Political Agenda: Designing a Cognitive Game for Political Perspective Taking

Political Agenda: Designing a Cognitive Game for Political Perspective Taking

Matthew W. Easterday (School of Education & Social Policy, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA), Yanna Krupnikov (Department of Political Science, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY, USA), Colin Fitzpatrick (School of Communication, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA), Salwa Barhumi (School of Education and Social Policy, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA) and Alexis Hope (Center for Civic Media, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/IJGCMS.2017070102
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Abstract

Engaged citizenship requires understanding why different ideologies lead to different policy positions. However, we know little about political perspective taking. How might we use games to teach citizens political perspective taking? This paper describes a design research project to develop a cognitive game for political perspective taking. Study 1 describes a political perspective taking measure created through expert and novice task analysis. Study 2 surveyed 187 undergraduate students and found relatively poor political perspective taking ability. Study 3 tests an educational game for political perspective taking and found that the game was engaging but did not promote learning. Study 4 describes a technical exploration testing the feasibility of a cognitive game with intelligent tutoring for scaffolding complex reasoning on political perspectives. This work argues games can teach political perspective taking using: (a) moral foundations theory, (b) fantasy environments that ask players to predict policy positions, and (c) embedded intelligent tutors.
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Background

Policy Arguments

Civic reasoning centers on policy argumentation (Dunn, 1990; Fischer, 2007; Manzer, 1984; Stone, 2001; cited in National Research Council, 2012), “practical arguments that offer reasons for taking specific policy actions” (National Research Council, 2012, p. 55, citing Ball, 1995).

Policy arguments require citizens to connect and compare different actions, which are in turn supported or opposed by different ideological values (Lebacq, 1986; Sandel, 2010). For example, a policy of taxing the rich and redistributing this income to the poor will be supported or opposed depending on one’s ideological values: some may argue that this policy infringes upon one’s liberty to own the fruits of our labor, while others argue that justice demands some income distribution to ensure equality of opportunity and a more broader sharing of benefits, while still others argue, often on religious grounds that justice demands preferential consideration for the poor.

Skilled argumentation thus requires citizens to confront complex ideological questions and tradeoffs. Citizens who cannot reason about ideologies are at a distinct disadvantage in articulating the values behind their own arguments (which are essential to creating persuasive arguments, Lakoff, 2002), and will have little success understanding how their audience will respond to their arguments or the legitimate basis upon which their opponents will criticize their positions.

The authors’ experience teaching undergrads finds that students often lack basic fluency in political ideologies needed to develop principled and persuasive political messages. For example, students often seem to rely either on gut intuition, e.g., “I feel like income inequality is wrong, but does that mean I should give my money away?” or oversimplify issues into partisan positions, e.g., “Well, I’m a Democrat, and the author is a Republican and clearly biased.” We believe this may in part come from lack of practice in engaging in argumentation skills that is necessary for civics.

This project considers how we might use a cognitive game to improve citizens’ ideological reasoning about policy issues, including: how might we assess ideological reasoning, what challenges do learners face in reasoning about ideologies, if any, and how we might develop web-based educational games to improve ideological reasoning.

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