Cheating vs. Cheating

As I was making my way through the #rhizo14 stream on Twitter today, I came across a post from Apostolos Koutropoulos. In it he compares learning to gaming, particularly addressing walkthroughs and cheats.

I mentioned in my last post that I think “cheating” is a very loaded word in education, normally associated with breaches of academic integrity, and I found Dave’s instructions to “use cheating as a weapon” a bit alarming.  Today’s mini-epiphany (good thing Epiphany season is extra long this year)  was that Dave, I think, means cheating in the sense of video game cheating/walkthroughs, where the cheating is how you learn to play the game, as opposed to relying on minimally guided trial and error.

If your formal education were a video game, final exams are boss battles.  The point of the “game” is to beat the bosses, and you cheapen the experience if you hand the controller to your more accomplished roommate when the boss battle happens.The other parts of the game/course are the learning parts, where you acquire the knowledge you need to beat the bosses.  Going through the game as designed, and figuring out the puzzles, is a bit like taking a very tightly designed course where you are instructed as to what to do and when to do it, although one hopes the instructor is more helpful than many video games.

The more open approach to learning is akin to using cheats and walkthroughs.  You as the seek out the artefacts and experiences that best prepare you for the big challenges (boss battle/research paper/final exam/ etc.)

Conflict occurs when a learner who wishes to find her own way through the material ends up in a course where the path is carefully laid out and the instructor has made following that particular path essential to the final grade, probably as a way to compel students to follow the designed learning path.  A learning experience that is designed to allow and encourage learner autonomy can end up not providing enough support and prodding for those used to being told what to do. Since the autonomous learner can usually follow precise directions when necessary, even if they don’t like it, we err on the side of explicit design.

Is there a way to design a learning experience so that it can tell students who need lots of direction what to do and when while allowing those who seek their own path to do that if that learning experience must simultaneously assess what knowledge and skills the learners have acquired?

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