Video Games in the Classroom: Developing Digital Literacies

By Beavis, Catherine | Practically Primary, February 2012 | Go to article overview

Video Games in the Classroom: Developing Digital Literacies


Beavis, Catherine, Practically Primary


The place of digital culture in children's lives

Popular culture and the digital world are an important part of many children's lives. Computer games, virtual worlds and social networking sites are seamlessly integrated into their everyday work, relationships and play. While the degree and nature of children's involvement varies according to age, interest, opportunity and parental support, by the time they leave primary school, most students will have had significant engagement with popular culture, media and new technologies, including active first hand experience of digital culture and the online world.

The Digital Beginnings study (Marsh, Brooks, Hughes, Ritchie, Roberts & Wright 2005) found that young children in the UK live in an environment rich with popular culture, media and ICT. 'They are growing up in a digital world and develop a wide range of skills, knowledge and understanding of this world from birth ... engagement with media is generally active, not passive, and promotes play, speaking, listening and reading' (p. 5). In addition, 'The introduction of popular culture, media and/or new technologies into the communications, language and literacy curriculum has a positive effect on the motivation and engagement of children in learning' (p. 6).

In Australia, the Australian Communications and Media Authority researched levels of engagement with digital culture and the online world. This study surveyed the media usage of young people between the ages of 8 and 17 in the year 2007 (ACMA 2008). It explored the media habits of a slightly older age group of primary school-aged children than those in the Digital Beginnings study, (children aged 8-11), but like that study found that online engagement was an important part of children's lives. In Australia at that time, the study found that boys and girls aged 8-11 spent an average of 30 minutes on the internet per day (p. 4). Between a quarter and a third of children aged 8-11 had a computer or game console in their bedroom (p. 7) and 24% of the 1000 children in this age group who participated in the survey played online gaming against other players (p. 12). For the group as a whole, they found that:

Three of the top four activities that young people liked to do for fun when by themselves were electronic media-related: watching free television (30%), listening to recorded music (25%), and playing video games (24%)--not including games against other players. The second favourite activity category was 'reading, drawing and writing letters (29%). (ACMA 2008 p. 16)

Given the rapid rate of change, and the growing presence of technology in almost every aspect of our lives, it is highly likely that figures about children's media usage in both countries have increased since then. All of these are good reasons for building digital literacies into the literacy and English curriculum, and for paying attention to the multimodal, digital texts that are part of contemporary children's lives.

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Digital culture and literacy in the English curriculum

The Australian Curriculum (English) recognises the need to help students become critical and capable users of digital texts and literacies. Its first aim focuses on the need to ensure that students:

Learn to listen to, read, view, speak, write, create and reflect on increasingly complex and sophisticated spoken, written and multimodal texts across a range of contexts with accuracy fluency and purpose. (ACARA 2011 Rationale/aims np)

This is spelt out in more detail subsequently. Literacy sub strands focus on 'texts in context', interacting with others', interpreting, analysing and evaluating' and 'creating texts'. Texts:

provide the means for communication. They can be written, spoken or multimodal, and in print or digital online forms. multimodal texts combine language with other means of communication such as visual images, sound track or spoken word, as in film or computer presentation media. …

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