Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Levelling the Playing Field: Engaging Disadvantaged Students through Game-Based Pedagogy

Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Levelling the Playing Field: Engaging Disadvantaged Students through Game-Based Pedagogy

Article excerpt

Introduction

Computer and video games seem to be one of the most pervasive and culturally relevant mediums currently being consumed by 21st-century learners. With a global audience that dwarfs that of film and literature (Chatfield 2009), modern video games are often complex, emotionally resonant and thematically dense, demonstrating the potential of new media. Computer and video games are designed to challenge players, functioning as learning objects that require the mastery of skills that are often viewed as being integral to the development of cultural, technological and media literacies (Gee, 2010). Students who engage with these digital texts are regularly required to challenge themselves, to collaborate and communicate with others, to read, reflect, analyse and think critically, all highly desirable skills for the demands of a contemporary, technologised life (Knobel & Lankshear, 2007; Marsh, 2012).

In the English classroom, significant challenges await both low literacy students and their instructors in relation to maintaining the relevance and cultural currency of their curriculum. Developers and publishers often reinvent their products in order to pursue innovation, technological currency and profit generation. As a result of this constant appetite for reinvention, which typifies the best video game media, print-based classrooms are often perceived as irrelevant and archaic by students who are enthusiasts of new media texts. And this describes the majority of contemporary young people (Flinders, 1997).

Video game texts may, however, be a solution for adventurous educators who are searching for a strategy that can rejuvenate their classrooms (Elliott, 2012). By engaging with the informal literacy practices that many students experience during their out-of-school lives, teachers have an opportunity to reinterpret formal curriculum through the prism of authentically engaged new media (Larson & Gatto, 2004). An example of a game that may be valuable in formal classrooms is Mojang's phenomenally popular block-based building and exploration game, Minecraft (see https://mojang. com/).

This article addresses one aspect of a recent study conducted in a northern metropolitan secondary school in Melbourne, with a group of disadvantaged learners. The study used an exploratory curriculum design involving Minecraft. Although the study is still in progress, the data that have been collected to date are used here to open up a conversation regarding the use of video game media in formal classroom spaces. The example of one student, John, highlights the potential for rethinking and revaluing the knowledge that some students bring to the classroom.

Project aim

The research this article draws on involved a single Year 8 English/Humanities class at a government secondary school in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. While the class was randomly selected due to availability, it did contain a number of students with significant reading and writing issues and these were often accompanied by disciplinary or behavioural issues. The students had a median age of 14, and during preliminary data generation many had identified as video game enthusiasts. The study was intended initially to explore the ways that a developmental curriculum may be developed around a non-linear new media text (such as a video game) in a state school English/Humanities class. The initial study design did not focus on the potential of a video game-based curriculum as a method of empowering disadvantaged learners. As the study progressed, however, it became increasingly apparent that this was a research focus that may yield interesting data, and thus it became a key research focus.

Minecraft

Minecraft is not a linear game. It has no characters, no narrative, and players are given no instruction. It is a 'sandbox', an activity toolkit in which players are permitted to engage with the game in any way that they see fit. …

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