WoW…I’m Not Sure About Playing Games in the Classroom, Especially World of Warcraft.

Video games have been a major part of my life experience ever since I was able to hold a controller and barely move and jump in Super Mario Brothers or swing a sword in The Legend Of Zelda for the NES.

 

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Sources: Rebubble and Nitwitty

My experience with gaming has evolved over the years from home consoles to handheld devices to PC gaming. I have spent around 7 of the last 10 years of my experience with gaming has evolved over the years from home consoles to handheld devices to PC gaming. I have spent around 7 of the last 10 years of World of Warcraft’s (WoW) existence playing the game as well as playing League of Legends, Hearthstone, and other multiplayer games and I would love nothing more than to find a way to incorporate video games or game design concepts into the classroom on some scale. From digging into writings by pieces by Bogost, Alberti, and Gee on what we can learn from gaming, game design, and gaming concepts, I was sure that introducing these kinds of concepts into the classroom could be wildly successful.  I was all ready to pop the champagne and celebrate, but then…

I really wanted to write an entirely positive article, but I guess I am too enticed by challenging academics at their assertions because once I started reading the Colbys’ article I slammed on the proverbial brakes and turned that celebration car around, faster than you could say “LEEEEEEEEEEEEEROY JEEEEEEEENKINS!

And on that day, a meme was born.

“A Pedagogy of Play: Integrating Computer Games into the Writing Classroom” by Rebekah Shultz Colby and Richard Colby weaves an idyllic world where they could advertise a class in which the entire class would spend the semester playing Blizzard Entertainment’s wildly successful and still very popular game, WoW, and I am here to try to (probably unsuccessfully) tactfully explain why this would be a terrible idea that would not work outside of isolated cases. Maybe this type of class is not supposed to be adopted in any significant way in a school system. I find that kind of exclusivity to be a bit reprehensible, which is why I am so incensed at the notion of WoW or any high-intensity computer game, being used as the core aspect of a classroom.

If my work at community colleges and life as a student has been any indication, many students would not have the resources to be able to take the opportunity offered by this class. Sure, at Denver University, a private college where tuition currently sits at around 15,096 dollars a semester, students might be able to afford a computer with the capabilities necessary to run WoW well enough to play the game. However, if implemented where I live, go to school, and work, I do not believe this would be the case. While many students have laptops, most of them are basic machines that are built with only the bare essentials to utilize programs like Microsoft Office, Facebook (maybe casual games on said website), and content streaming services.

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Given these choices, many would take the HP. Credit: Freebies2deals

Predominantly, these are the kinds of computers that are advertised to students by stores like Best Buy: non-gaming computers with no dedicated graphics processor that would barely run the game if at all. One would need to buy a laptop that  costs around $700 to run the game in a way that is playable.  Further, WoW requires its own monetary subscription of $15 a month after you buy the game, which, at this current moment, involves spending at around $40 to purchase the game and the most recent expansion. I would fear that students would not be totally clear on what they would need when signing up for a class like this and then have to drop, leaving them sans an important class for their GE. None of the financial aspects of this endeavor are examined in the paper; the authors only made the point that “WoW has relatively low system requirements.” Send a message to any PC gamer and ask them if playing on the lowest settings makes a game fun to play. The answer you will probably get is:

This class concept is not feasible or accessible to the larger student population of an American college campus, especially community colleges.

I would also question a student’s time dedication to be able to participate in this class. Unless you are already an avid WoW player, which the paper identifies is not required, there is a huge amount of time that a player must commit to gain expertise in any aspect of the game without putting in a significant amount of research on other websites (and I would argue that both of these are required to be able to contribute to a wiki or make a guide on the game). For some students, playing the game might take far in excess of the expected time, and, even then, I would be concerned how much time would be required to play the game in addition to time spent doing the various class writing assignments. Leveling a character, finding and immersing oneself in a guild, leveling a profession, and learning how the mechanics of the game work take hours upon hours of play and research even in the current version of the game which is MUCH simpler than it was in 2008 when this article was published. Most active guilds will not look at you twice if you are not at or near max level and player interaction is minimal outside of a guild. In addition, you just do not learn enough about the game or its community at low levels.

 

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This is my most recent character and I have not even gotten him to max level.

And I sort of know what I am doing half the time.

