Digital Propensity: An Investigation of Video Game and Information and Communication Technology Practices

Digital Propensity: An Investigation of Video Game and Information and Communication Technology Practices

Boaventura DaCosta (Solers Research Group, USA), Angelique Nasah (Solers Research Group, USA), Carolyn Kinsell (Solers Research Group, USA) and Soonhwa Seok (The Center for Research on Learning—eLearning Design Lab, University of Kansas, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-495-0.ch052


There is a growing interest among educators to use video games in the classroom as part of the curriculum to meet the educational needs of today’s students. This may be justified, in part, by claims in recent years about today’s technology-savvy students and their adept use of information and communication technology (ICT). However, such claims have not been accepted without scrutiny; indeed, the relationship between games and learning has been tempestuous over the years. This chapter sought to identify the gaming propensity of postsecondary students (N = 580) through the use of a questionnaire. Age, gender, and socioeconomic status were examined as factors that might explain why students play games. Results suggest that age, gender, and socioeconomic status are composite factors that contribute to gaming, but not the most important consideration in terms of general ICT usage. The findings raise a number of implications for educators, educational policy-makers, practitioners, researchers, instructional technologists, and game developers across both the education spectrum and the entertainment industry in terms of the use and development of video games.
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Statements such as “Don’t bother me, Mom—I’m learning!” (Prensky, 2006) have become synonymous with the idea that today’s students are fundamentally different from those of past generations as a result of their information and communication technology (ICT) use. Typically referred to as Digital Natives (Prensky, 2001a), but also commonly called the Net Generation (Tapscott, 1998), the Millennial Generation (Howe & Strauss, 2000) and Generation M (Roberts, Foehr, & Rideout, 2005), these students are viewed as native speakers of the digital age. That is, they were “born digital” (Palfrey & Gasser, 2008) into the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. They have grown up in a culture so fundamentally different in the technology sense that they are much more adept at using ICT than their counterparts from prior generations. What’s more, this exposure has fundamentally changed the way in which they process information (Prensky, 2001a, 2001b) to the extent that they posses learning preferences foreign by today’s educational standards. Some commentators have even gone as far as to conclude that education is not keeping pace with the needs of our students with reference to these changes (Prensky, 2001a; Tapscott, 1998).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Information and Communication Technology (ICT): Term that describes the general processing and communication of information through technology. In the case of the current study, it includes a number of technologies, such as mobile technology; email; two-way instant messaging; chat rooms; blogs; personal web pages; online shopping rating systems; download of images, audio, and video; and video games. These technologies have been classified into the following constructs: ICT use preferences, Internet use preferences, online media activities, digital communications, ICT-facilitated learning activities, ICT-facilitated social/economic activities, and video games.

Active vs. Passive: Prensky believes digital natives take a much more active approach to learning. They are not interested in the traditional teacher-centered model, but instead prefer learning by doing. A departure from prior generations who much rather read a manual than figure things out through trial and error.

Game-Based Learning: Considered a branch of serious games by many, it is rooted in the belief that games, if used properly, can be leveraged in the learning process.

Twitch Games: A type of game that requires the player to react quickly to circumstances in order to continue playing (Jones, 1997), such as the game © Tetris.

Random Access vs. Step-by-Step: According to Prensky, if digital natives work at twitch speed, it only makes sense these same individuals would prefer gathering information through random access rather than step-by-step means. Prensky indicates this shouldn’t be a surprise given the Internet is a networked web of information all interrelated via hyperlinks. This new structuring of information “has increased their [digital natives] awareness and ability to make connections, has freed them from the constraint of a single path of thought, and is generally an extremely positive development” (Prensky, 1998, ¶ 12). This is yet another cognitive departure from prior generations who value and prefer step-by-step approaches.

Serious Games: An initiative whereby video games are targeted outside of entertainment to include education, training, health, and public policy (Serious Games Initiative, 2006).

Digital Propensity: The degree (e.g., frequency) to which individuals use various forms of ICT in their everyday lives.

Technology as Friendly vs. Technology as Foe: While digital natives embrace technology and see it as part of everyday life, prior generations generally fear it, tolerate it, or will never trust it. Prensky contends digital natives see being connected or having access to a computer as a necessity; while at best, prior generations are forced into learning it due to changing culture.

Play vs. Work: In step with Prensky’s stance on learning using games, he states digital natives enjoy learning through play and learning doesn’t have to be a laborious activity, but instead could be seen as a game incorporating complex cognitive tasks. Prior generations, on the other hand, see learning as a task, which involves work.

Payoff vs. Patients: Prensky suggests that digital natives are willing to put in the effort if the expected level of payoff is there. Essentially, “what you determine what you get, and what you get is worth the effort you put in” (Prensky, 1998, ¶ 26). Today’s students expect immediate feedback and payoff for their efforts, where their older counterparts may show much more patients and willingness to wait for the payoff.

Twitch Speed vs. Conventional Speed: A term more than likely taken from twitch games. Essentially, twitch speed encompasses digital natives gathering information at the same pace as playing a twitch game and might explain why Prensky and others (Gee, 2003) are in favor of games for learning. Prensky (1998) insists humans have always been capable of processing information at faster speeds, the only difference is while in the past this was only achieved by a subset of the population (i.e. jet pilots, race-car drivers, etc.), it has now moved into the generation at large (particularly as a result of game play). This is in contrast to prior generations which Prensky contents prefer to gather information at a slower more traditional pace.

Connected vs. Stand-Alone: Prensky believes that having grown up in the digital age, digital natives are accustomed to working with asynchronous communications, with email being the primary example, even though much of the communication technologies available today are synchronous, such as cell phones and instant messaging. The point Prensky attempts to make is digital natives are accustomed to being connected or networked, and as a result, are capable of utilizing technologies which prior generations would not think of. Examples include posting a question to a forum, as opposed to making a phone call and a leaving message.

Parallel Processing vs. Linear Processing: Prensky suggests that digital natives have grown up multitasking, whether it be watching TV while doing homework or listening to music while interacting with a computer. And because of this, they are much more adapt and willing to parallel process. Their brains simply support it. Unlike prior generations, who are not as adept and are much more comfortable with the linear processing of information.

Video Games: Digitally-based games, found across a number of platforms to include computer, game console, and handheld device.

Fantasy vs. Reality: Prensky insists digital natives, for whatever reason, indulge in fantasy play, which pervades their lives. And the computer has made this easier and more realistic; much to the opposite of prior generations.

Drill-and-Practice: An instructional practice that can be used to promote the acquisition of skills and knowledge through repetition.

Digital Native: Term, credited to Marc Prensky, that describes a generation of students born into the digital age, who are much more adept at using ICT than their counterparts from prior generations, showing signs or traits never before seen. These students are also commonly called the Net Generation (Tapscott, 1998), the Millennial Generation (Howe & Strauss, 2000) and Generation M (Roberts, Foehr, & Rideout, 2005).

Graphics First vs. Text First: Prensky suggests that digital natives have been continuously exposed to mediums which use high-quality graphics with little or no accompanying text. This has considerably sharpened their visual sensitivity. They are much more comfortable starting with visuals as a result. Prior generations, on the other hand, prefer text before graphics. In their case, graphics should supplement the text, not the other way around.

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