Video Games are Fun, Fun, Fun!

Throughout the course, we discussed how the emergence of new, digital technologies can revolutionize the classroom by changing our pedagogies and enhancing students’ learning.  One of these technologies is video games.  Many teenagers and young adults play video games, so it makes sense to find a way to connect a common, pleasurable activity into the classroom.

However, this is not to say that instructors need to incorporate actual video games into the classroom.  Instead, video games highlight how instructors can change how they approach their teaching and how their students learn.  In What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy, Gee discusses how many video games have experienced both critical and commercial success by being challenging and long.  In fact, no matter how frustrating or difficult the game can be, gamers still voluntary keep trying until they beat the game.  However, in the classroom, many schools make their curriculums “shorter and simpler” for students, because students do not put in the time and effort to overcome long and challenging situations – which are hallmarks of successful games.  Based on students’ voluntary decision to undergo these challenges, Gee argues that video games contain “good learning principles of learning built into its design” and facilitate “learning in good ways” (3).  Thus, classrooms need to find ways to incorporate these principles into their design. 

One aspect that can be highlighted in the classroom is play.  People play video games, which suggests that participation in this long and challenging medium is pleasurable.  However, the idea of bringing play into the classroom would not be a new experience for students – quite the contrary actually.  Ian Bogost argues that “play” refers to children’s activities (which often involve exploration and discovery) where teachers allowed students to blow “off the necessary” steam that has built up from long stretches of learning or working.  However, as students get older, play disappears.  However, whenever we play video games, the process makes something that is challenging and long both enjoyable and familiar.  It creates an association of childhood pleasure to something challenging; in other words, it allows students to find some pleasure in exploring and making discoveries in the context of a class.

However, incorporating these ideologies are not anything new in education or composition.  While video games are a newer medium that have yet to become a mainstay in classrooms, the idea of incorporating fun, exploration, and discovery are rather old ideas that have disappeared in the classroom. Colby and Colby argue that student-directed assignments under instructor guidance is reminiscent of “the early writing process movement” (306).  During the early writing process, students were encouraged to pick their own assignments, their own genres, and worked individually with the instructor.  However, while I do believe that the expressive ideologies of the early process movement has its merits, I do not argue that this model must displace current pedagogies.  Instead, like Colby and Colby, this ideology must be adapted so students can practice how to use writing in a rhetorical situation, rather than the “expressivist,” “writing-for-the-self” model that was popular during the movement.  Additionally, Colby and Colby argue that classes should be “front-loaded,” in which instructors expose many of the rhetorical tools and strategies early in the course, so students can effectively explore and make discoveries in a meaningful way (306).

This goal of this post was not to give instructors any assignments or bits of curricula that utilizes these ideologies.  I feel that would be a cheap shortcut that does not fully integrate the ideology into our pedagogy.  Instead, the goal was to encourage instructors (or aspiring instructors) to find a way to restructure and rethink how they can encourage students’ learning processes.

Works Cited

Colby, Rebekah Shultz, and Richard Colby. “A Pedagogy of Play: Integrating Computer Games into the Writing Classroom.” Computers and Composition 25 (2008): 300-312. Web. 6 November 2013.

Gee, James Paul.  What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Print.

Bogost, Ian. “The Rhetoric of Video Games.”  The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning. Edited by Katie Salen. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 117-140.

Teaching Writing in a Digital Age

Although I’m not very old at the age of 22, I’m still at the point where my teenage self would call me an old man. This realization came along with the recognition that I’m no longer on the cutting edge of social media and technology. Despite my best efforts, I’m just not in tune with the hottest tech and social media trends of 2013. While reflecting on my weaknesses, I realized that I’m going to be increasingly relying on learning skills that come from people who are in better tune with the newer technologies. I might be able to play with  the settings and HTLM of this blog, but there are fifteen year olds who would laugh at the rest of my awareness of the current “scene”, and everything I can say here about technology and composition will grow increasingly outdated. With this is mind, I considered would I could do to best serve the future of this blog, and the position it occupies as part of the academic/educational system.
Due to my inability to master the unknown, I can only present the facets of blogging and social media that I have a mastery of. My literacy might not be cutting edge, but because it is being presented among the works of others in the field, it potentially offers some insight into this period of time and knowledge. For that reason, I offer a couple of tips for  future 708 students who will be blogging:

1. Keep track of when you’ve made posts and comments- I ended up realizing that, due to a weird technicality with the class, I was under my post goal at the end of the quarter. I had made enough comments, but due to a cancelled session, I accidentally missed one of my posts. Don’t make this mistake yourself. Make sure you make enough comments and posts, so you don’t find yourself working until the deadline.