The Colbys only identify two cases of students in this experimental class environment, “Josh, an experienced WoW player” and Tiffany who had a roommate who played WoW often and took the class with her. I was disappointed by the lack of other representative experiences for this proposal of a WoW classroom if a student was not a WoW player. There was no real consideration of what to do if one or more of the students in the class decided that they did not like the game besides the result of dropping, which, again, really punishes the student.

I honestly do not know of a massively multiplayer online style game that would dodge both of these serious issues with this pedagogy. I want to love this idea. I REALLY want to. But just like any game community, even if one could find a way to make this work, I doubt its longevity. Semester to semester a teacher might have to find a new game or gaming community as games die and a new fad emerges. When this article was written WoW was the biggest PC game that had ever existed boasting around ten million subscribers, but now the game has less than half of that number and seems to still be declining.

 

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Now down to around 5.5 million subs.

A multiplayer online battle arena (moba) like League of Legends would be the WoW of today, but who know how long that game would last (Nor would I ever subject my students to that game’s community. I have been called every slur, profanity and disgusting use of language imaginable when I am playing badly in that game. It is the YouTube comments section of video games. Only click this if you want an example. It is not safe for work because of the intense language.)

Gaming is definitely a New Media Literacy that, as time passes, more and more students will be playing in some fashion. Involving games, game design, and gaming rhetoric in the classroom is worth studying. Programs like Classcraft are already paving the way for creating augmented reality games in the classroom environment. To me, this is the most exciting use of the excursions composition academics have been making, in addition to using video games as a way of studying rhetoric and genre in the classroom.

I think it is about time to end this rant and hope that this even fits the bill for this blog. I leave you again with an OC remix of the week. This is Legend of Zelda: ALttP ‘Come to the Dark Side, It’s a Funky Place’ by Nostalvania:

 

 

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Social Media: The Renaissance Self-Expression and Community.. or is it?

I have spent the last few hours pondering what Micheal Wesch would say about the changes in spaces like Youtube and other social media since he made his video on Web 2.0 and his anthropological study of Youtube. Once upon a time, (though really it was not that long ago) vlogs and other personal videos were absolutely the predominant videos and content type on Youtube. Looking all the way back at 2006 we see much of what was being discussed by Wesch in simple user generated videos with just a few thousand views sitting on the front page.

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Credit: Graphitas

I am sure if we used The Way Back Machine then we would see many response videos, even to these front page entries. If we take a peek at the front page of Youtube today, the field has completely changed. Every front page is tailor made for the person who is consuming the media, especially if you have any viewing history or an account linked to your Youtube habits.

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As you can see, the trending videos look like a Hollywood catalog; they are almost completely comprised of massive company sponsored channels or the titanic channels with hundreds of thousands of subscribers making professional content for our consumption. Now, I am not saying that this is necessarily bad, since millions of hours of entertainment have arisen from the ability of an individual to monetize their videos on Youtube, but the community of videos that was so exciting to Welsh ten years ago is dying if it is not completely dead already. It seems that a significant amount of social media is moving away from being a way of interconnectivity toward being a way to create or popularize a brand. Even my own Facebook feed has become more of a space to see updates from news and entertainment sites than just seeing what a friend is up to on any given day, resulting from giving a page or website a “Like.” Is there a new social media that has replaced this phenomenon? Maybe Vines? Snapchat? My experience with these new medias are limited so I have no real idea if those kinds of apps are filling this void.

Moving to a slightly different sphere, in “Examining Digital Literacy Practices on Social Network Sites,” Amber Buck examines what she calls, (finally…at the end of the article) “a rather extreme case of social network site use.” Throughout this study, her subject, Ronnie, is shown to be trying to make a “brand” much like the celebrities that we see on Twitter, Facebook, and other networking websites. I feel that this discussion is a bit disingenuous as a result because it is not indicative of most students practices on a social networking site. While we all create an online identity, I do not believe that most people are developing as complex rhetorical skills that Ronnie is displaying and Buck is discussing nor do I think most people are trying to generate fans and fame from their social media exploration. To me this kind of study just screams outlier case.

(As a side note her abstract mentions that the literacy practices we explore include navigating user agreements, which means that she thinks that many young adults read them.)

