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.

If A Blog Gets Created And There’s No One To Read It, Does It Make A Sound?

With the use of blogs and wikis, students may reach unexpected audiences and collaborate at unexpected moments in contrast with traditional reading and writing experiences.

First in regards to audience, Charles Tryon advocates using blogs to help students gain an identity as global citizens in “Writing and Citizenship: Using Blogs to Teach First-Year Composition.” The unlimited reach of blogs makes student writing available to a global audience. When students receive comments and feedback about their writing from the greater public, the writing they have done for the public sphere in the blog gains a more profound validity than classroom writing.

While blogging may open up student writing to a global audience, some dangers come with that level of access. In “Learning to Write Publicly,” a qualitative research study done by John Benson and Jessica Reyman, the authors note that only about one or two students out of sixty-seven, who were observed blogging in a first year composition class, had concerns about the public nature of blogging, and the other sixty-five viewed blogging as totally anonymous or like talking to a “close friend.” Despite the propensity of students to over-estimate the amount of personal information that can safely be shared (a phenomenon well known by now and mocked on websites such as Failblog or in this SNL sketch), the authors of the research study still note that the exercise in rhetorical awareness is hugely beneficial to students because even just going through the motions of having fellow students comment on their work (albeit required comments by the teacher) expands a student’s notions of audience.

Coming from more of a K-12 perspective, Will Richardson proposes many methods for limiting the audience of student blogs, so that students can practice writing for a larger audience (even if it’s just the whole class) without risks of allowing students to overshare or discover unsavory content. Richardson sees the blog as more of a pedagogical tool that should be managed so that students can use new media tools more effectively outside of the classroom. Richardson’s perspective, that of the private class blog, is training wheels for real-world blogging. I, in any many instances think it’s more appropriate for the classroom to be a safe space, but many students will learn the harsh lessons of over-sharing outside of the classroom one way or another.

Take me for example, long ago (2005), I e-mailed a letter to the editor of SF Weekly about iPods. The newspaper had run a story about how podcasts were a “medium for dissent.” I received notice that they were going to print my letter and I became excited. I eagerly waited for the next edition of the weekly to come out, and when I raced to the page where the “Letters to The Editor” were, I discovered that my letter had been saddled with a sarcastic title “Manifesto from the Outer Sunset.” My glee turned to disappointment as I realized the editors were making fun of my letter, one containing a few too many Marxist sounding words (common man, upper classes, dissent).

Long story short, it has taken YEARS for that letter to the editor to stop showing up in the top 10 results when you Google my name (and yes I know that by linking to it in this post, I am counteracting that effect). The lesson I learned from all of this is that—the internet follows you. I’m sad to say this is not the only lesson I learned about discretion in regards to the internet and new media, but it was a valuable learning experience, and in retrospect, a shareable blunder.

Students are invariably going to make mistakes when trying to take part in civic discourse, and eventually we do have to take off the training wheels and let them ride their internet bikes into ditches. Especially nowadays, there is more recourse for internet blunders (privacy settings, delete functions) so most of the time students will bounce back unless they do something as profoundly shocking as UCLA student Alexandra Wallace posting a YouTube video containing a racist rant about Asians in the UCLA library. Wallace had to publicly apologize and withdrew from UCLA, but I think cases like hers are an extreme example.

Extreme examples aside, students must get used to the fact that when they write online, audience changes. Wikis provide an intermediate experience, and one distinctly different than blogs. With wikis, students collaborate on a document or web resource. While the wiki can be changed by anyone, the wiki retains a history of all changes made so that the wiki can be reverted back to previous versions. A student will experience a different type of audience on the wiki, not that of commenters, but of authorial discussions about the nature of the content on the wiki. Students must feel bold in changing the work of others, but also be comfortable with the fact that their writing will most likely be edited and/or deleted. The notion of authorship and audience completely changes on the wiki: from singular to shared authorship, and simultaneously an unlimited audience (on the internet) and a limited audience (fellow authors of the wiki). In “Erasing “Property Lines”: A Collaborative Notion of Authorship and Textual Ownership on a Fan Wiki,” Rik Hunter observes these phenomenons regarding audience and authorship in the context of a World of Warcraft Wiki, WOWWIKI.

I wholeheartedly agree with the notion that it is beneficial and possible crucial to teach students how to use these tools critically. We might not save them from a few badly written letters to the editor, but we might save them from life altering viral video status if they are a little more aware of the power of these tools. We can show them how to use a tricycle and maybe someday, they will build something like this.

Top Ten Tips for Avoiding Reductive Lists

In Richard Ohmann’s 1987 chapter in Cross-Talk in Comp Theory, his rather dire reading of the tea-leaves in Section 4 is titled simply “Computers.”

