Learning through Digital Game Design and Building in a Participatory Culture

An Enactivist Approach

by Qing Li (Author)
©2014 Textbook XIV, 216 Pages


This book discusses topics concerning digital game-based learning focusing on learning-by-game-building and Web 2.0. Grounded in the new theoretical perspective of enactivism, this book shows how such an approach can help students gain deep understanding of subjects such as mathematics and history, as well as undergraduate or graduate students’ learning of pedagogy and also adult driver’s learning of road safety rules. Written for undergraduate students in teacher education, experienced teachers, and graduate students, this book is an ideal text for courses related to technology integration and digital game-based learning. It is also beneficial for researchers, educators, parents, school administrators, game designers, and anyone who is interested in new ways of learning and digital games.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Foreword
  • Part 1: Epistemology
  • Chapter 1: Enactivism: A Framework for Understanding Cognition and Beyond
  • Learning and Cognition
  • Prologue
  • Learning in Informal Settings
  • Learning in Formal Educational Settings
  • An Alternative Learning Theory: Enactivism
  • Enactivism
  • An Example
  • Roots
  • Comparing Philosophical Paradigms
  • Foundations to Digital Games
  • Lev Vygotsky
  • Seymour Papert
  • James Paul Gee
  • Summary of Projects
  • Enactivist Learning World: Games and Web 2.0
  • Creating a Learning World
  • Chapter 2: Key Elements
  • A Brief History of Learning by Game Building
  • Key Concepts
  • What Is Game?
  • Play
  • Game Elements
  • Essentials for Good Games
  • Part 2: Structure
  • Chapter 3: Enactivist Learning World
  • Skills
  • Learning and Innovative Skills
  • Creativity and Innovation Skills
  • Problem Solving and Critical Thinking
  • Communication Skills and Collaboration
  • Information, Media, and Technology Skills
  • Life and Career Skills
  • Perseverance
  • Systems Thinking
  • Types of Games and Design Considerations
  • Different Types of Games
  • Design Considerations
  • Chapter 4: Core Principles
  • The Process of Learning by Game Building
  • Idea Generation and Student Choice
  • Creating Fun
  • Prototyping and Play Testing
  • How to Paper Prototype?
  • Play Testing
  • Part 3: Culture
  • Chapter 5: Enactivist Learning World and Culture
  • Culture and Participatory Culture
  • Culture
  • Participatory Culture
  • Teacher Design Games
  • Collaborative Learning
  • Rosie’s Story
  • True Collaborative Learning
  • Small Group Learning
  • Learning Communities
  • Chapter 6: Important Aspects
  • Game Dynamics
  • Narratives and Storytelling
  • Part 4: Value
  • Chapter 7: Enactivist Learning World and Value
  • Value and Identity
  • Affective Domain and Ethical Questions
  • Emotions
  • Ethical Questions
  • Assessment
  • Formative and Summative Assessment
  • Student Involvement in Assessment
  • Understanding Assessment in the Participatory Context
  • Chapter 8: Vital Domains and Basic Tools
  • Learner Motivation and Engagement
  • Gamification?
  • The Role of Teachers and Learners
  • So You Want to Build a Game?
  • Platforms
  • Mechanics
  • Scaffolding
  • Part 5: Conclusion
  • Chapter 9: Learning by Game Building in the Twenty-first Century
  • References
  • Index
  • Series index

← VIII | IX → Acknowledgments

Throughout this book, I reference projects that we have conducted to substantiate the points and ideas. By “we,” I mean work I conducted with colleagues to which K-12 students, preservice and in-service teachers, and graduate students have contributed. This is truly a collaborative effort and every participant deserves recognition. Although not possible to name everyone who contributed, I will try my best.

First, this book would be impossible without the countless hours of the work produced by the participants. The graduate students and preservice teachers who were involved in my projects include students who took my game-based learning courses and other methods courses, in particular, Steve Martin, Chris Appleton, Shai Nathoo, Arkhadi Pustaka, Robert Louis, Yang Liu, Scott McEwen, Elise Vandermeiden, and Collette Lemieux.

Second, many colleagues have supported this work in different ways. James Paul Gee, a wonderful mentor and supporter, has been instrumental in my work related to digital games. I am extremely grateful for his never-ending support, including writing the Foreword for this book. Henry Jenkins at the University of South California deserves special recognition because of his continued support. Several years ago when Henry was a professor at MIT, I spent part of my sabbatical year as a visiting scholar to work with Henry and his teams on his research projects. That experience of meeting and working with like-minded people, including Erin Reilly, Eric Klopfer and Philip Tan, has further inspired my interest and passion in game-based learning, in particular learning through game design and building. Ian Winchester at the University of Calgary has been an insightful supporter. Many hours of conversation about enactivism shaped my ideas about this new paradigm. Richard Tay at the La Trobe University in Australia was part of The Driven project, and I thank him for his intellectual inspiration on integrating games to the field of road safety. Special thanks also go to David Wizer at Towson University, who has provided continued practical and moral support.

← IX | X → Third, I also want to thank the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRCC), Towson University, the University of Calgary, and MIT, which provided financial support to the game projects discussed in this book. In a similar vein, my department (the Department of Educational Technology and Literacies) deserves thanks for acknowledging the value of my research and for supporting my work in this area.

Fourth, I thank my series editors, Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel, for their insightful comments and invaluable feedback. I also want to express my sincere appreciation to Lisa Twiss and Keturah Fountaine for their help in editing this book and providing suggestions. Thanks also to Peter Lang editorial members including Phyllis Korper, Chris Myers, and Jackie Pavlovic.