 

Now this is not to discount that rhetorical  and genre learning is going on and we as teachers cannot take advantage of that, but social media and how people, especially youth, interact with that media evolves faster than we can build data and studies on how to incorporate it into pedagogy and the classroom. We have read many papers examining Myspace, but that website is now a wasteland with most people’s profiles sitting derelict, an interesting photograph of our past social media lives. It makes me wonder how much of that study is still relevant as things so rapidly change. I am extremely interested in what the next few years hold and how social media and literacies will continue to evolve.

Will we see another website emerge to replace Facebook? Or has the evolution of social media begun to settle and slow down? If students are as active as Ronnie and I am just ignorant of this, then how might we best bring this to the forefront in the classroom?

I think I have rambled like a terrible cynic for long enough today. So I shall do what I always will and leave you all with an OC remix of the day. This is a remix by FoxyPanda of the famous “Aquatic Ambiance” Theme from Donkey Kong Country. Cheers!

OhMann The Pressure’s On!

Kathleen Blake Yancey comes to us with what seems like a magnificent step forward in writing – the general public is writing of their own volition outside of the classroom, completely unprompted (pun intended) by English teachers.

4558046In fact, Yancey points out that people have chosen “a rhetorical situation, a purpose, a potentially worldwide audience, a choice of technology and medium – and they write” (302). This sounds like a marvelous accomplishment for writing, but Ohmann points out, in a more recent article, that there is a lot of baggage that comes along with this. Namely, Ohmann is concerned that through the marketing of computers and microcomputers, we are essentially being led in our literacy by corporations and political interest. Of course, I believe we all acknowledge that there are always outside influences going into the shaping of literacies in our world, but Ohmann points out that in classrooms, microcomputers are used for little more than a medium to construct texts, and a storage place for files.

Now, I believe it is up to us to bridge the gap between writing in a personal, self-chosen place, and the writing we see and strive for in the classroom. To its credit, the CCCC’s position statement on Technology has asked that classrooms with technology “provide students with opportunities to apply digital technologies to solve substantial problems common to the academic, professional, civic, and/or personal realm of their lives,” but simply stating this isn’t enough. How do we get students to utilize good Habits of Mind (please scroll if opened) outside of the classroom and think critically about all (realistically most) texts that they create? According to a survey conducted by Jeff Grabill (2010), students held the perception that writing done socially or for personal fulfillment is not valuable outside of its specific realm of personal gratification. I believe that we need to find a way to get students to see social media, blogging, and perhaps even texting, as something that is not only valuable for their own development, but also can have repercussions for the world. I recognize that this is a large problem to tackle, and know it will be a process to complete. Ideally, we as instructors must start to show the intellectual potential of technology platforms in our classrooms, while also remembering to draw attention to the biases and money-driven goals surrounding those platforms (a la Ohmann).

So now I pose some questions to all of you (I have opinions and at least somewhat formed answers to these, but for the sake of conversation I’d rather hear your thoughts):

  • How do we incorporate social media based writing in a way that is both productive for our own classroom and will keep students more informed/intellectually engaged outside the classroom?
  • How far should we push students into recognizing the academic and intellectual potential of the writing they do solely for enjoyment?
  • How do we keep Composition relevant without losing the qualities in writing that we aspire to?
  • Everyone talks about writing, but what about reading? How can we facilitate good reading habits of social media, etc? More importantly, do we, as instructors, even know the full scope of what “good reading” looks like for majority of personal writing platforms out there?

Writing in the Public Sphere

In my last blog post I made a point about how technology has created a culture where we are “always on”; we expect and are expected to be so. Jenkins suggests we actually teach students how to multitask, but I never intended to put this into practice. Based on the comments received I can see how this was misconstrued – probably as a result of last minute editing that eliminated the way I had been contextualizing it. I do not think we need to teach students how to multi-task; by and large, they already know how. We need to help students control assert control over the infinite stream of information and modes of communication coming at them. One of the ways we can help them is by showing them that nothing actually happens when they silence their phone for 50 minutes to devote their attention to the issues being addressed in class.

Similarly, we need to help students be critical consumers of media and aware of the online persona they enact. Our students are online, reading, writing and participating; therefore, as Benson and Reymon point out in their article “Learning to Write Publicly: Promises and Pitfalls of Using Weblogs in the Composition Classroom,” “we have a clear obligation to help them participate thoughtfully and responsibly” online. The Internet is a fun, liberating, exciting, scary, and dangerous place. Students need to know how to navigate and explore such temperamental waters.

