Just as mentioned in my previous post, the primary school environment has changed as a direct result of the digital age, and so too has the learning environments made available to primary school students. In the future we will start to see more opportunities to learn through virtual classrooms, which is considered a great educational innovation in this digital age. This approach can help lessen educational limitations as it provides freedom and opportunity for the learners to choose classes they are interested in depending on their readiness, time, location and intellectual abilities (Trirat et al., 2014). If this is what our children will be experiencing in the near future, the digital literacies that they are developing now will be very valuable tools for their success in the future.
Such virtual classrooms will promote lifelong learning as they can be organized for formal and informal education, and it is within this informal realm that we could consider online game playing as teachable opportunities. It is no secret that youth like to play online games, and what better way to engage them in the learning process then through interactive technologies. However, Jenkins (2009) would warn that the focus should be more on the fostering of participatory cultures, which are emerging as the culture absorbs and responds to the explosion of new media technologies. These online learning environments have made it possible for average consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content in powerful new ways. Derby (2011) also discusses benefits of technology in education as improving students’ engagement and performance in the classroom, but believes that the most critical element of successful integration of technology is that it does not impinge on the central activity of learning. Online interactive games could bridge a gap in the way that some students interact with their learning if the participatory culture is nurtured, but at the same time we must consider the essence of the core learning task, while building a digital skill-set required by the student in future successes.
At one of my school library computer labs, I have seen a glimpse of students learning via interactive technologies found in online games. A Year 3 teacher has always had a strong commitment to the online game Sumdog, and each year has involved his whole class on a collective participatory level to compete in challenges as a team, completing tasks and earning points to be at the top of the ladder. Jenkins (2009) would suggest that these students have been developing new skill and knowledge through their participation in this informal learning community as gamers. Sumdog uses educational games to motivate students in math, reading and writing, and its adaptive learning engine monitors and guides them as they work. Not only can this Year 3 teacher see learning engagement and track progress, the relationship between the students and teacher has been developed over a collective commitment to this game-based activity, and of course to earn the title of the State winners in 2014.
Online games are paving the way for new styles of learning with digital literacies, and have the potential to allow young people to develop feelings of ownership over social and cultural agenda of participatory culture, and their online communications (Williamson, 2009). As educators in the learning environments made available to primary school students, it seems logical that we ensure that our young people develop a high functioning disposition to learn and to make smart choices about what, how, where and when they learn (McWilliam & Taylor, 2012), and the promotion of educational online games through Resource Centres and Libraries, could support this concept in a current and relevant fashion.