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Morrissey College of Arts and Science

UN551 Electronic Media and Human Development

capstone program

John Dacey

Professor Emeritus
Lynch School of Education

Access to myWebCT page requires BC ID and password.

In 1986, when many of today’s college students were born, eight percent of American households owned a computer. Now that number is nearly 70 percent, and for BC students, it is probably close to 100 percent. Other electronic media such as television, DVRs, cell phones, movie players, PDA’s, and MP3 players are equally ubiquitous. Together, they have caused alterations in the ways we humans think, feel, and behave, and will continue to do so in almost unimaginable ways. Studies of adolescent and young adult cognition have found new patterns in brain physiology and mental function. The negative impact of these effects has been well-documented, but positive results are also being realized. One example, neophyte surgeons who spent significant time playing video games in their youth are 40 percent less likely to make errors in their surgical operations.

The purpose of this course is to examine the impact electronic media have had on humans in general, and in your own life in particular, with special emphasis on the most powerful of these forces, the computer video game.

Course Objectives

In this course you will have five objectives:

  1. Acquire a summary knowledge of the principles and theories of developmental science.
  2. Investigate the underlying principles that influence the design of electronic media.
  3. Examine the effects the various media have had on your own life. You will write a “media biography,” seeking to discover how the world of electronics has influenced your thought patterns, both positively and negatively. In particular, you will seek to explain how media have shaped the academic and personal choices you have made in your college years. Because of its central role in this arena, our research will pay particular attention to defining the theme of fun. You will look at the implications of how enjoying media has predisposed you. In addition, your biography will be informed by discussions of developmental theory.
  4. You will also preview the future as it is likely to be shaped by electronic innovations. For example, cybernetics, the imitation of biological control systems through the use of technology, will transform thinking. Futurist Ray Kurzweil, author of The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, argues convincingly that in the next 20 years, the distinction between biological and electronic intelligence will disappear. Software will replace many mental functions by direct electronic connection to the brain.
  5. Consider the many ways development in your post-college life is likely to be formed by these advances. You will look at four crucial aspects in this prospective view: work, relationships and family, society, and spirituality. You will identify the personal implications of these explorations, and will write a second major paper on this subject, with an eye to answering the question, "How will you carry out the lifelong commitments you envision as you discern your vocation?"

As to our class discussions on media, the majority will be focused on video

  1. Electronic simulations, and video games in particular, typically produce a high degree of pleasure, and as a result, rapid advances in the ability to understand and control an environment.
  2. Young people today–the first generation to be immersed in electronic games–view “learning in a totally different way,” says game guru Will Wright. You “treat the world as a place for creativity, community, self-esteem and problem-solving, not consumption. This is the true impact video games will have on our culture” (p. 111, 2006).
  3. New software can make manipulation of virtual environments more affordable, and often more effective, than is possible in vivo. This is especially true for educational topics. Exploring the virtual Plains of the Serengheti as a virtual Maasai hunter-gatherer is far superior to reading a pictorial essay on Africa. Examples of other arenas are psychotherapy, emergency planning, and business ethics.

Although the degree of motivation developed by most video games is well documented, the great majority of these games still promote unacceptable values: aggressiveness, intense competitiveness and sexual brutality. The authors of textbooks on game design regularly excoriate their colleagues for failing to address this deleterious tendency. As a result, new products are attempting to achieve more responsible goals, such as helping fourth-graders to develop a sense of empathy for others, and motivating seniors to exercise their aging brains so they can stave off senility.

Hence, the third assignment for this course is to complete a socially useful game design. You will produce the details and, if possible, a sample of the game. Texts, lectures, and class discussion will provide you with help in preparing this paper. Your game should, in some way, reflect what you are learning about yourself in this course. Proposals for joint projects will be allowed, but grading will be commensurate.


Your two personal papers and your game proposal will each account for 25% of your grade. Quality, not quantity, of class participation will determine the remaining 25%.