I consciously create space for students to write privately, publicly and to me in my classrooms. The last on I could do without; I’m working on it. The benefit of having students write publicly, even when that public is limited to the class is just as Charles Tyson claims in his “Writing and Citizenship: Using Blogs to Teach First-Year Composition”: “students will take writing more seriously if they are writing for public on the Internet.” I could not agree with this more, but I think it’s more about a fear of being judged by their peers than it is the general public.https://i1.wp.com/wp.patheos.com.s3.amazonaws.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/files/2013/09/bigbrother.jpg

The arguments in favor of a public audience for novice writers is the same as that against it – there is a public full of possibilities, both good and bad. Students know there is a public audience and that anyone could read it, yet they maintain a sense of anonymity online and refer to it as writing to their friends despite its public nature (Benson and Reyman). Only a couple of students in their study were really aware of it.

I have seen this first hand as recently as this past Friday. With the BART strike I ended up taking my Friday morning class online. I had planned to do a lesson on word choice through jigsaw, so I created group chats and forums for the groups to report back to. The lesson worked out really well, but when I commented in one of the chat’s a student that never speaks in class came back with “wow…creeper…” I was, admittedly, Big Brother. Her perceived comfort online is not the only notable takeaway, however. Even though they all knew I was signed into their chats, they didn’t consider that I would be following them.

The success of this lesson supported Richardson’s point in Blogs, Wiki’s and Podcasts that blogs “support different learning styles,” “everyone has a voice,” and the expansion of the walls of the classroom. This was just a couple of forums and chats on ilearn, but it all applied. I believe the lesson was more successful online than it has been in the classroom because everyone participated more. When a student was quiet they were quick to call each other out and ask them to chime in. I didn’t really need to be Big Brother.

Regardless of how we host writing online we have to monitor it in someway. I can’t think of anyone I’ve seen advocate against monitoring. I haven’t used blogs, but I do use the ilearn forums pretty heavily and I had to remove a student post last year. One of my students posted a largely homophobic essay. There were three openly gay students in our class. Fortunately, the problem was a writing problem. He wasn’t homophobic per se, he was only trying to describe one of the many things he was adjusting to with his move to San Francisco. A less patient reader wouldn’t see that though; all they would see was an aversion to gay culture. Luckily, no one saw the post and a similar issue hasn’t come up since, but that doesn’t mean it won’t.

Consuming Creativity with Creativity

When it comes to societal advancement there is a running theme of fear and resistance by older generations; a sense that the ways they were brought up is somehow superior.  If history is any indication, this theme will only continue. What’s so interesting about its recurrence now is that the older generation fears technology will do to their children what it had done to them – create passive consumers of creativity, or what Lawrence Lessig refers to as a “read only” only culture in his TED Talk titled “Laws That Choke Creativity.”

Under this light, I suspect today’s fear comes from a lack of understanding. This generation is not consumed with creativity without any outlet for creativity, they are engaged in (re)creativity as Lessig coined it. Users take creative pieces and recreate them in their own image. Lessig champions this new read/write culture where users consume creativity and (re)create. The problem is the legal obstacles attempting to limit the growth of the read/write culture. These obstacles are forcing the read/write culture to “live life against the law.” I can’t help but wonder if that isn’t part of the appeal to the emerging culture, however. Being told not to do something has always sparked an interest that might not otherwise be there. It’s as old a theme in our culture as resistance to technology.

More than likely, the appeal of “living life against the law” only appeals to a fraction of users. As Jenkins points out in Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century creating media creates a higher form of respect for other users media.  By letting users (re)create creativity they in turn have more respect for the creativity of others, just as they want their own creativity to be respected. Jenkins seems to suggest that the problem could take care of itself.

For better or worse, education is influenced by the culture we live in, at least I hope it is. As long as we’re living in a read/write culture, and what better culture to be a part of, we need to find out where we fit in as educators. While our students are consuming and creating media, they’re not always doing it critically, appropriately, legally, or safely.  Students could benefit from instructors that helped define these blurred lines, validating what students do, and helping them do it better. This can contribute to an affective learning environment where it’s clear that students are learning from teachers and teachers are learning from students.

