Summary on the article:
Representational Competence in Shared Symbol Systems:
Electronic Media from Radio to Video Games
P. M. Greenfield (1993)
The purpose of this article is to present a certain number of researches showing that cognitive processes can be more or less developped through a culture and its medias. Media are cultural tools and as such not only do they have a culturally relevant content but they can also represent models and opportunities for particular representational processes. A medium is a particular mode of representation, it can also influence information processing. Depending on the media, an information can be easily presented or not. Understanding differences between different modes of representation is another aspect of representational competence which asks for a meta-cognitive level of awareness. The abilities of a process on a cognitive level are to comprehend and use, adapt to, different modes or media of representation.
Today's children spend a lot of time playing at video games, watching televions, P. Greenfiel asks herself wethe they are any implication of this for representational competence. Throughout the different research we will now examine, she studies this problematic.
A transformation of medium yields only partial conservation of meaning
Two studies were carried on this subject. The aim was to compare the effects of audio (radio) versus an audiovisual (television) medium on children's representational processes, adding moving visual imagery to an audio narrative. Basically the question was the effects of external, cultural representations produced in different media, on the internal representational processes of individual children. For each experiment children were given two stories, one on a audio version and the other on a video version. The first study was on imaginal representation, the other on memory representation. The story told was stopped before the end, and the children were asked to tell the end. Different measures were taken based on the imagination and the repetition.
The results for the first one were that the audio representations led to significantly greater representation of measures of imagination. Regarding the television representations the results showed that they led to significantly repetition of what had been heard before. These results confirmed the hypothesis made.
For the second study on memorisation, the children would hear and see the story all way through and then would tell it to an adult who would'nt know it. Questions on the story were then asked to the chidren measuring the degree of recall. The results of the second study showed that television led to significantly better overall recall of information, and a greater focus on actoin representation. Radio obtained greater focus on material presented only in the auditory channel and less frequent vague reference. It proved better than television for imagination again. Another aspect of television is that it provides a great deal of practise in the comprehension of action information but the representational process involve in dialogue will get less practice.
Theses studies show that there is only a partial conservation of meaning across media, when there is overlapping, each medium still leads to different emphases in representational processes and consequently, different emphases in the communication of content.
Implication of video imagery for representational competence
Television and video games developp skill in reading visual images as representations of three-dimensional space. Not only does a viewer have to be able to interpret static two-dimensional images in the third dimension, but he must also have the mental skill to transform, manipulate and relate dynamic and changing images. Two new interrelated dimensions appear with the video screen, time and motion. A study was made in order to examine the implications of these two dimensions on the representation of three dimensional space.
In television when a camera films a room, it can do so only by showing different plans, different orientations. It is not possible to show the whole room in one shot. Therefore the viewer has to mentally integrate these differente plans in order to construct and picture the room for himself. This work of integration apparently creates a cognitive skill which is transferred to a paper-and-pencil test, Space Construction Test, consisting of constructing a room with four different pictures. A research (Salomon, 1979) found that children who had got results with this test could understand better edited film.
Video Games as a Reprensational Medium:
A large proportion of children play, have played, will play with video games, and this in the whole world. Video games have been considered as not being cognitive but merely as exercising the eye-hand combination. Studying closer these games on a representational point of view has showed that not only does a player consume representation but he also produces some, this is not the case for television. Besides a video game has a real-time movement which implies that the player cannot stop to reflect, otherwise he can loose. Video games build upon and utilize the visual-spatial skills developed by watching television. For instance, in a game like Castle Wolfenstein where different mazes lie, in order to move easily the player has to construct a mental map of the space. This is the same process as in the test mentionned above.
Spatial Integration and Computer Literacy
The ability to construct spatial integration of computer sceen displays is required in the utilisation of different kinds of computer programs.
The increasing utilization of the nonlinear organization of computer programs in software is making the ability to construct iconic spatial representation ever more crucial for dealing with this medium. Hyperprint and hypermedia where the information is arranged complexely and in non-linear spatial configurations, require the ability to integrate all this information in order to be able to use them efficiently.
There is evidence that games further develop the spatial skills than what they require. People playing an arcade computer game were tested on a mental paper folding test. The results show that a video game utilizes and/or develops related visual-spatial skills that are more general than the game itself. This shows empirical evidence that players of three dimensional video games use and develop skills required by television information processing. Another study comparing boys to girls playing a game for the first time and after a while, showed that video game practice generally improved the dynamic spatials skills of anyone, would it be a boy or a girl, who started whith relatively weak spatial skills. Skills in understanding a dynamic representation of spatial relations are a factor in the acquisition of video game expertise, as well as vice-versa.
Discovering the rules of a dynamic visual representation:
To learn how to the rules in a video game, the only way to deal is to observe, the trial and error method, and figuring hypothesis. These different activities are the same ones as those used in the scientific thinking and discovery. So in what way could games have an educational impact if they can train this scientific thinking? A study was taken out on this theme. Students in Rome and Los Angeles played a game with different levels and sets of rules and patterns to figure out.All the students didn't know the rules. One group was, during the game, asked different questions concerning the game. Another group was given instruction on how to play, with verbal representations, static and dynamic representations. A third group had to learn on its own, using trial-and-error. The results showed that mastery of the game and its screen based representation involves the gradual mastery of pattern, rules. The study also showed that the group which received information didn't learn better than the third group or than the first group.This would mean that not only inductive learning of dynamic representational system but also interactive inductive learning would be required for playing video games, and inductive learning works better than deductive learning. These results can be explained by the fact that the interactive and scaffolded nature of the novice-master relationship is crucial. This means that the training given was not shaped by feedback from the learner and instructions didn't occur while the learner was receiving induction-relevant experience by actually playing the game.
Transferring Discovery Skills from a Video Game to a Scientific Technical Computer Simulation
The idea was to see whether there was any transfer possible between what was learnt with the video game and a scientific problem to solve.
In an experiment students were asked questions about a representation of animated electronic circuits without knowing what it was. The computer games conditions got better results of transfer for the comprehension the circuits representation than did the non-computer conditions. However the transfer seemed to have been mediated by the ability to decode the iconic representation than by a general skill in inductive discovery. Therefore this experiment shows that the video games develops skill in iconic representation.
Educational and Cultural Implications
According to Ferguson, our formal educational system ignores the visual requirements for new technologies in teaching and testing. Verbal and symbolic representations are the main concerns of the actual education. This means that as long as it doesn't change, television and video games will be the only mean to learn visual representation of space and iconic representation. Nonetheless children playing video game refer to printing for maps, guidance, help, the way an adult would be searching for information in engineering and other fields.
Video game is a phenomenom touching children on a mass scale and on a worl-wide basis. It has a social implication too. And as shown previously many of these effects are that chidren are being prepared to deal with a world of computers. When playing, a player is as well figuring out the nature of computer program behind the game, in a mental representation. Not only does someone, who has been playing video games, have more skill in iconic representation but he might also have special skills in discovering rules and patterns in an active and interactive process of trial and error.
Besides video game are violent. This is the reason why not many girls like to play with them. This could bring a problem if the amount of violence stays the same. This could reinforce or create link between social behavior and technologically cognitive skills.
What do these technologies bring? The development of skill in iconic representation, visual-spatial skills for everyone, not just for people having elite technical occupations like for instance pilots. They also help to emphasize quick and accurate manual responses to complex dynamic visual stimuli and also strategy and problem solving. These are the results found, but the future will tell us more.
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