Press Start: Literacy, Comprehension, and Transfer

During the previous semester, I found “Video Games, Reading, and Transmedial Comprehension,” by Brock Dubbels and attended a colloquium event at my university that addressed how students’ might transfer their technology skills from outside school into the composition classroom. I would like to specifically discuss Dubbels’ reasoning for an after-school game club and how this got me thinking about the ways student literacy practices might inform college courses.
Dubbels begins his chapter by claiming that video games “can be used to develop print-based comprehension in reluctant and struggling readers” (251). His focus is on the transfer of skills and the knowledge of systems. Making connections across multiple platforms, incentivizing learning, and recognizing the value of media are key for both educators and students who practice various literacies.Dubbels spends some time convincing his readers of the importance of video games, why they should be used, and the concept of “teaching for transfer” (254). He says that games are valuable tools because of their accessibility and potential as complex and motivating texts. This is important to note because Dubbels claims that students who struggle with reading and fall behind from their peers are given simplified texts that “are easy to decode, but immature in content” (255). As Dubbels says, students want to know more about being older. Playing games can expose such students to interactive texts while not sacrificing the complexities of narrative and content.

Video games are also useful in that they provide students with activities where failure is low-risk and presents a safe opportunity to learn, where problems can be solved through experimentation and switching strategies, and where mentoring and reaching out for solutions is common. These acts should be emulated in the classroom.

Along with his observations of literacy and video games, Dubbels offers a few cautions. He says that “[k]ids may have grown up in a digital age, but this does not make them digital natives” and that it would be unwise to assume we can use video games in the classroom and expect magical results (258). How educational tools are used is just as important as the tools, if not more. The effort is worth the results. Similar to James Paul Gee’s sentiments on play, Dubbels says that “[play] implies making mistakes, trying new things, and creativity and innovation—traits necessary for knowledge workers” (259). It will take knowledgeable educators to successfully implement games into the classroom.

The premise behind Dubbels’ work is that it is important for educators to connect in-class learning with students’ prior knowledge and experiences. This makes institutional learning relevant, more accessible, and interesting. Which brings me to college courses and how some of Dubbels’ ideas might be applied. Everything that he says about student learning and new literacy is applicable to university-level work. Video games are engaging and complex texts that can easily be used with college students. I would take Dubbels’ reasoning even further and say that, while video games are helpful for bridging gaps and as supplemental material, games can and should be used as primary texts. Depending on the course, why not start with video games instead of more traditional texts? If students are playing games regularly, this seems like a natural starting point for transferring literacy practices and knowledge into class. Obviously, this would take an acknowledgement of video game value on a much wider, academic scale, but I don’t believe this is too outrageous.

The reading that is often asked of students in class is disconnected from the kinds of literacy practices students engage with on a daily basis. Most students aren’t reading academic journals, nor do they have access to them, and spend more time on mobile devices, laptops, and gaming consoles. I encourage a consideration of these practices and what can be transferred into school. Contexts need to be provided and a serious assessment of current academic practices should be considered. Are we best serving students if we are following the same educational practices from thirty years ago? Should we “update” the texts, and implementation of those texts, used in class? Are we adequately acknowledging the practices and activities, whether they involve technology or not, of students outside of the classroom? These are only a few of the questions to consider in light of new literacy practices.

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