2. A tool always has more features than you’re aware of initially. For example, you probably already noticed that WordPress lets you schedule posts to go up at certain times. However, I found that most people don’t realize that the schedule feature also lets you schedule stuff to be posted in the past. While you’ll probably never need to use this feature, taking some time to explore the tools WordPress has available to you before blogging will save you a lot of hassle later on.

3. Actually go read the posts on this blog. It is long, it is somewhat messy, and there are a ton of different voices and authors. This makes it intimidating to read, and exploring the archives is not a core part of the class, making it tempting to simply ignore. However, without a doubt, the blog posts were the single best resource I had this quarter, and I don’t think I would have made it through most of the assignments that I got through without its help. Every time I had trouble with one of the readings or subject matter, I would go browse through the blogs, and there would inevitably be somebody who provided a decent summary, or even a fresh and compelling new take on the subject. Often times, I completely disagree with the conclusion that the blog post makes. As somebody with a mixed opinion on copyrights, I found myself vigorously shaking my head in disagreement while reading a November 2012 post about plagiarism. However, by the time I had finished reading the post and disagreeing with it, I had also begun a mental articulation of why I differed on the subject and a more thorough and formalized understanding of the discussion surrounding the topic.

4. Really, these are all just generalized tips for learning. But, that’s ultimately what the scholars of this course end up revealing in their writings. New technologies don’t change the way human brains work, they just open up new avenues for reflection on features we might otherwise be oblivious to. Video games teach us about organic skill evolution (Gee), and blogs and Facebook can expose facets of social interactions, but we always had those features in our lives, albeit simplified. We learn to walk before we begin running, and it’s not like humans have ever been anti-social. We just weren’t as aware of it. These subjects are all fundamentally grounded in the human experience. What I’m trying to say here is- if you’re scared of this class, just remember that it’s not some crazy and irrational system. These technologies are built with the idea that they want you to join in and learn them. So come on in, and learn about Teaching Writing in a Digital Age.

Technological Revolution: Ushering in New Forms of Identity and Widening Chasms of Inequality

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Both Jim Porter’s “Why Technology matters to writing: A cyberwriter’s tale” and Derek Van Ittersum and Kory Lawson Ching’s “Composing Text/Shaping Process: How Digital Environments Mediate Writing Activity” discuss the role of aesthetics in the composing process. Jim Porter’s “cyberwriter’s tale” emphasizes the importance of design in Porter’s techno-literacy education, noting that his “experiences at Purdue taught [him] about writing as collaboration, as well as about writing as design” (382). Porter believes that the revolutionary potential of the computer is apparent when we take a “scenic/contextual perspective” and see writing produced on computers as having a major social impact. Further, Porter argues for a posthumanist conception of identity, which highlights connections between humankind and machines based on “fluidity and hybridity” (388).
This connection between writers and machines is also taken up implicitly in Van Ittersum and Ching’s piece, in which they examine distraction-free writing programs and practices. Van Ittersum and Ching point out “that software applications and interfaces can also be selected and structured to tune consciousness in writing activity” (“Cultural-Historical Activity Theory”). This focus on how consciousness might be “tuned” or adapted to the writing program of choice seems to draw upon Porter’s assumption that human identity is bound up with the technologies we use, and that our very consciousness might be altered or affected by our interaction with particular technologies. And just as Porter stresses the social impact of new technologies, specifically in what he sees as the “revolutionary” possibilities that emerge from social networking, Van Ittersum and Ching note that “softare applications are thoroughly ideological and rhetorical” (“Distraction-Free Writing Environments”), thereby agreeing with Porter that there are very real social and cultural effects of technological use. Once we understand the profound social impact that new technologies are having, we can analyze how they operate within particular “social and ideological context[s]” (Porter 384).
Yet it is not just the ideological, but the profound cultural effects of new technologies that sparked my interest most in this topic. As Porter states, “the revolution, if there is one, is the social one of interconnectivity. The writer and the machine have become one — the cyberwriter — but we haven’t yet engaged the full implications of the metaphor” (388). I think it is clear that interconnectivity has changed the fabric of our writing lives in indisputable ways, and that there are concrete benefits to be realized from social networking and participation in virtual communities (not the least of which is the amelioration of loneliness and isolation in an increasingly fragmented and depersonalized modern world). And yet, when I ponder the other social implications of the “technology revolution,” I cannot help but think about the profound and widening social inequalities that technological changes have fostered. Economist and New York Times Columnist Paul Krugman has spoken eloquently about how the very machines celebrated by Jim Porter may also be responsible for the displacement of workers today. So the “fluid” and seamless interconnections between writer and machine that Porter applauds, and the consciousness-tuning capabilities of distraction-free writing programs that Van Ittersum and Ching explore, may not take into account the other side of this equation: the human effects that technology has had on a national and global scale, including widespread displacement of workers in our current economy. At the same time, the creators of new technologies, the “technology moguls” like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_ZuckerbergMark Zuckerberg, Oracle’s Larry Ellison: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Ellison, and Google’s Sergey Brin: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergey_Brin and Larry Page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Page, continue to reap the financial benefits of this “revolution.” This widening chasm of inequality leads me to ask whether the increasing “interconnectivity” that comes from social networking may be a convenient distraction from political questions about how technological changes may be contributing to social inequity. To echo Jim Porter, we need to inquire into how we will use technology as well as the stakes that this would involve (388).