Last, but definitely not least, I want to express my gratitude to my special family members. My dad, a math professor his entire life, was my first mentor and role model who encouraged and inspired my career in academia. My mom taught me how to be persistent to get through the tough times. My two kids, Vivian and Richard, are both the initial and continued inspiration for my interest in digital game-based learning. In particular, I thank Vivian for her patience in editing my work at any time without hesitation. And my dear husband, Liang, deserves a very special acknowledgment for his unceasing encouragement and support that have allowed me to find and pursue my academic passions.

This book is grounded on my years of work in the field of education, and more specifically game based learning. Parts of chapter one were co-written with Bruce Clark and Ian Winchester and initially published as “Instructional design and technology with enactivism: A shift of paradigm?” in British Journal of Educational Technology (2010), reprinted by permission of the publisher, Taylor & Francis Ltd, http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals and http://www.informaworld.com. The Do It Yourself project discussed in this book also contains components of my paper titled “Understanding enactivism: A study of affordances and constraints of engaging practicing teachers as digital game designers” in Educational Research & Development (2012), 60(5), 785-806, reprinted by permission of the publisher, Springer, http://www.editorialmanager.com/etrd/ and http://www.springer.com.

This book have elements of my previous published papers: Li, Q. (2010), Digital game building: Learning in a participatory culture, in Educational Research, 52(4), 427-433; and Li, Q. (2013), Digital games and learning: A ← X | XI → study of preservice teachers’ perceptions. International Journal of Play, 2(2), 101-116, reprinted by permission of the publisher, Taylor & Francis Ltd, http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals and http://www.informaworld.com.

The Driven project discussed in the book contains elements from the coauthored paper Li, Tay & Louis (2012). Designing digital games to teach road safety: A study of graduate students’ experiences, Loading, 6(9), 17-35. http://journals.sfu.ca/loading/index.php/loading/article/view/102/114 reprinted with the permission from the journal.

This book also uses materials from the following papers:

• Li, Lemieux, C., Vandermeiden, E. & Nathoo, S. (2013). Are you ready to teach secondary mathematics in the 21st century? A study of pre-service teachers’ digital game design experience. Journal of Research on Technology in Education. 45(4), 309-337. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, International Society for Technology in Education, 800.336.5191 (U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777 (Int’l), http://www.iste.org.

• Li, Q., Vandermeiden, E., Lemieux, C. & Nathoo, S. (in press). Secondary students learning mathematics through digital game building: A study of the effects and students’ perceptions. International Journal for Technology in Mathematics Education.

• Li, Q. (2013, Mar.). Teaching secondary mathematics: Preservice teachers’ digital game design, pedagogy, and 21st century skills. Paper presented at the annual conference of ABSEL, Oklahoma City, OK. Proceedings of the Developments in Business Simulation and Experiential Learning, 40, pp. 110-114.

• Li, Q. (2013, Mar.). Digital game building as assessment: A study of secondary students’ experience. Paper presented at the annual conference of ABSEL, Oklahoma City, OK. Proceedings of the Developments in Business Simulation and Experiential Learning, 40, pp. 74-78.

• Li, Nathoo, Vandermeiden, Lemieux, C. (2012, Mar.). Practicing teachers as digital game creators: A study of the design considerations. Paper presented at the annual conference of ABSEL, San Diego, CA. ← XI | XII →

← XII | XIII → Foreword

James Paul Gee

Humans are simulators, not calculators. We learn from experience; we use images and actions from experience to give meanings to words, and we use prior experience to prepare for new ones and the actions we need to take in them. Humans do not learn well from just any old experience. They learn best when, in an experience, they have an action to take or something they want to do that they really care about. They learn best when they have mentors who make them successful before they can go it alone and help them know where to focus their attention in the midst of the plethora of details in any experience in the world.

Digital games are virtual experiences where players take actions, consider their consequences, and seek to achieve success at least partially on their own terms but with due deference to what counts as mastery by peers and mentors they wish to affiliate with and be accepted by. Human minds work a good deal like digital games: based on past experiences, we simulate experiences in our heads where we can try out different roles, approaches, and solutions to problems in order to prepare ourselves for new learning and mastery. Thinking—when it is focused on living and achieving—is like a video game in the mind, a game we ourselves design, play, and redesign.

Students learn and read best when they bring to talk and texts what have been called situated or embodied meanings, what Qing Li calls enactive meanings. Such situated, embodied, enactive meanings involve associating words with images, actions, experiences, and interactive dialogue—not just definitions, other words, and other texts. Students can attain situated, embodied, enactive meanings only if they have a chance to try and do before and alongside reading, and if, when they are new to an area, get text in small bits “just in time” (when they can apply it) or larger chunks “on demand” (when they ask for it, need it, and are ready to use it).

Digital games have a dual role to play in improving learning in and out of school. They can be a platform for situated, embodied, enactive learning, ← XIII | XIV → since they are externalized versions of human thinking and problem solving. And digital games can teach us how to teach and learn beyond games in any and all forms that recruit rich experience, good tools, and nurturing mentoring for creating innovative, lifelong impassioned learners. Qing Li’s book is a thoroughly excellent guide here, one that gets theory and practice right.


XIV, 216
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2013 (August)
theoretical perspective technology integration mathematics history pedagogy
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 216 pp., num. ill. and tables

Biographical notes

Qing Li (Author)

Qing Li (PhD in educational technology from University of Toronto) is a full professor in the Department of Educational Technology at Towson University and was co-director of its UTeach Program. She has published widely on educational technology and cyberbullying. Her most recent book (co-edited with Donna Cross & Peter K. Smith) is Cyberbullying in the Global Playground: Research from International Perspectives.


Title: Learning through Digital Game Design and Building in a Participatory Culture