Saturday, March 29, 2014

Learning in "Passion Communities"

This video by James Paul Gee is an absolute gem. One idea I want to discuss here is his vision of people learning in what he calls "passion communities". Passion communities form around video games, popular books and hobbies. Fans of Harry Potter go on sites where they write their own fiction stories in that genre. World of Warcraft gamers develop the skill of solving problems in groups.


So, what are the features of a "passion community" (ideas taken from the video):
  1. They solve problems collaboratively: The group is smarter than the individual.
  2. Learning happens on demand: In a game, progressive levels introduce you to the skills and language you need to succeed. You don't acquire knowledge in a vacuum and expect to apply it later.
  3. They are not age-graded. People of different ages can contribute and learn.
  4. The same teacher can mentor one time and be mentored at another time.
  5. The community sets high standards and provides honest feedback to help its members reach them.
Naturally, the video made me think about whether I had seen such a passion community in my work as a teacher. The answer was, yes, I do see it in action most Thursday after school, in the Avila College APP Group which I supervise. It is most visible in the sub-group that handles the digital art. 

This group of digital APP artists have a natural leader in the year 11 girl who was involved in developing the concept of the game we're building. She and a year 10 girl interviewed the other artists who responded to an advertisement we placed in the school's bulletin. 
The group share their techniques with each other and have taught one of their members to use Photoshop as a drawing tool. This year, a year 7 girl joined them and they mentored her in the very way described in the video: They told her the idea of the level she was to work on, she started producing sketches and they gave her feedback as she went along.

At the moment, the APP artists meet in a room across the corridor from where the programmers do their work. There is constant movement between the two rooms. I guide the programmers but lack the skills to help out the artists. My role with them is that of a project manager. I ask them to describe what they're doing and get them to focus on priorities. 

Of course, the programmers themselves are working in multi-age groups and learning all the time. Unfortunately, programming is like speaking a language and fluency cannot be achieved when you meet once every week or two. They are doing great work but they need a lot of input from me.

In an ideal world, this group would meet daily, during the school day. This would not only increase the frequency of the meetings but the value that is put on this kind of learning: It is multi-disciplinary, goes across age groups, and involves a lot of problem-solving. In the coming term, we will be joined by three musicians who will compose and play the music and sounds for our game. I cannot wait to see them in action.

I would love to hear your thoughts on and examples of this kind of learning.

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