Workshop explores the educational opportunities of ‘new media’ for 21st Century Learning

Demo screenshot of TwineGraduate students in Kurt Thumlert’s Cultural Studies of Technology for Education course recently participated in a workshop conducted by members of Dames Making Games (DMG) to explore the educational opportunities of emerging creational media. The workshop provided a lesson on how to use Twine, an open-source tool for telling interactive, nonlinear stories, as a way of introducing people of all ages to game-design principles, game-making communities, and coding literacies. The workshop also helped teacher candidates to better understand and untangle some of the theoretical threads being discussed in the course (New Literacy Studies, multimodality, digital literacies) and to put them into practice by using Twine to create games and interactive artworks.

“In engaging new tools and media ecologies during the course, one purpose is to explore and test media in production-based contexts: with regard to Twine, specifically, this meant trying out and reflecting on the affordances for multimodal narrative-building and digital game-development,” said Professor Kurt Thumlert. “Linking this to ‘21st Century Learning’, some of the questions we explored were: What and how do people learn when engaging media like Twine; and what literacies, creative capacities, and agentive roles do people enact as they make, design, or code authentic cultural artifacts?”

Alicia and Elliot of DMGGraduate students explored how Twine could be used as both an educational and learning tool to create something and reflected on the learning and teaching processes involved. DMG members Alicia and Elliot walked students through a hands-on demonstration of Twine, showing them how the program could be used to create an interactive game, non-linear narrative, or multimodal/interactive poem. “The beauty of Twine is that you can literally teach yourself how to use it in an afternoon,” said Alicia. “It’s a super accessible tool, and it’s absolutely free. There are a ton of resources available online as well. You can use Twine to make a simple choose-our-own-adventure using the default layouts or armed with knowledge of HTML, CSS or JavaScript, you can create more complex artistic works.”

Within the broader context of the course, two of the main questions that Thumlert posed to his students were: What formal learning expectations are enacted through engaging a tool like Twine? And how do informal production-based experiences enable learners to more deeply engage a course of learning that is significant, meaningful, and educationally worthwhile for them? Students answered these questions in a number of ways. One student translated a poem via Twine integrating images and poem stanzas. Through this project she saw Twine as a useful tool for presenting her own video-based research, where users might navigate through video-document in a uniquely interactive way. Another student decided to try coding for the first time in a short Twine project, programming html style-sheet functions, which introduced her to html and made some of the more complex coding functions underlying web development more accessible.

The workshop also enabled graduate students to explore how communities like Dames Making Games provide dynamic sites for deep learning and significant cultural production. DMG was, as a start-up organization, funded and supported by York University’s Faculty of Education. The workshop was an opportunity for DMG members to give back to York.  DMG - and Pixelles in Montreal (also sponsored by York’s Faculty of Education) continue to provide vibrant community settings where young women can assume game-developer roles in a largely male-coding gaming industry - an industry that, too frequently, marginalizes girls and women.