None of this is to say it’s easy, the world wide web is infinite and omnipresent; there is so much out there to be gained and lost over and over again. We all fear the unknown; the internet can be a big and scary place. The benefits of using media, however, far outweighs the risks as Will Richardson points out in his Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Tools for Classrooms. Richardson acknowledges this tension between school (parents included) and the literacy activities students participate in outside of school, and shares some ways for working around it. Ultimately, Richardson claims that teachers need find their own balance – that’s the most important takeaway.

Teachers and parents resistance to new practices and the immersion of the read/write culture only hurts students in the long run leaving them less prepared. Richardson also points out that “communicating and collaborating with peers using instant or text messaging [social media], accounts allows them to be ‘always on’ and always connected. That is their expectation, one that has changed greatly in just the past ten years.” This expectation isn’t going away. They expect to “always be on” and they’re expected to be as well.  Some teachers try and remove distractions from their classrooms, but those distractions are still there and they’re not going away. By ignoring this expectation, I wonder if we’re only leaving them less prepared. .

Jenkins touches on this idea of expecting to be expected when he describes multi-tasking. He describes it as “the ability to scan ones environment and shift focus onto salient details on an ad hoc basis.” This idea of consuming endless media while trying to perform is rooted in the fear of the effects of technology on the upcoming generation – the so called “ADD” generation. Their attention spans are so short because they are switching tasks at such a rapid pace. That multitasking will somehow ruin the ability to concentrate and problem solve.

The need to multitask and the expectation of constant communication isn’t going anywhere. As valuable as it is to be able to really devote your concentration to one thing, we cannot dismiss the value of being able to “scan your environment and shift focus”; it is a skill they need. Students need to know how to take in information through a variety of mediums, prioritize it, and assert some control over its effect on their lives.

Identity is Something We Do

I’m not sure if it’s me, the reading I’ve been doing or some combination of the two, but I feel more afraid of bringing technology into the classroom than when we started a few weeks ago. There are so many ways to go wrong, and my confidence has plummeted. Hawisher and Selfe’s assertion that “We also fail, as we deny the value of these new literacies, to recognize ourselves as illiterate” in some spheres. And in this intellectual arrogance, we neglect to open ourselves to learning new literacies that could teach us more about human discursive practices” (36) really resonated with me. I’m illiterate and my hopes of catching on and up seem futile considering the short lifespan of technology and invisibility of students’ digital literacies.

Am I the only one that feels this way here? I’m a little older than Brittany (Hawisher and Selfe), but my digital literacy narrative isn’t all that different from hers. Somehow those few years made a seemingly incredible difference in the sophistication of her computer use compared to mine. Brittany, and several of the other students cited in the study, were immersed in technology and it was clear that there was a great deal of learning going on outside of school. Professor Ching commented last week that learning is fun, and I think that’s more than evident here. It’s school that’s not fun. (Rick Evan’s “Schooled Literacy” is a great article outlining how school can negatively affects students’ literacy practices).

How do we capitalize on all this “fun” without ruining it? More importantly, why aren’t we? Fear – fear of the technology itself, fear that we ourselves are illiterate, and a fear of our students as experts. I don’t think any of us want to be end up like Barbara at Ridgeview described in Chapter 2 “Wired Bodies in a Wireless Classroom” in New Literacies, who compares herself to a younger teacher that had successfully incorporated technology in her classroom by saying, “ I mean…for Kristin it’s not a problem. For me it’s a problem. But she’s…she’s in her 20’s, I’m in my 40’s. That’s the difference” (38).  My hope is that just because we don’t ourselves understand doesn’t mean it’s hopeless. I don’t want subscribe to the “Lead Pencil Club” (a group opposed to computers and convinced the old ways are better) described in Dennis Baron’s “From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literacy Technology” either. Regardless of how young and with it we might be right now, or how apt we are with technology use, the distance between our digital identities and our students will continue to grow as we age because digital literacies have lifespans too (Haswisher and Selfe).

Video games are completely absent from digital literacy narrative. I’ve never really played them, and I don’t want to. The idea of being a “gamer” is very much connected to a person’s identity. I have a self-described “Gamer” in one of my classes right now. Being a “gamer” is not different from being a “blogger,” a “coder,” or a “hacker”; these things that we do become a part of our identity and allow us to identify with others. Identity is something we do. (Buckingham) And I don’t do any of those things. I am blogging right now, but I am not a blogger.

