Final (and Initial) Thoughts About Digital Learning

Constructed Self RecomposedSocial and Communicative Aspects of the Internet and other ICTs class is coming to an end, and I’d like to express my gratitude to Professor Kinzer, classmates and external readers who made this semester a special experience.  Not only did I compose my first academic blog, but I also enjoyed it 🙂 and felt that it is helping me in shaping my research inquiry.  Having an academic blog as a student allowed me to reflect back on our class discussions (that were sometimes cut off by the bell) and expanded my expression by composing my blog entries with images, video and personal stories.  Learning by blogging extended communication beyond the typical classroom boundaries.  

Additionally, it enhanced social engagement and inter-personal communication.  For example, after reading someone’s blog about their Facebook experience I could relate better to the shared experience I may have had with that person.  Overall, I felt more engaged in class and was motivated to listen to people after making the ‘blog connection’.   Entries discussing “who is a friend?”, poetry or artistic take on music and technology added an entertaining aspect and multiple perspectives to my learning experience.  This type of activity afforded me an engaging interaction with people’s thoughts and ideas.  

Furthermore, a variety of people got to know me and my research interest better.  Family members from abroad were able to learn more about my school experience, as I was able to share my journey through my journal.  This had a unique social benefit since sometimes I feel isolated in my academic work.  

Blogging also allowed me to practice writing about my research interest, and expose it to feedback.  At one point a professor from another class, one whose analytical skills and experience I respect and look up to, could relate better to my work after she coincidentally found my blog online.  

Finally, I felt that I’m learning how to orient myself better in technological structures (and cultures) of communication.  Forming a blog and testing grounds on social networks like Facebook, I got to practice my web-based communication skills.  My “friend” was right, after I joined Facebook life will never be the same.

In summary, we are organically moving into digital learning.  Pay Attention, the video that we were asked to watch this week builds the argument (mostly through quotes and statistics) that since technological richness is already an existing domain for most students, why not you, the educator embrace technology and use it as a teaching tool?  A sample assignment for using text messaging is presented, along with references to other instructional technology methodologies.  

Professor Kinzer is asking us (through ClassWeb) “if learning’s a social process (as well as a cognitive and cultural one), why is technology being sometimes significantly underused when it could help meet curricular and instructional goals?”  I say that the answer is in the question – technology is being relatively ignored because teaching is also a social, cognitive and cultural activity.  Most teachers are a product of their own training and social conventions of what is perceived to be acceptable, powerful, prestigious or effective as a form of teaching.  The challenge is to think outside of the box and explore innovative and unfamiliar ways of teaching and learning.

A similar dichotomy involving what may be more effective versus what is perceived as being effective takes place in the game industry.  It is difficult to change the stereotype suggesting that games may be destructive to education or that playing games is merely “a waste of time”. The notion that playing games can enhance learning would require a shift in the social and cultural systems.  

Similarly to the “Pay Attention” video presentation, the following video presents the author of the book “What Video Games Have To Teach Us About Learning And Literacy” (2007), James Paul Gee, addressing the issue of “educational systems”, and working to gradually shift educators’ core views through research and practical implementation of video games in and outside of the classroom:


December 9, 2008. Columbia University Doctorate, Video Games and Education. 1 comment.

Week 9: Planning Final Class Project

I am interested in defining and researching “educational effectiveness” of video games designed for children. Since video games combine different elements, such as storytelling (content), usability and interaction, my inquiry question would be HOW would we measure the educational value of a video game?  

My inquiry relates to themes we have been discussing in class, including social interaction, computer mediated communication, storytelling, role playing, the importance of play in a child’s development, multi player games, learning through personal engagement, identity and ‘edutainment’.  James Gee, Henry Jenkins, Garzotto, Laura Mulvey’s visual pleasure (and film) theory and recent game design conference presentations will construct my literature review.  Although I would like to implement a mini project (study), current capacity and resources suggest that I should first begin with sound theoretical foundation for measuring the educational effectiveness in video game design.

November 13, 2008. Columbia University Doctorate, Video Games and Education. 1 comment.

