E-Learning and Digital Media
ISSN 2042-7530

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Volume 6 Number 1 2009


CONTENTS [click on author's name for abstract and full text]


Games, Learning and Society

Constance Steinkuehler
. Introduction. Games, Learning and Society, pages 1‑3
Ben DeVane. ‘Get Some Secured Credit Cards Homey’: hip hop discourse, financial literacy and the design of digital media learning environments, pages 4‑22
Erica Rosenfeld Halverson, Rebecca Lowenhaupt, Damiana Gibbons & Michelle Bass. Conceptualizing Identity in Youth Media Arts Organizations: a comparative case study, pages 23‑42
Michelle Commeyras. Drax’s Reading in Neverwinter Nights: with a tutor as henchman, pages 43‑53
Mark Chen. Visualization of Expert Chat Development in a World of Warcraft Player Group, pages 54‑70
Eric Klopfer, Hal Scheintaub, Wendy Huang, Daniel Wendel & Ricarose Roque. The Simulation Cycle: combining games, simulations, engineering and science using StarLogo TNG, pages 71‑96
Richard Halverson, Moses Wolfenstein, Caroline C. Williams & Charles Rockman. Remembering Math: the design of digital learning objects to spark professional learning, pages 97‑118
Eric Zimmerman, Kurt Squire, Constance Steinkuehler & Seann Dikkers. Real-Time Research: an experiment in the design of scholarship, pages 119‑140

BOOK REVIEWS doi:10.2304/elea.2009.6.1.141 VIEW FULL TEXT
Good Video Games + Good Learning: collected essays on video games, learning and literacy (James Paul Gee), reviewed by Kelly L. Whitney, pages 141‑142
Blocks to Robots: learning with technology in the early childhood classroom (Marina Umaschi Bers), reviewed by Christopher Shamburg, pages 142‑145
TeachingMediaLiteracy.com: a web-linked guide to resources and activities (Richard Beach), reviewed by Joanna Leontaris, pages 146‑149

Introduction. Games, Learning and Society



Each year, the Games, Learning and Society (GLS) program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison hosts a conference to facilitate conversation about digital literacy learning in the spaces of popular culture, fandom, and interactive media-like games. Each year, we bring academics, designers, educators, and media fans together to share thoughts and findings on how digital media, commercial and otherwise, can enhance learning, culture, and education. The event has been a surprising success in many ways, and we now boast an acceptance rate (13‑30%) more stringent than some peer-reviewed academic journals and a waiting list for entry each year. In response, we have not only expanded our capacity for participants each year but also increased our audience through special issues in journals central to our community such as E-Learning. This special issue represents one of our attempts to connect important research themes represented at GLS to broader conversations about the nature and quality of learning through digital media more broadly. Although the title GLS specifies ‘games’, our interests are better conceptualized as ‘learning through interaction’ in more comprehensive terms. The community and field has expanded over the past five years to include research and design in areas well beyond video games alone to include popular culture and fandom communities, digital/visual cultures, and interactive design more generally.

In truth, we are going for less of a ‘community of practice’ (Lave & Wenger, 1991) than a ‘fish-scale model of omniscience’ (Campbell, 1969). And while there is no single common theory or research paradigm or context of study every community member adheres to or takes interest in (i.e. there is no ‘hive mind’), there is enough overlap at the edges of each of our individual, narrow specialties to enable collective comprehensiveness in the face of our diversity (i.e. but there is ‘collective intelligence’ [Levy, 1999]). The articles included in this special issue represent the model; while there are identifiable common threads across many of the articles (e.g. commercial entertainment software, informal learning, design, discourse analysis, literacy broadly defined), no single theme dominates. Rather, different articles cluster around different commonalities.