An article in The Guardian investigates this topic quite provocatively: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/jul/01/new-tech-moguls-robber-barons. What this gets me thinking about in particular, is that the very openness, freedom, and possibility that are often associated with the “technological revolution” may in fact belie a hidden truth. This truth is that we are actually not quite as free to shift our identities, or as capable of revolutionizing our relationships via the internet, when those who control these technologies remain unaccountable and removed from the concerns of everyday people. The widening chasm between haves and have-nots is only hardening and deepening, it seems to me, and this seems to undermine what may appear to be the “revolutionary” possibilities of the internet age.

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Finally, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman speaks about how technological changes have contributed to the economic divide in the following video, which I’ll leave as my final thought for your consideration:

http://www.businessinsider.com/paul-krugman-on-technology-and-inequality-2013-2

Aside
Zarina

Zarina

When addressing Composition Studies as a discipline that studies the ways in which human beings compose texts, it is interesting to consider the various cultural practices and tools available for us to engage with acts of composition, especially the intersection of exterior and interior methods of composing. In their article “Chronotopic Lamination: Tracing the Contours of Literate Activity,” Paul Prior and Jody Shipka respond to and synthesize a number of theoretical concepts, namely that of chronotopic lamination, as a way of understanding the “dispersed, fluid chains of places, times, people and artifacts that come to be tied together in trajectories of literate action.” When intersected with a later section of the same article, where the authors address the formation of consciousness as “the durable equipping of mind with the legacy of cultural tools and practices” we might be spurned to consider the particular intersection of the outer world with the private interior in the instance of making those private, linguistic languages or methods public in an act of performance that might correspond to the essential practices of art=making. When considering the act of composition, it is possible to analyze the situational context and the many asynchronous, fluid and environmental elements that come to bear on the interior maps being formulated. However, it necessarily depends on the consciousness of the composer of texts to mediate the mutual inter-penetration of inner and outer domains. This dialectic of interior and exterior has an interesting place in understanding the lineage of thought-forms that occur throughout the history of a given author’s organic and cerebral biography. An apt metaphor for understanding the role of consciousness in this act of composing texts is to think of authors as having an aperture as do cameras where the level of illumination and sphere of self-exposure to the forces of influence (both those in the external world such as place-time, human interactions, material artifacts of influence and the interiors like a lineage of transformation as a writer) might close or open, depending on the purpose and context of the writing.

