My goal in teaching is to provide students with a space to rediscover writing as a tool with which one can investigate, question, or otherwise approach the problems of today. Computers and digital technology are areas of interest to me both personally and academically, so it is unsurprising that they inform my teaching philosophy as well. Although I think the “gamification” of pedagogy is misguided because it shifts a student’s focus from an intrinsic motivation to learn towards an extrinsic system of rewards, games do have an amazing capacity to teach, and the utilization of some basic principles of game design can transform a classroom. James Paul Gee writes that good video games incorporate learning principles that create empowered learners and facilitate deep understanding through problem-based learning. Part of that ability to create vested learners who desire to learn is shifting their mode of engagement from passive receiver of information into active agents that produce information. This shifts the underlying motivation of research from a task of collection and regurgitation of knowledge to one of thoughtful selection of relevant sources and application of that knowledge to solving issues that matter most to them. Students feel as if they are actively working to improve the world around them, and as such, their motivation to succeed transcends the grade book.
Games are also very good at teaching players the rules by which they operate by developing model-based reasoning in the player. This sort of system thinking – or thinking through complex systems in which many variables interact in multiple ways is the foundation of scientific thinking. Games can simplify larger problems into easily recognizable systems, allowing students to practice system-level thinking in order to develop a deeper understanding of the complexity of our society’s biggest problems. I use the student-produced game Equality Street in conjunction with Safiya Noble’s Algorithms of Oppression, a study of data discrimination through the racial biases inherent in the search algorithms that help us find information to make sense of the world around us in the 21st century. The game cleverly exposes the ways in which seemingly disparate variables coalesce into a tangible reality by presenting a simple system that stands in for very complex ones and allowing players to parse those connections for themselves.
Finally, games are great models for problem-based learning, or using knowledge to solve real world problems. In games, this is usually contained to problems encountered in the game world; likewise, I present students with controlled, solvable problems in the classroom. The capstone project of my proposed College Writing and Research course asks students to create a game (or a game prototype) as a small group that focuses on an issue they’re interested in and illuminates the systemic structure of that issue. Students must work together to propose, research, plan, and build these games. This project is designed to not only give them experience in creating group-authored documents, but to also present them with an obstacle to overcome: learn how to make a game (either digital or analog) to communicate a complex idea. The goal of this assignment is to model the use of research skills as a tool for problem-solving in the real world and not simply an academic exercise that one outgrows at graduation.
As a scholar of new media, I attempt to combine my expertise in that area with my experience as an instructor of writing courses. Anne Wysocki foregrounds the place of composition in new media studies by placing equal emphasis on the study of analysis of texts and the production of texts, arguing that each reveals the produced positions of ourselves and others in the world. Jodie Nicotra also speaks to the social nature of emerging modes of digital composition as distributed processes of invention driven by the interaction of a network of users. Digital composition is a skil lset I heavily emphasize through my instruction because I believe that multi-modal communication can open up avenues that may otherwise remain unavailable through printed text, not least of which are the expanded opportunities for multi-author collaboration.