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Narratizing Disciplines and Disciplinizing Narratives 1

Narratizing Disciplines and Disciplinizing Narratives: Games as 21st Century Curriculum Sasha A. Barab, Indiana University1 Whereas young people become accomplished in geometry and mathematics, and wise within these limits, young man of practical wisdom do not seem to be found. The reason is that prudence is concerned with particulars as well as universals, and particulars become known from experience, but a young person lacks experience. Aristotle (350 BC), Nichomachean Ethics, Book 6, ch. 8, §5 To appear in S. A. Barab & A. Ingram-Goble (eds.) Games as 21st Century curriculum. Dordrecht, Netherlands, Springer. Consistent with the opening quotation from over two millennia ago, and in contrast to dominant school practice, I do not regard universals as more important than particulars. Still, in a similar vein, I do not privilege particulars over universals. As a transactive theorist2 with a firm belief in the                                                             
Sasha Barab is an Associate Professor in Learning Sciences and Cognitive Sciences at Indiana University ( The work reported in this manuscript was supported by the National Science Foundation (Grant # 9980081 and 0092831) and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (Grant # 06-88658-000-HCD). Also, special thanks to Tyler Dodge and Adam Ingram-Goble for their collaboration on conceiving and testing the elements of an academic play space. The primary proposition of a transactive perspective is that human cognition is inextricably woven into the social and natural fabric of the world. The idea of transaction draws upon Dewey’s epistemological position that both knower and known constitute, and are constituted through, meaningful inquiry (Connell, 1996; Dewey, 1938; Dewey & Bentley, 1960). As it relates to the goals of this paper, namely designing 21st Century
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  inextricable relations between content and context and between the knower and the known, I diverge from the dualist philosophy that began with Descartes and continues in current rhetoric, a philosophy that separates mind and body. Instead, I argue for an active coupling of individual and environment, and work to design spaces that bind the two up as part of a system. Unlike more traditional textbooks designed to transmit facts or micro-stories, our focus is on building dynamic systems in which understanding core concepts such as erosion or the idea of metaphor can have value. And while not a narratologist, I embrace the power of story and regard the exclusion of narrative from disciplinary content as a threat to the very meaning of the disciplinary content that we hope schools to excite (Bruner, 2002). I regard learning as a participatory act that involves whole persons, not disembodied minds, and one that transcends content acquisition. Education is about revealing possibility and exciting passions, helping to empower learners with the expertise to meaningfully act on (disciplinize) problematic contexts in which applying disciplinary knowledge is important (Dewey, 1938/1963). It is in this way that I advocate for a pedagogy of possibility, one that inspires through narrative and helps to equip students so that they can meaningfully engage and transform the world in which they live3.                                                                                               
curricula, such a transactive view of cognition assumes that the learner is no longer positioned as spectator examining the realm of objects. Instead, they are positioned as active change agents who use their understandings to inquire into particular circumstances and, through their actions, transform the problematic situation into a known.

 Both an idealist and a pragmatist, I harbor aspirations

of school reform while operating within and learning much from the very schools I hope to change (Barab, Dodge, Thomas, Jackson, & Tuzun, 2007). I represent a new breed of educational psychologist: the learning scientist. I work to simultaneously advance theory and reform practice, with the conviction that it is the complementary dialectic between the two through which meaningful change can occur. That is, theory provides me with useful insight into the world, and reciprocally

And how might comprehending history help Thomas make sense of and act upon the political situation in Iraq. However. then that system risks creating a crises of meaning (Lave & Wenger. I increasingly appreciate the methodologies and technologies underlying videogames as uniquely useful for establishing . at the same time. In a context focused on acquiring information and reproducing some objective understanding. or knowing mathematics enhance Isha’s ability to build economic security for her family? It is these narratives that should provide the backdrop and future value of disciplinary knowledge. for example. can help one recognize the socioscientific implications of a particular land use policy. player performance emphasizes only rote skills and multiple-choice responses. Leveraging this dialectic. understanding the literary power of simile and metaphor can help to establish oneself as having a compelling My Space homepage. and doing so in a way that bears legitimacy and value in schools. 1997). When an educational system emphasizes memorization over application. 1991). 2006). not pedagogical. Schools worldwide.  the exchange value of knowledge over its use value. he would be quickly overwhelmed by the seemingly impenetrable technical terms and contextualized grammars. And my work is all about creating and inspiring possibility.Narratizing Disciplines and Disciplinizing Narratives 2   I am arguing for the need to narratize the disciplines and. however. not the semantically impoverished yet socio-economic value of scoring highly on high-stakes tests. the manual is arguably meaningless and certainly not engaging in itself. engaging the actual “game” is considered an enrichment activity while the “manual” remains the true object of teaching and target of testing. Jerome Bruner (2002. my work is geared toward helping students develop the same appreciation. ultimately alienates the learner from knowing. in fact. accountability and authority lie external to the learner or even the value of the knowing for a particular task and thereby undermine ownership of the learning process (Gresalfi & Cobb. You see. disciplinary knowledge serves as one of the most valuable tools that one can enlist to act upon the world. 1998). my work over the last decade has focused on reconnecting content with context. Understanding the relations of pH to water quality. The introduction of game pieces entails only trivial description. and                                                                                                the world gives me useful insight into theory (Lewin. until one actually plays the game. likewise. p. the need to disciplinize narratives. the manual becomes a resource or tool for maximizing game play performance. If one were to peruse the user manual for most popular videogames. While many of us advance a rhetoric of depth over breadth. children are handed the “manual” but not shown the “game”. In fact. 1929). 56) argued that “story is subversive in spirit. instead. Such a focus on abstract content stripped of its application of use prompted literacy scholar James Paul Gee (2003) to suggest that schools provide the manual but not the game. my work involves both understanding what is and at the same time working to create what could be. not possibility. even more importantly. acquisition over participation (Sfard. Beyond the motivational problems that such impoverished contexts breed. 1952). driven by the commitment that privileging either constrains possibility. too often reinforce reproducibility. In schools.” And while I acknowledge the challenge in enlisting story as a deliberate pedagogical tool. and productivity derives from generic postures. the previously cryptic rule sets and referenced dynamics become intelligible. once one plays the game. in the context of schools. and problematic socio-identity implications when children are treated as objects to be changed rather than change agents themselves (Lave. In contrast. we too often understand practice in terms of a mere transmission model that fails to engage contexts of use and. Let me elaborate. not critical stances. there also arise significant conceptual deficiencies when disciplinary tools are learned as abstracted facts (Whitehead. constrained by their focus on standardized test scores and efficient content delivery. I spend my days both in elementary classrooms and at the university.

