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Faculty members receive Teaching Enrichment Travel Grant

2/12/2007 —
Two Penn State Greater Allegheny faculty members will be attending the Eastern Communications Association (ECA) meeting in Providence, Rhode Island thanks, in part, to a teaching enrichment travel grant provided by the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence.

Dr. Kathy Taylor Brown, Assistant Professor of Communications, and Jeanna Cooper, Instructor in Information Sciences and Technology, wrote the round table proposal, Intersection for Digital Landscapes as Applied Communication Theory: Video Gaming, Participatory Culture, Learning, and Discourse. Joining Brown and Cooper in the round table discussion, scheduled for late April, will be, Mary Mino, Associate Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences from Penn State DuBois, Erik Bertelsen from State College High School, and Benjamin Olcott, a Communications major and graduate of Penn State Greater Allegheny.

The goal of the panel will to be focus on and discuss the contributions made by James Paul Gee's and Henry Jenkin's research in gaming and its connection to applied communications. Gee, a Professor in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin, feels further research is needed to compare the perspectives of video gaming as a model for learning and literacy. His research (2003) does state, however, that the video game industry continues to evolve and grow as a teaching and learning model. According to Gee, games too hard to comprehend are not purchased and disappear from the market while successful games are those that provide adequate and easily understood instructions for users.

According to Brown and Cooper's proposal the potential of video games as a method for experiential learning is often discounted. Unlike learning through textbooks, video games provide a "learning to be" environment which allows the player to adjust to a new culture. The virtual environment allows the game player to experiment and to learn by trial and error.

The research of Henry Jenkins, Director of the Comparative Media Studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, supports Gee's findings. This research presents the video game player as an active problem solver who does not see a mistake made as an error, but rather as a way to reflect and learn. Video games, according Jenkins, create an environment where learning is an active process for the student. By sharing this gaming environment the user gains esources that prepare him/her for future learning and problem solving, not only in that environment, but in related environments.

Gee and Jenkins have produced research through their work in technologies that is supported by other researchers; i.e., Marc Prensky (2006) who believe that by placing good video games and good game like principles into the learning environment, we will create an educational model more suited for the modern world and the modern student.

The panel discussion proposed by Brown and Cooper and accepted by ECA focuses on active discussion about how to apply the learning strategies of video games to a deeply applied communication theory requiring the student to do more than just hear or read words to learn, but rather, to have experiences from which they learn and then, generalize, applying their knowledge to understanding and solving problems. Through video gaming it is believed that students develop "critical thinking and learning" skills in which the student masters the discourse of the game to the point of being able to innovate within the gaming environment.

According to Brown and Cooper's proposal the learning experiences generated by video games must conform to six learning conditions:

1. The conditions must be structured around goals.
2. Learners must reflect on how goals relate to reasoning in the situation.
3. Learners must be given regular feedback.
4. Learners must be encouraged to offer and hear explanations of why expectations failed or errors happened.
5. Learners must engage with a number of similar situations so they can debug their interpretations and explanations; and
6. Learners must have mentoring and debriefing so they can learn from the experiences and explanations of other people and so they can talk about why and how things worked in the accomplishment of goals. (James Paul Gee, 2007).

The Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence supported the proposal with a Teaching Enrichment Travel Grant which will be matched by funding from Penn State Greater Allegheny. The Teaching Enrichment Travel Grant program supports the travel of Penn State faculty to conferences where they can disseminate their findings of teaching innovations and/or enrich their teaching by learning about new instructional methods.

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