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When reading the CCCC Position Statement on Teaching, Learning, and Assessing Writing in Digital Environments, one sentence on the first page stood out to me. “The focus of writing instruction is expanding: the curriculum of composition is widening to include not one but two literacies: a literacy of print and a literacy of the screen. In addition, work in one medium is used to enhance learning in the other. ” In What Video Games have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, James Paul Gee is quick to point out that “language is not the only important communicational system.” In today’s technological age, symbols are usually always intertwined with words and to be able to understand meaning, people have to learn how to decipher both words and pictures. This combination or multimodality is associated with different social practices because literacy requires participation. Gee gives the example of learning about law, rap songs, academic essays or comics, when explaining how literacy is in part not only decoding texts and images, but learning how to be social with others in multiple domains. In these “semiotic domains,” people will decipher these different modalities to communicate with each other.
Gee goes on to say that many people (usually older) say that video games are a waste of time. He argues against that point by saying that video games combine “sounds, music, movement, and bodily sensations” as well as encourage active problem solving. He explains that common attitudes about schooling tend to believe that important knowledge is only acquired in school or an academic setting that involve disciplines such as literature, history or science. In contrast, activities that are deemed as entertainment such as video games are “meaningless play” and do not offer any important information. However, when you think about all the new video and computer games that are out there to help teach your children how to read such as Leapster, or math through games with your Nintendo DS console, those tools are aimed at children to both entertain and teach at the same time. He stresses that print literacy is not enough and “If our modern, global, high-tech, and science-driven world does anything, it certainly gives rise to new semiotic domains and transforms old ones at an ever faster rate.”
This active learning is also addressed in Purdy’s article, Wikipedia is good for You!? As much as teachers hate to see Wikipedia used in papers as an actual source, Purdy explains ways that the site can actually be beneficial to students for research-based writing. There are four practices that involve successfully writing an article for Wikipedia that can also help a student with their own writing: reviewing, conversing, revising and sharing. While Wikipedia may not be the most reliable source due to the fact that anyone can change the content on the site, by taking the precaution of verifying the sources and citations on the site, a student can decipher between what is a reliable and non-reliable source. A student can gather ideas from the site and use it to find other, more credible library sources.
Conversing with other users either by questioning their changes to an article or gaining feedback is another way in which Wikipedia promotes active learning because you are connecting with other people. Revision is a huge part of writing and with the ability to edit Wikipedia so easily, the opportunity to review your work and revise accordingly is always there. Lastly, by sharing your work with the public, you are opening it up for feedback and further discussion of the topic. In all reality, Wikipedia is an easy source for students to turn to because it’s easy to understand and represents all sides of any given topic. In this case, the online media is used to enhance the more traditional or written form of literacy. By learning how to turn these devices whether it is a site like Wikipedia or a video game into an effective learning tool, teachers are showing their kids just how to be literate in many different semiotic domains.

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6 Responses

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  1. Guadalupe Bueno says

    I agree, the use of technology widens our perspective on literacy, and what it means to be so. Video games involve active reasoning and so are stimulating. As gee, commented, the simplicity of a video game is often times overlooked; however, they do strike a chord, and enable for critical analysis. Furthermore, the Purdy article is refreshing , because it empowers the use of Wikipedia in a moderate, and useful form.

  2. mobrien says

    NOTE: Before all the video-game advocates come down on me, I will openly admit that I knw very little about the gaming world. The last video game I played was Duck Hunt, and I know we have come a long way since then, I just have not maintained my connection to that world. So, while I express my concerns, I also know that they are the concerns of a woman who does not have her pulse on this type of educational potential.

    I also agree that the use of technology allows us to engage students at a level that is necessary in a world that is making technological advances at an exponential rate. However, I wonder if the video game argument has a down-side. Yes, some educational tools are designed for children and students to be entertained while learning new skills. More advanced video games that are for pure entertainment purposes may also allow for students to practice thier reasoning and problem solving skills. Still, while I read Gee’s article, I keep thinking about the proposals we wrote for the “low-tech” panel discussions at the conference in Las Vegas. Would Gee be absolutely crucified among scholars who are joining forces to eliminate the high-tech stimuli and slow down the learning process? I’m not sure I’m completely sold on the video game issue. I could understand the Wikipedia argument and the argument that other digital medias are in some way benficial. But, I wonder if the push for fast-paced, high-tech learning tools are beneficial, or if they are contributing to a larger problem. I worry that all this technology contributes to a fast-paced student who ends up in a big hurry to just get things done, and is not focused on quality or content, but closure — getting to a finish line, or the next level. Students who get used to all the high-tech stuff may be at a disadvantage when they are in a situation where they do not have access to all the stimuli. Are we headed to a place where student minds may move too fast, and therefore become frustrated and shutdown when they are asked to slow down their thinking?

