I don’t often Blog about my role at University or what I’d like to do, but sitting on the Metro today, reading a few academic papers from Constance Steinkuehler in particular (yes, my life really is *that* interesting!), I started to imagine what could be done, if my imagination was left to run wild (the dreams that dull teaching academics dream huh?), within my role at university. Constance’s papers are firstly well written and some amazing ideas are contained within them, and her website is a must read and follow for me. The basic premise that runs through Constance’s papers is that people learn and develop from whatever activities you have them perform. For example, in terms of learning students how to search for information and instilling the idea that this is important and instilling the motivation, how do you do it? Do you give them a dull and boring task like an assignment, and tell them the need to display the academic research skills? Or do you first build these skills with more interesting activities like searching for information regarding a computer game they are playing, so by the time the individual gets to an academic assignment its second nature to start searching for more information.
For me and the role I play at a Business School, the question is can these virtual third-spaces, and the environments which they create be used to build and develop transferable leadership and management skills? Leadership and Management skills are a difficult area to effectively teach in a classroom setting, as they are generally practical interaction skills which only improve through use, rather than discussing the theory of an approach. So allowing students semi-structured environments in which they can practice these skills to achieve goals and then reflect on their abilities would be a very useful teaching tool and method.
Not for one minute though am I advocating simply playing computer games like World of Warcraft or DCUO to examine these skills. Instead imagine that you had an hour’s lecture on leadership in a classroom, then had a classroom based seminar where you went through a case study, AND THEN you went online and for a couple of hours practiced these skills in leading a small team towards an objective, AND THEN you spent time writing an essay or reflective statement in which you reflected on how your personal skills were used, in relation to what you learnt in the classroom, in that online environment. Not for a minute would I suggest that just playing computer games themselves would teach those skills, but a fluid combination of classroom based theory and practical based experiential learning followed by reflection could take place, and that would be effective. That’s certainly what Constance Steinkuehler would argue from reading her papers anyway.
Unfortunately I then started to think of the problems. Firstly let’s throw away the idea that within a UK university framework this could be practically done without research funding or corporate sponsorship. The first problem is technological in the fact that if you did this within a module/unit, you’d need to be assured that all students had equal access at all times to the resources. In other words you’d effectively need to turn a computing lab into a computer gaming café/hub and probably would need to sign internet café style licenses etc. and incur significant costs in doing so. In the modern world of finance constrained Higher Education this wouldn’t feasibly work unless you could possibly get a corporate sponsorship partner or external academic research funding. If you could get a corporate sponsor partner who was willing to work with the university on developing leadership and management practical skills, and they were willing to fund the project to perhaps gain skills benefits for their own staff, then it may have legs.
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