|Hanghoj 2008 – PhD, assistant professor, School of Education, University of Aarhus, also affiliated with the Danish Research Centre on Education and Advanced Media Materials, located at the Institute of Literature, Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Southern Denmark (Thorkild, http://static.sdu.dk/mediafiles/Files/Information_til/Studerende_ved_SDU/Din_uddannelse/phd_hum/afhandlinger/2009/ThorkilHanghoej.pdf)
Debate games are often based on pre-designed scenarios that include descriptions of issues to be debated, educational goals, game goals, roles, rules, time frames etc. In this way, debate games differ from textbooks and everyday classroom instruction as debate scenarios allow teachers and students to actively imagine, interact and communicate within a domain-specific game space. However, instead of mystifying debate games as a “magic circle” (Huizinga, 1950), I will try to overcome the epistemological dichotomy between “gaming” and “teaching” that tends to dominate discussions of educational games. In short, educational gaming is a form of teaching. As mentioned, education and games represent two different semiotic domains that both embody the three faces of knowledge: assertions, modes of representation and social forms of organisation (Gee, 2003; Barth, 2002; cf. chapter 2). In order to understand the interplay between these different domains and their interrelated knowledge forms, I will draw attention to a central assumption in Bakhtin’s dialogical philosophy. According to Bakhtin, all forms of communication and culture are subject to centripetal and centrifugal forces (Bakhtin, 1981). A centripetal force is the drive to impose one version of the truth, while a centrifugal force involves a range of possible truths and interpretations. This means that any form of expression involves a duality of centripetal and centrifugal forces: “Every concrete utterance of a speaking subject serves as a point where centrifugal as well as centripetal forces are brought to bear” (Bakhtin, 1981: 272). If we take teaching as an example, it is always affected by centripetal and centrifugal forces in the on-going negotiation of “truths” between teachers and students. In the words of Bakhtin: “Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction” (Bakhtin, 1984a: 110). Similarly, the dialogical space of debate games also embodies centrifugal and centripetal forces. Thus, the election scenario of The Power Game involves centripetal elements that are mainly determined by the rules and outcomes of the game, i.e. the election is based on a limited time frame and a fixed voting procedure. Similarly, the open-ended goals, roles and resources represent centrifugal elements and create virtually endless possibilities for researching, preparing, presenting, debating and evaluating a variety of key political issues. Consequently, the actual process of enacting a game scenario involves a complex negotiation between these centrifugal/centripetal forces that are inextricably linked with the teachers and students’ game activities. In this way, the enactment of The Power Game is a form of teaching that combines different pedagogical practices (i.e. group work, web quests, student presentations) and learning resources (i.e. websites, handouts, spoken language) within the interpretive frame of the election scenario. Obviously, tensions may arise if there is too much divergence between educational goals and game goals. This means that game facilitation requires a balance between focusing too narrowly on the rules or “facts” of a game (centripetal orientation) and a focusing too broadly on the contingent possibilities and interpretations of the game scenario (centrifugal orientation). For Bakhtin, the duality of centripetal/centrifugal forces often manifests itself as a dynamic between “monological” and “dialogical” forms of discourse. Bakhtin illustrates this point with the monological discourse of the Socrates/Plato dialogues in which the teacher never learns anything new from the students, despite Socrates’ ideological claims to the contrary (Bakhtin, 1984a). Thus, discourse becomes monologised when “someone who knows and possesses the truth instructs someone who is ignorant of it and in error”, where “a thought is either affirmed or repudiated” by the authority of the teacher (Bakhtin, 1984a: 81). In contrast to this, dialogical pedagogy fosters inclusive learning environments that are able to expand upon students’ existing knowledge and collaborative construction of “truths” (Dysthe, 1996). At this point, I should clarify that Bakhtin’s term “dialogic” is both a descriptive term (all utterances are per definition dialogic as they address other utterances as parts of a chain of communication) and a normative term as dialogue is an ideal to be worked for against the forces of “monologism” (Lillis, 2003: 197-8). In this project, I am mainly interested in describing the dialogical space of debate games. At the same time, I agree with Wegerif that “one of the goals of education, perhaps the most important goal, should be dialogue as an end in itself” (Wegerif, 2006: 61).
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