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Reviewing an Academic Paper – the Practice Run

11/09/2011

The Task

1. Find a paper in one of the areas of IT  that interests you.   Just remember, it needs to be an academic paper and you need to be able to access the whole paper. The Sims as a catalyst for girls’ IT learning by Hayes 

2. Before you start to read the paper answer these questions on your blog:

  • Where and how did you find this paper?  – through Google Scholar Search Alert
  • If you found it by searching online, what keywords did you use? – Second Life and Language Teaching’
  • Write out the reference correctly in APA format – 

Hayes, E. (2011). The Sims as a Catalyst for Girls’ IT learning. International Journal Of Gender, Science And Technology, 3(1). Retrieved September 9, 2011, from http://genderandset.open.ac.uk/index.php/genderandset/article/view/132/257

  • Give 3 reasons why you believe this is an ‘academic paper’ 
  1. The focus of the journal indicates that it’s peer-reviewed and theoretical, that is, the articles must be scrutinised by established experts and that the research must be evidence-based:

    The International Journal of Gender Science and Technology (GST) is an open access, peer-reviewed journal that welcomes contributions from practitioners, researchers and policy makers concerned with gender issues in and of science and technology, including engineering, construction and the built environment. Research in these areas is of interest not only to academics, but also to employers and educators involved in these sectors. We welcome contributions from a variety of disciplines and interdisciplinary perspectives and drawing on a wide range of theoretical frameworks.

    Our aim is to help foster and provide a focus for constructive debate and interchange of ideas between key players and experts in this field – promoting the sharing of knowledge and new understandings.

    GST enables those outside of academic institutions to have access to research data and results to inform strategies, responses and progress. Academic researchers will benefit from access to case studies and reports developed by practitioners and policy makers.

  2. The journal is published by the Open University, UK, which is a well-established and recognised institution both in teaching and research.
  3. The author gives her affiliation and contact details (once registered on the site).

3. Now, using the full paper, try to identify the various sections that I described in my previous post.  Note down any sections that you think are missing in the paper, or any that are in your paper that I haven’t mentioned.

  • The reasons why it’s academic/credible: 
    • the title – is informative and engaging
    • the authors (usually with an email address and affiliation) – there’s an option to email the author, once the registration to the site is complete
    • the abstract – is clearly structured, identifying the outline of the overall paper.

” This paper describes how the computer game The Sims and the virtual world Teen Second Life were used as starting points for developing girls’ interests in and capabilities with information technology. One girl’s learning trajectory is used to illustrate how gaming served as a catalyst for fostering her passion for computing, engaged her in sustained, proactive learning, and changed her view of computing as a potential career choice. The role of public recognition, fan communities, and changing family ecologies for IT learning are discussed. The paper ends with identification of strategies and issues related to the further use of games for girls’ IT learning.” 

    • the introduction – has a strong statement, which is backed up with relevant references. There’s a description of the research and the methods used, along with acknowledgement of the fact that the subject of this particular research does not represent all the participants. The author also acknowledges her bias.

” Video games are receiving considerable attention as a means of introducing girls to computer science and technical skills in what is presumed to be a more engaging and motivating manner than traditional computer science instruction. In the United States, for example, the Federation of American Scientists (2006) issued a white paper calling for further investigation into the use of video game software for a variety of STEM-related educational goals, including learning about information technology (IT), and the National Science Foundation is exploring a new funding initiative devoted to games and virtual worlds (El Zarki & Scacchi, 2010). In this paper, I describe an approach to engaging girls in IT-related learning that uses as a starting point the computer game The Sims and the virtual world Teen Second Life1. This approach has been developed and studied in several formats in the United States: as an afterschool club for middle-school age girls in a rural Midwest town; in weekly sessions at a Boys and Girls Club in an suburban neighborhood in the Southwest; and as part of an afterschool program for high school age girls from several Southwest urban high schools. Aspects of this work have been described elsewhere (e.g., Hayes & King, 2009 ; Gee & Hayes, 2010). Here my goal is to describe one girl’s learning trajectory as a means of illustrating an ‘interest-driven’ approach to using The Sims and Teen Second Life to engage girls in computer-related learning. Key features of this approach include building on girls’ existing experiences and interests; transforming these interests into passions; encouraging proactive, sustained learning; providing opportunities for public recognition; using fan communities as resources for learning; changing family learning ecologies, and facilitating transitions across contexts for future learning. I will use one participant as the focus for my discussion. While she is not representative of all girls who participated at each site, her story is particularly useful in illustrating these features.”

