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Good Reception: Utilizing Mobile Media and Games to Develop Critical Inner-City Agents of Social Change


This study examines the potential of mobile media and gameplay to develop critically literate, civically engaged inner-city high school students. Theoretically, this study is based on tenets of critical pedagogy as well as sociocultural and critical literacies theory. I also look to research on civic engagement and gameplay in structuring parts of this study.

Conducted over the course of a year, this study was divided into two phases. First, I conducted a qualitative study of student social practices with mobile media devices in an urban school. Conducting observations, focus groups, and interviews, this data focused on the student perspective of mobile device use within the school space. Inductively coded for the patterns and practices of mobile use, I analyzed this data to develop a framework for a wireless critical pedagogy and a curriculum to teach a class of ninth grade English students within the school site.

In the second phase of this study I taught the curriculum developed during my qualitative analysis of student mobile use. Handing out a set of iPods to the students in the English class, I led the class through an alternate reality game that I created. "Ask Anansi" was a game that guided in-class youth participatory action research and critical literacy development. During the game, students identified areas of inequity to research and document, created and participated in a campus-wide scavenger hunt, and edited their school's Wikipedia page. Daily fieldnotes, audio-recordings of the classroom interactions, and student work were coded and analyzed.

This study found that most students perceived time at school as fluidly social and academic. Students also demonstrated limited opportunities for civic engagement as a result of mobile device use and illustrated that leveraging mobile devices for academic purposes in schools was largely a matter of mutual trust between teachers and students. Findings from the second half of this study revealed how mobile devices and games could cultivate youth research and engagement in issues of equity within their school environments. The nature of producing and interpreting media on mobile devices also signaled shifts in reading and literacies for today's youth.

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