Swenson. whereas work and other non-ludic behaviors involve an aim not contained in the activity” (p. And while many theorists and researchers have maintained that play is defined by or tends to involve self. representation served as the central concept of cognitive theory and the representational theory of mind has served as the most common view in cognitive science (Gardner. and the environment (Barab. Toward this end.Narratizing Disciplines and Disciplinizing Narratives 3 narratives that have pedagogical value. the late 1980s gave rise to a move away from the predominant “acquisition” metaphor towards a “participation” metaphor in which knowledge is considered fundamentally situated in practice and not simply content to be acquired (Sfard. which knowledge is treated as situated and progressively developed through activity. In particular. From this perspective. And while the theoretical move of treating cognition. which can only be fully understood through use. followed by a description of design principles that can facilitate the translation of these theoretical convictions into a designed curriculum. 1985. 1999). and Imitation in Childhood. In Play. the environment or situation that allows for the dynamic (transactional) unity of individual. The goal from a curricular design perspective is to establish a context upon which the learner can perform meaningful actions and as result of which there are environmental consequences. Such positioning. more importantly. In fact. 1975. In fact.or intrinsically motivated . Fodor. and helps to knowledgeably act upon. In this manuscript. one should abandon the notion that concepts are self-contained entities instead conceiving them as tools. Dewey and Bentley (1949) introduced the transactional perspective to characterize the inseparable and mutually constitutive nature of subject and object. It is the adoption of an intention that is tightly coupled to. and as part of our design of Quest Atlantis. to push back and help us think more deeply about what a theory of mind for the 21st Century might look like. according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. 1993). Cherkes-Julkowski. such advancements allow us to both actualize the theory but.” The idea is that through participation one becomes bound up as part of a context in which he or she experiences the consequences of particular understandings. I outline the theoretical perspective that motivates this work. Such a perspective is grounded in work related to situated cognition. This discussion is then situated in examples from our research and design work. Dreams. concept. resulting actions. 147). the developmental psychologist Piaget (1962) pointed to the mistaken notion that “play is an end in itself. Vera & Simon. videogame technologies allow for the positioning of the learner as a first-   person protagonist within simulated and social worlds that allow individual and environment to transact. I close with a discussion of the core lessons and speculation on what a 21st Century curriculum might look like. Garrett. 1988). Conceptual Play and Multi-User Virtual Worlds Conceptual Play. it is in the unlikely realm of videogames that I find hope to narratize disciplinary content and simultaneously disciplinize narrative contexts. it is through the advancement of gaming technologies and methodologies that we can now realize the true potential of these powerful ideas. is “a communicative action or activity involving two parties or things that reciprocally affect or influence each other. and environmental consequences. and learning as situated acts is an important move forward. Transaction. meaning. we have developed a theory around the power of conceptual play for immersing learners and the content they are learning in perceptually and semantically rich spaces. & Young. Beginning with the cognitive revolution of the sixties. However. one in which the learner virtually enters a situation or takes on the identity of virtual character has the potential to transform school learning as we know it— especially if the way that one has power in the designed situation is through understanding and applying a particular conceptual understanding as a tool to make sense of and transform the virtual situation.

To be clear. giving way to entirely stabilized. and in understandings that are unreachable in more explicit contexts (Barab & Jackson. argued that "the influence of play on a child's development is enormous… " (p. not to step into the life of some imagined Other. algae blooms and eutrophication) to correctly characterize the problem and advance a successful solution. 2002). and observational accounts attest to the broad importance of play in the cognitive. Similarly. We play with ideas. And. domains. and constructive behavior--is an essential and integral part of all children's healthy growth. . stands in conflict with established rule and norm structures. An essential aspect of conceptual play is that the individual is experientially situated within the play space in which she has a legitimate role. rule-controlled situations. properly designed conceptual play spaces establish a problem situation that can only be solved if one employs disciplinary concepts as a tool. and cultures" (Isenberg & Quisenberry. has pointed to the various purposes and importance of play. In fact. but that affords (requires that) the player-character applies disciplinary understandings to make sense of and. the weight of psychological. norms. It is through play that a child can take on identities and experiment with actions even before she appreciates the meanings associated with these actions.. play is serious. more than places designed for fun or even to simply provide examples scenarios for illuminating particular concepts. and learning across all ages. even other. To the extent that behavior is entirely rule-governed or that norms resist awareness or lack negotiability. Through play the child is able to engage in forms of communication. murky water in a virtual river. and involves the suspension of belief versus pretense. 94-95). then the door closes on play. Rules. I understand play as both a kind of activity – a thing that we do – and a kind of freedom within constraints. experiencing new paths with a palpable set of constraints. Therefore.. The Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) states that "play--a dynamic. reality versus unreality. while transgressive play. We play games again and again. theorist upon theorist. In this way. by definition. it is the disciplinary concepts that come to define the boundaries for what actions are reasonable and which actions fail to meaningfully impact the virtual world—and it is these types of constraints that determine the value of different player actions in a conceptual play space. For philosopher Hans Gadamer (1989). 2007). conceptual play involves participation in environments that (a) aim to support application of a concept within (b) an immersive context (c) that changes in response to user actions and (d) that provides opportunities to examine one’s participation in relation to the impact of one’s choices in the immersive context. active. a virtual world). The challenge is in building a virtual world that is not overburdened by rules. piecing together seemingly useless sets of understanding. 2006). and social growth and development of young children with impact that reaches beyond purely pleasure-focused qualities.Narratizing Disciplines and Disciplinizing Narratives 4   activity. We play roles. ultimately. just as these structures rely on that play in order to define and redefine them (Barab & Jackson. a QA student becomes a scientist. For example. but to stretch ourselves into another being (character) that can act with that Other. beliefs. psychoanalytic. transform the virtual world in productive ways. a quality embodied to greater or lesser degrees in an immediate environment (i. sometimes weaving our way into creative contributions. in rule structures. development. such spaces serve to situate disciplinary content. structured. another renowned developmental psychologist.e. less conflictual forms of play can prove transcendent as one swims more confidently in the void allowed by structure.e. For example. Vygotsky (1933/1978). including Piaget. examining the water quality of the green. and laws define play spaces and provide room for movement and creativity of experience. the student-scientist must make use of their understanding of the related disciplinary concepts (i. emotional.

