Sandra Abrams
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Doctoral Student
The State University of New Jersey


Learning to Play, Playing to Learn: Exploring New Ways of Knowing
Thursday & Friday

Technological advancement has led to students' increased interaction with images and video games (Prensky, 2001). As a result, researchers have become increasingly interested in bridging textual and digital literacies (Norton-Meier, 2005; Goodson & Norton-Meier, 2003;Hull, 2003; Alvermann, 2002; Smith & Wilhelm, 2002). However, their emphasis has been on analyzing the games in relation to conventional literacies. This comparison risks overlooking features of identity and semiotic resources that make digital literacies distinct. As Gee (2003) contends, we need to understand the kinds of thinking embedded in the games using learning theories particular to video games. This Interactive Exhibit presents an in-depth case study of the out-of-school literacies of four adolescent males, each of whom was an avid video game player. Data sources included interviews and observations of participants who were identified as struggling, eleventh-grade readers. To analyze the data, I coded all of the students' statements about video games in terms of the benefits that they felt game playing offered.

These benefits can be grouped into three primary categories: the development of an identity as an expert, the development of content knowledge that is privileged in school, and the development of cognitive and physical abilities unrelated to school. From the testimony of two participants, we can see how games can be identity artifacts (Leander, 2002) situating one's competence and control in varying degrees. Video game playing created an alternate social space for these two students, and their membership (Moje, 2000) to the gaming community appeared empowering. Playing football video games enabled unathletic Michael (pseudonym) to play and master this sport because "you really don't feel embarrassed as much as you do if you were playing an actual sport." Unlike Michael who found solace in a private game space, Steven welcomed the social acceptance game playing granted him. Performing the identity (Goffman, 1959) of a video game guru entitled him access to an otherwise inaccessible social status, as he became a resource for others needing gaming advice.

Although game playing had social benefits, it also promoted the development of content knowledge. Caleb gained a contextual understanding of an historical event by playing Medal of Honor, through which he realized a relevant connection: "So it's just like hey, I, I was the person shooting people at the Normandy invasion, and hey, we just learned about that." In addition to reinforcing textual information, the game enabled Caleb to assume a soldier's identity and achieve an otherwise unattainable quasi-first hand perspective. Further, for all the participants, video games helped them to develop cognitive and physical abilities unrelated to school. The students' passing remarks during the group interview reveal that game playing challenged them to consider individual moves and consequences, explaining that gaming "Helps with your reflexes," "makes you think more," and "helps you react." These examples suggest that there is more to game playing than is currently recognized. If we understood digital literacy practices apart form school literacies, we may see shifts in semiotic resources, and we may begin to see an emerging taxonomy of gaming behavior. This presentation will conclude with a discussion of the taxonomy suggested by the gamers' practices.

Alvermann, D.E. (2002). Effective literacy instruction for adolescents. Journal of Literacy Research, 34(2), 189-208.
Gee, J. (2003). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York: Macmillan.
Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
Goodson, F.T., & Norton-Meier, L. (2003). Motor oil, civil disobedience, and media literacy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 47(3): 258-262.
Hull, G. A. (2003). Youth culture and digital media: New literacies for new times. Research in the Teaching of English, 38(2): 229-233.
Leander, K.M. (2002). Locating Latanya: The situated production of identity artifacts in classroom interaction. Research in the Teaching of English, 37, 198-250.
Moje, E. B. (2000). 'To be part of the story': The literacy practices of gangsta adolescents. Teachers College Record, 102(3): 651-690.
Norton-Meier, L. (2005). Joining the video-game literacy club: A reluctanct mother tires to join the "flow." Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 48(5): 428-432.
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital game-based learning. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Smith, M. W. & J. D. Wilhelm. (2002). Reading don't fix no chevys. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

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