Video games and digital literacy

Steinkuehler, C. (2015).  Video games and digital literacies.  Journal of Adolescent & Adult

Literacy, 54(1) (September 2010), 61-63.

Steinkuehler (2015) described a novel approach to studying the effect of video games on students and concluded that video games are “important literary practices” (63), much to the disagreement of parents and teachers who see video games as distasteful distractions.  Period.  Quite by accident, during her afterschool lab time created to study boys and gaming and the disconnect from school, Steinkuehler met “Julio.” Through that acquaintance, she learned that when a boy is allowed “to choose what to read, he [may] read four grades above his diagnosed reading level, not three grades below,” as was happening to Julio in his English class.  His English teacher decided he was troubling for her and sent him for testing in special education.  Steinkuehler concluded that the English classroom had become a female domain and that students were being forced to love only what the teacher loved —  a demand that Julio and others like him were not going to meet.

Even though the article offered no compromise with parents, teachers and especially English teachers, the point was well made that boys, in particular, may do well in school only when they have choice in their content.  Technology that could be used to engage boys and hopefully open the way to academic development should be encouraged.  Studies that highlighted just such a practice would be supportive of the stance taken in this article.

As an English teacher, I stand guilty as charged (by Steinkuehler, anyway).  I have given very few choices to students as to what they would prefer to read, considering that an option for their spare time.  The classroom curriculum was outlined for me and I complied.  I did not include video games or other more creative technology to engage disinterested boys, for example.  Looking back, I wish I had.  There were more unengaged boys in my classes than otherwise.  I knew they weren’t reading, and their grades reflected their choices.  The opportunity to reach them is lost now, but I can encourage my teacher candidates to be more open to how technology (namely video games, for the sake of this discussion) could enhance their future classroom curricula.

Developing a research agenda

Dede, C. (2011).  Developing a research agenda for educational games and simulations.


In his 2011 blog entry listed above, Dede outlined the five fundamental assumptions that he felt were important in the field of research about technology, especially regarding educational games and simulations.  1)  Research should focus on usable knowledge; 2) it should be collectively done; 3) it should reveal “what works, when, and for whom”; 4) it should do more than compare digital pedagogies with traditional ones; and 5) it should hopefully “focus on innovations that can be implemented at scale.”   Dede felt that research questions began incorrectly unless they focused on a “persistent problem in practice and policy, rather than with intellectual curiosity.”  For example, he felt that “too often, educational games and simulations are developed because they are ‘cool’ or ‘fun’ —  they are solutions looking for problems.”  This type of research activity causes other scholars to disrespect the inquiries in educational technology.

Every paragraph and every piece of advice offered in the blog had clarity and, if followed, would guide educational researchers well.  First, we all need to know “how games and simulations can aid in resolving perennial educational problems and issues.”  Then he said that everyone should study in areas of their expertise.  But then “a single large study with complex treatment [would be] of greater value [next because it would have ] the statistical power to determine the nuanced interaction effects” that large studies can offer (Dede, 2011).  He complained that “theories of learning and philosophies about how to use interactive media for education tend to treat learning” as simple activities, but they are not.  There is no “silver bullet,” as Dede said, to apply one pedagogy for all technology to all teaching.  Technologies do not exude knowledge in the way a fire gives off warmth.  People learn differently, so different methods using different technology must be the solution.  And because it is difficult to “prove” that using a particular technology will produce educational advancement to all people in all situations, researchers must guide practitioners to rethink their ideologies and options.

The strongest message I gleaned from this article that will guide my own research is the idea that research should focus on usable knowledge that speaks to a problem at hand.  Every teacher could list multiple problems in education with little thought.  To start there, and then seek technology to solve the problem, is what Dede (2011) suggested, and where I would like to start for my own research.  I see a problem with the juniors in our teacher education program who are heading into short bursts of practicum teaching and all they have is theory, textbook knowledge, much observation time, but no classroom to call their own.  They have read about techniques, but may or may not have ever seen them in practice.  To see is to understand.  I believe my teacher candidates need to see a host of teaching techniques, performed by master teachers, and then reflect on those video viewings in writing and aloud.  I would be very interested to see if their cooperating teachers have even better things to report about the junior year practicum experiences.  Technology, in the form of video clips, just might enhance the experience of my students and help to solve a problem.