Changes in middle school students' six contemporary learning abilities (6-CLAs) through project-based design of web-games and social media use



This poster presents findings on student development of contemporary learning abilities among 14 middle school students enrolled in a year-long elective game design class. The study measures students' change in attitudes towards the activities in which they participate, through their responses to a self-report survey of frequency, motivation, and self-reported knowledge. T-test statistics were used to analyze pre- and post-program differences, resulting in several statistically significant increases. The program and its outcomes have implications for digital literacy learning interventions that can be implemented in formal and informal learning environments with youth.


This study explores middle school student engagement in a five-year pilot program of game design learning being conducted in schools throughout the state of West Virginia offered as a for-credit elective class to middle school, high school, and community college students. Research into the program has implications for learning and digital literacy development interventions that can be designed and implemented in informal learning environments, for instance, in school and community library settings.


Globaloria. The Globaloria-West Virginia Project is a 5-year grant-supported pilot initiative in which a non-profit organization offers school partner participants (students and their teachers) a range of affordances and learning supports. The founders have applied Constructionism, situated learning, social learning systems, and computational thinking principles to the program's design and development (Harel & Papert, 1991; Seely Brown, 2005, 2006; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Guzdial & Soloway 2003; Rich, Perry, & Guzdial 2004; Forte & Guzdial 2005).

In Globaloria, students create games about a range of topics. At the case study middle school, in PY2, students chose their own topic and engaged in online inquiry to build out the topic's game narrative. Kulthau's “information search process” model emphasizes student use of resources sought, as well as project-based learning, and her discussion of guided inquiry also draws upon Piaget and Vygotsky. Thus, we can see further overlap between Constructionism and this theoretical work in the information and library sciences field. Inasmuch as game design courses offer “informal learning” experiences, they can be seen to fall within the domain of what Kulthau, Maniotes & Gaspari (2007) call a “third space” – the domain that exists in the merger between the personal and curricular, where students' interests are tapped and deep learning can occur.

Here we explore change in middle school students' attitudes towards the activities in which they participate along 6 key dimensions that we call “contemporary learning abilities” (CLAs) which are the learning objectives for the program (Reynolds & Harel, 2009). Positive changes in student attitudes towards the continuum of Globaloria activities indicate that socio-constructivist interventions like Globaloria using Web 2.0 technologies and game design activity can be a motivating context for student learning of an integrated set of project-oriented technology skills, from information-seeking, to construction of meaningful artifacts. Advances in our understanding of the learning benefits of gaming and game design have implications for those in library science who are interested in applying such innovations in formal and informal learning environments.


Within the overall design-based research approach, we employed a non-experimental pre/post design to measure change in student attitudes towards a set of integrated activities, from pre- to post-program. The surveys focused on three self-report measures for each of the six contemporary learning ability dimensions – frequency (Pew, 2007), enjoyment (Ryan, Mims, Koestner, 1983), and knowledge (Hargittai, 2005).

To begin to validate our theoretical categorization of the six contemporary learning abilities (CLA) dimensions, prior to combining CLA constructs comprising multiple survey items, we applied factor analysis to the pre-program survey items representing each CLA category, within the full West Virginia pre-survey dataset (N=263).


Frequency. Prior to Globaloria, pre-survey group means for the less-constructionist CLAs 4–6 (social-based learning, information-based learning and purposeful research, and surfing the internet) ranged from 3.55 (a few times a week) to 4.86 (about once a day). In contrast, pre-Globaloria group means for the more constructionist CLAs 1–3 (invention of an original project idea, project management, and publishing/distribution of digital media) ranged from 1.43 (never) to 1.94 (a few times a month). This result was expected, since CLAs 1–3 reflect activities in which most students have not engaged previously. As for pre/post results, statistically significant gains were reported for frequency in constructionist CLAs 1–3, but not in 4–6.

Motivation. Like frequency, we expected students to have higher levels of enjoyment for CLAs 4–6 than for CLAs 1–3 prior to Globaloria. This result was confirmed. Pre/post analysis indicates that the increases in students' enjoyment of each of the more creative, constructionist CLAs (CLAs 1–3) were statistically significant. Further, the increase in students' enjoyment of CLA 5 (information-based learning and purposeful research) was also significant. The statistically significant increases in student enjoyment of CLAs 1–3 and 5 indicate that student experience in the program activities is positive, resulting in increased affect towards the activities. Student enjoyment in Globaloria activities signals a likelihood of repeat engagement in the future, especially in the more constructionist design-oriented, computer programming and collaborative activities that are unique to Globaloria.

Knowledge. Similar to the frequency and motivation factors, prior to Globaloria, students report having a greater understanding of the activities representing CLAs 4–6 than the more Constructionist CLAs 1–3. Pre/post results again show statistically significant gains in the more complex, constructionist CLAs (CLAs 1–3). Our measurement (Hargittai, 2005) of middle school students' self-reported knowledge (understanding) of Globaloria activities is the closest this study comes to measuring actual CLA development. For the non-statistically significant findings for CLAs 4–6, there might have been a ceiling effect, because pre-program survey means were already quite high for these categories.


The findings for frequency indicate that the technology access afforded to disadvantaged West Virginia middle school students in Globaloria in the school setting addresses level one of the digital divide (access). Further, the increases in enjoyment and self-reported knowledge for the more creative and cognitively engaging constructionist activities indicate that the socio-constructivist nature of Globaloria offers a positive experience for participants that can raise awareness of purposeful, active, participatory technology uses and content creation. Such activities may offer one type of solution to help mitigate level two of the digital divide - the growing gap in digital skills and knowledge among the socio-economically disadvantaged.

The contemporary learning abilities framework and Globaloria curriculum contribute to the conceptualization of information literacy and digital literacy standards, in that it promotes student inquiry, towards the creation of a project-based digital artifact. More research is needed to explore how student engagement in such a program influences ongoing post-program technology uses. This work may inform an elaboration of the portion of Kulthau's “information search process” model that emphasizes student use of resources, through production and project-based learning. The parallel results for CLAs 1–3, and CLA 5 (information-seeking) are especially interesting, and indicate that the array of activities designed to cultivate these CLAs may be particularly effective when offered in an integrated way.