I am an assistant professor (tenure-track) of Learning Sciences at the University of IowaMy research investigates games, especially learning games, and digital media from a sociotechnical perspective â€“ I study both the social interaction with digital media and formal design structures.
Design-oriented research with technology is often thought to be a purely technicist enterprise (read: nerd stuff), especially in the design and learning sciences. While that is true to an extent, design is also about communicating and teaching in a very complex, contextual and cultural world. So I try to maintain a healthy balance in my research between understanding design as a social enterprise and using design methods to produce digital tools.
Social identity, digital media and meaning-making
My primary area of focus of my scholarship is the relationship between meaning-making, social practice and identity with regard to games and digital media. My dissertation research was a three-year ethnographic study of a game-based after-school program called CivWorld. Funded by the MacArthur Foundationâ€™s Digital Media & Learning initiative, this â€œdesign experimentâ€ intervention used modifiable commercial games to help working-class youth better understand history through game design. Contrary to existing research literature that has focused on in-game avatars and roles, my research argued that the nexus of social practices surrounding a learning game community shapes how youth construct identities as designers and experts. My broader published research on identity and digital media has investigated how youth interpret race and violence in commercial games, cultural constructions of gender and competition in game play, and narrative discourse patterns in online hip-hop fan communities.
Learning game design
My research also investigates the design of digital media learning environments focused on topics like public health, science education and financial literacy. I am currently a co-principal investigator on a grant, funded by the National Science Foundation, entitled Gaming Against Plagiarism. This interdisciplinary project, conducted in partnership with faculty in library sciences, pursues the creation of casual games to help graduate students understand issues surrounding research misconduct and plagiarism. My primary area of responsibility is the design and development of the game series, which employs transgressive and experiential play to help students interrogate various facets of research misconduct. I have also done substantial design and development work on a number of mobile media and learning game research projects â€“ see Citizen Science and Hip Hop Tycoon.