CSI – Epistemic Frame


About 12 years ago I designed an elaborate learning experience for all of the science students at our highschool; we set up a Crime Scene Investigation on campus. Before the victim was “found dead” in the back halls of the the school, each science class explored the process and purpose of evidence collection, fingerprinting, blood typing, analyzing reports (police, medical, and autopsies) and the general process of investigating a crime scene. Then their knowledge was put to the test with a “mock” crime scene to investigate.

Little did I realize that I had created an Epistemic learning experience. I had embedded the CSI epistemology, expert way of thinking, into the the learning experience giving the learner the chance to “play” investigator. Each player assumed the identity, employed the skills they recently learned, and used the epistemic frame of CSI investigator to solve the crime.

DESIGN – I had wanted it to be the most authentic kind of CSI experience therefore I went to a police officer, a medical examiner, and a doctor to discuss their epistemic frame, expert way of thinking. As a result, all of the reports, evidence, and processes are just the way a CSI would experience them. (In hindsight, had I been able to put all of this into a virtual world, this would’ve been much easier to duplicate and run – but those hardly existed in 2002.)

RESULT – Our absentee rate dropped significantly during the two weeks of this learning experience. Many of our students commented that they didn’t want to miss this because it was so engaging and relevant. It made learning make sense and they wanted to participate.

At the time, I wanted every learning experience to have this kind of epistemicly framed authenticity. But the reality was, to do this well took huge amounts of time and money. And at the end of the day what I was really doing, was “curriculum development in the game space.”

This experience taught me the power of epistemicly framed learning experiences and thus I have now built Trailhead to “develop curriculum in the game space.” The research from Shaffer, Squire, Halverson, and Gee in http://website.education.wisc.edu/~kdsquire/tenure-files/23-pdk-VideoGamesAndFutureOfLearning.pdf has just helped me better understand what I was doing then and what I want to replicate in our designs today.

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