So if I have such a hard time identifying with some of my students online identities, what can I do? My approach here is to try and understand these types of identities and literacies and think of them in the context Michael Smith and Jeffrey Wilhelm presented in their book “Reading Don’t Fix No Chevy”: Literacy in the Lives of Young Men. They suggest that “video games can be a useful guide, or heuristic, for us as teachers.” (51) Thinking about students experience with video games and other outside literary practices they do, online or off, can help us think about how to increase student motivation. Smith and Wilhelm suggest we start thinking about the types of experiences we want to create in our classrooms rather than what we need to prepare them for. I can get into that – understanding how students engage with technology and trying to create similar experiences in the classroom. There seems to be a little more permanence there.

Academic Identity and Social Networking

One of my Introduction to English students, who has recently been released from juvenile hall, sits in my office this afternoon tapping her fingers vigorously on her notebook, and tells me about the difficulties she encounters being a first-time college student this semester.

“I just don’t even know what I’m doing at all.” She says distressed, looking anxiously around my office.

Fatima is a first generation college student, who had never thought about attending college much before, and had a troublesome track-record in high school. She recently received her GED while incarcerated, and is now looking to further her education.

I asked her to talk about some of the issues that she specifically felt were challenging to her, and she shared a list of roadblocks that she felt were preventing her success. The first of which I found particularly interesting. She had to write a short paragraph for her Ethnic Studies class where she evaluated herself as a college student. I thought this sounded like a pretty straightforward assignment, and one that would be great for a student who is underprepared academically. I was contemplating the metacognitive awareness connections she would gain from such a task.

“What are you finding challenging about the assignment?” I asked her.

“I don’t know, I guess I don’t really know what that means. What it means to be a college student. How do I rate myself? What is a college student? I hope that’s not a dumb question.”

Her response has had me thinking all day. What she really seems to be struggling with is not the inability to start writing a paragraph (though that may be a component), but more importantly, her current personal identity is not linked to academia. She does not have a sense of self in college.

The creation of an academic identity for at-risk, basic skill students in community colleges can be a crucial step in facilitating access into higher education. When a population of marginalized students has been placed on the outskirts of the educational community, their entryway will be the organization and definition of themselves as being academic beings. Fatima needs to start creating an academic identity and this will help her analyze the issues she is having as a student and seek solutions.

Professors longing to see all their students succeed, but unable to make necessary system-wide structural changes, must find ways to combat the achievement gap. C. Cooper (2002) has reported that there are five key bridges to students’ pathways to college, and all five share the theme of identity. At-risk students, students who belong to a group that is statistically below the average college completion rate, must form identities as college students if they are to complete their college education. The relationship between identity development and academic achievement is one in which researchers and educators alike have a stake. Identity achievement has been argued to be essential to academic success.

What possible ways can this academic identity be created and fostered? Introducing Identity discusses the multiple uses of technology socially and educationally. When discussing social networking, Beckham says, “It appears to be used primarily as a means of reinforcing local networks among peers.” One possible avenue for helping a student who is creating their academic sense of self could be through digital media, like Facebook, where a cohort of students, in say, her English class, can collaborate and interact, reinforcing a connection with peers who are in academia. This could be an especially useful tool for students like Fatima who have no friends or family who are enrolled or who have attended college. This can create a more personal, and perhaps more easily accessible space for networking with fellow college students, thus understanding and feeling like one herself.

Giving Students Time and Space: Asynchronous Conversations

Warnock’s points about how effective asynchronous posting can be, as a tool for enabling student conversations, match up very closely with my experiences of using iLearn forums for classes I’ve taught here at SFSU.  For privacy reasons I can’t quote those fourms, but I will try to describe one such thread in an effort to illustrate what Warnock was talking about.

For one of the discussion threads, my students were reading about genetic screening for various traits (things like sports aptitude and propensity for disease) and had just finished watching the movie Gattaca.  So in this thread, I wanted them to continue and expand upon the discussion we’d been having in class, and I hoped that the forum would allow some of the students who didn’t normally talk much in class to participate more fully.

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Should we be cautious of a rhetorician’s ability to map best practices in Comp pedagogy onto digital terrain?