    • johnjparente says

      Mobrien, I like what you say here. There is only one flawed statement. You ask what will students do when “they do not have access to” the technology”? The flaw in this thinking is that they will, in their lives, have more and more technology and will never be faced with that situation outside of school. You forget in this commentary that we teach human beings, not test-taking robots. If you speak of testing, of course you are correct – and it is a very worthy topic of study. But how many exams do human beings really take and how much difference will exam scores make for the masses once their high school acceptance/selection process is over?
      Are we speaking about students from wealthy backgrounds and saying that technology will ruin them with all the other advantages they already have at their disposal? Those from background with all the advantages have only to compete with each other for spots in the “top” schools, and there is rarely a question as to “if” those students go to college, it is a matter of when. Their biggest problem, consequent of their firm roots in ABCs and 123s, is a matter of settling for a slightly less prestigious university experience.
      So we must be speaking of students from low SES and lower quality schools, perhaps even special education students and English language learners. With the low ceiling they already face, will the crutch of technology affect their futures all that greatly? I believe that intermediate training on computers will teach these low SES students more about “real life” and more practical and applicable information than an English grammar book or anthology ever will. I believe it is worth the supposed risk of spoiling them with technology.
      If there is just too much downside to having all this technology and you do not believe in anything I just wrote, maybe we can still use Gee’s educational approach to literacy using semiotic domains in a very low-tech way. Ready?
      Let’s take a word from one domain like play and use it in multiple domains. You can play ball on playground -play your hand in card game or in an argument with your teacher, make a play at getting a better grade – play a part in theatrics – play someone and fool them. Word games like this are fun and useful and crack open the door to semiotic domains. But it gets better and more sophisticated! As the class reads first-person narratives of three domains; a train conductor, a soccer coach, and a dancer, we can illustrate how “meaning is both situation (context) and domain specific,” (Gee 23). As Gee suggests, the learner can attempt to both read and write meaning in each domain. We set up activities that teach flexible, core literacy skills related to jargon while accessing common core standard skills such as identifying finding the topic/main idea, author’s purpose, or detecting genre.

  3. Christopher Grimm says

    It’s okay to be critical, Megan. We WANT our students to have questions and not be force-fed everything, right? I respect your opinion and your concerns. In fact, I worry about the same thing; ARE today’s students too over-stimulated? (Honest question: how many of our classmates freak out if they don’t receive a text message response right away? Or, get frustrated when a traffic light doesn’t change right away? Or, get ticked off by a grade on a paper that the student knows he/she spent at-most an hour on the night before it was due?

    Fortunately, the problem is not entirely students’ fault. Sadly, it is society’s own undoing. Our culture just moves too fast. Information moves at a digital speed. What used to take weeks and months to circulate conversation now moves in minutes, if not seconds. There are pluses and minuses to this cultural acceleration. This paradigmatic shift certainly belongs in our “technology” conversation this week.

  4. trevor11 says

    I’m curious, are there any down sides to literature? And I do mean this in all seriousness. What about literature is negative? It teaches our kids to write how they want and sometimes ignore conventional structure. It can at times do the opposite and teach students that they must follow structure rather than be creative. It can also teach students a great many other things I could play devils advocate with. So my point is that video games have a stigma attached to them automatically because they are called GAMES, versus literature which is not called book games. Both have value but because one is for explicit entertainment or at least marketed as such it no longer holds as much value as another medium. This is not however to say its all good and none bad in the least bit.

    • Kevin L. Ferguson says

      Back when “literature” was called “poetry,” Plato attacked it for spreading lies. One of his reasons was that poetry can only imitate the world, and as such is inferior to a study of the world. Perhaps a similar line of thought is at play here–are we teaching something that only “reflects” the world, or something that “is” the world?