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.