Computer games, learning and literacy: Reflections on students' learning and literacy experiences when engaging with computer games in a middle years English classroom

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Kitson, Lisbeth

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Lennon, Sherilyn

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This thesis presents reflections and insights arising from a qualitative research study exploring the learning experiences and literacy practices of students when engaging with computer games as texts for learning in a middle years English classroom. The research responds to an exponential growth in the presence of digital texts in the lives of many students and seeks to explore possible connections between these texts and literacy learning in school. Commercially available computer games were chosen as digital texts for inclusion in this study for three reasons. In the first instance, many students express a passionate interest in these games and engage extensively with them in their out-of-school lives. Yet, despite studies confirming positive effects of drawing on the potential of these games for learning, there remains a deficit discourse surrounding the impact of computer games on players and the use of computer games in school. A second reason is the potential of computer games to provide validation and recognition of the learning experiences and literacy practices that students bring to the classroom from their home and out-of-school lives. The third reason for including computer games in classroom learning, particularly in English classrooms, is the growing recognition of this digital medium as a new narrative form. Theoretical approaches informing this research study draw from sociocultural and multimodal social semiotic understandings of the concept of literacy. In addition, this study draws on recent theories of literacy exploring meaning-making as sensory, embodied practices, particularly in an age of digital texts. In particular, this study acknowledges the “visionary project of multiliteracies begun by the New London Group” (Mills, 2011, p. 24) and proposes a model for adapting this framework to elements of meaning-making with computer games. Although there is a great deal of research exploring digital texts for literacy learning underpinned by sociocultural, multiliteracies, and multimodal perspectives, there is much less research exploring more embodied and perceptual dimensions through a phenomenological approach. This doctoral research study aims to address this gap. Methods for this study are guided by hermeneutic phenomenology and influenced by feminist-inspired approaches to phenomenological research. Data for the research were generated in a single case study conducted in a middle years English classroom in a government-funded secondary school. Participants in the study were one classroom teacher and 28 students in their ninth year of schooling (ages 13 – 14). While the focus of the research is the students’ learning and literacy experiences, the perspectives and influence of the class teacher and the researcher are taken into consideration in the representation of this research study. Interpretative phenomenological analysis informs the analysis of data for the study. Reflections on these themes in light of selected literature in the field of computer games, learning, and literacy lead to a discussion of new kinds of learning experiences arising from young people’s engagement with digital texts such as computer games. The discussion also considers areas in which applications of the multiliteracies framework may hide, or obscure, the whole of the lived experience of learning and meaning-making, particularly when engaging with digital texts. The discussion proposes an approach to learning in English that recognises the value of “meaningful play” and the impact of this playfulness on students’ literacy practices. Finally, a model is proposed for examining multiple dimensions of literacy learning with computer games in English.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School Educ & Professional St

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Computer games

English classrooms

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