Seminar Talk 2015-10-23

“Games, Learning & Society: The Intellectual Life of Digital Play”
Constance Steinkuehler
Associate Professor
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Friday, October 23, 2015 – 3:00pm
Donald Bren Hall 6011 (Bldg. 314) For videogames to be taken as a serious medium of expression, it must demonstrate the capacity to communicate serious ideas or to operate with serious intention. This does not mean that it must be flat-footed, pedantic, or otherwise artless. Rather, it means that the medium must demonstrate itself capable of expressing and inflecting cultural understandings and values in some way. It must create great art. It must also, I argue, create great tools for thinking.

In this presentation, I review research on the intellectual life of commercial entertainment videogames and highlight the ways in which the culture of play functions as a critique of schooling, highlighting the downfalls of standardization in the United States, evidenced in both the substance of what we teach and metrics we use to assess children. I detail research on the communities that games inspire and the culture they encourage against the backdrop of status quo in education, explain how and where games might serve as a vehicle for American domestic policy, and suggest key advances we might in the innovation in order to help usher in a new golden age of games.

About the Speaker: Constance Steinkuehler is an Associate Professor in Digital Media at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Co-Director of the Games+Learning+Society (GLS) lab at the Wisconsin Institute of Discovery, and Chair of their annual GLS Conference. She currently serves as Executive Director of the Higher Education Videogames Alliance (HEVGA), an organization of higher education leaders whose mission is to underscore the cultural, scientific, and economic importance of video game programs in colleges and universities. In 2011-2012, she served as Senior Policy Analyst in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) where she advised on national initiatives related to videogames. Policy work there included the coordination of cross-agency efforts to leverage games toward national priority areas (e.g. childhood obesity, early literacy, STEM education) and the creation of new partnerships to support an ecosystem for more diversified innovation in commercial and non-commercial games.

Constance’s research is on cognition and learning in commercial entertainment games and, more recently, games designed for impact. Current interests include the neuroscience of games (particularly in the areas of attention and emotional and social well-being), literacy and games, scientific reasoning and games, and the development of mixed methodologies for heterogeneous game-based data sets. Through the GLS lab, she collaborates with game designers, neuroscientists, telemetry data scientists, and top notch scientists at the WID. Game title credits include Tenacity (designed to foster self-regulation of attention) and Crystals of Kaydor (designed to increase social acuity and empathy). Her research and leadership work has been featured in Science, Wired, USA Today, New York Times, ABC, CBS, CNN NPR, BBC and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Constance’s work has been funded by the MacArthur Foundation, the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and the National Science Foundation. She has published over twenty peer reviews publications on games and learning, edited three special issues of peer reviewed academic journals focused on the intellectual life of games and two books, and served on the authoring committee of the 2009 National Academies of Science report entitled Learning Science: Computer Games, Simulations, and Education.

Constance has a PhD in Literacy Studies, an MS in Educational Psychology, and three Bachelor Degrees in Mathematics, English, and Religious Studies. Her dissertation was a cognitive ethnography of the MMOs Lineage I and II where she served as siege princess for the LegendsOfAden guild. Her husband Kurt Squire is also a games for learning designers and scholar. They live with their two little gamers in Madison, Wisconsin.