This sort of consequential engagement is very difficult to accomplish in schools and even in non-interactive media. material extension. making visible the functional utility of one’s understanding. et al. The avatar itself serves as the vehicle through which the user interacts with the environment. the person’s attributes persist from one session to the next and are saved within the user’s avatar—a virtual placeholder symbolizing the user’s identity in the space and allowing the user to interact with the environment (Poole. and consequential implication. murky water in a particular location in a virtual river). social validation. thus allowing the user to experiment with different aspects of one’s identity and engage in a form of dramatic play (Donath. et al. Multi-User Virtual Worlds. These types of multi-user virtual worlds support hundreds of thousands of users each day and consume hundreds of millions of man hours per game. And it is my belief that the digital age has brought with it associated experiential affordances in the form of multiuser virtual worlds that have the potential to transform school curricula. just as embodying powers of ten within a traditional manipulative makes visible that mathematical abstraction (Barab. share a book. Such communities become spaces where players adopt new identities and affiliations (Turkle. Zuiker. allowing the player to test conjectures. Toward this end. in press). While in some of our work one can perceptually see a disciplinary concept (e. Game communities as ideological worlds entail elaborate formal and informal structures through which players are apprenticed into communities. Key to these multi-user virtual worlds are their persistent social and material environments. In many of these games. on the other hand. Accordingly. Beyond simply being narratives. engaging in conceptual play allows for an extension of oneself into a contextof-use. exploiting the pseudonimity of computer-mediated space. which serve as the referent that. and develop elaborate knowledge (Shaffer. universes with their own culture and discourses that change and evolve over time (Squire. Squire. Gee (2003) and Steinkuehler (2006) describe these worlds as discourse communities that recruit complex cognitive and communicative practices. or even show a movie but not establish a proxy character and setting that the learner can enlist and act upon. my work entails the use of videogame technologies to establish prototypical situations as exemplars. establishing a new world and self—a virtual-real being (Gee. Warren. 1994). 2006)..   much the way participation in scientific communities engenders complex cognitive processes. Steinkuehler. boasting economies that surpass the GNP of many actual countries (Castronova.. the avatar develops a distinct identity. Kolbert. 1995). can embed one within a story.g. 1999. develop alliances and evolving goals. a player can bring about a particular chemical reaction or even act as a fictional newspaper editor who approves a particular story and then witnesses the effects of that decision. Game designers. thereby helping learners appreciate the meaningfulness of the concept (its use value) for transforming problematic situations (Barab. for the learner. we are primarily interested in the learner having the experience of being in a scenario through which applying one’s understanding of a disciplinary concept has impact on the (virtual) situation—a situation in which the learner has a significant role and which is semantically revealing. not simply as an observer but as first-person protagonist who experiences personal intention. witnessing an algae bloom by examining the green. Turkle. teachers can describe a situation.. . 2005). makes “visible” the to-be-learned concept. 2003) nested in a virtualreal world wherein the disciplinary concepts have meaning and the learner has impact in that world. 2007). & Gee. 2000). moreover. digital games afford intense interactivity. Zuiker. Halverson. act upon them. 2001). and witness the consequences.Narratizing Disciplines and Disciplinizing Narratives 5 As such. 2001.

in contrast.Narratizing Disciplines and Disciplinizing Narratives 6   To be clear. and outcome represent. games are not simply narrative spaces to be read or toward which one feels empathy for someone else’s experience.g. we introduced the notion of affordance networks. in playing the game Katamari Damaci. It is in this way that games truly embody the learner and that the experience serves as an embodied situational referent for the underlying disciplinary concept. Games. part game character. when a player uses a keyboard or some other prosthetic to make one’s avatar perform an action as part of a persistent virtual world. Beyond the perceptual affordances of being immersed within a virtual world. the avatar appears as a ball (a Katamari) that rolls around collecting objects of the player’s choosing. she is expressing a value set about the appropriateness of a government agency to dictate the land management practices of an indigenous population. in playing the game Fable. forming a playercharacter that may be thought of as PlayerKatamari. intentionality (an adopted goal set). a well-designed digital game offers something more than the traditional simulation: it involves not simply understanding a concept but transforming a storyline and one’s character in relation to the concept. It is through one’s participation as part of a dynamic yet persistent world that digital games find the potential to provide situational referents for abstract concepts and even situationally embodiment for the learner. Likewise. Player-Katamari’s actions function as a tool embodying the player within the complex system that the game’s narrative. and consequentiality (efficacy through action)— characteristics typically absent in traditional curricular contexts. she perhaps feels ethically virtuous. rules. but the park will eventually goes bankrupt.. referring to “the . one better understands the game world and its nested concepts but additionally bears the potential to change both the game world and the playercharacter—and by extension the player’s own self. Elsewhere. must ponder—though the results of the player’s actions determine the evolving identity of one’s game character. and part player-character—what Gee (2003) referred to as the virtual-real being. if the player chooses to move the indigenous people out of the virtual park because of their land use practices. in our academic play spaces described below. not the game character. In that accounting. by extending both our perceptions and our abilities to act (e. can create new agent-environment interactions. at one point the player must decide whether or not his game character will intimidate a bully to reclaim the teddy bear taken from the little girl whom the player-character is trying to help. avatars can fly and teleport). such embodiment also offers a potential for meaning making that is typically absent when disciplinary content is presented simply as facts to be memorized for a test. and the jobless will express their frustration with her simplistic decision. Through navigating one’s avatar around the persistent world and making particular choices. if she moves the logging company out of the park. powerful but not necessarily transformational. immerse learners in worlds in which they have agency (purposeful choice). can provide an extension of oneself and the world. both the avatar and the world change. Similarly. For example. Games. This represents a moral decision that the player. my colleagues and I have argued that we need to reconsider what constitutes a minimal meaningful ontological characterization of a lesson. then. this is because the learner is immersed as protagonist in a storyline that unfolds as part of a persistent world in which the player’s application of disciplinary content can transform both the world and the player-character’s reputation as a citizen of that world. legitimacy (a meaningful role). On the contrary. The argument advanced here is that such an experience has the potential to fundamentally change the very meaning of a disciplinary content. too. establishing a new world and self that is part player. As I have argued. Avatars. more often than not. Some might argue that the ability to test the water quality in a virtual world and even examine the outcome of different choices remains simply a simulation.