  • a review of other papers relevant to the topic ( a literature review) – is comprehensive, with a full list of bibliography at the end of the article.
  • a description of what the research was and what the researchers did – is clearly stated,

“This paper focuses on data from the initial 18 month program involving four participants. The number of participants was deliberately small to permit the collection of extensive data on individual girls’ participation and practices. The girls were identified through preliminary focus group sessions conducted by the research team with local young people about their gaming practices. They were all friends at the time of the study, they attended 8th grade at the same middle school, and were approximately the same age (13 or 14 years old). They were invited to participate because of their interest in the project and their parents’ support for their participation. While data on family income  was not collected, the girls all lived in the same rural community and their parents’ educational levels ranged from a high school diploma to a four year college degree. The group met weekly or biweekly during the school year for 18 months, primarily at participants’ homes, as well as attended monthly meetings at a university game laboratory. The girls also played games and engaged in other game-related activities independently. Attendance at group meetings varied, but typically all girls participated.”

  • the results of what they did – are also given, under different headings:
  • a discussion about what the results mean – is provided:

“This story shows us one way in which learning for Jade began to change how people related to her and she related to them, including the central relationship she had to her father. Her family learning ecology for computing was enhanced as she obtained better material resources and increased emotional support from her parents. Jade’s experience with TSG, the encouragement she was getting from peers and Sims fans online, and her father’s support began to change her attitudes to school. Now she saw a need for school, and she had specific goals she hoped to achieve. She wanted to take courses in computer programming and delve deeper into computers. In this way, her learning ecology at school would change to become more supportive of computer-related learning. This, however, is where Jade’s story – and potentially that of other girls like her – becomes derailed.”

  • a conclusion – is extensive but is summed up with the following note:

“I conclude with an admission. We began our work with TSG with somewhat of a ‘deficit perspective’ in regard to what girls and women are currently doing with games. Our ongoing explorations of what Sims fans (the majority of whom are women) are learning and creating, along with our work with girls, suggests that they have much to teach us about new ways of enhancing IT skills and interests through gaming.”

  • a list of references – is given at the end, about 5 pages long

4. Read the paper following my suggestions.  (You can stop after suggestion no.5 if you want to).

5. Answer these questions:

  • Did the abstract tell you the three things I said it should? If not, what did it tell you? (NB If your paper doesn’t have an abstract, it is not an academic research paper!!! Go and find another one!)
    • What the paper is about – Yes, “This paper describes how the computer game The Sims and the virtual world Teen Second Life were used as starting points for developing girls’ interests in and capabilities with information technology.”
    • What the researchers did – Yes,  “One girl’s learning trajectory is used to illustrate how gaming served as a catalyst for fostering her passion for computing, engaged her in sustained, proactive learning, and changed her view of computing as a potential career choice.”
    • What they discovered –  Yes, ” The role of public recognition, fan communities, and changing family ecologies for IT learning are discussed. “

What seems to be the question(s)they were trying to answer? 

“…we sought to understand how The Sims and Teen Second Life might be used in the context of a peer-based affinity group to foster girls’ engagement with technology and interest in IT-related learning.

Questions that guided our efforts included:

  1. What potential IT learning trajectories for girls might be faciliated by gaming?
  2. What features of the learning environment might be most supportive of this IT learning?
  • Briefly describe the method(s) they used to answer the questions(s) – 

“This paper focuses on data from the initial 18 month program involving four participants. The number of participants was deliberately small to permit the collection of extensive data on individual girls’ participation and practices. The girls were identified through preliminary focus group sessions conducted by the research team with local young people about their gaming practices. They were all friends at the time of the study, they attended 8th grade at the same middle school, and were approximately the same age (13 or 14 years old). They were invited to participate because of their interest in the project and their parents’ support for their participation. While data on family income  was not collected, the girls all lived in the same rural community and their parents’ educational levels ranged from a high school diploma to a four year college degree. The group met weekly or biweekly during the school year for 18 months, primarily at participants’ homes, as well as attended monthly meetings at a university game laboratory. The girls also played games and engaged in other game-related activities independently. Attendance at group meetings varied, but typically all girls participated.”