Required Readings

  • Ralph Koster (2004) A Theory of Fun, San Francisco: Paraglyph Press.
  • Ray Kurzweil (2006) The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, New York: Viking.
  • James Paul Gee (2003) What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, New York: MacMillan.
  • Online summaries of developmental theories
  • Social Justice Games
  • Subscribe to Wired Magazine for one year, cost $10

Suggested Readings

  • Crawford, C., Chris Crawford on Game Design
  • Dacey, J., Fiore, L., Your Anxious Child
  • Dacey, J., Weygint, L., The Joyful Family
  • Dacey, J., Fiore, L., The Safe Child Handbook: How to Protect Your Family and Cope with Anxiety in a Threat-Filled World
  • Dacey, J., Lennon, K., Understanding Creativity
  • Pardew, L., Game Design for Teens
  • Rollings, A., Game Architecture and Design: A New Edition
  • Richard Rouse III. (2004), Game Design: Theory and Practice (2nd Edition), New York: Wordware.
  • Salen, K., Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals

September 6—read online section on Introduction to Developmental Theories: A Game Proposal for Teens and Seniors, John Dacey myWebCT

September 13—The Main Questions Developmental Science Attempts to Answer; read online section on Freud: Introduction to Games Theory, Koster, ch. 1; The Six Epochs of Electronic Technology, Kurzweil, ch. 1

September 20—The Eight Stages of Life; read online section on Erikson; October issue of Wired Magazine; The Evolution of Technology, Kurzweil, ch. 2

September 27—The Synapse and You; read online section on Jung: The Human Brain and Games, Koster, ch. 2–5

October 4—Information Processing: Effects on Your Brain; read online section on Skinner: Social Justice Games (see site above); The Computational Capacity of the Human Brain, Kurzweil, ch. 3

October 11—The Underlying Nature of Games; read handout on Flavell: Some Problems for Games Designers, Koster, ch. 6–8; November issue of Wired Magazine; Paper #1, A Personal Biography, due

October 18—Artificial Intelligence; class interview with Tim Lindgren, BC technology specialist, on new and future digital communications techniques (date not certain); read online section on Bandura: The Software of Human Intelligence, Kurzweil, ch. 4

October 25—Technology and Education; read online section on Maslow: The Philosophy of Games, Koster, ch. 9–10; Technology and Education, Gee, ch. 1–4; skim remainder of book

November 1—The Future of Your Mind; read online section on Frankl: The Future of Games, Koster, ch. 11–12; December issue of Wired Magazine

November 8—The Future of Society; read online section on May: Genetics, Nanotechnology and Robotics, Kurzweil, ch. 5

November 15—New Directions for Theories of Development; read online section on Piaget: The Likely Impact of Electronic Technology, Kurzweil, ch. 6; Paper #2, A Prospective Biography, due

November 29—Summary of Our Conclusions; read online section on Fromm: The Philosophy of the Singularitarian, Kurzweil, ch. 7

December 6—Presentations of Term Projects: Game Designs (directions given in class)

Academic Integrity

The pursuit of knowledge can proceed only when scholars take responsibility and receive credit for their work. Recognition of individual contributions to knowledge and of the intellectual property of others builds trust within the University and encourages the sharing of ideas that is essential to scholarship. Similarly, the educational process requires that individuals present their own ideas and insights for evaluation, critique, and eventual reformulation. Presentation of others' work as one's own is not only intellectual dishonesty, but also undermines the educational process.

Plagiarism, that is, failure to properly acknowledge sources, written or electronic, used for verbatim quotations or ideas, is a violation of academic integrity. Each student is responsible for learning and using proper methods of paraphrasing and footnoting, quotation, and other forms of citation, to ensure that the original author, speaker, illustrator, or source of the material used is clearly acknowledged. See Office of Student Services Academic Integrity, Policy and Procedures.

Information for Students with Disabilities

If you have a disability you are entitled by law to equal access to University programs and facilities. The most relevant laws are Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Under these laws you cannot be discriminated against on the basis of your disability. In the University setting, this often means that alterations must be made in the classroom or in testing procedures. Advance notice and appropriate documentation are required for accommodations.

The Connors Family Learning Center provides academic support services and accommodations to undergraduate and graduate students with learning disabilities and ADD/ADHD. If you have a learning disability and will be requesting accommodations please register with the Center.

To be considered eligible for services for all other disabilities through the Disability Services Office, students must make an appointment to meet with the Assistant Dean for Students with Disabilities, in addition to providing documentation of a disability.