concepts. it is one thing for an educator or instructional designer to create the potential for engaged participation. where they take on meaning through the relations they actualize. & Duguid. an academic play space. it concerns helping students experience disciplinary content as narratively significant and personally meaningful. and concrete character of learning outside of school. as opposed to the individual and abstract character of learning that occurs inside of schools. taken with respect to an individual. Being able to participate in a network involves much more than knowing a fact. situative perspectives of knowing and participation suggest a reformulation of learning in which doing is not conceived of as independent of learning and in which meaning is not conceived of as separate from the practices and contexts in which it is has value (Barab & Duffy. In short. As a particular form of a reflexive play space. Shortly after this seminal work. Accordingly. intended to be simultaneously fun and serious. Her analysis focused attention on the collaborative. I will describe the notion of a reflexive play space. using particular tools to measure the water quality. examined the practices in schools. 2006. commitments. the twelve design strategies that we have found useful in the development of such spaces are presented (Barab. p. In the next section. contextualized. and following this conceptual framing. and compared them to how we learn and use knowledge outside of schools—a participation metaphor. In general. Indeed. 1989). which are predicated most strongly on the acquisition metaphor. 1989). the network related to determining the water quality of a stream involves posing hypotheses to be tested. It is my contention that the current emphasis on abstracted understandings prioritizes neither the potential nor the passion. and choosing to engage such a network requires more than having content expertise. Collins. 2000. tools. Conceptual Play Spaces In our work. two foci apparently neglected in the enterprise to ensure that no child is left behind. and reflexive engagement. Collins. Brown. at the same time. transactive engagement. that are distributed across time and space and are viewed as necessary for the satisfaction of particular goal sets” (Barab & Roth. Reflexive engagement involves the learner examining how their participation changed the environment and then using this understanding to interrogate the dynamics of the environment as well as their role in influencing such dynamics. agendas. 2006). and Duguid . 5). Immersive engagement then involves situating the task in the context of a larger dramatic storyline in which the learner participates. To be clear. Brown. a curricular context designed to establish situative embodiment. the situative perspective privileges knowledgeable participation over fact acquisition (Sfard. Briefly. we have come to describe conceptual play as being characterized by four modes of engagement described more fully below: conceptual engagement. Networks are fundamentally embodied and embedded in the lived-in-world. and understanding the meaning of the measured pH and turbidity. it is designed to scaffold students in learning both what Aristotle referred to as the “particulars” and the “universals. Below. & Ingram-Goble. I briefly elaborate upon the four types of participation. and even people.Narratizing Disciplines and Disciplinizing Narratives 7   collection of facts. yet it is quite another to excite a passion for realizing this potential. methods.” It concerns understanding content in terms of its functional application. Dodge. in her presidential address to the American Educational Research Association. positioning the self in terms of the virtual world. thereby establishing an artificial exchange value to knowledge rather than connecting into its authentic use value (Lave. 1997). Resnick (1987). Knowledgeable Participation. practices. immersive engagement. Transactive engagement occurs when one’s actions affect another and. engages the user in a rich context while it supports the enlistment and application of domain-specific content—typically valued by public school academies. conceptual engagement involves enlisting target concepts in the service of solving a particular task. At its core. recursively impact the actor.