Consciousness, however, as both an a priori organic state of being and a context-dependent arising of the self is available to authors as a fluid tool of awareness that surrounds and permeates the intentional activity of writing. When placed within the context of digital literacy theories, it is interesting to consider the ways that technology has both been spurred by a socio-cultural evolutionary development and the ways that the products of this development have begun to inform practitioners of composing digitally in a kind of uroborus of influence. Artists are especially keen to the semiotic possibilities of new mediums and continue to open visionary windows as distillers of unexplored potentialities. A primary example of a work representative of a conscious examination of digital literacy practices is O, composed by writer and multimedia artist Tom Comitta. In O, the author catalogs and curates the multiplicity of round counters found in Unicode typefaces, gleaning and aesthetically organizing the type to create a tableau of scripted form that might be positing a sort of post-semiotic and trans-linguistic temporal universe made available through digital platforms. However, it is necessary to extend the discussion of consciousness to the role of the reader of this text as well who travels in tubular threads down the columns of text at times vertiginously confronted with an array of shape-forms that pattern and fill the awareness of the reader. At other moments the scroll function introduces a morphologically unstable textual event where we are confronted with culturally-specific images such as chess pieces and scissors intermixed with script from around the world. This heterogeneous textual encounter is a kaleidoscopic act of interpreting and translating at the borders of our socio-historical present. Additionally, it is perfect in its ability to open interior domains of reading and to begin understanding how technology, literacy and consciousness intersect in a single textual art-i-fact.

Digital Literacy and Emergent Form

Information Commodification

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Johndon Johnson-Eilola’s article “The Database and the Essay” argues that postmodern definitions of writing have begun to be accepted and popularized by the general public. If we accept the general premise of postmodernism that ideas are formed in context and in social situations and don’t stem from individual genius, we are then faced with the issue of authorship and ownership. Johnson-Eilola points to intellectual property law and the erosion of fair use rights, arguing that language and text has become commodified within a capitalist system, “put into motion…forced to earn its keep by moving incessantly” (203).  This idea of breaking texts into fragmented parts so that they will fit within the avenues of capitalist circulation has quite serious implications for original ownership. When texts are broken into smaller and smaller pieces, allowing for easier commodification, and then continually repurposed into new forms, how can we define authorship and originality? The deconstruction of meaning from a single textual object into an interconnected web of linkage and in-text citation has not created a “communal web of shared experiences,” as Johnson-Eilola claims was originally predicted (204).  What has instead emerged is the commodification of intellect with the continual breaking down and reformulation of texts and ideas, each recombination generating profitable value.

This issue can be viewed in terms of the broader debate over what is writing and what is mere compilation. We generally define writing as involving a creative process that results in the formation of a unique text containing original thought. This is taught in academic settings and grounds most writing pedagogy. However new competing definitions of writing that lean toward postmodernism argue that language is a continual social construction, so is completely arbitrary and that this applies to texts as well. There is a marked shift from thinking of texts as discrete objects to now viewing them as unpredictable, fragmented elements that are constantly reconfigured and reconnected. Johnson-Eilola argues that this shift is important because it “opens a path away from thinking of intellectual property as a work– as a relatively extended, coherent whole– and toward thinking of it as marketable chunks” (209).  By viewing any type of text within these financially geared terms, issues of ownership become problematic. If texts and ideas are continually reformulated, who holds proprietary rights?

Attempts at answering this question have become more urgent and relevant as blogs and linking further complicate the idea of ownership. Traditionally citation and reference within texts is considered necessary and socially valuable and has always been free, but now companies claim that linking within a website destroys their economic model of users moving “top-down” through the site viewing advertisements along the way. If users are linked to a page deep within the site, they miss relevant advertising and the company is not paid. The contrast between the academic argument that information should be free and the economic model claiming that information should circulate and thus earn money can be reduced to the rather difficult issue of information commodity. On one side we have academics arguing that knowledge and texts reside outside of the economic sphere while simultaneously constructing institutions that collect money in exchange for knowledge. And on the other side we have the postmodernists and corporations that fragment and circulate texts, profiting from this continual exchange of information. Though these sides claim to be in constant and bitter debate, their practices are incredibly similar. Does this then de-value the argument? Aren’t both institutions essentially attempting to control the same thing?

