Canadian Study on Video Games, Literacy, and Boys

by Kathy Sanford & Leanna Madill
Canadian Journal of Education (30), 2

Librarians are acutely aware of the literacy struggles of boys. These issues are not unique to age or geographic location. Studies in Europe, Australia, and Canada all have sought to address the complicated literacy practices that boys engage in across media.

This Canadian study looked at two research questions:

  1. "What success are adolescent males finding in out-of-school literacy practices"
  2. "What literacy practices are occurring when adolescent males participate in instruction and the creation of video games" (p. 439)
The adolescents were very interested and able to communicate how they were learning through videogames, but did not connect it to literacy learning (440). Librarians are in a position to make that connection for them and with them. I've been thinking more and more about this connection and bridge as our call to action with videogames and literacy.

The study found boys taking operational literacy (what to do in a process, how to do it) for granted. One subject said, "Only we need to understand it, if you can understand it - it's okay" (441). This mindset assumes a common set of knowledge and understanding. But if students do not have this knowledge base, communication and application will suffer. Sanford and Madill identified this as a potential reason that boys are less successful with traditional print literacies.

The boys studied wrote journal entries and sketched game ideas. This written and read communication was enhanced through verbal collaboration and social interaction. The verbal collaboration was seen as more successful by those studied. This type of interaction fits with the adolescent's multiple media literacies where they are communicating ideas and knowledge. Those studied found that this social community helped them develop skills and a greater awareness of written and verbal skills.

Sanford and Madill identified a speicfic concern that others, including myself, have raised before:
Unless taught how to notice and critque the social values and assumptions in a game, video game players are mostly unaware of the broader social pratices embedded in video game context (449).
If games are to have education value, then like any other educational technology there needs to be discussion and reflection on the experience and application. Any type of learning is not an isolated affair. It doesn't simply happen with one experience (videogame or anything else) learning comes from interaction during and after events and experiences.

Sanford and Madill lay the charge of learning through games squarely at the feet of educators:

Scholars need to problematize the seamless qualities of video game play and creation and create spaces where players can step back from the powerful, immersive qualities of game play and examine values (451).

We can create environments in and out of our libraries and classrooms that use videogames for play and allow for moments to step back have discussions and learn.