Highlights from AERA

Finally had time to process some thoughts on this prior AERA in New Orleans. I missed half of the conference because I didn't fly in till Sunday, but I might try to attend more next time because the ones I did go to were quite amazing. Beyond the amazing food, weather and company I had, there were also some genuinely exciting talks that I attended. Here are some highlights:

  • Constance Steinkuehler was a discussant on a panel "Researching the Literacy Practices of Children and Young People in Virtual Worlds," in which she problematized the growing trend of the "gamification of reality" and argued that "reality isn't broken," a point that I'm so glad someone from game studies is making. Maybe this whole "gamification" idea is driven, in part, by the mass media, who finds this new-fangled thing something to ride on, but it's really just making it harder to do real, meaningful research on games.
  • Constance Steinkuehler also pointed out that it's great to hear papers highlighting the importance of literacy practices and actual use of technology over the overglorification of the technology itself. If more researchers are focusing on actual social practices, then educational technology research would really excel in the future.
  • Although I missed a considerable part of Mark Chen's (@mcdanger) talk on "Social Dimensions of Expert Practice in Online Gaming," I was excited to hear him bring in actor-network-theory (ANT) as a conceptual framework. I wish I was there to know the full context of his work because I've been long meaning to incorporate ANT into my research. I've written sections on ANT only to significantly reduce their influence because they were never a good fit with my study, and opted to go with ethnomethodology instead (on which ANT is partially based). Hopefully there would be some room for collaboration in the future.
  • It was great to hear Rebecca Black's talk "Early Childhood Learning and Literacy in Online Virtual Worlds" comparing gender representations in different virtual spaces intended for girls and boys, and how the representation of these spaces (and their marketing) are linked to very gendered discourse frameworks. Not having looked at these virtual spaces for a while, it was amazing to see how much more gendered they have become. You would've thought they would have found some middle ground by now. Instead, girls' virtual spaces are still very much about "dressing up" and "shopping" while boys' spaces are very much about science-y discourse.
  • On my own panel, I was surprised at the findings Daniel Hoffman presented in his talk "Format Matters: Narrative, Learning, and Motivation," where he compared reading comprehension and excitement between three formats: a Nintendo DS game, a comic book version of the game, and a traditional written narrative of the game. The surprise in the finding was that the traditional written narrative actually did better among children when it came to how much more they liked to read, while the game did the least well. This is certainly counterintuitive given how much has been said about games and their potential for learning. Further research in this area would help clarify some of these questions.
  • Also on my panel was Seungoh Paek's talk "The Role of Physical Activities With Sensory Experiences in Virtual Manipulatives," in which she studied the role that different modalities played in mathematical learning. Her study used virtual manipulatives that used various combinations of sound, voice, touch, and mouse input, and looked at what combination of these different modalities are ideal for learning. Her results suggest that these combined modalities can potentially benefit young children learning in the long run. This would be an exciting finding as more virtual manipulatives in the form of tablets enter the classroom.
  • Tried to use Twitter during the conference to limited success. Better luck next time.
  • Can't go without mentioning again the great food in New Orleans. Most memorable has to be the crawfish etouffé at the Bon Ton Café, the pork belly at Restaurant August (albeit not the cheapest place in the world), and everything at Jacques IMO--an unpretentious, crowded place on Oak Street that serves amazing food.

Already looking forward to the next AERA.