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Foregrounding Play: Games and Playful Engagement in the Study and Design of Formal and Informal Learning Environments

Special issue call for papers from Information and Learning Sciences

Guest Editors

Sinem Siyahhan, Associate Professor, California State University San Marcos,

Sinem Siyahhan, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Educational Technology and Learning Sciences at California State University San Marcos. Her research focuses on designing and studying learning experiences with and around digital media technologies, particularly video games, to support meaningful social interactions, deep engagement with content, and development of 21st century skills.

Matthew Gaydos, Design Researcher, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, gaydos@MIT.EDU

Matthew Gaydos, Ph.D. is a design researcher at the Teaching System Lab at MIT. He studies and develops games for play-based learning, working at the intersection of theory, design, and policy. He is interested in better understanding how to apply principles of learning to the development and use of playful interactive media.


Special Issue Focus

Educators and researchers did not pay much attention to video games until computers were introduced into many schools in the United States during the 1990s and some pioneering educators began to experiment with early learning games such as The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis and the Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego series. Even then, it took another twenty years for video games to be taken seriously as an important tool for teaching and learning in education. It is only in the last fifteen years that we have experienced a growth in the number of studies that have investigated how people learn through video games. Today, video games are integrated into classrooms and informal learning environments such as libraries, museums, and community centers. And more recently, the educational potential of video games has been recognized at the national level through initiatives such as White House Apps for Healthy Kids Challenge and the National STEM Video Game Challenge.

It is exciting to witness the shift in the perception of video games in our society from being a distraction to a powerful teaching and learning tool for youth. That said, many educators and researchers approach video games from an instrumental point of view and use them as a motivational context to teach academic content and change students’ behaviors rather than appreciating the affordances of play itself. Integrating video games in libraries to attract youth and increase the number of books they check out, or engaging youth in designing video games to teach them coding are only a few examples of such approach. However, the relationship between games, learning, and teaching cannot solely be understood through this instrumental lens given what we know about the complexities of young people’s social practices with and around games (Barron, Gomez, Martin, & Pinkard, 2014; Ito et. al., 2010; Salen, 2008; Watkins, 2009).

Play involves voluntary participation in physical and technologically-mediated spaces that serves as an end in itself wherein people share information, pursue their interests, develop their agency and sense of identity, and build meaningful and deep relationships (De Mul, 2015; Pearce, 2011; Siyahhan & Gee, 2017; Sutton-Smith, 2009). Play is essential for making sense of oneself and others, developing a deeper understanding of the world, and a necessary aspect of social development and learning in the 21st century—a time defined by constant change (Thomas & Brown, 2011). Play also functions as a catalyst for generational continuity, social order, and social identity formation in a society. Finally, the “playfulness” of play provides a context for people to step out of their social reality without fear or worry over consequences of their actions.

Thus, our designs for games and game-based learning must respect rather than subvert the interests and experiences of the players who are also learners (“player-learners”). As such, there is a need to understand the affordances of games for intentional as well as incidental teaching and learning within the broader context of play and creating playful experiences for youth. We believe that play has been treated as an epiphenomenon in games and learning research.

Against this background, the guest editors invite scholars to foreground play as it relates to the study of games for learning, connecting play to theories, designs, processes and outcomes of learning in reporting of authors’ work.

We are seeking high-quality, innovative articles that discuss the emergent issues and practices around play, games, teaching, and learning from the interdisciplinary perspective of information and learning sciences, and related fields of inquiry such as communications. Topics of interest include (but are not limited to):

       Theoretical, conceptual, and empirical issues around play, playful interaction and collaboration, games, information, and learning;

       The role of play in engaging youth and adults with information, and supporting their participation in civic life, activism, arts, and social transformation;

       Description, design, and assessment and evaluation of forms of play and game-based experiences across informal and formal information and learning environments, contexts and institutions (i.e. home, schools, libraries, and museums);  

       Critical theory perspectives on play, playful interaction and collaboration, games, information, and learning -- that consider or explore the roles of race, gender, sexual identity, ability and disability, and other themes connected to inclusivity, equity, and diversity; 

       Methodological issues in capturing, documenting, and analyzing play, and player learning processes and outcomes.

Article deadline: March 31 2019

Reviews returned with response to authors: April 30, 2019

Revisions for accepted works due: May 30, 2019

Publication: September/October, 2019