Dropout Rates, Boys and Gameplaying

I just got back from Big Ideas Festival in Half Moon Bay, which is a
small conference for teachers and education researchers.   

This morning, I saw this awful piece of news today in the Chronicle —

Dropout rate for Calif. black students hits 37%

It’s 40% in Oakland.

One of the presenters at BIF was Constance Steinkuehler, a professor from Univ of Wisconsin
She gave a talk on Massively Mulitplayer Online Games (MMO’s) and she’s been studying a cohort of boys from urban and rural
areas.    She began her talk by citing another dropout statistic that
nationally only 65% of boys are graduating from high school.   Her
background is studying the development of literacy skills and she’d
done ethnography studies in Lineage, another MMO.    She was
particularly interested in boys who say they like games and don’t like
reading.   She formed a group who met regularly and most were playing
World of Warcraft.   I can’t describe her methodology very well but
she was trying to assess how games could connect to developing
intellectual interests (problem solving, reasoning, etc.) — gaming as
a gateway drug to intellectual interests.   She was very honest and
said that her initial work was a failure.   She thought she wanted to
help the boys reflect on how they were developing intellectually
through gameplay.   She thought their interest in games might be
married to progress on learning goals (external goals).    She talked
about getting in front of the group of students and starting to talk
like a teacher, and taking them away from gameplay. She described
their reaction:  the boys would fall back in their chairs and pull
their hoodies over their head with a look on their face saying: “just
let me know when she stops talking.”  She realized what she wanted to
do wasn’t working and backed away from it.   She changed from trying
to structure what they were doing to creating a much more unstructured
environment.  What was important was resourcing their interests, such
as providing graphic novels if some of them expressed interest in
reading them, for instance.   She saw a lot more progress when she saw
her efforts in terms of helping the boys to make progress on THEIR own
goals (not her goals).

Someone got her remarks in several tweets:

  • Games as gateway drug into intellectual interests and what @constances learned from the #fail
  • DANGER of SCHOOLIFYING gaming. Gently resource their interests.Interests, Interests, Interests
  • “SHIFT in thinking abt gaming as a means to an end -> to gaming as a means to THEIR end! #bif2010”

Her work was supported by MacArthur and it’s backed up by a lot of
research data. I introduced her to Make, which she had not heard about.  I feel as though we can learn a lot from her research and apply it to making as well.  I hope I can get a copy of her presentation because I’m sure I didn’t
represent it well.