy falls. You don’t need the video game to do it. And in fact, the video game isn’t necessarily helpful in doing it. And before I go on, I know you want to jump in. I want to say I’m not saying that the use of a video game in a class in an isolated sense can never be valuable. I can’t judge, for example, how some people might integrate it in a limited context where students could learn a particular thing from a video game. I don’t know enough about what video games are out there and so on, so I’m not making that claim. But I’m going to say that you can’t misappropriate the notion of the tactics and the pedagogies that the video games are using and then believe it’s contingent upon the presence of the video game. All right now, that’s the better example. Here’s what’s worse. What’s worse is the people who are thinking that the video games do, in fact, involve critical thinking and therefore using the video games in their class as the critical thinking element. No.

Dave Carillo: Yes, sir, they’re doing that.

Steve Pearlman: Yes, sir. So for example, there’s this article. It talks about the use of Minecraft in classrooms

Dave Carillo: And has it being used in classes?

Steve Pearlman: Well, the article kind of makes this fallacy that because Minecraft might involve thinking and students like play and play is important in learning that therefore Minecraft is valuable in learning and there goes the error. Yeah, play. And the concepts around that of failing forward of problem based engagement are absolutely all as we’ve talked about it really important to learning, and that’s how our classes should be constructed. In no way do you need to bring Minecraft into a class in order to achieve that, nor should we fall into the presumption of the initial article that the game is actually teaching critical thinking and therefore rely on the game to be the critical thinking element in any class right?

Dave Carillo: And that comes to mind initially, like one of the six fractures that we spend so much time trying to deal with. And that’s assessment. So what’s the assessment in that class? Then, like at the end of the semester, you build better stuff in Minecraft. That is a very dangerous assumption, and that’s one of the other things that I want to talk about. One of the dangers of this kind of assumption that we see elements of critical thinking in, say, Minecraft or papers, please, or elements of the complexity of the moral landscape in, say, BioShock two or something along those lines. Yes, some of these games are very expertly designed. They’re designed with these complexities in mind and so on and so forth. But what we’re all also missing here is the kind of work that we need to do to bring this kind of critical thinking, instruction and practice and assessment and pedagogy into the classroom. And that’s the. Not only do students need to be helped to develop a stronger, metacognitive framework. Here is how I am thinking about my thinking this is what’s going on when I am thinking this is what’s happening, when I’m doing these things and to some extent that probably happens, especially in the social environment when they’re sharing sort of tips and tricks and games, maybe, but they need to be able to read and write critically as well. And that’s something that’s not being done in any way, shape or form the game. So to give you my own example, when I think about a classic experience with problem solving was my playing Metroid from Nintendo, the first ever Metroid, right? Metroid, and maybe some of you can send us your own Metroid memories via email.

Dave Carillo: Metroid presented a wide range of challenges for playing it, and you know, it wasn’t perma death. You had a code so you could start where you stopped and apply what you learned. And the deeper you went into this map, the heart of the bosses were and so on and so forth. But to some extent, the problem solving that went on there and we could we could argue whether I was thinking critically as a 12 year old when I was playing this game or not. But problem solving was just as much about being able to manipulate the controller so that when I jumped, I was jumping to the right. But then I would slightly move to the left to judge something, and maybe I would have to practice that over and over to do that. And that’s something that Halperin calls for, right? She says of the four parts we need, we need instruction and in practice with critical thinking skills. So there’s critical thinking and Metroid as far as how I’m going to jump from here to there and whether this is going to work or employ that weapon or so on and so forth. Part of it, or maybe all of it was just manipulating the controller. And there I did it. Whether I was going to be able to explain how or why I did what I did, articulate that to someone who doesn’t know what Metroid is, articulate that to someone who’s going to argue against my move in Metroid and so on and so forth, I probably wasn’t going to be able to do that.

Dave Carillo: And one of the biggest dangers I can see in making the claim that these video games are teaching critical thinking or educating students in critical thinking or using games in class to act as the genesis for critical thinking is that we’re leaving out the fact that for students to really be able to think critically and I’m going to all argue this to my grave, they need to be able to read and understand written material. You want them to make a moral decision, make sure that they can understand the arguments that people are making for X, Y and Z. And if they’re not able to get enough practice in terms of reading that argument or being able to describe how they’re understanding that argument. All this video game stuff or any of the more morally complex video games that exist out there are useless. Moreover, if they’re not able to write about how they thought this through, or if they’re not able to present their rationale through writing, then we’re not in a position to really be able to assess anything that’s meaningful or to see how they’re growing or for players of the game to see how they’re growing, other than maybe building something better in Minecraft. So no one mentions that in the two articles that I have here, and maybe they mention it in some of the ones that you have. But a big danger is assuming that anything is going to be learned or transferred without a strong ability to read and write critically

