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What Role Can An Understanding Of Learner Identity In The Games World Play In Helping Learners Achieve In The Classroom?

The past two decades have seen the rise of digital tools and spaces to the extent that their ubiquitous presence permeates many aspects of what happens in our schools and wider educational contexts. From 1-to-1 tablet deployment to cloud computing to online submission and marking the digital is here, there and everywhere. The backdrop to this rise is one that has long promised that our investment in this myriad of technologies would deliver in terms of transformed practice (Cuban, 2001; Buckingham, 2007; Selwyn, 2016). However, is it the case that this promise has been realised in education or is it that beneath this image of change, technology still hasn’t proved to be the revolutionary force that it was said to be (Conlon, 2006; Edgerton, 2006)? Even though education has invested in this promise of digital transformation for years now is it still a commonly held assertion that “despite the pervasive nature of digital technology, its benefits are not always fully felt within our education establishments” (Scottish Government, 2016, p.3).

The influence of the digital world in these past two decades hasn’t solely happened in formal educational contexts but also in informal learner-owned contexts outside of school. So much so that young people are occupying digital spaces and harnessing digital tools in such a way that their levels of digital skills, digital collegiality and creativity are flourishing in a world of little, if any, adult intervention. Is it the case that this informal learning may not be given the chance to be used, celebrated and embedded in their experience of learning in more formal settings? In the computer games world for instance it is not an uncommon occurrence for primary school aged children to use an Elgato capture card to prepare video tutorial materials for their YouTube sites, to live stream their game-playing to a global audience via Twitch or to use Redstone to wire up a lighting circuit to illuminate a world in Minecraft. Yet, can it be argued that aspects of their experience of digital education in school is one that fails to recognise the richness and potential in such contexts in favour of one that requires them to develop a skill-set designed to address a neoliberal agenda of preparedness for the effective use of digital business tools? When one explores this learner owned domain (Gee, 2003) of the computer game one can see that there is so much there in terms of learner identity (Holland and Lave, 2001; Wortham, 2004) that, if acknowledged, has the potential to change the dynamic of the school experience for many of our children and our teachers.

In this presentation Derek Robertson will explore findings from his Minecraft research project that throw light on what schools can learn about learner identity and how an appreciation of and commitment to this this can impact on the way that children’s abilities to learn can be framed by the school.


  • Buckingham, D. (2007). Beyond technology: Children’s learning in the age of digital culture (Illustrated ed.). Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Conlon, T (2006) The Dark Side of GLOW, Scottish Educational Review, 40(2), pp. 64-75.Available at: http://www.scotedreview.org.uk/media/scottish-educational-review/articles/104.pdf (Accessed: 21/11/2017)
  • Cuban, L. (2001) Oversold and Underused: computers in the classroom, Cambridge, Ma: Harvard University Press.
  • Edgerton, D. (2006) The Shock of the Old: Technology in Global History Since 1900, London: Profile Books
  • Gee, J.P. (2003) What Video Games Have to Teach us About Learning and Literacy. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Holland, D. & Lave, J. (2001) Introduction in D.Holland & J.Lave (eds) History in Person: Ending Struggles and the Practice of Identity. Albuquerque, NM: School of American Research Press
  • Selwyn, N. (2016) Is Technology Good for Education? Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Scottish Government (2016) Enhancing Learning and Teaching Through the Use of Digital Technology: A Digital Learning and Teaching Strategy for Scotland. Available at: http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2016/09/9494/0 (Accessed on 20th November 2017).
  • Wortham, S. (2004) From good student to outcast. The emergence of a classroom identity. Ethos, 32(2): 164-187

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