I work in a school which is a Laptop school, and the students from year 6 up each have their own Macbook in various versions, at the parents expense. There is a lot going on using the technology in the classroom, and outside of it.
The students have been told no games (internet or otherwise) in school time. At lunch time we have a flood of students (of both sexes) rushing to the library to take advantage of the fast broadband connection they have come to take for granted. We have students watching movie trailers, and movies, downloading music, connecting with friends through Facebook, Myspace, MSM, (not sure they have discovered twitter yet), messing around with Garageband and Photobooth and any other application they haven't explored fully on their new expensive toys and the internet. They are also playing games. They share their findings, success and experiments. Their computer experience is a totally immersed social time. It makes for a noisy library. Are games such a bad thing?
I have read literature on why computer games are legitimate vehicles for learning, and if lunch time is down time - why can't they play? Monitoring such a rule is very difficult as the students are quick with the minimise finger or the hide button as soon as they sniff you approaching. I liken them to a pack of meer cats with one on the lookout in each direction, and then a secret signal when danger approaches.
They know they have been asked not to play games, yet they continue to do it, and, we continue to try to stop them. It seems to be a time management, and for some staff, a stress issue. My real concern is when there is something really exciting happening a big group forms around the gamer, and they get excited and they get noisy...very noisy. Warnings go out - the crowd disperses, only to reform in a more cautious huddle as soon as staff disappear. Our library is not a quiet place at lunch time, however, I do think we need to keep noise to an inside space level.
Many public libraries encourage gaming in the space to get patrons in - does this, can this and should this work for Schools? The reasoning for the no games rule include "students should be making better use of their time", and "using their laptop responsibly" "The library is not an internet cafe or game arcade, it is a place of learning".
In an SLJ article by Eli Neiburger (2007) he discusses how gaming helps young people with Literacy under the following meaning "Literacy is the ability to rapidly decode abstract meaning from symbols." There are many literacies, not just language and text - visual, digital, mathematical, spatial, interface, historical, cultural, information, political, scientific, plus many more. I can think of online games that would help develop at least one of those literacies and many that crossover. There is also the social and sharing of knowledge that is continually happening - any one in charge of staff professional development needs to take note of how young people learn from and extend each other so quickly.
The school network can handle such traffic, the students own the computers, is there a reason to not allow games during lunch time apart from the noise and group cheering? Is it really a waste of time? If they are actively engaged in critical thinking, decision making, spacial awareness, connecting, manipulating and responding to data then aren't they learning some life skills?
This article from the BBC News illustrates how computer games can translate into real life skills : US Boy takes car in School dash.
I would be very interested in reading any comments on this and management strategies being used in a laptop school. I am going to take Neiburger's article and show it to a few key people, and maybe it will generate discussion that may lead to management of the issue that is a win win for all.