Elisabeth Hayes


Elisabeth (Betty) Hayes is a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with joint appointments in the Departments of Curriculum & Instruction and Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis. She brings to gaming research a background in adult education, specifically adult literacy education, gender studies, adult learning and diversity issues. Her current interests include the intersections of real-life and virtual identities and learning, learning in context of sports games such as Tony Hawk Underground; digital literacies and implications for the design of e-learning. She is the author or editor of numerous articles, chapters, and books, including Women as Learners (2000) and the Handbook of Adult and Continuing Education (2000). She has been on the faculties at Syracuse University and Rutgers University, and was an adult literacy teacher and teacher trainer. She currently spends part of every day (or night) as a Night Elf or Tauren in World of Warcraft.


Gaming and Trajectories of Technological Expertise

An interesting contradiction exists in the burgeoning literature on young people’s use of new digital technologies, including gaming and game modding. On the one hand are celebratory descriptions of sophisticated young “power users” whose expertise seems to rival that of most adults. On the other hand, such young people’s sophistication contrasts sharply with the growing concern about individual’s and society’s ability to meet the technological demands of a global information society (Friedman, 2005). There is continued evidence of a “digital divide” among young people, not only in terms of access to technologies but also in how they use various technologies, particularly in ways that will contribute to their success in school and the workplace (Becker, 2000). Clearly, while some young people have access to experiences, resources, communities – in, and increasingly, out of school - that support such expertise, many others do not.

While a variety of young people’s popular media practices may serve as entry points for the acquisition of tech-savvy identities and knowledge, gaming seems to offer some particularly powerful affordances for technology-related learning. Playing and modding computer games are typically reported by male computer science majors as influential (Tillberg & Cohoon, 2005). A growing number of educators are using game design as a means of introducing children and young adults to basic computer programming tools and to build their interest in further study of computer science. While such programs have had positive short-term outcomes, we know little about their long-term impact on young people’s goals and learning. Indeed, such programs may have limited effects, since they typically are short in duration, driven by the goals and expectations of adults, tied to rather academic and narrow conceptions of “computer literacy”, and somewhat disconnected from participants’ other interests and social groups. I will argue that to fully capture the power of gaming as a center for the development of technological expertise, we need to start with a more careful look at out-of-school learning associated with gaming. Indeed, we know relatively little about which young people develop various types of technological expertise, the trajectories of their learning, and how particular features of games, as well as how the communities and practices associated with them, offer affordances for acquiring such expertise.

In this presentation, I will bring together perspectives on technological fluency, media literacy, the development of expertise, and communities of practice to suggest a framework for understanding how the “learning ecology” of gaming can support various trajectories of technological expertise. My discussion will incorporate examples of communities and practices associated with different types of commercial games that have particular potential for supporting technological fluency. My goal is to offer one lens through which to understand the ecology of gaming, in terms of learning and technological expertise, and to suggest implications for further research as well as for educational efforts to develop more tech-savvy youth and adults.

SYMPOSIUM: Media Literacy & Gaming Literacy

Historically, media literacy efforts have been couched in terms of helping a younger generation of students learn to "see through" media messages emanating from corporate-produced media that are designed to produce hegemonic discourse. Today's emerging media environment, built on a logic of participation operates quite differently. To be literate in today's media environment means to produce knowledge as represented through multiple media forms, and, critically, to understand the modes for producing and distributing that media via various private and public media channels (usually centered around the Internet). In short, if yesterday's media landscape was one of /broadcast/, today's is one of interaction, and those people who learn to leverage technologies, social structures, and design grammars to produce and communicate messages will be those who profit.

This session focuses on recent research done at the games, learning, and society program at UW-Madison demonstrating how to participate in today's media landscape fundamentally is to engage in the practice of design (writ large), critically, meaning not just to engage in the design of software, but to engage in the design of social networks and institutions. It begins with naturalistic studies of gamers, showing how "entertainment" today means to design collective experiences via sociotechnical networks. We will demonstrate how educators can create similar game-based learning programs that use learners' interest in games like Civilization III to develop expertise and gaming, and skills in media production. David Shaffer describes his work developing and researching epistemic games, games that involve players in the roles of media producers where they confront problems, posit design solutions, and examine the consequences of decisions within worlds designed to simulate the practices of professions. Unlike past approaches to media literacy, these approaches take into account the social contexts and communities in which knowledge is developed and legitimized.

This approach argues that new approaches to media literacy need to develop a design inclination toward the production of media materials. By design, we mean more than just simply the production of materials; rather, we mean critical reflection on the part of students in identifying and understanding needs in their social worlds, the production of materials that meet those needs, and critical feedback from interested parties and constituents on students' work. We believe that this last component -- students receiving feedback on the projects that they create by and from constituencies that they value and are in a position to judge the quality of their works is a key way that new media literacy initiatives can avoid the trappings of liberal pedagogies.

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