In the first article, ‘‘Get Some Secured Credit Cards Homey’: hip hop discourse, financial literacy and the design of digital media learning environments’, DeVane presents a discourse analysis of hip hop forum discussions that highlights the characteristics of the online context which enable the space to function as a ‘borderland Discourse’ (Gee, 1999) bridging two seemingly disparate content areas: hip hop music (associated with urban youth culture and resistance) and personal finance (aligned with more traditional educational goals). In it, he argues for the usefulness of design heuristics, culled from studies of naturalistic contexts such as these, in the design of culturally relevant pedagogies for intentional learning environments such as those found in youth organizations.

‘Conceptualizing Identity in Youth Media Arts Organizations: a comparative case study’ examines just such culturally relevant youth organizations – in this case, focused not on games per se but on film making. In it, Erica Halverson and colleagues conduct a comparative case study of two contrasting programs to explore how an organization’s understanding of identity development ends up shaping the process and products of participating youth. Using semiotic analysis of each organization’s digital and print materials, on the one hand, and youth digital film-making process and products, on the other, the authors highlight how two contrasting definitions of ‘identity development’ result in two distinctive kinds of youth products.

The third article, ‘Drax’s Reading in Neverwinter Nights: with a tutor as henchman’, provides us with a compelling case of yet a second type of ‘borderland’ space for media-based learning – here, one that leverages a commercial entertainment title for explicitly academically oriented ends, thus contrasting with the naturalistic setting examined by DeVane and the youth organizations studied by Halverson and colleagues. In this article, Commeyras, an expert reading instructor and teacher educator, explores what happens when you use a video game (in this case, Neverwinter Nights) as the situating context for tutoring in reading. Tracing the progress of a weak reader (high-school aged) over the course of the tutoring sessions, the author details the forms of digital, multimodal, and print reading required across eight hours of video-game play (accompanied by a fan-authored game walk-through), the vocabulary acquisition and practice opportunities afforded, and the reading strategies required.

Chen’s work in ‘Visualization of Expert Chat Development in a World of Warcraft Player Group’ contrasts these first three articles with a study of the development of group (rather than individual) expertise in the context of the massively multiplayer online game World of Warcraft. Using visualization of chat log data, Chen highlights key differences between the internal communication patterns of a ‘high-end raiding group’ on their first, unsuccessful encounter of a boss monster versus their eventual triumph. Using the group as the problem-solving unit of analysis, Chen highlights how qualitative and quantitative differences in turns of talk belie underlying changes in role adoption and information processing.

Eric Klopfer and colleagues’ contribution, ‘The Simulation Cycle: combining games, simulations, engineering and science using StarLogo TNG’, marks a subtle but important shift in the issue by making the transition from study of learning as it arises in the context of digital media and fandom to intentional learning, where specific goals are identified at the outset. Using StarLogo The Next Generation (TNG), the authors examine how secondary school students’ understanding of complex systems can be fostered and improved through the use of educational games. The article provides both a ‘post mortem’ on their game-based instructional activities as well as assessment results documenting their effects.

In ‘Remembering Math: the design of digital learning objects to spark professional learning’, Richard Halverson and colleagues continue this theme of ‘post mortems’ on the design of educational games by reporting on their work with ‘digital learning objects’ designed to help special education teachers ‘recover’ previously learned mathematical concepts for proficiency demonstration on the PRAXIS examination. Using a framework of ‘conceptual breakdown’, the authors created and tested a set of 12 web-based learning objects designed to enable users to reassemble misplaced, broken or fragmented conceptual knowledge once learned in school. In this article, they report on both their collaborative design process and assessment results.

The final article, ‘Real-Time Research: an experiment in the design of scholarship’, represents a departure from the standard research paradigm more generally. In this article, we report on an unconventional collaborative event implemented at the GLS conference itself. The project, called ‘Real-Time Research’, brought together 25 volunteer conference participants for a playful investigation of what it means to do digital media and learning research. Over the course of the two-day conference, five research teams collaboratively designed and then conducted separate ‘Kleenex test’ (a term coined by the game company EA Maxis to refer to quick and informal user tests that enable the design team to iron out specific kinks of their game) research experiments related to digital media literacy and learning that took place over the course of two days. This final contribution to the GLS special issue details the process and products of those studies using a ‘multi-voiced’ format that highlights the interdisciplinary nature of this novel event, specifically, and GLS more generally.