 

 

If All Composition is Articulation, Then…

Johanna Drucker

Johanna Drucker

Since the advent of the computer as composing tool, writing practices have been undergoing dramatic revisions.  Users are confronted with new cultural and social assumptions around what it means to compose text in the digital sphere.  From multimodality to word processing programs like Microsoft Word becoming the “new normal” platform for composing any variety of text, the ways in which individuals intercept and compose texts has extended to integrate the new rituals of ‘writing’, outdating much of the traditional approaches to the Composition classroom.  As academics across disciplines move to incorporate cultural shifts in the digital spheres into their course curriculum, there is a pressing urge for compositionists especially to take note of these changes and keep track of the shifts in cultural literacy practices to better understand the assumptions and worldviews of students.

As Johndan Johnson-Eilola writes in “The Database and the Essay: Understanding Composition as Articulation,” post-modernity has expanded the notion of text to include any number of intentional acts of composition while the internet has created a networked and highly social environment which confronts and revises the old Romantic notion of the private author as sole creator of text.  Instead, people are engaging with a textual world that privileges the idea of intertextuality or ‘the text as ongoing conversation’.   Despite these cybernetic principles finding application in the act of composing texts, I don’t believe that we have yet to understand the implications for these paradigm shifts as change and evolution continue to multiply exponentially fast across the globe in the overlapping domains of knowledge, technology, culture and society. Just as long as 1994-ago, Douglas Davis was experimenting with collaborative virtual technologies for digital art installations, one of which is available on the Whitney Museum of American Art’s website entitled The World’s First Collaborative Sentence.  If the vanguard was moving in an adopting digital practices for art making nearly 20 years ago, it is safe to say that the mainstream has caught up with the innovative theorists and experimenters who began demonstrating and exploiting the potentialities of the internet’s early foundations.  Composition teachers need to fearlessly innovative without risk of reprimand or chastisement from the institutions within which they carry out their work.

The pedagogies in place need to advance the eco-systemic principles which stress the need for teachers to keep abreast of developments in literacy practices, especially those that influence the lives of students to better understand the assumptions with which they approach writing and to tailor curricula to changing needs.  However, one must be forward thinking enough to ask if the moment will approach when the FYC teacher must curate the approaches to reading and writing used in a course as an act of careful selection of which content extends the notion and application of literacy to both the most important actual and virtual domains.  What might an integrative approach to Composition Studies look like?

The importance of emphasizing the digital sphere within literacy education is not without risk of losing sight or focus of the ongoing need to ensure that regardless of the changing values and privileged approaches to writing that changes with shifts in culture, students will still be able to articulate their thoughts in critical, self/other-enlightening ways.

An Expirement in Learning from a Video Game

After reading about the ways that video games can educate and inform, I developed the urge to test out the process of learning from a game on myself. The learning I experienced far exceeded my expectations. I went into the game expecting to spend ten or fifteen minutes on something that could pad out this blog post. Instead, I found myself sucked into an experience that drained away hours of my life, requiring multiple types of literacies and a surprising amount of upper-level thought and analysis. I see some problems with using myself as a case study- namely, that I have a number of rhetorical skills and tools available to me that I shouldn’t inherently expect from a first year composition class, and there would likely have to be broader testing and instructional sessions before attempting to produce similar results in a classroom.

For the sake of universal availability, and sheer convenience, I chose to play through one of the games that Ian Bogost outlined as an example of a deliberately message-focused/education game- “The McDonald’s Video Game”. Presented as a rather unsubtle example of a game with a message, you play as an ephemeral coordinator of the famed corporation, managing resources to establish and maintain a financial empire.

Although there was a tutorial available, I decided to bypass it and instead learn completely from the in-game descriptions and systems.

First Run- Drawing upon my prior experience with a popular farming video game, I immediately converted all available land into soy fields and cow pastures. I also immediately went broke from the expenses involved, losing the game before selling a single burger.

Second Run- Lesson learned, I decided to not be so hasty in expanding my empire. Upon starting, I paused the game with the button prominently displayed in the corner of the screen. I clicked through all the various menus and options available, reading their effects, along with some rather aggressive attacks on the supposed ideologies of McDonald’s. I budgeted out my starting funds against what I could purchase, and tried again, but on a smaller scale than my first attempt. I went bankrupt within a couple of minutes of starting. My employees drained thousands per month, while I failed to make any profit, as my cows all starved to death before making it to the slaughterhouse.

