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Student Learning Goals>
Outcomes Expected for All FIP Courses

Close Reading Rubric>
Evaluating an Analysis of a Game

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Instructions for a Collaborative Multi-Modal Assignment

Design Document Rubric>
Evaluating a Collaborative Multi-Modal Assignment.

Serious Games Prompt>
Reflections on a Persuasive Game

An Award-Winning Research Paper>

An Institutional Assessment Report>

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Description and Goals of the Gaming Sequence

Students at the University of California, Irvine, must complete both a lower-division writing requirement and an upper-division writing requirement, the latter of which is almost always based with the students’ major course of study and is thus a writing-in-the disciplines course.  Lower-division writing requirements follow the national recommendations established for first-year writing sequences by the Council of Writing Program Administration and generally require that students master basic thesis and argument development, logically develop and organize a topic for discussion and argumentation, become aware of and consider divergent opinions in the construction of basic arguments, and cite sources and the use of others’ work, as appropriate.  Students interested in the Humanities take a year-long sequence called the Humanities Core Course, which surveys major developments in literature, history, philosophy, and the graphic arts, while most other students on campus take a two-course composition sequence offered by the English Department: one course in the development of rhetorical awareness and one course in the development of basic academic research writing skills.  Both the Humanities Core course and the composition courses emphasize rhetorical awareness and research-based writing.

To facilitate students’ development of these goals, FIP sequences generally bring together faculty from markedly different disciplines and require that students compose texts in a variety of genres and modalities.  Participating faculty are particularly drawn to the multi- and inter-disciplinary nature of instruction and see much value in it.  Peter Krapp, Associate Professor of Film and New Media and one of the core faculty in the FIP sequence on computer gaming, acknowledged the draw of working across disciplines with faculty interested in new media:

Initially, the appeal was twofold: combining a three-quarter sequence, I knew from my own department's required sequence 85ABC, serves the students better, in several ways, than individual short "sprints." And the colleagues around campus who are interested in new media were one of the most important reasons for me to have joined UCI. Thus while we were the "pioneers" with our US12ABC FIP, I knew I could work well with Bill Tomlinson (whom I had known since before coming to Irvine) and a number of colleagues who agree to either co-teach, or lecture in, US12.

Krapp also maintains that the academic study of games offers a powerful example of multi- and inter-disciplinary scholarship at work:

Games in general certainly are a cross-disciplinary object of study, ranging from historical, philosophical, and psychological frames of reference to the history of technology in general, and the history of science in particular, to topics in computing, in visual arts, in media studies and popular culture, as well as in anthropology and education. These angles are all well-represented on campus at UCI. We also had guest speakers from the gaming industry, from journalism, and from the gallery art world. In each case, students were required to write (and rewrite) in detail about history, philosophy, psychology, computing, film, popular culture online, anthropology, education, visual arts, programming and its history, and so forth. - There is no particular game that comes to mind as a perfect encapsulation of the issues, we found them tying together the programmatic questions of the course throughout the year.

Krapp’s and his colleagues’ enthusiasm helped to model academic discussions and scholarly approaches across disciplinary lines in the FIP gaming course.  Even when differences in teaching styles emerged, a culture of collegiality emphasized complementary rather than competing literacies.

Since faculty teaching in FIP come from different disciplines—and from disciplines that may not focus much energy or scholarship on either pedagogy or the teaching of writing, attention to writing instruction has been a focus on concern and development across FIP sequences, particularly since FIP is marketed as helping students fulfill lower-division writing requirements.  A writing director works with faculty to develop assignments and also with teaching assistants, who work with students in small discussion sections (capped at 20), to assist TAs in designing appropriate process-oriented curricula to complete the assigned writing projects.  (TA Garnet Hertz supervised the drafting of writing assignments all three years in US 12.) Students typically move from short processing and even creative exercises to longer and more genre-driven reports and essays that engage the thinking of outside experts and consider counter-arguments and alternative claims.  All FIP sequences conclude in the spring term with a capstone project, which is generally a long (10-15 page) research paper or project. 

While much effort went into the sequencing of assignments, the topics themselves sparked—and maintained—student interest and enthusiasm.  Another faculty participant in the gaming sequence, Bill Tomlinson, an Associate Professor of Informatics who focuses on the artistic design of games, notes that “[g]ames are a medium that a lot of students are passionate about; this passion may help improve students' writing.  Therefore, I'd suggest that whatever games students are most interested in are most useful in this regard.”  Game studies has also been a lively site of debate among scholars, because prominent “ludologists” in the field, such as Espen Aarseth, have complained that its interdisciplinary appeal makes games subject to colonization.  For example, in Jesper Juul’s online game Game Liberation players can shoot down opponents who attempt “theoretical imperialism” and blast away at buzzwords from film and media departments, literary studies, or psychology. 

