Gee describes “Agency” as a game creating a sense of ownership in the player. The player is now invested enough in the game that they care about and feel a sense of responsibility for what happens in the game. The sense of ownership and responsibility developed through “agency” also drives a player forward. That ownership makes them what to see a game through to the end (which could be 6, 12, 20, or 50+ hours).
What type of ownership would make a student see an assignment through a 20 hour process?
That is an unfair question to start off with. While that may be an ultimate goal, we can develop agency by starting much smaller. The screen shot in the slide is from the Xbox 360 game, Mass Effect. Mass Effect starts with a create-a-character, like many other games, but the sense of agency develops through series of choices that how the character and the game develops. It is this series of choices that creates the sense of ownership. The player and the student will not develop this immediately. The choices need to be continually offered and they need to be significant. The choices need to shape the class in both the direction and the discussion. Ownership can begin to grow with a question as simple as, “Where should we start?” The choices should continue throughout a lesson. “What search terms?” “Which source will you use?” The questions and choices are important for developing ownership in the student.
Asking questions is important, but it is essential for agency that the questions we ask are followed through on. Nothing will kill a sense of student ownership faster than judging something as the “wrong” answer. These are not questions that have a “right” answer. Granted some of the responses may not be the choices we want them to make or even will gain the best results, but those “not ideal” choices create learning opportunities. As I discussed with the “risk taking” concept we can look to these “dead ends” and poor sources as teaching opportunities. Create and facilitate a discussion on the results of these choices. Every choice creates a potential discussions and learning opportunities.
Over the course of the last year, I've worked on trying to incorporate developing ownership into lessons including an open ended research reviews (including reflection and student feedback for fall & spring semesters) and branching lectures where the students make the choice.
The question we, as librarians, need to continue to ask along with all these choices is, "Why?" Agency develops with meaningful choices and learning comes from understanding the ramifications of those choices.