UI journalism teacher adds video game narrative writing course to Fall 2012 curriculum

BY JENNY EARL | APRIL 18, 2012 6:30 AM

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Next year, students will be able to rescue Princess Peach for a grade.

Students who enroll in a new video game-based course at the University of Iowa beginning in the fall will get a chance to explore a different type of communication in a growing industry.

"My idea is that everyone can learn from video games," said Kyle Moody, a UI journalism teaching assistant, who will instruct the course. "I am into video games, but I see it more as a way for learning; to write about technology experiences and lifestyle and culture, video games are the entry point to me."

The course, Specialized Reporting & Writing, Video Games & Communication, is a step by the UI to follow an increasingly popular educational technique — video games — used in classrooms.

However, video-game experts in education said analyzing off-the-shelf commercial games isn't a typical approach taken by universities.

Samantha Adams, director of communications at the New Media Consortium, said unlike the UI, the majority of institutions that incorporate games into classes use simulations and gamification, using gaming techniques to reward students with challenges and points.

"I'm happy to hear [this is taking place in] a writing and communications class," she said. "A lot of gaming takes place in STEM classes, but thinking back to my college experience — we write papers, we read books — it's good to build on communication in that respect."

A 2011 study by Michigan State University examining relationships between children's use of information technology and creativity suggested that, regardless of sex or ethnicity, more game time often resulted in more creative brain stimulation.

In addition to creativity, UI officials said, video game use allows students to learn about how society in different cultures has constructed social issues, how they approach problems, emotions and morality, and how we recreate the world.

Moody said the growing video-game industry was also a factor in the decision to add the course.

According to a U.S. Entertainment Software Association's report, there are four interactive entertainment-software locations in Iowa employing roughly 457 workers.

"There's a big video-game industry out there that has a really active audience," said Julie Andsager, a UI journalism professor and the director of the UI Media Research Lab. "[People] are reading stories about video games and publications — the more our students can learn how to write for that market, the better."

The National Purchase Diary, a global market research company, said the video-game industry generated more than $25 billion 2010.

Malcolm Brown, the director of Educause Leaning Initiative, a nonprofit association that advances higher education by promoting use of information technology, said game-based learning helps students dissect what makes video games tick and techniques that appeal to consumers.

"My company has a whole business devoted toward games in education," he said. "Folks are using game elements as a way of adding academic activities to the course — a lot of those come in different flavors."

Moody hopes the UI journalism school's approach to using video games in the classroom will be successful.

"Hopefully, we'll see other classes integrate video games in a smart way and an extension of education done correctly," Moody said. "I've always thought of video games as a site for learning."

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