Week 8: Online Dating

Quotes that intrigued me about this week’s reading “The Truth about Lying in Online Dating Profiles” (Ellison, Hancock & Toma, 2007):

Establishing close relationships…is a basic human drive.  

Online service… one of the largest revenue generators.

…fundamental tensions that guide online daters’ self-presentational behaviors

Go back and adjust your self presentation.

Who are you today?

Who are you today?

Height, weight and age.

(1) The frequency

(2) The magnitude

(3) gender differences in the production of deception.”

Relating it to my research interest:

There are, however, social and technical aspects of CMC (Computer Mediated Communication) that may discourage deception – recordability, anticipation of future interaction, or users’ expectation of meeting in person.  Connecting this concept to educational online games for children, particularly multi-player games, the thought of mixing online social interaction with offline group interaction may increase the educational effectiveness and the engaging qualities of players.  It may also decrease deception since it pressures to gain more responsibility, competitiveness and credibility for the player’s self positioning, commitment and action.


hey, stop pretending you're Tiger Woods!

hey, stop pretending you're Tiger Woods!

November 6, 2008. Tags: , , . Columbia University Doctorate, Video Games and Education. Leave a comment.

Week 7: Refining My Research Inquiry

What do I need in order to move forward on my final project?  A fine glass of red wine…

Seriously, I will need to narrow down and focus my research inquiry to one specific question related to educational video game design for children, and find supporting literature that discusses this topic.

This week we have written an abstract and a critique about an article related to our research inquiry.  I have chosen to write about Garzotto’s article “Investigating the educational effectiveness of multiplayer online games for children” (2007).  I will share the abstract this week, which relates closely to my research interest:

Abstract:  Learning has a social dimension (rooted in social interaction theory), making social gaming a strong potential for educational benefits.  Although multiplayer games are becoming an important part of internet use, there are relatively few researches that investigate such games designed for young children.  Garzotto’s article focuses on the educational effectiveness of multiplayer internet games, and introduces some heuristics (“hands on” discovery type of learning) for its evaluation.  In addition to the literature review, Garzotto reports an empirical study that involved eighty-five elementary school children (located in Milan), and measured the educational effectiveness of an online multiplayer game.  The game (“Pirates Treasure Hunt”) stimulates interest and attention on “other cultures and ways of life”, typically related to non-European countries.  Empirical evidence was provided that some aspects related to content, enjoyment and social interaction had measurable beneficial effects on children learning (i.e. 3D learning space for motivation, and competition and collective goal for group interaction).  Moreover, since educational heuristics are difficult to measure through expert review only, combining theory with empirical study enabled Garzotto to compare the findings of the two evaluation methods.  Thus, this article presents some practical insights on how to measure educational effectiveness of online social games for children as a more general evaluation framework for this class of systems.

October 23, 2008. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , . Columbia University Doctorate, Video Games and Education. 1 comment.

Week 6: Are Ants Better?

This week we were asked to review our blog posts and discuss themes that keep emerging from our ideas, and reflect back on our research questions presented early in the course.  The topics that keep popping out through my posts revolve about constructed and perceived identities weaved in a social group interaction setting.  To add an ingredient to the already-complex mix, I wonder how cinematic narrative and structure (i.e. components in Facebook and SecondLife) impact the identification process, construct an identity, change the social structure of the participant, and society at large.  I also wonder whether educational content developers should approach video game design differently, depending on cultural and social context.

Based on these topics I reflect back on the Week 1 post, and see my initial questions in a new light.  I would still like to focus on my first question about whether educational video game designers should approach game design in a local or global context.  However, I would have to define and discuss a local approach to educational content development versus a global approach.  As I enhance my reading, research inquiry process and class discussions, I notice that there is narrative tension between composing the game in a local context and designing in a global context.  This question becomes more relevant when speaking about educational game design for young children, who in the western culture were already born to a somewhat ‘global’ social structure through internet communications, collaborative interchange and mobile technologies.   

Did you know that all working ants are female?

Did you know that all working ants are female?

