by Erin Kinard
As educators, our task is to push students to move past the boundaries of what they are currently able to do—to expand their abilities, stretch their knowledge, test their understandings, and apply skills in new and unfamiliar contexts. We do this in an effort to help students achieve their fullest potential—to be their best academic, social, emotional, and professional selves. For most students, taking risks in a learning environment is not an easy or comfortable process. For students who have experienced repeated failures in school, the prospect of taking risks can be paralyzing.
At the recent Games, Learning & Society (GLS) conference , Beth King, a PhD. candidate at the University of Washington at Madison, presented on the process of “creating possibility spaces” for students within the virtual world of Sims2. King described her research with adolescent boys who were disaffiliated with school and had low academic self-esteem. The boys also had a strong affiliation with video games and gaming culture. “The project goal was to encourage each participant to consider the future not in terms of current academic performance but instead based upon their unique hopes, dreams and passion using potential self (Markus & Nurius, 1986) strategies.”
King situated herself as an advocate for the boys by creating safe places for them to practice their “authentic” selves and explore “possible” selves. Within the virtual world of Sims2, she had the boys explore who they thought they could become, who they were afraid to become, and who they were likely to become. King then conducted a series of career development interventions that included a blend of self-explorations within the virtual world sandbox as well as visits to actual worksites and college campuses. After the project, the boys who participated reported an increased ability to visualize their “hoped-for” futures. They also spoke about their individual futures with language that indicated much more agency and ownership.
As educators of students with special needs, the “possibility space” opened up within the sandbox of the virtual world is something we should be fully exploring. If we can give students the opportunity to safely “try on” a number of different occupations and explore various futures and identities, they may surprise us in ways we could never imagine.
Erin Kinard joined PCI as the Vice President, Product Development/Publisher in December, 2009. Kinard oversees product development for the company. Prior to joining PCI, Kinard served as Editorial Director, Reading and ESL for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Supplemental Publishers in Austin. During her eight years at Harcourt, Kinard held a variety of positions including Editorial Director of Steck-Vaughn, and Editorial Director of Reading for Harcourt Achieve. In addition to her educational publishing experience at other companies including Brown Publishing Network and Scholastic, Inc.,