UVic Torch -- Autumn 2007
Spring 2008,
Volume 29, Number 1

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Tech In The Park Literacy and Video Games
Prof. Kathy Sanford says alternative literacy skills can be picked up, outside of school, in video games.
Photography by HÉLÈNE CYR

While critics of video games often denigrate the medium as being frivolous—and even dangerous for adolescent and teenage boys because of concerns about addiction, isolation, and media violence—a Faculty of Education researcher is finding that video games have more benefits than once thought.

Prof. Kathy Sanford, Associate Dean of Teacher Education, is running two studies looking at the impact of video games on the learning and literacy of boys. In the first, she is working with teachers and students at a Victoria high school where computer programming is being taught through the development of video games. “Their literacy far exceeds what can be measured by traditional reading and writing assessments,” Sanford says.

The difficulty, Sanford explains, is that the skills learned while playing video games are not often recognized by teachers or parents. The boys themselves take their abilities for granted and don’t view them as being as important as math and reading. By videotaping the subjects while they are creating their own video games, and having the boys explain what they are doing, Sanford is getting a much clearer picture of what’s going on. “It’s ironic, because experiential learning prepares them for other kinds of tests that we can’t prepare them for.”

The second research project is an in-depth study of nine young men from very different backgrounds as they play video games. “We’re looking at the kind of learning they are doing by the game play,” Sanford explains. One early finding, she says, is that while the subjects are aware of the addiction issue, what is motivating them to play for long hours is the game’s storyline: “They want to get to the end of the story.”

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