cf. 330 B. they develop through dynamic activity. reversal of the problematic situation./1992). properly designed conceptual play spaces position the player as protagonist in a contested space in which one finds a spatially-bound problem that changes over time. As far back as the works of Aristotle. but not as an explicit focus of the experience.Narratizing Disciplines and Disciplinizing Narratives 8   (1989). 1993. to the learner whole cloth. within designed parameters.or textbook-owned descriptions of practices and . Drawing from Bruner (2002. abstracted or detached from. commenting on legal concepts. & Young. and ultimately a resolution of balance. 287) elaborated.” Such dynamic relations cannot be told. they emphasized the belief that subject and object (or individual and environment) cannot be separated into discrete entities with inner qualities. Bruner (2002) describes Burke’s (1945) dramatic Pentad. are fundamentally different from—and generally far richer and more meaningful than—teacher. This conflict involves some sort of story complication to which there is also a turning point.C. Garret. 13). Transactive Participation. 2003). “once understood in the context of the narratives that give it meaning. and plot. This occurs because games can enlist interactive rule sets and webs of relations such that the player becomes the protagonist who determines. Aristotle. and projective identification with plotlines that potentially resonate with other situations (cf. rather. p. More elaborately. From this perspective. Advancing this work a step further. As such. 1990. Swenson. 34. Shaw. and how central it was to the thinking of Dewey and Bentley (1949). knowledgeable participation describes a way of being that involves thinking with a disciplinary formalism (Thomas & Brown. Squire & Jan. ongoing processes rather than as static ties among inert substances. 2006. As Emirbayer (1997.” Consistent with this thinking. law becomes not merely a system of rules to be observed. Lave & Wenger. And whereas a particular narrative affords engagement. rather. and plot. an evocative narrative must balance the story’s particulars. Once the designer has identified the core concepts and those contexts in which they find functional value. & Jin. 2007). either the subject or object (Khalil. including setting. characters. instead. 2003). p. the potential to evoke engagement is realized through balancing the dramatic elements. 1993). For a narrative. “what is distinct about the transactional approach is that it sees relations between terms or units as preeminently dynamic in nature. they are defined by a transaction that cannot be reduced to. radically separated by the skin. emerge as sets of relations forming through dynamic interactions. argued that one should abandon the notion of concepts as self-contained entities and instead conceive of them as tools that can be fully understood only through use. In their work. as consisting of “an Agent who performs an Action to achieve a Goal in a recognizable Setting by the use of certain Means” (p. as unfolding. Bruner’s 1992 notion of “metaphorical loft”). including setting. perspective taking. then. how the story will unfold. or narrative grammar. but a world in which to live. arising through their functional significance as part of a dynamic system. the next step is to establish an immersive framework— usually one that involves a narrative. videogames additionally reposition the audience such that they experience a sense of agency and consequentiality with respect to their engagement with the narrative (Gee. Greeno. based on player decisions as one navigates the game environment (Lee. characters. knowing and meaning do not exist as isolated components of individuals or of the environment but. among others (Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt. We have already alluded to the notion of transaction. through holistic participation as part of a system (Barab. or transmitted. Central to our work is the conviction that learner practices and meaningful relations. our work focuses on disciplinary concepts. 1999). Cherkes-Julkowski. when designing a reflexive play space. To begin. one must first identify those contextsof-use in which the disciplinary concepts bear legitimate value as tools. Immersive Participation. conflict has been considered fundamental to dramaturgy. 2006). Park.

A reflexive process is one that feeds back upon and changes itself. for elaboration on these types of interactive game dynamics). In our work. we have developed individual lessons that entail simplistic trajectories and involve only two class periods. 2005). related contexts.Narratizing Disciplines and Disciplinizing Narratives 9   meanings. they have all been designed to give rise to the above four types of participation and have all been informed by the twelve design strategies listed in Table 1. my colleagues and I have developed numerous reflexive play spaces in various shapes and sizes. though designers can still establish parameters with particular affordances. or (c) some sort of concrete fading (Goldstone & Son. deliberate and explicit in leveraging their affordances to foster domain understandings. to illustrate how the theoretical conjectures and design strategies were instantiated into an actual designed learning environment. To different degrees. reflexivity serves as means of facilitating contextual loft. I focus on the more complex Taiga Fish Kill unit plan. a core challenge in developing reflexive play spaces is to design the environment such that it is likely to produce such transactional relations. I describe the . ideologies. As such. Reflexive Participation. Willig. experiences. Such facilitation involves the placement of just-in-time pedagogical scaffolds and reflective necessities as well as (a) the use of liminal tasks (Turner. Conceptual Play Spaces in Action Over the past five years. it involves reflecting upon the ways in which one’s values. and offering consequential options that change the unfolding dynamics of the underlying narrative (see Salen & Zimmerman. and especially actions have shaped the unfolding or accounting of an experience (Nightingale & Cromby. 2004. I begin with a brief description of a simple mission. in a multi-user game they are much more emergent. interests. designing achievement trajectories. A key challenge in designing reflexive play spaces is to support learners in reflecting on important disciplinary dynamics as well as in examining the relevance of the dynamics to other. their effects. while in a single user game these parameters are mostly formulated by the designer. Sally’s Diary Dilemma. a connection emphasizing the importance of understanding how one’s biases change the very stories and contexts in which one conducts research (Schwandt. 2001). which is presented in greater detail. that is. Following this description. Reflexivity requires one to identify and critically examine one’s actions. Similarly. Reflexivity is typically discussed in relation to qualitative research. when one speculates that the turbidity of a body of water is dependent on the loggers not leaving a proper buffer zone. Zuiker. and status bars/markers. 2007). and the underlying causal mechanisms for those effects. and clubs that may also persist an entire year but are emergent and opportunistic in the participation that they engender. And. reflecting their scale and intention. For example. (b) providing contrasting cases (Schwartz & Bransford. providing in-game avatars. 1974. units that extend across eight or more class periods and support bounded but recursive trajectories. For example. in fostering identity relations to contexts. We accomplish this goal by defining interactive rules. 1999. with most characterized as academic play spaces.. evolving homepages.g. In our work. it concerns helping the learner attune to both that which is particular (the situational context) and that which is universal (the disciplinary content) as well as their relations to context and content. Below. A final experiential component or braid involves supporting reflexive participation. Finally. some explicit design maneuver is usually necessary to attune the learner to what is narratively specific about the experience and what are the underlying disciplinary principles and tools that find cross-narrative application. one is not only describing the particular narrative but also gaining insight into an underlying dynamic that may likely explain other contexts as well. that is. 2001). however. 1998). curricula that span a year or more and include collections of lessons and units. we have found it useful to reify one’s accomplishments and choices in terms of character representations—e.

