Constance Steinkuehler


Constance Steinkuehler is an Assistant Professor in the Educational Communication & Technology program in the Curriculum & Instruction department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After researching and developing online environments designed specifically for learning for five years, she shifted her focus toward the documentation and analysis of more naturally occurring online learning environments, specifically those designed for play (MMOGs). Her dissertation in the Literacy Studies program, completed in August of 2005, was two-year online cognitive ethnography of the game Lineage (first I, now II), focusing specifically on the forms of cognition, learning, and literacy recruited from those who game. She earned her Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2005, her MS degree in Educational Psychology at University of Wisconsin in 2000 and before that, three simultaneous BAs in 1993 at the University of Missouri-Columbia in Mathematics, English, and Religious Studies. She teaches Research in Online Virtual Worlds; Games, Learning, & Society; and Critical Instructional Practices on the Internet and runs the annual Games, Learning, and Society Conference held each June here in Madison WI. She was an associate lecturer in Educational Psychology, a Spencer fellow, and writes online for and Terra Nova.

Current interests include the ways in which online play spaces align (or fail to align) with practices valued outside the game - specifically, informal scientific reasoning, collaborative problem-solving, and media literacy defined not just as critical media consumption but also and equally as media production (and therefore an understanding of design). She has been a siege princess, a mon calamari dancer, a human priest herbal/alchemist with a penchant for flowers in dangerous places, Wu the Lotus Blossom with a best friend named Dawn Star, a pudgy spaceman who orders around many small vegetable-ish creatures, a pink Master Chief, the misunderstood hero of the story, the last chance at world salvation destined to save the world (and the princess), god, and the master of a very big big ball.


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: Media Literacy & Gaming Literacy

Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOs) are an extremely valuable context for the study of cognition as inter(action) in the social and material world. They provide a representational trace of both individual and collective activity and how it changes over time, enabling the researcher to unpack the bidirectional influence of self and society - how the social shapes the individual & how the individual shapes the social in return. Despite their seeming novelty, MMOs are a logical context for learning sciences research. They consist of over-lapping well-defined problems enveloped in ill-defined problems that render their solutions meaningful (in the same vein as traditional contexts for research on cognition and problem-solving). They function as naturally occurring, self-sustaining, indigenous versions of online learning communities that augment (and sometimes challenge) contemporary sociocultural theories of distributed cognition. And they function simultaneously as both culture and cultural object - as microcosms for studying the emergence, maintenance, transformation, and even collapse of online communities and as talk-about-able objects that the general (often, nongaming) public can work their hopes and fears out on.

In this presentation, I examine the notion of online learning communities now commonplace in educational research in light of what we're learning about learning in the context of MMOs. How do people in the context of online play socially construct knowledge? What is the shape of these communities and how do they self organize? How do they enculturate new members into shared and valued practices? And what possible function might they have in the offline lives of everyday folks? (Better yet, why should we care?) Using both qualitative and quantitative data to illustrate, I pose what I see as the key questions MMOs raise for contemporary theories of online communities of practice. My goal here is to take a first step toward refining our understanding of what "learning" and "knowledge construction" mean in a world that is increasingly networked, globalized, and "flat" (Friedman, 2005).

BOOK CHAT: Synthetic Worlds

Ted Castronova studies synthetic worlds, examining how these places, billed and sold as games, actually offer much more than entertainment. They act as a fantastical alternative to ordinary life, and as such they pose a significant challenge to business-as-usual in ordinary society: markets, public policy, politics, law, romance. In the area of economics, for example, one pressing issue involves the extent to which people are paying real money to buy items for their game characters, thus blurring the distinction between the game economy and the real one. And this is not the only way in which synthetic worlds threaten the lines we have drawn between fantasy and reality. Castronova's book, Synthetic worlds, tries to explain both Castronova's optimism behind the power of these worlds, and concerns that we all should be raising about our participation in them. Castronova has also founded an institute whose goal is to raise awareness of these issues among major decision-makers. The Institute's main activity is to host an annual conference, called the Ludium, where they try to use the technology of games to stoke intellectual productivity. And we're going to talk about it.

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