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Professor Presents Research in Paris - Paper is Sure to Please Video Gamers

10/12/2007 —

DuBois – Associate Professor of Communication Arts and Science, Dr. Mary Mino is state-side again.  Recently however, Mino and the rest of her research team traveled to Paris, France to make a presentation at the Fifth International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities. Subsequently, this September, The International Journal of Humanities accepted an essay based on their research.  Partnered with Mino on this project are Dr. Kathleen Taylor Brown, Assistant Professor of Communications and Jeanna Cooper, both instructors at Penn State’s Greater Allegheny Campus, and Mino’s son, Erik Bertelsen.  Bertelsen, a junior at State College High School’s Delta Program, is an avid video gamer.  It was Bertelsen who provided the initial idea to look at video gaming’s impact on learning. He claims playing online video games teaches him skills that he applies to real world settings.

The goal of the research was to measure if and to what extent individuals learn critical thinking and socials skills through online video gaming. This research is based on the game, World of War Craft, the most popular massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG) which allows the 7.5 million people from all over the globe who play this game to form teams or guilds and to participate in the same game at the same time.

“These video gamers are communicating with one another and putting their heads together to kill various monsters,” said Mino. “While attempting to defeat these monsters, there’s a sense of camaraderie that builds and teambuilding skills that players learn.” 

Players also exercise their brains, sharpening their critical thinking skills, and they have the opportunity to observe other players and learn from them. This type of learning—those with the strongest skills teaching those with the weakest skills--helps novice game players to increase their knowledge and to improve their skills while learning the game. Harnessing these types of interactions in the classroom has the potential to help students to learn more quickly and to apply subject matter more effectively.

“The suggestion that people learn skills through interacting with each other while video gaming and, at the same time, create a participatory culture,” said Mino, “was connected by scholars Henry Jenkins and Paul Michael Gee, who have explored the value of both video gaming and creating participatory cultures. Students and people who work with each other learn from each other and create communities,” she said.

Mino explains that she and her colleagues “are really taking Jenkins’s and Gee’s claims and testing them by exploring through a quantitative analysis what players learn while video gaming that they transfer to real life. It is not the gaming itself that is the focus; it is what and how the players learn when gaming that is important to understand and to transfer to the learning environment.  The gamers are players in their participatory cultures.”

She said, “The idea of participatory culture is not new.  In education, teaching approaches are revisited and are renamed through the years, and the ideas upon which participatory culture is based have been around for a long time. Participatory culture has also been referred to as interactive or collaborative learning and learning communities.”

Initial research was conducted by distributing questionnaires to those in various online gaming communities and by examining the players’ responses. The team wanted to learn how players benefit from the gaming experience.  Mino said “the trip to Paris was the best thing the group could do to direct our future research.” 

“Before you submit an essay for possible publication, you need feedback from your colleagues who will ask the tough questions and make suggestions that improve your thinking. The responses from an international group of scholars who attended our conference panel confirmed what we believed and refocused our attention on what we missed but needed to consider,” she explains.  “The Paris conference was like a testing ground that improved the quality of the research project.”

There were approximately 4,000 submissions to the conference this year.  Less than half of those were chosen for presentation. Approximately ten essays were accepted for publication. So, the authors believe the research process was successful and the research findings will be useful to educators who want to improve their approach to instruction by allowing students to learn interactively and creating participatory cultures in their own classrooms.

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