David Williamson Shaffer
David Shaffer


David Williamson Shaffer is a former teacher, curriculum developer, gamer and game designer. He is Assistant Professor of Learning Science in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Department of Educational Psychology and a Game Scientist at the Academic Advanced Distributed Learning CoLaboratory. Dr. Shaffer studies how new technologies change the way people think and learn. His most recent book is "How Computer Games Help Children Learn," available in December 2006 from Palgrave Press.


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.

SYMPOSIUM: Epistemic Games

In his recent bestseller "The World is Flat," Thomas Friedman (2005) argues that industrialized countries can no longer compete in the global economy on the basis of making and selling commodities. Their competitive edge increasingly comes from how well they produce products, services, and technologies that are new… special… non-standard thus not easily produced across the globe by competitors.

But how and when should children learn the kind of innovative thinking they will need for success in the new, interconnected, high-tech, work-anywhere, just-on-time, on-demand, world of global competition?

The answer is that the problem is also part of the solution. The computer technologies that make global competitors a mouse-click away also make it possible for young people to experience--and thus learn to think about--problems and situations that will prepare them for life in the digital age.

Computer and video games--though games of a very particular sort, called "epistemic games"--can help young people learn the ways of innovation they need to thrive in the digital age.

In this symposium, we present a collection of epistemic games that show the way towards a new view of education--one that moves beyond traditional academic disciplines and classroom practices to a new model of learning. Epistemic games are about learning through meaningful activity in virtual worlds as preparation for meaningful activity in a post-industrial, technology-rich society.

FIRESIDE CHAT: After School Programs & Educational Reform

With game technologies, young people don't have to wait to begin their education for innovation until college, or graduate school, or their entry into the work force. Demonstration projects show that game play can lead to effective learning for a high-tech, global, digital, post-industrial world. To make that image a reality, games will need to change our understanding of classrooms and commercial games, formal and informal learning. And one path to those changes is to think about games in after school settings.

Schools, as currently organized, make it difficult to prepare kids for innovation through games. The culture of games does not fit well with the culture of schools. It is hard for teachers to spare the time from getting students ready for the next standardized test, and, not surprisingly, innovation is difficult to accomplish in 40 minute chunks of time, spread from room to room and subject to subject throughout the day. So to develop and test education games we need to look outside of schools, to places where children have time to work on complex problems in depth and where adult mentors in these games can focus on students innovative thinking rather than on their performance on tests of basic skills.

More than 2.5 million elementary and middle school students in the United States spend time in organized after school programs every week. Historically the main purpose of such programs has been to provide a safe place for children between the time school ends and the time their parents come home from work. But many of these programs are also trying to provide opportunities for students to continue their education in a different, and perhaps more meaningful fashion. One way to do this is through video or computer games, when appropriately designed and used.

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