As Phil Kraft puts it, “all the skill is embodied in the machines”- in fact, that could be a definition of the term “user-friendly.” (“Designing for idiots is the highest expression of the engineering art,” in David Noble’s words…Operators seldom become programmers; programmers seldom become systems analysts; analysts seldom become designers or computer scientists (Corson 35). Graduates of MIT will get the challenging jobs; community college grads will be technicians; those who do no more than acquire basic skills and computer literacy in high school will probably find their way to electronic workstations at McDonald’s. I see every reason to expect that the computer revolution, like other revolutions from the top down, will indeed expand the minds and the freedom of an elite, meanwhile facilitating the degradation of labor and the stratification of the workforce that have been hallmarks of monopoly capitalism from its onset. (708)

While I think he’s probably right, and that this sums up the current trajectory of most students, he also wrote that near the beginning of the seepage of visible computer technology into everyday life, and that some of his predictions are dated.  Sure, the department secretary is the only one who used a computer back then, mostly for typing up flyers; but I would hope that these days are long behind us and that many of us are using computing technology for a whole host of other things.

Therefore, I also think that part of our job is to ensure that students have their own choices about where they end up at the end of compulsory schooling, in composition or otherwise.  And now that the computer revolution is 30 or 40 years in the making, we – all teachers – should be able to get down to the business of critically involving technologically mediated curriculum at this remove.  Writing New Media attempts to do exactly that, and in the process demonstrate to teachers what their new media classroom assignments might look like and look for in student competency.  There’s always a danger in this, of course: Helpful handbooks on writing became the constricting Five-Paragraph Theme after what seems like a cosmic game of “Telephone” between the comp theorists and the practicing classroom teachers.  We should resist anything that boils down to a “Ten Top Tips” list and perhaps just get “start[ed] nonetheless” (WNM 45).

Additionally, I fear, as a teacher who has been in this rodeo for a while, that the neat and orderly control mechanisms Ohmann described are going to circumvent and then circumscribe my wish for an educational way of being that is not neat and orderly, one which challenges its students’, their teachers’, even its own “agency and materiality.”  I still have to teach the five-paragraph essay.  When my students post things in their academic blogs that they shouldn’t, we adults swoop in and scold them (and it has already happened).  This is the nature of the beast we seek to tame.

Some interesting ideas. Also, this.

At any rate, we walk a fine line, which is, I suppose, what this class is about.  I wouldn’t hesitate to use a few of the templates Selfe offers in her chapter titled “Toward New Media Texts: Taking Up the Challenge of Visual Literacy.”  These are outlines for dealing with a “new” type of essay, the “visual essay” (OH MY GOD are you kidding me?  It has already begun…).  But for teachers who aren’t ready to walk this dark path without a flashlight, this chapter (and others in this book) provides practical ideas for traversing this treacherous ground.  Got it?

Taking advantage of tools and bewaring of false promises

In “Blinded by the Letter Why Are We Using Literacy as a Metaphor for Everything Else!” Anne Frances Wysocki and Johndan Johnson-Eilola address two myths that are associated with discussions of “literacy,” one, that literacy is always a tool of liberation for oppressed peoples, and two, that literacy will improve an individual’s sense of self and moral character. I have often had a bad taste in my mouth when reading academic discussions of literacy in the sense that academic efforts to offer literacy to oppressed peoples are like wealthy philanthropy—rich people donate money because it makes them feel good, but more often than not, not because it will really create substantial change. I’m not saying that efforts to share literacies are not worthwhile and effective, but I don’t think teaching someone to read and write is the panacea that will dissolve class inequity. Literacy is just a piece of the puzzle. The Wysocki and Johnson-Eiolola article was refreshing to me. This quote from Ruth Finnegan words it well, “So, when people might want, for example, houses or jobs or economic reform, they arc instead given literacy programs. (41)” 

The second myth taken up by Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola is that the book, and the book alone, offers people the necessary self-reflection to become more self realized and moral individuals. A book or literacy for that matter does not by default make you a moral person. I hear this in the tone of people’s voices when they react to discovering that another individual has never read a book or only plays video games. Yes, reading does open you up to considering moral ideas, but it does not inherently make you moral. The cultural expectation to read can be oppressive. This Portlandia sketch sums up this myth pretty well to me.

Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola continue their argument by applying their discussion of literacy myths to computers, urging readers to consider the use of the term “literacy” when applying it to computers—for fear that we might apply the same assumptions and myths to computer literacy. Efforts by the Clinton administration to put a computer in every classroom seem to be tangential to this idea of applying the same myths of literacy to computers. Computers in every classroom did not save students, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt them either.  

The second assumed promise of literacy that the authors warn us to consider carefully is this idea of improving the self, the bildungsroman of literacy. A bildungsroman is a literary term for a coming of age story. Computers are very much tied to self-improvement and authoritative self-identity. We can see these myths embodied in rags to riches stories like that of Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates, all wunderkinds whose abilities and destinies were unleashed because of computers.


We cannot assume that people are missing out on the good life if they don’t know how to work an iPod.

But to completely dismiss computers and computer literacy because it brings along some myths of overzealous promise is unwise.

Computers can be powerful tools for discovering identities and understanding how power is negotiated. InColin Lankshear and Michele Knobel’s article, “’New’ Literacies: Research and Social Practice,” the authors analyze “‘new’ literacies” (which at the time of the article’s publication are new but today are more broadly accepted as commonplace)

in the form of blogs, online fan fiction and “synchronous online communities (this appears to be a precursor to things like World of Warcraft).