Third Run and a number of Suicide Runs- At this point, I was beginning to feel frustrated with the game. I didn’t feel like I was failing because of my own faults, but because the game was withholding information. I wasn’t allowed to know how much soy was produced by each crop or how much food was required for each animal. I conceded to read through the tutorial, which turned out to be a slideshow that did nothing but reiterate the same information present in-game (although, the tutorial lists a fast-forward button that was oddly lacking in the version I played). Despite supposedly running a powerful multinational corporation, the investors and board of directors were apparently total morons. Normally, this is where I would say “this game sucks” and stop playing. However, because Bogost had outlined the idea of learning from the mechanics of a game, I decided to engage in some masochism, and continued playing. As I was frustrated by the lack of transparency about game mechanics, I took it upon myself to deliberately grind through a number of failed runs, figuring out the appropriate values of certain commodities by isolating individual factors. The specific numbers that I found are totally irrelevant to anything other than progressing in the game, but this tedium became necessary in order to experience what was advertised as the main focus of the game.

Despite my distaste for the experience at the time, this segment is immediately obvious as a learning experience, albeit a rudimentary one. The strategy involved here took advantage of the “play” nature of the game to experiment with different behaviors I likely would not have tried on a high-stakes project. I was learning resource management, and deductive reasoning.

Fourth Tracked Run- Using my accumulated information, I was finally able to avoid immediate bankruptcy, and was finally able to actually use the variety of ways the game offers to engage in corruption in exchange for profit. I happily engaged in product contamination, plowed through rainforests, and bought out the local government. The profits rushed in, but then people began protesting my actions, and fines and other problems bankrupted me once again.

Fifth Run- After refining my strategy and learning to deal with aversion through even more corruption of public officials, I progressed a number of years, maintaing the company as somewhat profitable for a number of years. Until I realized that all my pastures had degraded into worthlessness, and desperately trying to cycle my land around caused immediate bankruptcy. I had discovered an entirely new mechanic to the game, a subtle environmental commentary embedded deep into the experience. Apparently, if I wanted to win, I didn’t need to be just profitable, I had to figure out a way to do it sustainably.

Sixth Run, More Experimentation, Victory?- I fiddled around with a number of set-ups again, attempting to produce a system that wouldn’t degrade. Although approaching sustainability, I wasn’t quite able to achieve it, and decided to take advantage of another type of literacy- cheating. I began searching around on the internet for tips and strategies for the game, and found a site that outlined the exact strategy needed to “win” the game. There was a small sense of satisfaction in that my prior strategies were fairly similar, but also disappointment that I hadn’t been able to make the specific discernments and tweaks on my own. I considered leaving out this segment, but the meta-narrative of the game experience became fairly intriguing. When you win, the game doesn’t end. The months and years continue to chug by as your profits rise, but there’s no celebration or introspection, just endless monotony. At the furthest extents of the game, it becomes unclear of where the deliberate narrative of the game makers ends, and where a unique message produced by the mechanics of the game begins. I found myself wondering whether the authors intended for anybody to win, or if the victory conditions were intended the way they played out. It’s hard to imagine an environmentalist/anti-corporation lobbying group trying to say that “corruption is fine, just don’t bother trying to placate anybody”, and yet this is exactly what is necessary for profit.

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Winning?

Virtual Games in Nontraditional Settings

In recent years, technology has taken a starring role in the classroom. This new perspective is something that I have just recently gotten comfortable with. Some forms of technology are easier to integrate in the classroom than others, and up until this semester, I had never even thought about entertaining the idea of using video games in the classroom. I can easily see the benefits of using social networking websites, like YouTube, Twitter, even Facebook, in the classroom, but video games as a learning device seemed a little too far-fetched. Rebekah Shultz Colby, Richard Colby, and John Alberti offer enlightening analysis about how using video games in the classroom can have a positive effect on students.

In the article, “A Pedagogy of Play: Integrating Computer Games into the Writing Classroom”, Rebekah Shultz Colby and Richard Colby demonstrate how adding a virtual game into a classroom setting can add a refreshing element to a traditional, stale learning environment. This article is very interesting, because Colby and Colby offer a new outlook that could reach the learning styles of different students. An overarching theme that I have been noticing from the readings that we have been doing is the importance of being able to adapt and reinvent your teaching style and classroom to stay relevant with what is happening. With the presence of technology becoming more apparent, it is only natural to integrate this aspect into the classroom. By adding virtual games in the classroom, this can “open up a gap for computer game theory to inform pedagogy that can be practiced in a writing classroom” (Colby and Colby 300).