  • Did you agree with what they wrote in their conclusion? – Yes, that girls (and boys) require proactive teaching methods in high school in order to capture their imagination. Once they’re made aware of various opportunities that are available as a means of the  ’21st century’ tools, then their passion and consequently their success should be encouraged and acknowledged. This paper provides an insight into one of these opportunities, and follows how a high school girl developed an interest in the IT field.

“I have used Jade’s story to illustrate the factors that were important to her and other girls’ interest-driven, IT-related learning in the context of the TSG club: building on their existing experiences and interests (however gendered); transforming these interests into passions; encouraging proactive, sustained learning; providing opportunities for public recognition; using fan communities as resources for learning; facilitating transitions for future learning; and changing family learning ecologies. Ironically, despite the widespread acknowledgement that we need to encourage more girls and women to enter computer science, Jade was not able to pursue her interests in school. Clearly, as others have argued (e.g., Forte & Guzdial, 2004), there is a need for alternative routes into computer science in schools that allow students to build on their existing knowledge of digital media, and develop their computational skills in personally meaningful contexts.”

“My discussion is intended to stress that games alone will not lead to girls to greater enthusiasm for or skills with IT. However, all of this learning did start with a game; a complex piece of software that captured the girls’ imagination, allowed them to tell stories, create people and places, and to appreciate the power of computing.”

“…What we ultimately did discover through TSG was that while games might not be as efficient for achieving such specific goals, they could be an effective way to introduce girls to a wide range of ‘21st century skills’ that might prove just as critical to their choice to pursue STEM courses and careers. In our work, we have only begun to tap the full potential of games as a starting point for interest-driven IT learning; here are a few examples of further ways that games might be used to enhance girls’ computational understandings and skills.”

“I conclude with an admission. We began our work with TSG with somewhat of a ‘deficit perspective’ in regard to what girls and women are currently doing with games. Our ongoing explorations of what Sims fans (the majority of whom are women) are learning and creating, along with our work with girls, suggests that they have much to teach us about new ways of enhancing IT skills and interests through gaming.”

  • How many references does the paper have? – 5 pages long, 46 to be exact.
  • Briefly describe two things that you learnt from the paper. 
    1. The Games – The public perception of ‘playing computer games’ has always been a negative one. This is probably mostly due to lack of substantial research in the area. Perhaps the research done has been kept in the IT circles, and not made it to the ‘mainstream’. This article has achieved that by providing an insight into unchartered territory (by most of us anyway) and showing the progress of a young girl in a field that is dominated by boys.
    2. The Secondary Education system (in US) – This point builds on the previous one. As a result of the public  misconception about computer games, the schools cannot seem to break the tradition and invest in new methods and tools in teaching and learning. This in fact creates a vicious circle – the learners are exposed to old-fashion methods of teaching, hence cannot get motivated, and eventually ‘fail’ in the system as they miss out on discovering their true potential.
  • Does this paper help you to know more about your interest area? Explain! Yes, I’d like to investigate the use of virtual worlds, not necessarily games, in enhancing and motivating language learning. Information Technology can have a ‘spin-off’ effect, in that by learning the new tool, the learner can feel empowered to learn more. This is what I believe the essence of this article is.
2 Comments
  1. Clare permalink
    13/09/2011 12:20 pm

    Excellent Belma – you might want to reduce the length of the quotes when you do your assignment but the thinking and the underlying work is spot on!

    • 13/09/2011 1:32 pm

      Thank you Clare. Yes, I should use the quotes sparingly and paraphrase instead of just copying. It’s a difficult process to summarise someone else’s words, without changing the meaning too much. But that’s the only way to show my understanding 🙂

      Thank you for all your assistance in making sense of academic research papers! Surely takes time & practice 😉

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