Multi-Media Project

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Using gaming and virtual simulation to promote empathy in social justice education


Working topic

Using gaming and virtual simulation to promote empathy in social justice education

Identified inquiry topic, questions and controversies

  • How can video games and simulations be used to better promote empathy and social justice education, specifically amongst middle-school students?
  • Can virtual simulation better attune youth to multiple perspectives within complex issues of social justice, such as refugee experiences, poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.?
  • How can teachers better infuse gaming and virtual simulation into student learning and assessment so that real-world issues are better addressed and better understood by students?
  • How can modern-day youth’s attraction to video games and virtual simulation be harnessed for educational experiences that address societal problems, especially in relation to social justice?
  • Are students better able to think critically about social justice topics when they can take on various perspectives within a virtual reality scenario?
  • Would gaming and virtual reality be more effective than traditional classroom teaching strategies (e.g., reading texts, watching videos, writing responses) in encouraging youth to empathize with perspectives that are different from their own lived experiences?
  • Additionally, what ethical considerations need to be explored when using virtual reality to enhance learning about social justice? What happens to students who find these experiences troubling and perhaps even traumatizing?

Articulated rationale for why the topic matters

While there are many teachers who are willing and interested in using technology to promote teaching and learning, many of us use it to support our more traditional ways of teaching and learning, as this is what we know best. In considering the SAMR Model, it appears that many teachers are perpetually stuck on substitution and augmentation, never fully reaching modification and redefinition. Radically altering the way learning happens in schools would likely be resisted by many teachers, as we do not understand what our place would be within this new learning setting, or we do not have enough knowledge about technology to transform teaching. Similarly, while social justice topics are now more commonly addressed in many schools, I still do not know how much impact traditional teaching methods have on changing students’ perspectives and enabling them to develop and sustain empathy for issues that are discussed in the classroom. Many teachers today complain about decreased student attention spans and difficulty engaging students, as young people now live in a world of constant stimulation via video games, online chatting, and demands of responding to multiple online prompts. If gaming is so appealing to young people, why are we not harnessing it to move beyond pure entertainment to developing emotional intelligence about relevant social issues that surround us? Furthermore, as a teacher who has taught social justice issues for many years, I often feel discouraged when student learning seems short-lived because they do not fully buy in to what they have learned and do not appear to make lasting lifestyle changes that indicate a commitment to social justice and equity. It often feels that students are motivated by grades, and will therefore engage with the topic during the unit of study, but afterwards do not necessarily apply this new understanding in their daily lives.

Initial research pathways and observations

I will be researching game simulations that address social justice topics to evaluate their potential use in classroom learning. Examples of these games includes a game called Spent, which addresses poverty, and Against All Odds, a virtual simulation game created by the United Nations Refugee Agency, to speak to refugee experiences. I will use James Paul Gee’s “Are video games good for learning?” as a jumping off point to investigate how gaming can be mined by educators to engage today’s youth (both marginalized and privileged) in understanding social justice issues and wanting to take action to make changes in the world. I will consider how simulation games are better aligned with the SAMR model, and how students better respond to these learning approaches, perhaps in developing more agency or deeper learning. Paul Darvasi’s (2016) discussions around ethics and virtual reality will also be used to further explore controversies and complexities of virtual reality as a learning tool.

Possible media tools

Atavista Publishing

Twine: story telling/empathy game

Windows Movie Maker: video

Wiki website: informative

Audacity: audio file for video

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