Saturday, November 30, 2013

Is Digital "Real?": A Shift of Langage

My son loves Angry Birds. He plays the game on my iPad regularly. But his digital play often translates into building things--he uses the game as a springboard for his imagination. And so Jenga blocks and other toys and bits of junk become towers and castles for the Bad Piggies to command, and the Angry Birds swoop in to knock them down.

My brother-in-law--duly impressed with the boy's creative endeavors--asked him if he likes the "real" game of Angry Birds better. My son looked at him thoughtfully for a moment, and asked a wonderful, messy question: "Which one do you mean?"

You see, in his mind, the digital game is real. It was the "original," as he says it. It is real because the game developers made the game, created an immersive, if silly, experience users can play.

But the building blocks game is also real. It is his interpretation of the digital game, and it is just as real to him, though it is imitating the original.

My brother-in-law noted this with interest. He had meant that this tangible version was "real" as opposed to the "virtual," digital version. He pointed out that our notion of "real" is changing in this digital age.

I found this interesting, because for my son, digital is real. He proposed that we call the digital game "original" and the tangible game "three-dimensional" to distinguish them. But don't suggest that one of them isn't "real."


I'm interested in this because I've been thinking about online learning quite a bit lately.

It gets a little complicated to describe the digital realm. Is it "virtual?" That makes it sound as though it isn't really "real," doesn't it?

Because most of us have experienced learning as a face-to-face, tangible (three-dimensional?) experience, we sometimes describe online learning as "virtual."

But is online learning "virtual?" I suggest it is not. "Virtual" has connotations of being a facsimile, a reproduction. In my experience both teaching and learning online, this is simply not the case. Online learning is just as "real" as learning in a face-to-face setting.

We might just need a shift of language to describe online learning.

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