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Colby, Rebekah Shultz. Games as Pedagogical Tools. C&C, 2017. Posted 05/11/2017.

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Colby, Rebekah Shultz. “Game-based Pedagogy in the Writing Classroom.” Computers and Composition 43 (2017): 55-72. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.

Rebekah Shultz Colby conducted a series of interviews to determine how writing teachers use video games as teaching tools in their classrooms; she asked as well about their “rationales” for using games (55).

Colby located 24 teachers who use games in writing classrooms via a “purposeful snowball technique” (59), asking colleagues in various venues if they knew of anyone teaching with games; she also posted an invitation to the Facebook group “Academic Gamers” (60). She used this method in preference to posting on more widely based listservs because scholarship on the use of games suggested that she would find very few teachers using games through conventional sources (60).

She cites as a primary motivation for her study providing more teachers with the resources to use games. In her view, teachers avoid using games because there are no textbooks or other kinds of apparatus dedicated to this pedagogy, because most scholarship on the topic has consisted of isolated case studies, and because articles reviewing the use of games in classrooms neglects games as tools for specifically teaching writing (58). Thus, for Colby, teachers are discouraged from using games because they lack a sense of the many different options and trends in gaming as a pedagogical resource. Further, teachers may find the complexity of games and the lack of support daunting, especially if they are not gamers themselves (59).

Colby argues that using games provides “rich pedagogical opportunities” (59) such as the exploration of “richly multimodal spaces that incorporate visual, aural, written, spatial, and kinesthetic modes” (56) that create true multimodality because the different modes “remediate” each other rather than standing inertly in relation to each other (56).

She further advocates for games as teaching tools by stressing how they function as “complex systems” that encourage “systemic thinking: how one person’s actions can affect the entire system” (56). Moreover, she contends, as nonlinear experiences, games inspire exploration and experimentation, including “emergent play” in which gamers change or subvert the rules and ostensible goals of the designers. This kind of play can become “potentially resistant” as students enact the theories incorporated into the game as “set[s] of domains or systems of meaning making” (56). Colby argues, for example, that diverse gender roles in games can “embody for students both queer and feminist theory” (57).

Further, Colby maintains that the “paratexts” surrounding game design and play—“walk-throughs, FAQ guides, tutorials, and online discussion forums”—provide opportunities for analyzing and practicing technical writing genres (57). Colby notes that both games and classrooms are “activity systems” with their own rules and purposes (57); whereas classrooms, as specific activity systems, often conflict with the very different extra-academic systems teachers hope to integrate into coursework, games are just such a system that engages students beyond the classroom via processes with which they are already familiar (57).

In coding interviews, Colby detected “seven overarching approaches” used by teachers who teach with games (60). “Game Rhetorical Analysis” allows teachers to introduce study of “communicative affordances and constraints” as well as shifts in audiences as factors in the “meaning and persuasiveness” embodied by in a game (61). Rhetorical analysis also includes the concept of “procedurality” (61), which includes awareness of how specific procedures “position players in specific ways” (61), for example by forcing players to adopt specific personas subject to procedural limitations. Students can also be encouraged to consider ways in which procedures can be “broken” as a critical response to this positioning, a possibility that Colby feels is specific to games as rhetorical encounters (62).

“Composing New Texts: Game Design” is an approach that asks students to develop their own persuasive or educational games (62). A variation involves asking students to recast a written text as a game. Further, game design as a teaching tool can draw students into an enactment of “new media theory” about the role and function of multimodality as well as aspects of design itself, such as those delineated by Robin Williams (63).

Under the approach titled “Games Illustrate Theory,” Colby includes teachers who use games to introduce students to cultural and critical theory (63). Games “interpolate players in certain ways” (63), and a particular assignment that constrains students followed by classroom discussion of how such positioning affects choices can make students more aware of how such Foucauldian “disciplining” works in other systems and contexts (64). One teacher quoted by Colby writes that games “often hail players as individuals, promising them the ultimate in agency, but only if they consent to consume the games in very specific ways” (63).

“Writing with Game Industry Genres” exploits the range of “paratexts” involved in game design and dissemination. Cobly argues that students working on talk-aloud protocols and usability testing can explore how their writing is taken up and used within the “gaming discourse communities” (64).

“Games as a Research and Writing Space” (64) denotes classroom activities in which students investigate specific questions, such as gendered behavior among gamers, and share their results with widely networked gaming audiences, garnering feedback and “a deeper identification with role of researcher” (65).

In “Games Enhance Writing Transfer,” Colby describes teachers using reflection to encourage students to consider what skills they learned from playing games and how these skills might be employed in other contexts (65-66). Similarly, students can compare composing in a game setting with composing other forms of communication and can understand such abstract concepts as kairos by studying how games and their paratexts evolve across rhetorical situations. Some teacher use games to develop reading comprehension, while others find games useful in introducing students to the complexities of collaboration, both in play and in design (66).

Finally, some teachers developed strategies of “Gamification,” in which they converted learning experiences into games, exploiting games’ intrinsic motivation, “positive emotions,” and “sense of accomplishment” to encourage learning. Colby contrasts this use of game structure for learning with “Pointsification,” in which teachers allow students to work for points as they would in games, perhaps even allowing avatars to “die” if enough points are lost (67). Colby cites critique of such systems as providing primarily extrinsic motivation, noting that while participation in an activity may increase while points are being accumulated, in one study, “students stopped using the app once they had accomplished the achievements” (67).

Colby’s quantitative results suggest that games contributed most often to rhetorical analysis and least often to specific ways to encourage “transfer about aspects of the writing process” (68). Colby advocates a clear understanding of the kinds of outcomes being stressed and the importance of incorporating games for a specific purpose rather than just for their own sake (68). She provides suggestions to help teachers become more confident in their own identities as gamers and to include minority students who may not identify with the gaming culture (68-69).

Author: vanderso

I'm a recently retired associate professor of English in Southern Indiana. I've been teaching writing for twenty-five years, but I feel I have much to learn about how people really learn to write. In this blog, I'll be sharing research and thoughts and hopefully gathering information from others about the process of learning to write.

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