Narratizing Disciplines and Disciplinizing Narratives 10   Troubled Lakes Zone. as . their game character can perform previously inaccessible behaviours) and characterizing participation in terms of the foundational storyline. explicit social commitments. 2004. The core elements of QA are 1) a 3D multi-user virtual environment (MUVE). QA combines strategies used in the commercial gaming environment with lessons from educational research on learning and motivation. [insert Table 1 about here] Before elaborating on these three play spaces in relation to the strategies listed in Table 1. students work with a librarian (embedded scaffold) to better understand the concept of metaphor and interpret the meaning of the metaphorical entries in Sally’s diary. each player can evolve her character based on personal interests and priorities such that after two months of participation. To aid them in their exploration. including Quests. Tuzun. The activity takes place in a virtual world (contested space) in which students navigate through a 3D multi-user environment. At its core. storyline. Dodge. 4) inquiry learning activities. 2004). Thomas. Students move through the space by using the keyboard or mouse to control an avatar. their game character visibly “luminates” on core social commitments. I briefly describe the meta-game curricular context within which each of these is situated. 3) a customizable homepage and various trajectories through which a player’s character can evolve. & Arici. within constraints in that many activities are assigned by one’s teacher. ages 9–12. Through Quest Atlantis. Dodge. and so do the affordances of the virtual space as students gain access to new and different sorts of information (interactive rules). talk with other users and mentors. their physical representation in the game world. players can travel to virtual places to perform various educational activities. Sally’s Diary Dilemma.e. & Tuzun. because of the program’s multi-user nature. 2007). and 5) a globallydistributed community of 7500 participants who log in from five countries. In Sally’s Diary Dilemma mission. zones. Barab. missions. Also. cohesion. Elaborated elsewhere (Barab. Jackson. in educational tasks (see http://QuestAtlantis. players rarely have similar game experiences and character profiles. a rich multi-user environment that belies most traditional classroom activities and best corresponds to an extracurricular club activity. only after debriefing with the guidance counselor and obtaining the respect of the librarian (achievement trajectories) do students earn permission to read Sally’s diary entries. each with its own identifiable rules and challenges (Salen & Zimmerman. Quest Atlantis (QA) is a learning and teaching project that uses a 3D multi-user environment to immerse children. Building on the model of online role-playing games. a genre of play in which an overarching structure lends form. For example. & Carteaux. 2) an unfolding storyline involving a mythical Council and a set of social commitments. As students are prompted to seek out additional characters and resources.. and even simulated worlds. representing an increased functionality (i. The QA virtual environment. Jackson. Further. and depending on their personal history of participation. students have a choice of avatar appearances and available functionalities. and meaning to a collection of nested activities. Further. associated structures. and social policies constitute what is referred to as a meta-game context. click on virtual characters who present pre-scripted dialogue (dramatic storyline). 2004. the Sally Diary Mission involves understanding similes and metaphors (target concepts). Barab. participation role) about whether he should more actively assist Sally (see Figure 1). the plot advances. and offer a recommendation to the counselor (legitimate task. finding players with particular profiles becomes a useful means for completing various activities and advancing the unfolding narrative. and build virtual personae. As students complete these various activities. students fictionally assist a school guidance counselor in uncovering the meaning of Sally’s diary entries.

one of the Atlantian Council characters. students (a) learn concepts including erosion. The player can choose among various responses. 2007). Screenshot from Sally’s Diary Dilemma Mission showing three non-player characters and a player homepage at right Taiga Fish Kill.. Sadler et al.. Because of the recommendation of the technician. a new set of Quests becomes revealed and available. and examine the impact of their recommendation. introduced by Lan. and system dynamics. [insert Figure 2 about here] Through participation in the aquatic habitat unit.Narratizing Disciplines and Disciplinizing Narratives 11 students complete various tasks. water quality. and (c) develop a richer commitment to environmental awareness (target concepts).g. 2006. (b) build skills including graph (de)construction. they learn more about the ecological problem and what they can do to affect it (achievement trajectories). The Taiga Fishkill unit is presently the most thoroughly researched of the examples in terms of exemplifying what we mean by an academic play space (Barab. Throughout the 3–4 class periods during which they complete the mission. water quality analysis. Again. Students carry out various investigations into the health of the waterway and the impact of the nearby park activities. socio-scientific reasoning. Figure 1. clicking on Norbe. and they likewise attain new objects that increase the functionality (identity scaffolds) of their in-game character. Figure 2 shows a screenshot from Taiga Park and a dialogue interaction that unfolds when players click on non-player characters. called upon to determine the cause of in the diminishing fish population (legitimate task). hypothesis generation. The story was designed to engage students in the position of expert helper (participation role). and based on one’s choices and other experiences in Taiga (e. choosing to ally with park stakeholders. students interview people with various perspectives on the problem. using their avatar. the Taiga unit can be thought of as an interactive narrative set within an aquatic habitat (the Taiga Park) where a serious ecological problem resulted in many fish dying. students are also given an opportunity to work with a technician who provides a just-in-time lesson on interpreting water quality indicators (embedded scaffold). there are no explicit collaborative structures. collecting water quality data. propose an informed and practical solution. collect and analyze data to develop a hypothesis about the problem. as students complete various tasks and develop their skill set and suite of tools (evolving identity). As part of the second activity. Lastly. they are also treated differently by game characters. In this particular play space. students engage in writing to describe and justify their perspective and actions (articulation episodes). eutrophication. Lan asks students to work in pairs (collaborative opportunities) where each member has access to . Zuiker et al. the indigenous   farmer. students navigate through the virtual park and interact with other players and non-player characters who use pre-scripted dialogues to communicate their perspective on the problem (dramatic storyline). More generally. etc. For example. Over time. once students have submitted their recommendation to Ranger Bartle (another nonplayer character). one receives unique responses from Norbe (interactive rules).).. More specifically. Barab. initiates a branching dialogue sequence told from the farmer’s perspective. they each receive a unique email from Sally in response to their recommendation (consequential options). and at the end of the mission. and scientific inquiry.