It took me awhile to wrap my head around the idea that each online community represents a separate discourse community, thereby offering an individual the ability to become literate within that discourse community.

Each community: fan fiction fans, synchronous online community members, and bloggers, all three of these discourses offered community members avenues for re-imagining their identities and expressing themselves in ways that conventional media and reading and writing outlets had not.

Lankshear and Knobel classify communication through fan fiction and online synchronous communities as “relationship technology” rather than “information technology” (while blogs seem to stand in both categories), and they argue that awareness of these literacies can be applied in the classroom. I would rephrase this suggestion as “know your population. ”

Framing curriculum in formats that are personally compelling for students is beneficial in terms of engagement for the students. Students can have “authority” over their school assignments in ways that traditional research papers may not allow, capitalizing on the “relationship technology” that youth are so adept at navigating.

An article in A New Literacies Sampler continues along similar lines as Lankshear and Knobel. In “Popular Websites in Adolescents’ Out-of-School Lives: Critical Lessons on Literacy” by Jennifer Stone, Stone explores how popular websites used by teenagers support literacy practices encouraged in schools (a la Robert Brooke’s “Underlife and Writing Instruction” wherein the transgressive activities of students in class actually reinforce classroom goals). In Stone’s research she observes youth using the rhetorical skills that complement classroom practices. Stone suggests that schools can help students to “begin addressing the convergence of genres, modalities, and inter-textuality to promote consumption” (61) that is inherent in many popular websites.

In conclusion, it may be beneficial to use technological literacy in the classroom as a tool for empowerment and self-realization, but it is necessary not to overstate what our claim of “literacy” offers students. We are offering them tools, but we are not necessarily offering liberation or morality. It is also important to note that the tools benefit not just the students, but also, us, as teachers in our ability to engage our students.

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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New Technologies Make Bad Teaching Slightly Worse

Okay, I know Al already linked to this piece in the Chronicle about “online learning,” but I thought I’d follow up on it. In case you missed it, there’s an article on the Chronicle of Higher Education website, titled “Video Lectures May Slightly Hurt Student Performance,” which reports on a published study that apparently compares learning outcomes between students who attended live lectures against those who watched the same lectures online. That study was titled “Is it Live or is it Internet? Experimental Estimate of the Effects of Online Instruction on Student Learning,” which may explain why the Chronicle originally titled its write-up “Online Learning May Slightly Hurt Student Performance.”

Why did they change the title? Perhaps it has to do with all the subsequent reader comments to the Chronicle article pointing out the rather obvious fact that comparing outcomes associated with live lectures and video lectures has almost nothing whatsoever to do with “online learning” (I highly recommend reading the comments, which are quite entertaining). What the original study’s authors have “proven” (too generous a term without the scare quotes) is that students who watch lectures online don’t seem to get as much out of them as those who come to face-to-face lectures. Forgive me if, at this point, I can only say “well, duh.” Continue reading

Beyond ‘new’ literacies

Hi all!

I just found out about this through a listserv I subscribe to, and it looks like there are some interesting articles in this special themed issue: Beyond ‘new’ literacies, edited by Dana J. Wilber, and published by Digital Culture & Education, an interdisciplinary, web-published, open-access journal, which looks really cool and worth checking out. Some of the articles talk about constructivist pedagogies, visual literacies, definitions of literacies, etc….

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99-Year-Old Woman Uses iPad

99-Year-Old Woman Uses iPad

In other news:

  • Asian Drives to Destination without Mishap
  • Black Teen Graduates High School
  • Woman Changes Light Bulb and Car Tires

To be clear, I don’t mean to belittle people’s disadvantages and social hardships–just commenting on how the rhetorical intent or move to liberate, because of the spectacle, can actually become socially counterproductive.  This whole thing does get me thinking about the assumptions we have about technology/new media and demographics–kind of in the same patronising vein as talk… ing… ve… ry… slow… ly… for… E… S… L… stu… dents… (because we all know that they have to watch Hollywood movies in slow motion to understand the dialogue).

The obvious pedagogical lesson here might be: Thinking older students to be technologically illiterate could be a big oops.  But, more recently, I worked with a younger student on writing up sections of his e-folio for a class, moved on at my own pace, using new media jargon because I thought not only were we probably on the same wavelength, but he would probably teach me a thing or two, so I was just trying to “speak his language.”  Wrong.  And it pains me to think that I could have been making him feel stupid for not keeping up or understanding me.  And this is on top of what messages he might already be exposed to, through peers and mass media, that normalise a certain standard of new media literacy, which are definitely a huge pressure.  I apologised, offered him a Hello Panda chocolate snack, and the session moved on smoothly.  So, conversely, assuming our fresh-out-of-high-school students to all be multimodal multitaskers might also prove detrimental.  To reaffirm Nate’s reminder last Tuesday, the digital divide is alive and well.