Knitting, video games, learning and teaching

I realised that I had fully become an educational technologist this autumn. Whereas I previously would have been able to watch a YouTube clip about video games or show someone how to knit without a second thought, both experiences have now led me to reflect on my own experiences of learning and teaching.

A few weeks back, I saw a tweet that struck a chord with me.

The tweet linked to a YouTube video of an expert gamer teaching his wife trying how to play video games. Or more precisely, it showed her efforts to teach herself how to game based purely on in-game tutorials. If you have a spare 20 minutes, it’s worth a watch, especially if, as the tweet suggests, you substitute the word “school” or “university” for “video games” throughout.

This video resonated with me as I had been that wife. My husband has been killing aliens and finding gold coins for Mario since he had his first SNES. (See, I have pick up some gamer knowledge and jargon.) I, on the other hand, was a dismal failure at the arcade version of Space Invaders, and bar the odd game of Angry Birds, have never gamed since. But a little while ago, while watching William hunt for dragons on Skyrim, I asked him to show me how to play.

It did not go well.

I couldn’t work out how to use the controller and the first-person perspective literally made me feel sick. After half an hour of walking into walls and falling out of windows during the introductory tutorial, I gave up and haven’t tried again.

What rang so many bells with me in the video is the gamer’s recognition that many game designers now assume a basic level of ability, or game literacy, in the people playing their games. Even though they include tutorials or training levels, they don’t explain the very lowest levels of skills that you need to play. “A lot of games use the same ideas and vocabulary in order to get information across to players as quickly as possible. It’s why the colour red is almost always associated with health, why the A button or its equivalent is typically the command to jump, and why platformers more often than not, move from left to right.” Razbuten (2019)

But if you have never played a video game before, you are immediately at a huge disadvantage. The gamer recognised that he had been playing these games so long that he was fluent in gaming conventions and could pick up the basics of any game within five minutes. He also recognised that some of his skills were never taught in any game tutorials, and could only have been learned by watching and playing with an experienced gamer.

As someone who generally has found education easy, who picked up the shared vocabulary and conventions quickly, who had people around to teach me the basics (both parents and teachers), this video made me reflect on those who have to approach education in the same way that I approach video games. If I had faced the same challenges at school as I did with Skyrim, would I also have given up? Would I have found someone who recognised what the game tutorial hadn’t taught me and who would take the time to teach me the basics? How many students are still walking into walls and falling out of windows because no-one thought to show them how to find the educational equivalent of the A button?

A short piece of knitting, two needles. Balls of red and green wool
My knitting

Very soon afterwards, I found myself teaching a skill that I have had for so long I barely remember learning it – knitting. Our team have taken on the challenge of knitting a blanket for the charity Knit For Peace. It’s made up of 15cm by 15cm squares. A few of my colleagues were keen to take part but either had never knitted, or hadn’t knitted for years, so Julie and I stared to teach them how to knit.

I quickly realised I needed to break the process down to the most basic elements. Before we even got onto knitting the first stitch, I had to start with how you hold the needles and the wool. I had to identify where there’s flexibility – how to cast on – and where it’s better to stick to the rules – how to hold your wool. And I had to realise that what I thought were simple instructions – put your needle into the first stitch and wrap the wool around the needle – were actually a lot more complicated that I realised. Which needle in which stitch, and how do I wrap the wool around? I was like the gamer who knows that the A button lets you jump, and I had forgotten how I even learned this.

What really struck me is that whereas I once would have acknowledged these as interesting episodes and moved on, working in LEaD now makes me stop and think. Any teaching or learning situation, whether at work or during my leisure time, is an opportunity reflect on my own practice.

Now I’m off to look at some videos on YouTube so I can learn how to teach my colleagues how to do purl stitch.

Razbuten (2019) What Games Are Like For Someone Who Doesn’t Play Games 28/09/19, accessed 8/11/19

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5 thoughts on “Knitting, video games, learning and teaching

  1. loved reading this, Kathryn! Spoken like a true teacher, recognising learning opportunities everywhere.
    How do you think we can make sure that as experts in our field(s) we don’t fall into that trap of forgetting what is like for novices?

    1. Keep teaching newbies like me! Kathryn did a great job getting me started. I think it’s important to keep learning new things ourselves. I was inspired by this post to try gaming again!

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