As chair of the GLS conference and guest editor of this special issue, it is my sincere hope that this growing community and concomitant body of research continues to both broaden and deepen conversations about digital media, online culture and community, and learning defined in its broadest sense. We welcome new voices and perspectives and encourage you to attend our next event scheduled for June 10‑12, 2009 in Madison, WI. For more information, please see our website (http://www.glsconference.org) or contact me directly.

Campbell, D.T. (1969) Ethnocentrism of Disciplines and the Fish-Scale Model of Omniscience, in M. Sherif & C.W. Sherif (Eds) Interdisciplinary Relationships in the Social Sciences, 328‑348. Chicago: Aldine.
Gee, J.P. (2008) Social Linguistics and Literacies: ideology in discourses, 2nd edn. New York: Taylor & Francis.
Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991) Situated Learning: legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Levy, P. (1999) Collective Intelligence: mankind’s emerging world in cyberspace, trans. R. Bononno. Cambridge MA: Perseus Books.


‘Get Some Secured Credit Cards Homey’: hip hop discourse, financial literacy and the design of digital media learning environments



In the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, there exists a deficit of compelling financial education curricula in urban schools that serve financially vulnerable working-class students. Part of a design-based research investigation aimed at creating culturally-relevant financial literacy learning environments, this study is a Discourse analysis of a discussion of personal finance on a web-based fan forum dedicated to hip hop music and culture. In this analysis the author claims that the discourse strategies and participant roles present in this discussion are an example of the organic production of what has been called a borderlands Discourse that bridges school-based knowledge of financial literacy with the youth culture of hip hop. The analysis presented here highlights the complex and overlapping ways that discursive hybridity in both representational practices and textual performances of identity figure importantly in the financial literacy practices of community participants. The author further contends that the understandings that emerge from this analysis can help design researchers attempt to ‘engineer’ the values, identities and modes of interaction of hip hop discourse communities into academically-oriented learning environments.


Conceptualizing Identity in Youth Media Arts Organizations: a comparative case study




In this article the authors explore the relationship between concepts of identity and the purpose, process, and products of youth media arts organizations. Since the explicit mission of these organizations is to work with adolescents to explore and represent identities, the authors develop our understanding of how organizations conceptualize identity development and how these concepts shape the digital film-making process and products. In a comparative case study of In Progress (St Paul, Minnesota) and Reel Works Teen Filmmaking (New York City), organizational leaders were interviewed, and a semiotic analysis conducted of the organizations’ websites and other public, printed materials. The authors analyzed the films as products of these organizations’ production processes to understand how these organizations define identity and what these definitions mean for how they do their work with youth. They found two distinct conceptualizations of identity: identity as community building, and identity as individualization. Unpacking these different conceptions helps us to understand how youth media arts organizations shape the identity development process and what is made possible for participating youth. This work can also lead us to more sophisticated models of adolescent identity development, particularly for non-mainstream communities who have often been saddled with dominant cultural models that do not quite fit.


Drax’s Reading in Neverwinter Nights: with a tutor as henchman



This is an account of what a teacher educator learned from using the video game Neverwinter Nights with Drax, a high school student whose reading is like that of an elementary school student. Neverwinter Nights is a role-playing adventure game that requires reading print along with other meaningful signs such as sounds, artefacts, color, maps, etc. Using examples from eight hours of transcribed play, the author details the ways in which print matters to game play. Drax read walkthroughs which led to reading dialogues calling for practice with word recognition, which in turn led to acquiring new vocabulary. He also used strategies such as thinking aloud, rereading, and attending to details. Based on these findings, the author argues that it is worthwhile to explore and research opportunities for reading development within video games with print.