Steve Pearlman: As it were. It’s a great point, and I’d like to add two onto it first sort of a prima facia, hasty generalization, which is unfair, but I’m going to do it anyway. Look, no Homo sapiens in history have video game nearly as much as Homo sapiens from our generation forward. There’s just no question about that, and what we do not see is a bloom of critical thinking ability in our species. As a result, our students are not more capable of it. Our graduates are not more Kayode as a result of all of the magnificent gaming that’s going on now, it’s potentially arguable to say it’s because gaming has not reached their level of complexity yet, or they’re not all playing strategy games, but really, that’s not what it is. If gaming were producing all these magnificent critical thinkers, we wouldn’t see calls from the president of Anwar. We wouldn’t see calls from CEOs all saying that we need desperately students who can think critically because they can’t do it. So that’s one thing, and it’s going to be hard to have all the research to support that. But I think there’s a prima facia value to that discussion. The other point I want to make is this from neuroscientific perspective, though, I don’t think we have a direct comparisons of this to be made. We do know this.

Steve Pearlman: You want your kids to develop normally. You want their brains to develop. They are far better off throwing into a room of junk than you are sticking them in front of a video game. In the room of junk, they’re going to have to construct their own game. They’re going to socialize, they’re going to interact with other humans in real time, create their own games, create their rules, work through social structures, solve problems and so forth. They are designed to do that. Their brains are designed to create play out of things. Their brains will develop fabulously. You want your kids to develop more than playing a video game. Give them a buck the amount of neural development required for. Reading and writing, as you talked about, is astronomical, so yeah, maybe there is a certain degree of critical thinking involved in some video game play, and maybe that’s a positive thing, but really, I don’t think that there is going to be evidence to support that. That kind of neural development is stronger than what Homo sapiens generally evolved to be able to do, learn through play, learn through complex problems, reading and writing also being absolutely critical to our neural development, especially with the kinds of depth and complexity of problems that we’re going to have to encounter and solve for in this world.

Dave Carillo: I don’t want to harp on the obvious, but part of what’s at stake here is the real world and the socio political, economic, environmental and add anything else stakes that we face every day, even if we want to just winnow it down and we never really do this. We never say it’s all about this. But even if we just winnow it down to the job market, these are real world issues. But at the end of the article, they make this claim right. And this is actually Louis is saying this quote games are already the most accessible. Arguably the most effective and the largest provider of moral reasoning and critical thinking education in the world, almost without realizing it. That’s one of the things that you’re providing to the global community. That’s almost, well, it’s a little bit of a ridiculous statement. It’s a grotesque over generalization or assumption as to what these video games are doing, like there are elements that are still valuable. And yes, they are fairly accessible. They do reach a huge community. There is this potential for reaching a lot of individuals with these games. I don’t know what a game would look like.

Steve Pearlman: It’s intriguing to think about what a thinking game

Dave Carillo: Would really mean. A thinking game. I mean, again, but like, yeah, a thinking game that is actually somehow able to produce transfer to develop a stronger, metacognitive framework. Sure. One could be developed maybe using the target critical thinking framework might help. But in the meantime, that’s I guess the greatest danger here. Games reach a huge amount of people. They’re inordinately accessible. There’s a huge global community. Don’t assume, though, that they’re doing anything necessarily for moral reasoning or critical thinking in education.

Steve Pearlman: I think that sums up the whole podcast best right?

Dave Carillo: I don’t know.

Steve Pearlman: We just can’t say it’s doing any of that. No, the claim that it’s doing it the best is in fact, the most unscrupulous one. If we don’t know that it’s doing it at all, right? Well, I think there you have it. I think more than anything, what I take from this podcast, Dave, is how much I miss playing Fortnite and I really

Dave Carillo: Want to get back on. You need to get back on Fortnite. Like I said to you before, when you introduced the game to me, you were not able to fly a biplane in this iteration of the game. You can fly by plane.

Steve Pearlman: I’ve always wanted to fly it by plane.

Dave Carillo: It’s better. It’s better to just fly around and see all the things that people are building, rather than be on the ground and realize that you can’t.

Steve Pearlman: I want to be like Five O’Clock Charlie from MASH.

Dave Carillo: That’s that is a good reference.

Steve Pearlman: Hurl bomb out of my hand aimlessly towards the ground.

Dave Carillo: I forgot about that episode, but I do remember it is that character I think comes back once or twice. It’s not a one off character. I think it’s only in one episode, really. I could have sworn he was in to either look at it.

Steve Pearlman: Thanks for listening. We’ll catch you next time.

Dave Carillo: Take care.

Voiceover: Got questions about critical thinking questions about pedagogies related to critical thinking. Questions about writing, reading, grading or anything else in the critical thinking realm? Contact Steve and Dave at Info at the Critical Thinking Initiative. Talk with your questions or your feedback about the podcast. Thanks for listening.


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