For ‘old-soul’ individuals, like myself, if I were to use virtual games in my classroom, it would probably only be for a couple of class meetings. While I do see the benefits, I also do not want to appeal to one type of student. It is important for teachers to diversify their teaching style, but if a radically different style is the primary emphasis for an entire semester, it will be a waste of time. “The question of video games being taken seriously as cultural texts certainly involves the typical process of acquiring cultural capital that goes along with any new discursive medium…” (Alberti 260). Right now, in 2013, there probably are classrooms that are using video games as teaching tools, but it is not a practice that is widespread. With technology’s role becoming more and more prominent in the classroom, the use of virtual gaming as a teaching tool might become an aspect that will be popularized in years to come. But to get to that point, we must question the state of the traditional classroom setting. “What does it mean to re-imagine the writing classroom as an arena of play, to pursue the metaphor of writing as gaming?” (Alberti 267).

 

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WoW and other authentic places for learning

Who says playing an MMORPG in the classroom is a bad thing?  Not the authors of “A Pedagogy of Play: Integrating Computer Games into the Writing Classroom“, that’s for sure.

Colby and Colby’s article discusses how composition teachers might design a class centered around playing (and most crucially writing about) World of Warcraft.  They offer a discussion of how and why students and educators have usually resisted crossover between class and videogames, including the traditional barrier dividing “work” from “play”, various stigmas associated with videogames in general, but also discuss the potential payoffs of bringing something like videogames into writing classrooms.   They say “ideally, writing teachers encourage students to become immersed in their writing and research”, and videogames provide an intensely immersive experience for gamers.  They also say that videogames offer opportunities for “emergent learning” in an authentic and accessible discourse, giving students the feeling that “they have expertise to move beyond what others have written because they are writing for those who are invested in reading the material they produce.”

This, I think is at the heart of what’s different about Colby and Colby’s approach compared to others who see videogames as another kind of “text” students can engage with.  Instead of asking students to think of the game like a novel in a literature class (turning the game into the subject of their analytical essays), they ask students to participate in the very real and established written discourse communities that already exist surrounding the game.   Their writing assignments ask them to create real documents, guides, or other writings for real audiences, and publish them in the appropriate places online.  Whether those documents are in-depth guides to completing a section of the content, or proposals to the game’s developers regarding a missing feature for the game, students know that their writing means something to a wide audience beyond the class.

So, in a nutshell, the classroom becomes a kind of support and staging area for students who then go out and contribute to the conversations happening all around them, as well as a place for them to reflect on their activities and develop meta-knowledge of  their learning and experiences. Pretty cool. :)

But WoW isn’t the only way I think teachers could transform their classrooms into authentic learning communities, or give students opportunities to engage in real discourse. Some would argue that this is exactly what most academic classrooms have been trying to get students to do all along: engage in discourse (albeit academic discourse), and contribute to existing real conversations and communities through their writing.   However, the barrier to true entry into academic discourse may seem much too high for students to feel like their contributions matter.  Using something that has a lower barrier to entry (such as video game communities) allows students to practice essentially the same skills scholars use but in a more accessible context.

Classrooms could be designed around a variety of different real and authentic discourses that are student-accessible besides World of Warcraft gamers.  A class could be designed around a specific hobby with a rich online community, or an area of interest or a profession.  Popular culture and media drive the creation of hundreds of active and vibrant discourse communities across the internet (e.g. Breaking Bad fan sites and discussion forums during the airing of the show), any of which could be just as rich in terms of the kinds of conversations and writing practices students could engage in for a class.  A class could even be designed to allow students to select the discourse they plan to participate in during a class and share their assignments with the rest of the class as a way to introduce each other to what they’re focusing on and learn from each other.

In the end, I see Colby and Colby’s article as an example of a classroom whose goal isn’t simply to find a cool way to bring videogames into a classroom. It’s a way to make the classroom real and authentic, and blur the traditional boundaries between “work” and “play”,  “classroom” and “real life”,  and give students a safe place to experiment with writing that actually matters.

Facebook? Why not Reddit?

Please excuse my lame attempt to connect this blog to the Zoidberg meme.

