Constance Steinkeuhler is a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and co-directs the Games+Learning+Society (GLS) center at the Wisconsin Institute of Discovery. Professor Steinkeuler has earned a PhD in Literacy Studies, an MS in Educational Psychology, and three additional degrees in Mathematics, English, and Religious Studies. She researches cognition and learning in games, and she designs games.
Recently, she graciously answered some questions for our Get Connected Gamer Profiles series. Thanks, Professor Steinkeuhler! We wish we could be in Madison for this year’s Games+Learning+Society Conference, which will be held June 10-13.
With your busy schedule as a professor and researcher, do you still find time to play video games with your kids?
Absolutely yes. I have two little boys (4 years old and 6 years old) and we play games together daily. I find it harder to find time to play MMOs and other titles that I enjoy myself, though. My husband and I game at night after they go to bed. (When we don’t fall asleep ourselves!) It’s nice to have my kids enter an age where they can use controllers as well as touch pads, though.
What are some of your favorite games to play with friends and family?
Right now, it’s Nintento Wii U games as a family. I play Madden and NCAA football on consoles with my older son, Zelda Windwaker with my 4-year-old. Lego collaborative games are a staple in our home. We also play a lot of mobile/tablet games—Lego’s Life of George (4-year-old), PBL Games (4-year-old), Peg+Cat Big Gig (4-year-old), NFL games (6 -year-old), Toontastic (both kids), Crystals of Kaydor (one of our own titles)… I play Dengelot for fun between things, and I still go back to Drop 7, which I love. I also use our gameful app Tenacity for mindfulness meditation.
What advice do you have for parents on encouraging literacy and other 21st century skills through video games?
Yes, game with your kids. Find a hook for yourself in the game, even if it’s ostensibly not immediately up your alley (for me, that was Madden). And sit with them and play. More comes from the discussion around the game sometimes than the game itself. So, dive in.
Some of your research focuses on social interaction in games. What upcoming research studies are you excited about?
We’ve created two games in collaboration with the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds. One is focused on regulating attention, the other on empathy. They are in clinical trials now—pre/post psychological tests, telemetry data, and pre/post neural imaging—and the results promise to be quite interesting. This intersection of games, neuroscience, and happiness is my passion area.
What are one or two of your recent research findings you like to highlight for parents?
The best reading instruction is interest-driven. Conversation is the most important variable sometimes for learning, so engage with your children around their digital play. And remember, games are the one medium that can turn screen time into activity time. Leverage this!
You talk about helping teenage guys and how video games can engage them in interest-driven learning. Do you think gaming with teens can bring parents and teens closer?
Sometimes. Teenagers want and need space that is not regulated by parents. At this stage of development, they need parenting guidance but they crave independence and autonomy. I am no parenting expert, but I will say that teenager’s play—especially for boys—is denigrated too easily. The developmental and intellectual work they are engaged in deserves recognition and respect. At times, this might mean trying out a game they play, yes. At other times, maybe its just listening to them talk about their gameplay and asking questions.
In this Aspen Institute video, Professor Steinkeuhler explains why video games can be a boon for learning and literacy.