Level-up learning


The root of all evil, a wise old nanay once said, is kaka-kompyuter mo ‘yan.

Bad grades? Kaka-kompyuter mo ‘yan. Bad headache? Kaka-kompyuter mo ‘yan. Bad odor? Take a bath, clean your room; kaka-kompyuter mo ‘yan.

Come to think of it, new media (that is,newly introduced communication tools) has always been met with hesitation throughout history, from initial naysayers to doomsday prophets. The first printed books were met with skepticism, film was derided and seen as low art, and decades later, it was television. Today, in a world where the establishment is made up of TV and film, it’s computers.

“What if education turns to gaming as a tool rather than view it as a bad habit?” says mechanical engineering graduate/high-school physics teacher/gaming server admin Jason Arias.

One more barrier to true acceptance of the computer-as-a-medium is, understandably, in the education sector. After all, the same sector was worried too that the television habits of kids back in the day would affect their learning and performance in school. Jason Arias, who finished Mechanical Engineering at the University of the Philippines-Diliman in 2018, believes otherwise.

Currently teaching science (physics) full-time in the Ateneo de Manila Junior High School, Arias recently gave a magisterial lecture, titled “Kaka-kompyuter mo ‘yan” in the university’s Areté innovation hub, where he talked alongside more veteran educators like Anne Candelaria, Ambeth Ocampo, and Ricky Abad to name a few.

“Do parents have to stare down at their children and say, kaka-kompyuter mo ‘yan, as the primary excuse for academic underachievement?” Arias asks, before suggesting that “what if the academe itself turn the system on its head? What if education turns to gaming as a tool rather than view it as a bad habit?”

A new approach

Despite being given this privilege speech, Arias has yet to take his teaching licensure exam. To date, he has given similar lectures in other programs for other organizations, notably for Tagpros (a movement aiming to share strategies on distance learning) and STEP (Society for Technology in Education-Philippines).

Arias’s first teaching experience was as a kid, when he taught his dad how to play Pokémon, as the latter genuinely wanted to learn how to operate new gizmos. Arias describes it as being “the Pikachu to Ash, the caddie to a golfer. It placed me, a child, in a unique position of being a mentor to a person in authority, who was my father.”

Now, as the pandemic nears its second year, institutions have gradually embraced online learning. Still, given the logistical difficulties, like attention-span challenges and dealing with dangers both physical and mental of extended quarantine, simply listening to a lecture and taking tests is not enough.

This gap, Arias asserts, is where more interactive forms of media—like gaming—can step up. He has since used the open-world canvas videogame Minecraft to teach concepts like projectile motion, electric circuitry, and gravity as part of his physics classes.

He was also one of the administrators of the largest Minecraft servers in the Philippines, where his group was dedicated to recreating famous Filipino landmarks in the game’s open-world engine.

It’s not about getting things dot-per-dot, Arias asserts, but rather, teaching—much like game designing—is about “creating experiences” that leave lasting impressions on the audience that help them appreciate the offline world and their actions within it in a new way.

‘Holistic experiences’

Minecraft, or videogames, aren’t a standalone affair, however. Acknowledging the real downsides of a purely electronic approach, from screen burnout to addiction, Arias and his co-teachers strive to make holistic experiences. For example, after asking the students to design their own circuits on Minecraft, Arias then tested them by asking them to go around the house, look at appliances, and audit their electric consumption.

He capped the lesson off asking students to write about their carbon footprints. Here, Arias fondly recalls the sincere response of one of his students, aghast at how much time he spent on his videogame console on Saturdays. “We didn’t give any exams that year,” Jason confides, citing this use of “authentic assessments” versus simply asking students to “state the capital of the Philippines.”

The pandemic won’t last forever, but this time in our lives has given educators lessons that can help face-to-face learning once it resumes. For one, Arias lights up, “we could go an entire year without consuming any paper” on submissions. But more than that, he hopes we become more open to teaching methods that are out of the box, but still meet the learning objectives.

Still an engineer

Once upon a graduation ago, some peers, professors, and even family doubted Arias’s decision to teach, having just passed the engineering boards, all with calls from foreign countries for Filipino engineers. Arias’s passion for building, which started alongside his childhood passion for gaming, remains steadfast.

Next to boxes of old games lie cardboard and wooden DIY projects—boats and airplanes (both with engines), carts and catapults. For him, teaching and engineering are not an either-or dilemma, but a series of dots that his life will connect in the long-run.

Arias now has a batch of students in college, and a good number of them picked engineering.

“I’m ‘not an engineer,’” he quips, “but I’m engineering engineers.”

Arias’ talk can be viewed for free at the Areté YouTube channel.

Image courtesy of Ty Feague on Unsplash

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