The TLZ. the consequences of their previous recommendation (consequential options) run their course. Our examination of student dialogue indicated that we had effectively narratized the disciplinary content but had not disciplinized the narrative in a way that students appreciated the underling universals when prompted to apply them to a different context. and intended for classtime use. the park is bankrupted. While students work on these new activities. 2007). 2007). guided by designer-controlled dynamics. we elaborate only one of three sub-optimal solutions so that students can first understand the socio-scientific effects of such choices. Troubled Lakes Zone. based on the quality of the suggestion. F(1. focused chiefly on individual game play. These findings suggest that students were not simply immersed in the rich context or understanding the underlying domain formalisms in terms of Taiga. and distal items.01. in contrast. and subsequent implementations revealed significant learning gains on both proximal items.. and Ranger Bartle must either seek another job or transfer to another location. F(1. Figure 2. Zuiker. oriented around collaborative play. 19) = 9. & Zuiker. Illustrating the power of designed spaces for learning. students gain an opportunity to understand how what they learned in one context relates to another context. In the first implementation. we found high levels of student engagement and a statistically significant increase in pre-post learning gains using standardized test items cherry-picked to address the same content as the curriculum. Those academic play spaces are controlled primarily by teachers. Such problematic consequences can be averted if the student can describe the woes of the recommendation and convincingly argue for a different course of action (articulation episode). In this way. p < . and intended for use after school. 19) = 16. et al. Hickey. is student initiated. designed for emergent dynamics. Indeed. Screenshot from Taiga Fishkill World showing a character and evolving dialogue Research results gathered over several cycles of implementation and revision are illuminative with respect to the challenges of integrating games to support academic content learning. also mentioned in an email sent by Ranger Bartle to their in-game character. we incorporated more transactive and reflexive opportunities to foster the experience described above. if students chose to expel the logging company. p < . The Troubled Lakes Zone (TLZ) was designed with a very different focus than were missions and virtual worlds.Narratizing Disciplines and Disciplinizing Narratives 12   different data to analyze another aquatic habitat with a similar eutrophication problem (legitimate task). one that is reviewed by their teacher posing as an Atlantian Council member and.77.01 (Barab. the zone is only . illustrating that that the engagement it may foster depends largely on players’ intrinsic motivation and prior experience. For example. Therefore. Sadler. but we found no gains on more general and transferoriented items (Barab.03. but also appreciating their relationship to other distal contexts. Students are then given the opportunity to introduce an original solution. Heislt.

interesting to the player. which benefit the individual player.Narratizing Disciplines and Disciplinizing Narratives 13 accessible by those who have already luminated on Environmental Awareness (i. As part of their professional training. In highlighting this problem. students must build complex problem solving models about the underlying dynamics such that they can collaboratively negotiate with other group members how to maximize the group’s productivity (target concepts). Finally. Also. marine biologist. At the individual level. they require that players develop and apply a rich understanding of the authentic associated professions. while the sponge-like zorbies can be returned to the acclimation chamber for future reattachment. they can gain further experience. to be successfully completed. can absorb particular amounts of the radiation and protect the town inhabitants (consequential options). earned over ten lumins or points for completing activities associated with that social commitment). Conclusions I began this manuscript with the premise that our educational system has overemphasized disciplinary content (universals) and underrepresented the contexts (particulars) for which this content has value. That is. Students first choose one of the various towns to aid. the manual content becomes quite clear. if properly attached to various organic rafts. as students complete various trainings opportunities and virtual activities (interactive rules). and conceptually challenging. These tasks. usually inversely correlated. nuclear engineer. and study and practice the profession at higher levels. they must work collectively by determining which players should focus on which zorbies and at what times (collaboration structures). However. moreover. during each cycle. she can meaningful harvest a saturated zorbie when it reaches its maximal value and can no longer absorb radiation. if a player understands how to interpret pH values and perform mathematical calculations. the argument drew upon Gee’s (2003) example of trying to read a game manual without playing the game—a task one finds tedious. For example. explain   their work to trainers and new players (justification episodes). Students come to understand such complex dynamics as incubating the living sponges (legitimate task) such that the irradiated shells can be detached from the rafts and sold as a clean fuel source. a certain amount of radiation is released. though dissociated from the “real world” by the fiction of the game narrative. because the processed shells can be sold either at environmentally friendly organizations. students come to also understand notions associated with chemical reactions. once one engages the game itself. Additionally. among other mathematical and scientific ideas (target concepts). As students successfully process more zorbies. graph interpretations. each player makes a choice regarding which zorbies they will process. based on the collective efforts of all of the players working in a particular town. or on the black market. remain nonetheless legitimate in terms of the narrative. which help the town’s prosperity. each being located around a lake emitting radiation (contested space). in-game characters and other game dynamics respond to them accordingly. and different potential and storyline are revealed (unfolding trajectories). with different zorbie colors indicating their present absorptive potential and market value.e. if a particular group seeks to maximize their output. Additionally. and even valuable for improving one’s performance in the game. percentage and ratio calculations. uninteresting. individual players must consistently choose between activities that contribute to the welfare of the group versus individual gains (consequential options). Students then receive technical training (embedded scaffold) in a subset of the associated professions (evolving identity)— chemical engineer. and/or industrial engineer—and are invited to work with “zorbies” or fictional living sponges (participation role) that.. Extending this thinking . A core aspect of the TLZ is the need for players to collaborate to successfully limit the radiation released during a particular cycle.

