26 April 2011


First, an appreciation for Andrea Kuszewski, who is a behavioral therapist, science writer, artist, and the source of many stimulating ideas and links through our Facebook friendship. Her quick wit and razor-sharp intellect elevate each day. I discovered each of today's links through her sharing and brain-storming. Thanks, Andrea.

GAMING & LEARNING. Judy Willis, M.D., suggests a connection I've long thought viable. In her Edutopia blog, Dr. Willis has posted an entry titled "A Neurologist Makes the Case for the Video Game Model as a Learning Tool". Here's a teaser -- "The popularity of video games is not the enemy of education, but rather a model for best teaching strategies. Games insert players at their achievable challenge level. and reward player effort and practice with acknowledgment of incremental goal progress, not just final product. The fuel for this process is the pleasure experience related to the release of dopamine.

"The human brain, much like that of most mammals, has hardwired physiological responses that have survival value at some point in evolutionary progression. The dopamine-reward system is fueled by the brain's recognition of making a successful prediction, choice, or behavioral response.

" .... The survival benefit of the dopamine-reward system is building skills and adaptive responses. The system is only activated and available to promote. sustain, or repeat some mental or physical effort when the outcome is not assured. If there is no risk, there is no reward. If there is not challenge, .... there is no activation of the dopamine-reward network.

"In humans, the dopamine reward response that promotes pleasure and motivation, also requires that they are aware that they have solved a problem. figured out a puzzle, correctly answered a challenging question, or achieved the sequence of movements needed to play a song on the piano or swing a baseball bat to hit a home run. This is why students need to use what they learn in authentic ways that allow them to recognize their progress as clearly as they see it when playing video games."

Dr. Willis' article is punctuated with subtitles -- "Dopamine Motivation", "No Pain, No Gain", "Awareness of Incremental Goal Progress", "Individualized Achievable Challenge", "Game Entry Point Is a Perfect Fit Through Pre-assessment and Feedback", "Bringing Incremental Progress Recognition to the Classroom -- and Beyond", "Immediate Gratification or Long-Term Goal Pursuit?". It is a provocative set of ideas which resonate strongly in me. When I was a university student in my mid-30s, my classload consisting almost entirely of science and math classes, I periodically sought refuge in the video game arcade on campus. In retrospect it is clear that beyond escapism, gaming was providing me with visible, measureable evidence of my progress in learning, evidence which reinforced the more drawn-out process of classwork. When I later became a teacher, I tried to incorporate gaming into my classes, though not as systematically as I would now. The gaming-learning connection is a vital resource which teachers at all levels have at their disposal -- realizing that not all games are created equal, and that as with all else in life, selectivity is called for.

On the lighter side of evidence, check out Born Digital, a collection of anecdotes about toddlers and young children raised with computers and other digital tools. You'll laugh, and your jaw may also drop with the recognition that each generation's paradigms and assumptions are completely unpredictable. The world of our children may overlap our own world, but the two are far, far from being identical.

VACCINATIONS. Those opposed to receiving vaccinations against disease have always been among us. Lately, perhaps encouraged by the vocal presence of regressive elements like the Tea Party, anti-vaccinationists have become more militant, taking out a billboard in Times Square. Rahul Parikh describes the event in The Ad that Could Fuel a Health Crisis, noting that high-profile defenses of vaccinations from the medical and public health care communities have been muted at best. How twisted is it when a tool which has saved millions of lives, comes under attack and elicits so few defenders? Parikh explores these questions and others with candor and sensitivity.

In a more spirited defense, magicians/entertainers/activists Penn and Teller present a spirited and vivid picture of the consequences of shunning vaccines in this forceful video. It only lasts for a minute and a half, so pay close attention, and enjoy.

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