My textbook was shipped on 3/29, but I'm still awaiting it's delivery via USPS. Should be here any day, maybe today! I'll begin my journal reflections immediately thereafter. I'm glad to begin a "normal" week after having been in jury duty in Corvallis all day, every work day last week. I'm looking forward to meeting everyone in the class this afternoon at 4:30pm after having to miss last Monday's first day of class.

4/9/11: Week 1 Questions (Chapters 1-2)
Describe your background & history with video & computer games. I am old enough to remember buying “Pong” when it was new and playing it on my TV. Decades ago I played my share of “Pac Man.” Then there was a long while until I became interested in “Civilization” (I). Being a frequent business traveler, I enjoyed having “Civilization” on my laptop so I could bring it along for entertainment in the evenings in hotel rooms. “Civilization IV” a few years ago was the last video game I played regularly. Since then, I have been an observer only, watching my teenage boys play “Call of Duty: Black Ops,” “Grand Theft Auto,” and “Mafia.” When they were younger I watched them play “Magic School Bus” educational games.

What are some of the real and/or virtual “identities” you take on? In the Civilization game, one can choose to be a historical leader of a particular country. These leaders are differentiated by their historical characteristics. Some are more aggressive, warlike, scientific, growth oriented, defensive, etc. It is best for the player who plays upon his civilizations strengths. "Real" identities between which I have had to switch based on the semiotic domain I found myself include: employee, husband, father, customer, student and friend. I believe we all do this. We assume different roles depending upon the context and act differently as the situaion demands.

What impact might James Paul Gee’s definition of “literacy” have on your teaching? My reading of Gee’s definition of “semiotic domains” reinforces lessons I learned last term regarding differentiated teaching. That is, providing a layered curriculum for students and avoiding a “one size fits all” approach. Students can be oriented towards visual, auditory, tactile or kinesthetic styles of learning and may have disabilities that make some styles and methods more effective than others (e.g., books on tape for visual disabilities). A good teacher can design lessons that offer variety of media and materials to reach the most students. Gee’s definition of literacy I think has less to do with student disabilities and more to do with how language and literacy is invariably linked to the context of the subject. Written and spoken words are symbols for abstract thought, but their meanings are not absolute, but dependent upon the context. Gee's examples of “dribbling” a basketball as distinct from "drooling." A “cross” can be religious, or a gun sight.
As teachers, the more literate when can be with various modalities, the greater our reach of effective teaching can be. Multi-lingual teachers can communicate with more students. A teacher who is familiar with rap music and/or video games will be more effective than one who is not. While we teach our students how to speak and write English correctly, we must also be able to “speak their languages” to teach our lessons effectively.

What experiences have you had learning in new semiotic domains? Many years ago I graduated from college as a history major. My primary learning modes were reading and listening to lectures, with some visits to historical sites mixed in. Upon joining the corporate world my “domain” shifted so that I would become familiar with computer and printing technologies and their associated vocabularies. As I moved into contract negotiations within that high-tech environment, I became more comfortable working with lawyers and understanding their jargon, corporate laws and how to edit and develop contracts. Learning in a corporate environment was no longer just simple reading and lecturing. Self-paced lessons on computers were more common. It seems to me that each time someone learns in a new area, one learns all of the associated context, background and vocabulary. Isn’t this what it means to become “literate” in a new area?

4/10/11: Week 2 Questions (Chapters 3-4)

How might virtual & projective identities be important in your teaching? As I read the section of Gee’s book related to real, virtual and projective identities, it reminded me not only of the various identities I have assumed in video games, but also reminded me of how these concepts can apply to my experience in fatherhood. Obviously my sons are not “virtual,” but I as they have succeeded or failed in various endeavors, I have felt them to be somewhat my successes and failures. I see this as analogous to Gee’s descriptions of his feelings towards “Bead Bead.” In this fatherly analogy, my projective identity is my vision for what my sons will eventually become. What are their inherent limitations? How might I limit them further by “playing the ‘father’ game” poorly? How can I help them come closest to their potentials?

I believe that these questions can be applied to how teachers see their students. The students will not all have the same skills, potentials and limitations (like virtual identities in video games). In my “real identity” as a teacher, how may I best interact with my “virtual identities” (my students, although this is stretching the “virtual” analogy) to achieve the “projective” identities that I envision? Gee says: “The kind of person I want Bead Bead to be, the kind of history I want her to have, the kind of person and history I am trying to build in and through her is what I mean by a projective identity. Since these aspirations are my desires for Bead Bead, the projective identity is both mine and hers, and it is a space in which I can transcend both her limitations and my own. (Gee, 2003) In the above quote from Gee, one could replace “Bead Bead” with “son” or “student” to see how these three identities can be applied to both teaching and being a parent.

Describe an experience you’ve had in teaching a student with a “damaged” identity. I haven’t even been student teaching yet in the classroom, but I can think of examples in coaching my sons and others in basketball and football. Naturally, the faster, stronger, bigger and more experienced boys had more positive views of themselves as players. Those less athletically gifted or experienced sometimes come to the field not fully believing in their ability to get better over time to approximate the skills of their friends. When encountering this, I have reinforced the team concept with them, telling them that we don’t necessarily need clones, but different boys performing different roles, all of which are important to team success. I further explained that nearly everyone that is perceived as a skilled athlete didn’t start out that way, but had to practice to get better. Generally, the best are the ones who worked the most. I help them to understand that I am not measuring them against an absolute standard, but only in terms of how much they improve through their practice and diligence. I would praise them for improvement, not waiting for them to be named Most Valuable Players. I think it’s important to avoid taking the fun out of any academic or athletic endeavor, while showing the student how effort towards a shared goal can be like a mutual adventure and you did not fail if you did the best you could do.

Give an example of a situated meaning in your content area, and describe how you might help students gain a more embodied understanding of it. My content area is high school social studies. If you ask the average person today what a “patriot” is, more often than not they would say it is an NFL player from New England. The word “patriot” had a situated meaning when applied to 1775 Boston, especially as differentiated from “Tories.” In our CSE 606 class last Monday I played “Mission US” online in which my virtual identity was that of a 15 year old farm boy who goes off to Boston to become a printer’s apprentice. From the time I played I could see that he encountered Bostonians off all types (Patriots, Tories and British soldiers). I chose where he would go in town, who he would talk to and what he would say. By making his choices for him, students would gain a more “embodied” understanding about the underlying issues related to the start of our Revolutionary War.

Describe a recent learning experience that involved using the probe, hypothesize, re-probe, and rethink cycle. This cycle reminds me of my recent corporate job of contract negotiator. My job was to sell hundreds of thousands of DVD drives to laptop manufacturers to integrate into their products. In negotiations and poker knowledge truly is power. The less you guess and the more you know, the less your opponent can bluff you. My initial probing would consist of reading industry reports about volumes of DVD drives in laptops sold by these leaders (LG, Samsung, Sony, Lenovo, Asus, etc.), knowing the margins my employer (HP) paid to retailers, and understanding what other DVD makers charged. Without going into more detail, my data would lead me to a hypothesis about volumes, prices, and basic contract terms before any meeting with the customer. Once in contract negotiations, we would ask questions of them to learn what terms and conditions were more important to them. We would also try to hide what our lowest possible sale price would be. The more we learned in the negotiations, the more we would rethink and edit our hypothesis. In the end, we would reach agreement, but the side that learned the most about the other usually got the best of the deal. This is the best business example I can think of that in its essence is a learning experience each time.