Friday, October 23, 2009

On the nature of chaos and order

Steve and I were talking about our upcoming presentation the other day and he offhandedly remarked, and I'm paraphrasing, "Order is good, but sometimes chaos can be just as great." I almost stopped dead in my tracks, because I thought I was a child of chaos. Ironically, someone who fought social control a greater part of her life is perpetuating control. Oh, Bourdieu would turn in his grave in disappointment. Yes, I like to pretend that he's my cool but very dead Jedi master whom I talk to once in a while.

First, let me situate Steve's perspective. I had been obssessing about the upcoming discussion like fangirls over Backstreet Boys back in their heyday. And the poor man was being inundated with spam and probably lost in my crazy attempts at organization. Now, I don't know Steve very well, but he's super cool, I adore his wife, and he's Mr. Chillax. For the uninitiated, it's Mr. Chill and relax. So, when the epitome of Chillax says "Order is good, but sometimes chaos can be just as great," I almost cried. Well, not really. But it did set me thinking.

Research, be it in literacy, new media, etc., is chaotic. For the most part, as researchers, we're often trying to pin down how best to capture data in the chaotic human world. We're trying to draw generalizations based on the empirical data that we observe. Theory, in short, is our key to making sense of the world. Moje's work on adolescent literacy for instance is ethnographic, and in my limited experience, analyzing ethnographic data can be insurmountable. But one cannot deny its usefulness as a methodological tool. In fact, the funds of theory approach mentioned in the Palinscar & Ladewski is highly useful, particularly if we are to understand how students from different cultural backgrounds have different dispositions towards the various kinds of knowledge that are available in schools. It seems as if anthropology and sociology will never release me from their disciplinary clutches. Ah, but I am a willing prisoner.

Monday, October 5, 2009

On literacy and not learning [or two disjointed thoughts]

I was trying to be a good classmate by keeping up with blogs, and I must say that I'm failing miserably. I think the tendency for me is to read the post, respond in my head and then forget to acknowledge it by forming my own comment. It's certainly easier that way, so I will take this opportunity to inform my classmates that I do make it a point to read your carefully crafted thoughts - I just don't translate my response into text. And that brings me to how we view literacy. Literacy is almost always in the form of an artifact of some sort, be it text (typograph or chirograph), images, videos, ... you get the point. But does literacy includes all that is visibly communicated? On my part, more information processing is required before I come to a definite conclusion.

[And yes, I was exercising what I learnt in class - CHIROGRAPH. For the uninitiated, that means handwriting. Wewt. I remembered. Score one. Do I win? I should really stop my stream of consciousness typing. Ahem, back to the point. And I do have a point somewhere.]

Class discussions on interactivity centered on how individuals may learn if there is deep immersion and interactivity. In my experience with MMORPGS, I can definitely say that no content learning can occur even if there is immersion and interactivity.

Now, this seems to go with flow theory on the surface and I'll get to this later. Simply put, the theory states that if a player is deeply engaged in tasks that match their ability, they experience a state of flow or intense concentration. Players feel like they have mastery over the task that they are engaged in and go through, what I call, losing time. Motivation is also intrinsic and curiosity is what drives inquiry.

Many players that I've played with arguably are focused on the goal of the activity, and very motivated to achieve their aim. Let's talk about a hypothetical player called Leet who happens to be a He IRL . Since Leet's ability does not match the task that he is engaged in, he is often frustrated because he is failing (ergo no flow). However, since he really really really wants to achieve the outcome, he asks someone to help him- let's call this player, Aweful, who is already an expert player. Arguably, Aweful should be able to help and also inform Leet how to L2P (learn to play). However, this almost always is an exercise in futility. It's like talking to a wall. So Aweful gives up and  Leet has mastered the outcome through other means. So is there no flow for Leet? There is arguably no content learning, but Leet has learnt to manipulate others to do his bidding (or maybe to end the incessant whining - hello, negative reinforcement). You've probably come across one of these people in your lifespan. You know, that kid that manages to coast through classes by hanging out with hardworking kids and tap on their expertise.

Flow theory is fantastic in explaining how personal motivation can drive learning. However, how do we account for these master strategists and the social games they play? Is this a kind *gasp* of literacy?