The PopCosmo Research Team

The PopCosmo research team, part of Games+Learning+Society (GLS) at University of Wisconsin-Madison, investigates learning in online games, game communities, and fandoms. As a team of graduate and undergraduate researchers, we conduct naturalistic, survey, and experimental research related to individual and group cognition in popular play spaces such as World of Warcraft, Dragon Age Legends, and the Elder Scrolls universe. Over the past few years, our inquiry began with the documentation and analysis of the intellectual practices that arise in fandom communities related to commercial entertainment games. From there, we shifted to attempts to incubate those practices in an after school program targeting teenage boys, mostly from rural areas, who were disengaged and failing school (particularly literacy related subjects) but ate up games. As part of this work, we conducted explicit empirical comparisons between cognition in the context of games versus school. Most recently, we are expanding our analyses to include a wider variety of commercial online games such as social networking games, gamification, and hybrid online games (like Dragon Age Legends) as well as titles designed specifically for learning. Our work continues to focus on analysis and assessment of culture and cognition in videogame fandom communities.

I’m trained as a learning scientist and new literacy studies scholar, so we take a sociocultural approach to learning with a focus on discourse and practice. The point to studying online games from this perspective is not merely to find new ways to accomplish the same old educational ends but just faster, cheaper, or with more verve. Rather, the point is to push back some on what the goals of education ought to be, how we should define evidence of their achievement, and what relationship classrooms of the twenty-first century should have to real life.

My current interest is in the ways that videogame communities function as sandboxes for the reconstruction (perhaps, reinvigoration) of a new form of twenty-first century citizenship — a cosmopolitan disposition marked by the willingness to engage in an increasingly globalized, diverse socio-technical world – and the intellectual practices that underwrite such a disposition: collective problem solving, digital & print literacy, informal science reasoning, computational literacy, and reciprocal apprenticeship. The science literacy stuff in particular has managed to jump start some great
public conversations
about the values of digital play.

My research team is listed below.

Amanda Ochsner (click here to visit her website) is currently a graduate student in the department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Her research interests focus around issues of identity formation through video game play and participation in online gaming communities. Amanda is particularly interested in gaming communities that are created by and for people who do not fall into the traditional 18-34-year old male hardcore gamer category. Before beginning graduate school, Amanda worked on the press side of the games industry as an editor for IGN’s Green Pixels site, which focused on creating content for mainstream gamers. She also did freelance writing for IGN’s family-focused site, What They Play. One of her projects was a series of interviews with parents who play video games with their children. She also did a series of features on fitness games and families. Amanda received her undergraduate degree in English from the University of Minnesota, Morris, in 2008. In her time in Morris she worked at the campus Writing Center and was a co-host for Evil Avatar Radio — a gaming podcast dedicated to discussing game releases and news.

Caroline “Caro” Williams (click here to visit her website) is a PhD student in Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with a focus in Mathematics Education and a joint Masters in Mathematics and Mathematics Education. Her adviser is Dr. Amy Ellis, whom she works with on two major research projects: the Inductive and Deductive In-and-Out of Mathematics (IDIOM) grant with Drs. Knuth and Kalish (; and the Supporting Proof in Algebra through Reasoning with Quantities (SPARQ) grant. Caro’s also a member of the Games, Learning, and Society group, and on Dr. Steinkuehler’s PopCosmo research team, studying cognition and learning in Massively Multiplayer Online games. Caro’s many interests bridge the worlds of math education and gaming, with particular interest in: (a) virtual worlds that are designed as supplemental to classroom content, and what types of mathematics learning are intended and actually instantiated within those dynamic environments; (b) commercially produced virtual worlds that may have mathematics content and learning quietly embedded in the game structure, and the types of learning that occur as a result; and (c) the general constraints and affordances that games may have for different populations as they enter and participate within the designed “worlds.” Currently, she is in the midst of a design-based research project focused on the design, evaluation, and iteration of Little Big Planet worlds that support an informal understanding of the Cartesian coordinate plane.

A doctoral student in Education, Shannon Harris (click here to visit her website) is interested in working with and studying digital games related to health and life science learning. She is also interested in the scientific thought processes and literacies that accompany many types of digital game play. She works as a Research Assistant for the Education Research Integration Area (ERIA) group as part of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery/Morgridge Institute for Research affiliated with UW-Madison, researching science games for learning. Shannon has a corporate background in research, statistics, and software-specific programming (including SAS, VBA, SQL, and Unix C-shell programming), and she has taught statistics at the graduate level. Her varied educational background includes significant coursework in social science, life science, statistics, and quantitative research methodology. Shannon holds two master’s degrees, including an M.S.Ed. in instructional technologies. Some of Shannon’s favorite courses taken outside of a College of Education Department include introductory biology and chemistry courses, anatomy and physiology, organic chemistry, microbiology, and bioethics in research.

Elizabeth Owen is a doctoral student of Constance Steinkuehler in the Games, Learning, and Society research group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is committed to research in designing good video games to maximize student engagement and provide authentic assessment of critical thinking skills. After graduating in 2000 from Claremont McKenna College with a dual BA in Economics and Literature, Elizabeth began a decade-long teaching career in Los Angeles. Beginning as associate director of The Reading Center, a tutoring center in the South Bay, Elizabeth taught students of widely varying ages and educational needs. During these first five years, she also instructed K-12 core curriculum and ESL in various classroom environments – including Chadwick Academy private elementary, RUHS public high school, and the AOI College of Language for adult international students. In 2005, Elizabeth became a founding teacher of the Los Angeles Academy of Arts and Enterprise, a 6-12 charter school in inner city Los Angeles. There, she helped underserved children gain a strong core curriculum and arts education through the constructivist methodology of Design Based Learning. It was the success of this simulation-based instruction – combined with heavy technology use in the classroom – that led Elizabeth to pursue graduate study in videogames and learning through the Games+Learning+Society group.

Jeremy Dietmeier is a Masters student in Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is interested in student identities in and around game spaces. He is also interested in the ways virtual worlds can be used in interventions for students with disabilities. He is currently working on the Peer Partner Project at the Waisman Center, focusing on creating social networks for students with severe disabilities. He is also a member of the PopCosmo research team and Games+Learning+Society. Jeremy received his undergraduate degree in Psychology from Yale University in 2010, where he worked in the Yale Infant Research Center and the Autism Center at the Yale Child Study Center.

Gabriella Anton graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with two bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and Sociology in 2011. She has been affiliated with GLS since 2008 when she joined Constance Steinkuehler’s PopCosmo lab as a research assistant. Since then, she has become infatuated with the amazing research that is being done within the GLS community. In 2012 Gabriella joined the Sudio K project as a research scientist under Kurt Squire, in which she is to designing, implementing, and researching game design curriculum for middle and high school kids. She continues work with PopCosmo as an independent researcher. Her interests include studying the educational benefits of videogames as well as the application of videogames in classrooms as a way to facilitate learning in disengaged students. Gabriella is in the process of applying for graduate school for 2013.

Jonathan Elmergreen is an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison majoring in Sociology with a concentration in Analysis and Research. He began working on Constance Steinkuehler’s PopCosmo research team in 2008 as the lead undergraduate researcher during the GLS Casual Learning Lab, and has continued on as a research assistant since. Other than surrounding himself with the totally awesome people in PopCosmo, Jonathan enjoys being a member of GLS. Current areas of interest to Jonathan include gaming culture and games studies. After completing his undergraduate degree, Jonathan plans to go on to grad school for a PhD in .