Social Constructivist Theory and Video Games in Education (a KAM for Walden University)

I think it is also time to share my most recent paper at Walden University. Final approval from my assessor is pending, but as we’ve been back and forth a few times, we both expect this is a final draft.

I’ve already completed all of my coursework and residency units. This is one of the three Knowledge Area Modules (KAMs) I must complete prior to beginning my dissertation. People who are not affiliated with the university often ask me what a KAM is, so I dug up this brief description from the KAM Curriculum Guide:

Walden doctoral-level study requires mastery of broad conceptual and historical knowledge (Breadth), in-depth understanding and analysis of theoretical and practical issues (Depth), and the ability to apply integrated knowledge to problems of professional significance (Application). As a Walden student, you will demonstrate achievement of these competencies through completion of a series of six KAMs using the specific curriculum guides that follow this introduction.

Each KAM is intended to allow sufficient flexibility to assure you a high degree of personal and professional relevance. A KAM demonstration is a comprehensive paper, which presents your mastery of the core of the social and behavioral sciences and of the advanced academic, professional, and scholarly areas that relate to your field. Each KAM demonstration must be integrated and related in such a way as to demonstrate not only your understanding of the theoretical basis of your field but also your ability to take the theoretical and move it to the practical.

Throughout the KAM program, primary emphasis is placed on integrating contemporary theory with professional practice. The linking of theory and action can produce new avenues of scholarship for reflective practitioners. While working through the reading and assignments, always keep this theory and practice theme in mind.

Another theme found throughout the KAMs is an emphasis on understanding the relationship between professional practice and social change. The broad context within which we live, think, and work shapes our professional experience. At the same time, our actions within that social system can transform society itself for the betterment of humankind. Completing KAM demonstrations provides the foundational knowledge and skills necessary for writing the dissertation and shaping your role as an agent of social and professional change.

The Core KAMs describe how societies change (Societal Development), how individual mental and emotional processes develop (Human Development), and how organizations
and institutions function (Principles of Organizational and Social Systems).

I’m a big fan of the KAM writing process, though I must admit it’s been a bumpy road as a learning process. I am not completely proud of these KAMs in the sense that I felt restricted by the format, and I know I’ve cut a lot of corners in order to be done. (Actually, the fact that this is necessary may actually be the most valuable lesson I’ve learned from pursuing my PhD.) In particular, I am uncomfortably conscious of how “quote heavy” these papers are. I look forward to making more of an original contribution with my dissertation.

I’ve learned a lot of content, and a lot of process, from completing these two KAMs this year, but as I share these, I hope you’ll all keep in mind that these are the road to a dissertation, and are not dissertation quality themselves.
I am sharing these in the hopes that they might benefit a colleague in search of information on this topic, not as exemplary writing samples. ;)

So, with disclaimers out of the way, my most recent KAM is an exploration of social constructivist theory and digital game based learning (or video games). In the breadth portion I focus on the seminal works of John Dewey, Lev Vygotsky, and Jerome Bruner. In the depth I dial in to the contemporary work of David Williamson Shaffer, Kurt Squire, and Constance Steinkuehler from the University of Wisconsin Madison’s Games, Learning, and Society minor. (You may notice the conspicuous absence of James Paul Gee in this paper, but I dealt with his work in a previous KAM, also offered below. And unfortunately, I haven’t gotten round to writing about Richard Halverson and Betty Hayes yet.) In the application section, I designed (and delivered) a three hour professional development session meant to help educators apply these theories in their own classrooms.

Core Knowledge Area Module Number 1: Principles of Societal Development – Social Constructivist Theory and Digital Game-Based Learning (120 pages)

The paper above builds on the work I did in a previous paper. I actually did the KAMs out of order, and completed KAM 2: Principles of Cognitive Development first. In this KAM, linked below, I began in the breadth section by focusing on the theories of Jean Piaget, his student Seymour Papert, and educational technologist (and overt constructivist), David H. Jonassen. Then, in the depth I was able to tie these theories into the work of Mark Prensky, James Paul Gee, and Clark Aldrich, 21st century authors writing about the use of video games for education. Finally, the application section was my first three-hour professional development session teaching educators about these theories. (This is definitely the clumsier of the two papers so far, and I expect my third will be the best of the bunch… and I’m sure my dissertation, which will include elements of each of them, will be better than all of them.)

Core Knowledge Area Module Number 2: Principles of Human Development – Constructivist Theories of Cognitive Development and Digital Game-Based Learning (90 pages)

I hope these will be useful to some of you, and if anyone has any comments to share after reading these, I will of course appreciate any constructive criticism.