it degrades disciplinary knowledge from a useful tool to a set of facts or disembodied rules to be memorized. While focused on supporting learning. and the consequences of such a public and persistent offense are more dire than simply snubbing the individual in the school cafeteria. In particular. Such learning is not only conceptually impoverished but also motivationally monotonous. and regardless of our sentiment about the goodness of such change. As a learning scientist. epistemological. conceptual play spaces are intended to establish a sense of legitimacy (established by conceptual engagement). transactive. Through game play. Briefly. immersive. curriculum designers might benefit from an examination of how gaming methodologies and technologies situatively embody the player and the to-be-learned content in rich participation structures. though being raised in a mountain commune instilled in me a certain reverence for the real as being that which takes place in the natural world. consequentiality. but in the use-value of the concepts in relation to authentic disciplinary practices and — thereby elevating the learner from student to practitioner (Lave & Wenger. for example. And. as one develops a relationship to (or projects oneself into a) virtual character (becoming what Gee [2003] referred to as a player-character). the individual is extended into another world—one that is virtual but that has realworld implications. conceptual play spaces affords intense . Therefore. my work involves cycling back and forth among current conceptions of “reality” and future possibilities as they are being revealed in existing situations or potential situations that engineered through design work. By creating an opportunity for students to engage information in this way. the digital age has established entirely new possibilities and even extended identities that challenge traditional ontological conceptions of what is self.Narratizing Disciplines and Disciplinizing Narratives 14   to educational settings it might be argued that schools only provide learners with the manual and rarely engage them in playing the game. It’s important to note that our concern with legitimacy. conceptual play requires something more than empathizing with a story—it involves engaging in practices that have impact on the story. when a teenager leaves a disparaging comment on a friend’s My Space page or disallows a classmate on her “friends list. Reflexive participation is when the learner examines how their participation changed the environment and then uses this understanding to interrogate the dynamics of the environment as well as their role in influencing such dynamics. for youth today the line between what is virtual and what my generation might consider real has become quite blurred. and accountability (established by reflexive engagement) (see Figure 3). between an individual’s (conceptually inspired) actions and the consequences on the world within which those actions find meaning. what is valued. I have focused on building conceptual play spaces that support conceptual. 1991). this chapter has advanced a transactive perspective that involves positioning concepts and learners within rich. at the same time. Transactive participation occurs when one’s actions affect another and. However. intentionality (established by immersive engagement). In particular. we as educators need to understand and leverage these new possibilities. In particular. recursively impact the actor. are what make conceptual play spaces so powerful for supporting learning.” the implications for the affronted child are very real. and accountability is not bound up in the exchange value of the concepts for a grade. Such dynamic couplings. and reflexive participation. positioning the self in terms of the virtual world. and teleological platforms are changing. and what is knowing. consequentiality (established by transactive engagement). intentionality. what is real. Immersive participation then involves situating the task in the context of a larger dramatic storyline and contested space. interactive systems that elevate concepts from abstracted facts to conceptual tools that operate and transform those very same narratives that imbued the concepts with worth. So. conceptual participation involves enlisting target concepts in the service of solving a particular task. The ontological.

To restate.Narratizing Disciplines and Disciplinizing Narratives 15   interactivity. or both how the narrative changes students’ understanding and relation to the disciplinary content at the same time how the content changes students’ understanding and relation to the narrative. we are interested in content-context reciprocity. Zuiker. provide learners with a sense of legitimacy. providing a perceptual instantiation of an academic concept). but even if a teacher were able to take the class to a local park. Core Elements of a Conceptual Play Space as well as Emergent Conjectured States Implications Conceptual play. Or. precisely its situatedness. To be clear. and especially the conceptual play spaces as described here. 286). and witness the consequences of their actions. sometimes through pedagogical agents that provide meaningful lessons. and sometimes through teacher materials and activities. “the main weakness of situated cognition is. using fieldtrip time and resources. and the more we strip the disciplinary concepts presented in schools of the meaningful contexts of use in which they have naturalistic connections. a teacher would be challenged to arrange classroom materials in a manner that could truly immerse learners in a dramatic narrative in which they act as protagonist. Figure 3. the park would not likely be arranged in a way that . as a goal for designing curriculum. act upon them. p. Also. in press). Alternatively. Indeed. we provide additional transfer tasks in which in-game characters enlist players to use their developing expertise in solving related problems that have different particulars but similar need for applying disciplinary content. my belief is this: cognition is always situated. and accountability in ways that exceed that afforded by most school-based lessons. Many commercial games. as argued by Bereiter (1997. allowing the student to test conjectures. 1929). by bounding up disciplinary context within interactive narrative contexts.” Toward this end. An important part challenge underlying our work is how to then overcome the particular such that students appreciate the cross-variant potential value of the disciplinary concepts. intentionality. making visible the functional utility of one’s understanding (Barab. we have the potential to not only change learner understanding of the use value of the content. sometimes through the enlistment of actual formal resources. but also offer learners the opportunity to regard themselves as ones who can meaningfully apply disciplinary content. the more likely we are to engender inert knowledge in unmotivated learners (Whitehead. but making the abstract meaningful and exciting a passion for schooling. et al. offers much in terms of curing the crises of meaning currently ailing our educational system. we provide various opportunities to highlight for students the explicit meanings of the disciplinary concepts. Founded upon ecological and situated perspectives. consequentiality. One might suggest instead that the teacher take the students outside the classroom.. my interest is not simply in making the abstract concrete (that is. find legitimate roles. and interact meaningfully and consequentially with the storyline. it seems.

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discourse practices. resources. commitments.Narratizing Disciplines and Disciplinizing Narratives 19   Table 1 Components of an Academic Play Space Braid Knowledgeable Participation Design Target Concepts Legitimate Tasks Embedded Scaffolds Dramatic Storyline Participation Roles Contested Space Interactive Rules Description Core understandings and practices that students are expected to learn Increasingly complex real-world and fantastical challenges with nested goals The availability of appropriate tools. and contexts of use Opportunities for warranting and negotiating one’s understandings. and lessons for understanding and accomplishing tasks A story that has engaging tensions and characters who have motives that affect the plot line Opportunities and identities that players enlist as they transform the story and tasks A physical or perceptual environment within which player actions and the storyline takes place Logical and accumulative structures that respond to and dictate player actions Progressive realization of the story and nested goals as well as the player’s position and potentialities Significant junctions in the storyline dependent on the player’s choices and actions Frameworks for self-characterization relative to the affinity groups. and consequences Occasions where members collectively appropriate and repurpose their shared cultural assets Authentic Resonance Experiential Aesthetic Transactive Participation Reflexive Participation Immersive Participation Achievement Trajectories Consequential Options Identity Scaffolds Articulation Episodes Collaboration Structures .