Connecting between ideas related to young children, social groups and interactive game design brings to mind a reading that was assigned in another class: Video Game Design in Education (taught by Professor Jessica Hammer).  At first it was a surprise to me that the second chapter by Steven Johnson from his book “Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software” (2001), discussing the efficient team work of ants was assigned to us as a reading in a video game design class.  The local nature of the teamwork of ants ultimately makes them being considered more successful than human beings as a surviving and productive specious.  I wonder whether educational game developers should adopt the “think global, act global” approach, which would be, by the way, a great slogan for ‘green’ activists.

I face more ambiguity when I read my second inquiry question about how important it is to enhance the child’s ‘existing identity’ through game design, versus exploring her/his various identities.  As we progress in the class I realize that identity theory cannot be simplified.  Therefore, the second question would require further clarification and exploration of ‘multiple identities’ in an interactive video game, as well as what ‘enhancing one’s own identity’ means.  The more I think and read about video game design, narrative themes and identity theories, the more I understand that this topic is multi-faceted and that definitions and interpretations vary.

October 14, 2008. Columbia University Doctorate, Video Games and Education. Leave a comment.

Week 4: Virtual Worlds and Socialization

This week we have read about the characteristics of interpersonal life online, including its social rewards and possible liabilities.  In her article entitled “Interpersonal Live Online“, Baym examines the interpersonal opportunities of computer-mediated communication (CMC), pointing out the capability of using web-based communication as a means to assert identity, explore new means of self presentation and create new and hybrid forms of non verbal cues via new forms of relationships and social groups.  Baym’s tone remains favorable when stating that research shows that people who use the internet are as socially active offline (i.e. in arts-related activities) as are people who use the internet less.  She explains that people who are heavy internet communicators tend to communicate heavily through other media channels, such as face-to-face conversation and telephone (Bayn et al., 2004; Copher et al., 2002; Kraut and Attewell, 1997). 

Relating this notion to children, Orleans and Laney found that children’s home use of the computer determined that online communication was usually not a substitute for interpersonal communication; rather, both often occurred simultaneously (Orleans and Laney, 2000: 65).

Baym’s article suggests that developing digital games for young children may not have a consequence of replacing traditional interpersonal communication or creating a social isolation.  In effect, it can work simultaneously as an educational tool and even provide new and exciting self exploration and self representation opportunity for the young ones, introducing a new way to socialize and build a creative expression and communication tool.  In reality, web based communication is turning into such a mainstream socialization tool, that kids who are not engaging in online social formats may feel themselves left out and socially isolated.

Myself as Waverly Nyle on SecondLife

Myself as Waverly Nyle on SecondLife

This affirmative approach was shattered when I followed up with the second reading for this week, warning educators about moral catastrophe that take place in popular virtual worlds, such as “Second Life”.  The Bugeja article “Second Thoughts about Second Life” suggests that educators may face personal or institutional liability when exploring with a virtualspace where they have no control of interpersonal interaction (Bugeja, 2007). 

Relating the two approaches to my questions about educational game design for children, I ask myself whether the role of the educator is to control and monitor the educational space, or quite the contrary – allow for self expression and self exploration through educational and technology design?   In addition, we must not overlook the large scale educational opportunities of virtual worlds, such as using it as a platform for environmental awareness through creative and proactive exploration of the self (the avatar), as shown in the video below about renewable energy (fossil fuels), a segment from the Global Kids Science project at SecondLife:

When I interacted with Second Life, initially as a doctoral student in a “Virtual Possibilities in Education” class, confronting occasional ‘indecencies’ was a part of my maturation learning experience in virtual worlds.  You may say “but you are an experienced adult, in no need of constant guardian to orient you in space”.  To that I would reply YES, video game design for children requires a different type of monitoring and closer guidance, leading into an age-specific design.  One approach that I support is enhancing the teamwork between an adult (parent, caretaker or educator) and the young child through designing games targeting the educational interaction between the child and the adult. This type of design could also decrease the technological divide between the old generation and the young “nexters”, native citizens of technological society.

September 25, 2008. Tags: , , , . Columbia University Doctorate, Media and Environmental Awareness, Video Games and Education. 1 comment.

Week 3: What intrigued me?

