When it comes to learning computers, play is seriously important

Game on? Or game over? [PDF], a brief research report from the U Washington Information School, summarizes some of the findings from the TASCHA report on computer skills acquisition. This particular explainer deals with the relationship between playing games and goofing off on computers and learning to do "productive" things with them, finding (as Mimi Ito did, before) that horsing around is a critical component of mastering computers, and that labs that ban games and other forms of playful engagement with computers are hampering their ability to teach the people they're supposed to be serving.

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  1. Oh, man yes!

    I used to love just playing around with my computer, and learned a hell of a lot.

    Then I got a full time job in computing and learning new stuff about them is an unwanted chore. Exception: fiddling around with my home entertainment 'puter.

  2. Gaming doesn't have to be involved.

    You can learn GIMP as part of a cultural jamming project, like creating photos of politicians caught doing reprehensible things at a petting zoo.

  3. I actually do get a little existential about the mouse, but I feel like its part of a larger trend that frustrates me about the bifurcation of computers into a category designed for producers and those designed for consumers, and the false and damaging dichotomy that this creates. At the same time that Rasperry Pi, Arduino, open-source coding languages, linux and other maker-oriented systems are enjoying a surge, mainstream, hermetically sealed, controlled-environment devices dominate and pass as "computers."

    As long as the former exists, the latter shouldn't be knocked, to some degree, but, along the same philosophical lines that make people bristle at the idea that tailored search results will keep them from accidentally exploring things they didn't know they didn't know, computers that hide all the guts keep people from discovering the guts, even if they started out just wanting convenience.

    Full disclosure, I wrote my Master's thesis in TESOL on how creating, organizing and playing with directories and file hierarchies can be an excellent opportunity for language and logical thinking practice, as kids make decisions about how to organize image, text, notes, favorite links and other assets on their local computer. It was a strange moment when I realized I needed an app to view the location of files and folders on my smart phone (Android no less), and that Windows 7 introduced and prioritizes "libraries" as a file interface that pre-organize files and obscure their location on a drive. Sure, the easy answer is, "why are you using Windows, Android, iOS, etc... in the first place?" but I'm not really talking about me, I'll be fine.

    This also connects, for me, to @codinghorror 's post the other day about tiring of apps, and the daily clanging of the web's doth knoll. Sure, apps are still software anyone can write, but I never would have written a piece of software had the web not made it fast, easy and exciting to dip a toe into writing a structured piece of text and having it appear as something more on the screen. When Sid Meyer said something akin to: "Stop sending me game ideas. If you have a great idea, learn some C++ and get cracking," my response was "yeah, right," but when my step-dad bought me a domain name, and said "learn some HTML" I saw it as less of a hurdle for whatever reason. App environments are also created and curated to boost a specific platform, and to get the app count competitive with other platforms so the the device is legitimized and survives. A totally different philosophy from the Web, where everyone should play because information is amazing, and wouldn't it be great if everything was connected.

    In the end, I hope that the wall between consumer- and producer-oriented environments and devices doesn't become so thick and high that kids who never though of themselves as "computer" people can still accidentally discover themselves as just that.

  4. Your post makes me feel immensely old.

    I am boggled by the fact that someone's grandfather not only had a computer, but that it was a Linux system capable of running a browser.

    I mean, crap, my grandfather barely had a chance to enjoy his new-fangled color television before he kicked the bucket.

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