Yet, in Australia there is a little project that has begun to explore the value of consoles for engagement and learning using xBox and the new Disney Infinity line.
Infinity Learning is going into classrooms with 10-12 year olds and running 6-8 week sessions that teaches them literacy, narrative development, storyboarding and character development using the Disney Infinity platform. The aim of the program is for students to create their own game or story environment in the Disney Infinity Toy Box. For those who are not across Disney Infinity, imagine Skylanders type figures within a Minecraft world where you can mash up and design interactive environments using logic programming that is even simpler than MIT's Scratch.
You can read about the process and lesson plans over at the Infinity Learning site, so I won't go into details about the how and what. That is detailed from their Lesson One blog post and onwards. But, I want to speak about the way xBox and Disney Infinity engages and how using this game builds on students skills and knowledge.
First, the simple presence of an xBox or two in the classroom is disruptive. And yes, in both senses, the students keep interrupting and wanting to talk about it, or play it, or tell you about their favorite game - but this type of disruption is born out of deep interest and immediately they are engaged.
This disruption is not bad. It is what people wanting to use games in the classroom should be expecting - excitement, engagement and connection with learning. The challenge is to then guide this.
The Infinity Learning program does this gradually. Students are keen to get their hand on the xBox, but spend the first lesson talking about the games they love, what makes them games and then in groups designing their own game - using a single piece of paper. The console is a hook, but the engagement is not gamified, it is a deeper type of learning. The students are bringing an intrinsic approach into the space and are engaged because of their love of console games. They suddenly see a tangible link between their learning and their love of pop culture like xBox, like Disney movies and it makes them feel good about learning.
This game-based approach then motivates so students are doing work at home, design games and thinking about storylines so they can come into class and try to design and build using the console. They are developing skills that are entrepreneurial and beyond just creativity and collaboration because there are only two consoles they are learning to negotiate, to plan and to network with other students outside of class time.
Infinity Learning is only one example of console learning, but they speak to the deeper and more significant roles that pop culture and games can have on education. We often see them as separate and that commercial entertainment products can't be used for learning - like somehow it pollutes the purity of it. Yet, in my experience of game-based learning respecting the cultural capital of students and bringing it into the classroom can do amazing things.