Assessment of the particular sequence in question, “Computer Games as Art, Culture, and Technology,” suggests that the sequence is meeting FIP’s goals, both in terms of helping students to develop a multi-disciplinary appreciation of knowledge production and in facilitating their acquisition of some basic writing and research skills.  Specifically, the assessment report, based on surveys of student perceptions and on evaluation of student writing, concludes the following:

  • Over time, the US12 students reported making meaningful gains in both the content specific learning outcomes outlined on their course syllabi and the FIP-specific information literacy, writing, and research learning outcomes.  The students in US12 reported understanding different disciplinary approaches and perceived instruction as reinforcing the interdisciplinary nature of the course.
  • The findings related to information literacy, writing, and research skills suggest that students perceived making gains in these areas, and that their writing assignments provided opportunities both for practice and appraisal of their skills. 
  • The assessment of students’ writing skills confirmed that students in US12 were able to demonstrate that their writing reflects the shared expectations and learning outcomes for the lower-division writing requirement.
  • The assessment of US12 capstone papers also suggests that US12 students were in some instances able to demonstrate the achievement of those skills at greater levels than their counterparts in Writing 39C and Humanities Core, confirming that US12 is an appropriate and successful alternative for fulfilling the second course of the lower-division writing requirement. (Schonfeld, “Gaming”)

Of particular concern to us, though, is the use of computer games, both in the teaching of multi-disciplinary awareness and appreciation and in the development of writing skills.  Unlike the other FIP sequences (on the Environment, for instance, or Consciousness), the object of study in question is a complex communicative space, one whose rhetorical robustness and potential efficacy in addressing numerous literacy issues and writing development needs has increasingly drawn attention from scholars, as we note in our introduction.  How do faculty—and students—navigate the muti-layered multi-literacies of gaming spaces?  How might a multi-disciplinary approach to gaming impact students’ development of literacy and rhetorical skills?  Our analysis of this particular FIP sequence suggests that a multi-disciplinary approach to gaming returns us to some of the basic disputes about the pedagogical use of gaming we outlined in our introduction.  Namely, working with games successfully necessitates that we think beyond increasingly simplistic approaches such as having students writing about games and that we consider the more complex multi-literacies, to borrow a phrase from Stuart Selber, needed both to participate in and understand gaming platforms.  Put another way, while Gee might be correct in asserting that “[w]hen people learn to play video games, they are learning a new literacy” (13), we would amend his comment to say that they are learning new literacies and that those literacies might look very different than the traditional literacy skills advocated for by compositionists.  And while we may agree that such academic authoring skills are important, we want to forward the notion that a multi-disciplinary study of gaming may more successfully advance a complex meta-aware of multi-literacies and rhetorical awareness—and that such awareness may ultimately be more significant than the completion of a standard academic research essay.

In an effort to expand the possibilities for students to have another option for year-long, thematically-driven courses, the Dean of the Division of Undergraduate Education, working in conjunction with writing faculty, developed the First-Year Integrated Program (FIP), loosely modeled on the Humanities Core Course.  Students enroll in a year-long lecture sequence organized around a common theme (such as Consciousness, Persuasion and Social Change, the Environment) and attend lectures each term, generally three days a week, by tenured and tenure-track faculty; students also attend, for three hours a week, a smaller seminar-style discussion group (maximum cap of 20 students per seminar) in which students discuss the lectures, ask questions, and work on writing assignments.  Each sequence is capped at 80 students, and the program has, over the last four years, offered several sequences that, upon completion, allow students to claim general education credit in both first-year writing and in broad disciplinary fields, such as the social sciences, the humanities, and the sciences. 

Although a small program (Humanities Core, by comparison, serves at least 800 students, while three FIP sequences per year average only 240 students total), FIP students perform, in terms of their writing, at roughly the same level as students in both composition and the Humanities Core Course.  Yearly assessments of the various sequences, as well as assessments that compare student writing across the three lower-division writing programs (composition, Humanities Core, and FIP) demonstrate that FIP is at least comparable to the other sequences in its ability to help students develop basic rhetorical awareness and research and writing skills (Schonfeld, “Lower-Division”).  Moreover, given its multi-disciplinary approach, FIP aims to help students develop an appreciation of and basic facility with the many different ways that academics from different scholarly and creative disciplines approach common problems, issues, and objects of study.  (The overall goals of the FIP sequences, including both this multi-disciplinary appreciation and the writing standards, can be found here.)

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