Posted by: soniahs | August 21, 2010

Exam reading” “What video games have to teach us…”

This exam reading, “What Video Games Have to Teach us About Learning and Literacy,” by James Gee, was not what I expected (after an admittedly quick look at the book synopsis). Rather than making the case for incorporating educational video games into the classroom, Gee uses their structural features to highlight techniques for teaching “critical” learning to students:

Summary: In this book, Gee tries to make a case for incorporating inherent teaching principles of video games into educational settings by drawing connectiong between v.g.’s and current learning theories (primarily situated cognition, “New Literacy Studies,” and “connectionism”). Learning occurs within semiotic domains: sets of practices that utilize different media to communicate meanings. These domains have two aspects: content and a social group (“affinity group”) with a specific set of social practices. According to Gee, current educational practices teach content outside of these social contexts, which makes learning shallow (drill and test-based) and difficult to apply to real-world contexts or transfer to new domains. “Critical” learning arises from experience in a domain, affiliation with the affinity group (at least at some level), preparation/practice for future problem solving in the domain, and understanding the “meta” structures of the domain (content and the affinity group). Another important aspect of learning is identity: learners have a core (everyday) identity, a “virtual” identity within the learning situation (e.g., student, elf), and a “projected” identity that involves the desires/motivations for developing your virtual identity in a certain way (e.g., not wanting to let your character down). This projected identity is crucial for critical learning, but can be challenging to achieve. Gee also views learning as situated within in specific contexts, associational and embodied (in the sense of embodying the learner’s choices and actions), rather than abstracted from general principles. Embodied learning occurs in a “probe, hypothesize, reprobe, rethink” cycle; what divides novice learners from experts (“critical learners”) is the added ability to critically evaluate the results within the context of the specific domain they are working in, rather than just from “real life.” Learning should also be scaffolded appropriately to pace students’ learning, and it should be recognized that learning in these contexts is social: different members of a group have different skills, and knowledge will be situated in various tools, symbols, and learners.

Comments: Gee’s work incorporates some concepts I’m familiar with from other contexts: communities of practice, social learning theory, and the associational/mental models theory of memory. His motivation seems to be less about incorporating video games into school settings than using v.g.’s as models of how “critical” learning should operate. Some of these concepts are things I’m looking into in my subject reading lists.

Links to: Spinuzzi (network-based learning); some of my subject reading list authors



  1. […] Brooke (M’s “death of rhetoric”); Benjamin (visual media, concepts of aura & flaneur); Gee (gaming; G. discusses learning with games, while M. focuses on the overall […]

  2. […] to: Gee (network model for memory, learn by doing), Tomlinson (tech design), Liu (user-friendly design), […]


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