Category Archives: Pedagogy

Introducing my students to iPads

I was the fortunate recipient of a $2500 Faculty Innovation through Technology (FIT) grant from my institution, Gateway Technical College, to fund 4 iPads for use in my writing sections. Additionally, as part of the grant program, I will receive a faculty stipend at the end of the academic year—which I fronted myself to buy my own iPad, which I let my students use in class.

Part of the rationale for my grant proposal was using the relatively new tablet computing category in small group settings, ranging from 3:1 to 5:1 student to iPad ratios. My thought as to why this was a useful trial was at least threefold. As the New London Group describes in their A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies, one of the emerging labor structures of fast or late global capitalism is the small, shifting project-based group. As such, being a faculty member at a college largely focused on the training and retraining of workers for the contemporary workplace, small grow work utilizing the latest technology is quite relevant to our students’ potential futures.

Tablets might also facilitate more mobile and participatory structures for collaborative group work in class. Students can assemble around tables, less encumbered by or tied to a stationary desktop or folding netbook, to create collaborative texts, and then send those texts to a centric server to be shared with and viewed by the entire class. While having one desktop computer per student in a lab setting in combination with a learning management system like Blackboard can offer similar opportunities in sharing text, I’m betting that the portability of a tablet might encourage more equitable and exchangeable sharing of composing and thinking. Simply, net books and notebooks have folding screens that require viewers to be seated in a semicircle to be viewed. iPads are lighter and have a single surface to work with.

I’ll likely post my formal proposal, complete with some standard (for me) New London Group quotes, in a follow up. I will also be updating this blog with what my student have been using the iPads for, as well as how well or poorly the iPad works in this specific context.

This Is Not A Game: ARGs as a Composition Course Structure

This is a paper that served as a foundation for a presentation I delivered at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s First Year Composition program pedagogical development conference on May 1, 2010.  Thus, much of the rationale is framed by that program’s specific ethos and identities; I believe, however, that the benefits of an ARG course structure as discussed below are not bound by this focus on a single institutional setting.


There is a growing body of research on the use of several types of video games for educational purposes, such as simulations, both close-ended objective-defined and open-ended “sandbox” simulations, games designed with specific educational/physiological goals, to name a few. There is, unfortunately, far less available on the potential and impact of blended-reality games, such as pervasive games—those based on specific locations, such as geo-cache treasure hunts or Pac Manhattan—and, more importantly, I will argue, Alternate Reality Games (ARGs). ARGs and pervasive games share some overlap in design and characteristics of play: both use “real” world features and artifacts, such as streets, buildings, public spaces, or payphones, and publicly available media, such as billboards, posters, or media made available through mobile networked technology. ARGs tend to use multimedia clues to direct players on a narrative-driven puzzle-solving experience that takes place in the players’ “real” world, as opposed to being hosted through a computer graphic (CG) mediated virtual world, like Halo, World of Warcraft, Second Life, or Myst.

In addition to little academic research on ARGs as educational tools, a standard definition of the genre is elusive. This appears to be at least two-fold in reason. The infancy of the form likely contributes to a lack of definition. The educational application of video games, in general, seems to have achieved a large body of work only over the past 10-20 years, as media and technology have continued to evolve and converge, and as video games have become a topic for media, cultural and ludic studies. Over this same time period, new media technologies have also begun to creep into pedagogy through blogs, wikis, and other digitally networked text-based tools.

ARGs, when discussed under that definition, have a history dating to 1996, with two records of ARGs before the year 2000, according to, arguably the most comprehensive listing of ARGs and related links sponsored in conjunction with the International Game Designers Association Alternate Reality Games Special Interest Group (IGDA ARG SIG). Another barrier to a single definition is the large iterations of complexities and variations offered by the relatively simple structure of the ARG and the multi-modality of its narrative/gameplay environment: interactive web-based technologies, DIY publishing, remix and the co-option of popular narratives and artifacts.

I anticipate that understanding what an ARG is—and what one “looks” like—may be a substantial barrier for the reader of this paper. Thus, for the purposes of this project, I will adopt Jane McGonigal’s definition of an ARG:

an interactive drama played out online and in real world spaces, taking place over several weeks or months, in which dozens, hundreds, thousands of players come together online, form collaborative social networks, and work together to solve a mystery or problem that would seem impossible to solve alone (“Alternate Reality Gaming: ‘Life Imitates ARG’ [PDF]”).

As this definition is expansive, allow me to propose a few translations that might help the reader see a more concrete connection to this project—bringing an ARG into a multimodal composition classroom. First would be to think less of the “drama” (or, the fictionalized impetus for entering the game; the reason to play). As I will later argue, this narrative patina may not be an applicable internal motivator within the classroom. In McGonigal’s definition, I encourage the reader to focus on the “interactive” pursuit of a community of student “players” to analyze and interpret texts collaboratively—the act of interpretation being akin to “solv[ing] a mystery or problem,” though one with an open solution. Further linking the composition classroom to this definition is the language of the assignment sequence—language that positions interpretation as an act that may seem incapable of being achieved alone, without the reflection and multiplicity of perspectives that the composition classroom provides.

Despite the relative dearth of research and academic texts produced about ARGs by that name, it is appropriate to turn to transmedia narratives, multimodal pedagogy, and new media digital storytelling as a framework to build an ARG for classroom use. Through this approach, the work of Henry Jenkins on both video games and media convergence becomes applicable in a discussion of the aesthetics, structures, theory and history of ARGs, as well as their potential as educational collective intelligence communities.

The large question that I hope to address through this project, then, is: how can an ARG serve as a pedagogical tool in the composition classroom? In this paper, I hope to: provide an outline of the aesthetics and structures of ARGs, what might serve as a working contextual definition for the aims of this project; examine a case study and principles of ARGs designed for student induction and orientation; and examine this case study in terms of the educational benefits that resulted from play. Furthermore, while ARGs have been used as texts for academic study, my aim is to apply the knowledge from the above approaches to illustrate how an ARG might serve as a structure for motivating and producing student writing within the curricular goals of the English 101 course at UWM.
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