As Robert points out, Scott Warnock’s objective for writing Teaching Writing Online: How & Why is to encourage composition teachers to adapt thoughtfully conceived, model writing pedagogies for use in online environments as a means of exerting influence over how distance and e-learning technologies are adopted and used within institutional settings. While Warnock certainly makes a strong case for all the reasons why teaching composition in digital environments reinforces and perhaps even epitomizes the primary learning goals of writing instruction, I found the book’s perspective on the need to develop a particular (and ultimately quite constrained) teaching persona somewhat at odds with the argument that it is possible to translate one’s face-to-face teaching methods for online use—primarily because of the perceived need for members of the online community (both teachers and students) to begin consciously auto-censoring their identities and personas because of their growing awareness of the fact that all exchanges and interactions are now officially “on the record”. I think this raises interesting questions about human development and the ability to change, “revise”, or “re-see” oneself over time. As educators, are we convinced that having the record of one’s conduct in a formal educational setting is beneficial? repressive/stifling? a blend of both? Writing to learn models would suggest that making our students’ learning visible and thus available for reflection is a good thing, however, that model is predicated on the use of informal or low stakes writing, where students express themselves and explore their thoughts and ideas without reservation or the need to perform a particular level of understanding or engagement. I’m curious what others think about this.

I’m also curious about the drawbacks of making writing the (near) exclusive mode of discourse within writing classes. Although the goal is to teach writing (among other things, like critical thinking and reading), I don’t know that I agree that that goal is necessarily best accomplished through more writing-intensive forms of instruction. Although there would seem to be a logical, one-to-one correlation, what about the fact that so much of the way our students learn to negotiate and construct meaning comes not only from their writing to or for one another (or for us for that matter), but from the informal (and more free-form) hashing out of ideas through discussion and debate? What happens to our students’ willingness to take intellectual risks (off the record, during class discussion where bodily language, physical proximity, facial expressions, and tone combine to make navigating tension or emotionally-charged discussions of complex and/or controversial material more manageable or even editable in a way that a follow up utterance can be used to revise or even help erase past comments from immediate memory)? Given the need to exercise certain constraints in order to maintain adequate control over the online learning environment (in order to prevent it from becoming too informal, at least according to Warnock’s recommendations), are we potentially at risk of over formalizing–or even to a certain degree inadvertently standardizing–our students’ responses?

Perhaps my preference for discussing ideas prior to engaging in written forms of exploration and/or reflection can be chalked up to a difference in learning style, but I do find that I’m a bit disturbed by Warnock’s emphasis on rhetorical performance—on the record, in writing—as opposed to the messiness of thinking/learning that we are supposedly encouraging our first-year students to embrace. I’m interested in kicking off a more in-depth discussion around this topic.

Spaces for Playing to Learn

When I think about games and education, one of the most interesting aspects is that you must be active when you play a game. This isn’t necessarily the case when reading, and often one’s mind can wonder even as the act of reading continues (wait… what?). Beyond the simple fact that the gamer must actively engage with the game, is the question of what the gamer plays with. As Bogost points out, “play refers to the “possibility space” created by constraints of all kinds” (120). And the constraints of this “possibility space” can effectively model incredibly complex systems. As Neys and Jansz put it, “The capacity of serious games to reveal complex situations in a relatively simple way is what distinguishes this medium from other, more traditional, media forms” (229). And by complex systems, what’s meant is a variety ranging from games that show students how city planners interact with local governments and communities to games that show the sweep of human history. What’s significant here is that the “possibility space” provides a place for the player to play with the rules, concepts, and principles of whatever system is being modeled.

If we believe Vygotsky’s idea that for learning to happen we need active learners and active learning environments, then the pedagogical potential for games shouldn’t be seen as a fad or academic affectation. Games can be a step even further beyond the knowledge banking model of teaching. Their potential resides in the necessarily active component of play. I’m not for a moment suggesting that gaming will replace print literacy, but games can represent a unique space in which to put various kinds of learning into practice. Obviously this can work well for content knowledge, but since games create systems based on rules, this can work equally well for principles and more abstract concepts.

Of course the third thing Vygotsky said was necessary to learning, in addition to an active learning environment and an active learner, was an active teacher. While games have some significant contributions to make to our curriculum, it will still be us, as the teachers, who need to find ways to integrate games into the classroom. We will be the ones who have to help our students make the connections between the various texts we choose to bring into the classrooms. So as new and different a text as a game may seem, our role in relation to this new, strange text is till the same.