Visualization of Expert Chat Development in a World of Warcraft Player Group



This article describes expertise development in a player group in the massively multiplayer online game World of Warcraft using visualization of chat log data. Charts were created to get a general sense of chat trends in a specific player group engaged in ‘high-end raiding’, a 40-person collaborative activity. These charts helped identify patterns in the frequency of chat over time during two specific gaming sessions. The sessions represented significant moments in the raid group’s history: the first time a particular monster, Ragnaros, was fought and one of the first times he was defeated. Differences between the two cases show differences in the raiding practice and are evidence of learned expertise. Based on this analysis, it is clear that this visualization process is a useful analysis tool within ethnographic accounts of expertise development.


The Simulation Cycle: combining games, simulations, engineering and science using StarLogo TNG




StarLogo The Next Generation (TNG) enables secondary school students and teachers to model decentralized systems through agent-based programming. TNG’s inclusion of a three-dimensional graphical environment provides the capacity to create games and simulation models with a first-person perspective. The authors theorize that student learning of complex systems and simulations can be motivated and improved by transforming simulation models of complex systems phenomena (specifically this study examines systems including epidemics and Newtonian motion) into games. Through this transformation students interact with the model in new ways and increase their learning of both specific content knowledge and general processes such as inquiry, problem solving and creative thinking. During this study several methods for connecting the simulations to game dynamics were tried, ranging from student-created games, to altering existing games, to students playing pre-made games. This article presents the results of research data from two years of curriculum development and piloting in northern Massachusetts science classrooms to demonstrate the successes and challenges of integrating simulations and games. This article also explores the results of these interventions in terms of ease of implementation, student motivation and student learning.


Remembering Math: the design of digital learning objects to spark professional learning

RICHARD HALVERSON Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA
MOSES WOLFENSTEIN Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA
CAROLINE C. WILLIAMS Centre for Research on Learning and Technology, Indiana University, Bloomington, USA
CHARLES ROCKMAN Center for Children and Technology, New York, USA



This article describes how the design of digital learning objects can spark professional learning. The challenge was to build learning objects that would help experienced special education teachers, who had been teaching in math classes, to demonstrate their proficiency in middle and secondary school mathematics on the PRAXIS examination. While the learning sciences have focused on questions of learning new knowledge, the context of how adults recover information they had once studied has received less theoretical attention. The authors’ thesis is that a central aspect for helping students to remember content they once learned is to uncover areas of ‘conceptual breakdown’ in ordinary math problems. Their theory is that the phenomenon of conceptual breakdown is different for remembering knowledge than for learning new knowledge. Remembering math involves reassembling misplaced, broken or fragmented conceptual knowledge once learned in school. The design of learning objects allows us to determine which aspects of PRAXIS-type questions highlight conceptual breakdown, and leads us to build learning objects that would help learners reassemble prior concepts to improve capacity to solve similar problems. This article reports on a design-based research investigation to build, implement and assess a series of math learning objects for adult learners. Twelve web-based learning objects were built over the course of 2 years, and tested with 59 adult learners. The authors discuss how the collaborative design process was structured to elicit the breakdown points present in typical math problems; describe an assessment process that produced pre- and post-learning results; and comment on how the design process illustrated their theory of adult math learning recovery and on the prospects for designing learning objects for adult learners.


Real-Time Research: an experiment in the design of scholarship




This article reports on an unconventional collaborative event called Real-Time Research, a project that brought 25 participants together from radically divergent fields for a playful and somewhat improvisational investigation of what it means to do games and learning research. Real-Time Research took the form of a two-part workshop session at the ‘Games, Learning & Society’ (GLS) conference during the summer of 2008, in which attendees collaboratively designed and then conducted five research experiments that took place over the course of the two-day conference. The article reports on the results of those studies and the processes that generated them.


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