The concept or idea that intrigued me most in this week’s reading was Webster’s definition, discussion and challenge of the term “information society” in his 2006 article “The Information Society Revisited“.  Typically we all agree on the quantitative measures of this phenomena: Technological innovation and diffusion; occupational change; economic value; information flows; and the expansion of symbols and signs (related to space and culture).  However, Webster’s discussion of the qualitative measurement of the term “information society”, i.e. the ways in which life is now conducted because of information relates closely to our class discussions, and can be interpreted differently depending on context. 

This week I joined Facebook.  I told myself that it’s for research purpose but I know inside that I’m actually giving in to the social networking world surrounding me, pressing me to join the stream, pushing and squeezing me to share.  Minutes after joining I had over 30 people asking to be my friends (see left image below), demonstration of names and images on the Facebook homepage that I’ve never seen before or dared to let go of my daily thoughts, and a wide palette of unnecessary information about my “friends”: What are they doing at the moment?  How many friends each has (it is not unusual to have hundreds of friends!), social groups they joined, time they changed their profile picture, who is currently IM’ing and who is poking whom, etc.  In my Inbox I also had personal greetings informing me that “it’s about time you joined”, and that “life will never be the same”.  

The sudden diffusion of information to my life overwhelmed me, dispersed clutter and noise to my ‘serenity now’ journey, and made me a bit nervous for what’s to come.  The first vision that came to me was a televised HIV commercial showing the implications of social networks, suggesting that when you become involved with one person carrying HIV you are brutally exposed to all other social groups that ever touched this person, and their “networks”, and so on.  Fear in advertisement achieved!

This and other social patterns made me question Webster’s notion that “information technologies cannot be interpreted as evidence of really deep-seated social change. On the contrary, they can be regarded as the consolidation of extension of established patterns of interest and control” (pg. 449).  I disagree that the increase in quantity alone does not create something new.  The increase in quantity brings along an increase in exposure to information, as well as a new social and communication structure.  Becoming an involved member in Facebook – distributing, accepting or ignoring information will have severe social implications on my life, and the way I am perceived by my socialites.  It will re-position me in my community, create a new interaction structure, mental investment, social message and action in a radically new way.  This brings to mind the classic expression that “the medium is the message” (McLuhan, 1964)

How does it impact my thinking about the questions and issues I wrote last week?  When designing educational video games for children educators and game developers need to take into consideration the new social structure that the kids are growing in.  Perhaps I am dating myself here, but when I grew up, my definition of friends, interest groups, dialogue and speed of action was not only significantly decreased in quantity, but displayed a more local and condensed social structure; a different social culture.  The information age is transforming society, and with that gaming is changing dramatically.  Basic game rules, time, space and identity theories may apply to current educational video games.  However, game developers should consider distinct information society traits when developing games, such as short attention span, multi-interactions and new application to real-life situations.  

Finally, a thought about traditional educators and today’s information society:  More so than a geographic or an ethnic barrier, the technological barrier reflects a significant gap between educators and students.  This is another example of how loving technology is defining society in a dramatically new way.  This week’s NYTimes magazine was dedicated to “Teaching” the current information society.  One of the articles “The Way We Live Now: Geek Lessons” suggested that in order to become a good (“hip”) teacher you need to do what your students do, particularly immersing in their technological culture (Edmundson, 2008).

September 18, 2008. Columbia University Doctorate, Video Games and Education. 1 comment.

2 Questions for today’s class: Technological Determinism

Both articles (“Do Machines Make History?” by Robert L. Heilbroner and “The Social Construction of Facts and Artifacts…” by Pinch and Bijker) express the intermix between technology and society, and its contextual weight as a part of a wider sociopolitical milieu.  Through my research interest in narrative structures, design and approach to storytelling of  educational video games for children, I would like to share the following questions related to this week’s readings:

1. If developing, designing and distributing technology closely relates to a specific interest and “social energy” of a given society (Heilbroner, 1967), should educational video games be developed with a global approach, or should it be tailored and customized to a specific cultural, socio-economic, ethnic, gender and age group?  

2. Considering identity and social theories related to technology, is it more important to enhance one’s existing identity through video games, or is there an educational value in playing with multi identities of the player through software design?  This question would also be interesting to explore through psychoanalysis and film literature and recent social network and identity research.

September 11, 2008. Tags: , . Columbia University Doctorate, Video Games and Education. 1 comment.