Social media are spaces in which people can connect with others online or in some technological medium.  Today, many academic discussions about social media seem to gravitate towards MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.  Will Richardson, the author of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, discusses two ways in which users use social media: “friendship-based” and “interest-based” (131).  Friendship-based is pretty straightforward; people engage in social media to stay in contact with people they met, and use platforms like Facebook to communicate with others.  Friendship-based social media usually relies on profile pages that display one’s identity and a group of friends to begin with.  Richardson also argues that Facebook also helps users form groups or other social networks based on interests.  This leads to individuals learning through a self-build network created by connections with other people.  Furthermore, Richardson’s definition of interest-based learning applies more to a newer website that’s on the rise: Reddit.com.

Reddit, as many people already know, is a social networking and micro-blogging site in which users can submit content and others comment on it.  Redditors (users of Reddit) can either “upvote” or “downvote” content, which generates a quantitative score for that post.  The more points a post has, the more popular the post is.  The posts with the highest amount of points go on what Michael Wesch (who I’ll discuss shortly) would call the “front page” (a term he used to describe YouTube’s most popular video sites).  Furthermore, comments can also be upvoted or downvoted; thus, users can view the most popular response to a post.

However, despite Reddit’s obvious connections to social media, I have not seen many scholars discuss the pedagogical implications of Reddit, even though it has been increasing in popularity over the past few years.  Furthermore, based on Michael Wesch’s and Danah Boyd’s discussion of social media, Reddit can serve as a useful tool to illustrate participatory, connective learning through social media.

Wesch’s talk, an Anthropological Introduction to YouTube, details how YouTube has become a site for users to distribute user-generated content, engage in discussions regarding various topics, and experiment with identity.  YouTube is a site of participatory remixes and remakes, that often go viral, and the recreated content serves as a celebration of this process.  Reddit is no different.  Aside from having a similar front page display on the home page, Redditors often post viral content (including pictures, .gifs, videos, articles, etc.) that get reposted and re-commented on frequently.  Furthermore, similar to YouTube, these users are usually not friends commenting on friends’ content, but rather strangers of an “invisible audience” (Boyd 120).  In other words, Redditors post for the public, and the public responds to the post.  This allows for what Boyd would call a “networked public”.  Boyd defines the networked public as a space for persistence in asynchronous communication, searchability for certain content, replicability of original content, and as already stated, the invisible audience.  For Boyd, social media is a site where all people from all space and all time can connect.   Reddit fits all of these characteristics.

Furthermore (and perhaps more interesting for scholars of social media,) Reddit is divided into what Redditors call “subreddits,” in which the content is categorized based on interest.  Redditors can find a subreddit for almost anything: gaming, sports, politics, culture, and more.  Each Redditor also has its own front page complete with the most popular posts.  (I should note that Redditors can friend other Redditors for easier access to postings and comments by their friends.)  Thus, Reddit’s community organizes itself into different categoriesThese sub-communities display a shared understanding that is mediated by its users, and defined by the types of discussions and content present within the subreddit.  I think this is what’s at the heart of Richardson’s excitement over social media – the ability to form discourse communities with the public.  This is also what Boyd notices in youths’ <3 for social networks.  Boyd recognizes that youth desire to participate in a system with common understandings, interaction with other members, and discoursing in a mediated public (125).  Furthermore, the more interesting part of these interactions is that a Redditor’s identity is based more on the comments they make on a post, rather than a profile page with an image that constructs their identity.  A person’s wit, humor, intellect, etc. is the first impression.

The main question that I’m left with after this short discussion is why isn’t Reddit talked about like Facebook or Twitter?  I understand that Reddit is newer than these mediums and often has more viral content (like cute cat pictures).  However, Reddit is arguably a stronger example of how people write anonymously for the public, and create discussions based more on interest than friendship than other forms of social media.  Furthermore, I also wonder how composition instructors can incorporate Reddit into the classroom.  My initial reaction would be to tell students to find a topic that interests them on Reddit, and respond/engage in a conversation with the public, and see where that takes them.  Students can also create their own post on an academic subreddit, and see how the public responds to their content and ideas. I feel like there are a lot of possibilities, and interested to hear how other people may approach using this in the classroom.

What do you guys think?  I know I did not cover everything that can be said, but I’m also trying not to go overboard here.  :)