Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Curriculum and Instruction

Major Professor

Michael J. Berson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sanghoon Park, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Arthur Shapiro, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michael Sherry, Ph.D.


digital discourse, media literacy, phenomenological case study, primary source investigation, social constructivism, virtual simulations


Amidst the current cultural backdrop of debilitating digital addiction and malicious misinformation campaigns, secondary social studies instructors require every possible tool to engage students stuck in the haze of simulated reality. While nationwide mastery of the subject area is wedged between failure (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2020) and apathy, three-dimensional, entertainment-driven simulations are progressing at an exponential rate of adolescent adoption and historical accuracy. In this phenomenological case study, I capitalize on pupils’ preference for virtual integration by outlining a pedagogical approach that harnesses the trinity of content knowledge, discursive prowess, and video game aptitude. Video game titles were selected according to their score on Rice’s (2007) “Video Game Higher-Order Thinking Evaluation Rubric” and “Video Game Cognitive Viability Scale”, with lessons tied to Florida’s Next Generation Sunshine State Standards for social studies (2014).

Over a nine-week period of afterschool sessions, I led 14 diverse high school students with a penchant for gaming through a digital and analog journey, facilitated by way of commercial, off-the-shelf simulations and a mixed media collection of primary sources. By building in ample open-ended opportunities for traditional and text-based discussion during the lessons, I extracted meaningful qualitative data demonstrating the viability of this instructional technique. Participants were members of a biweekly, extracurricular video game club, mainly comprised of former and current pupils, which I acknowledge could have led to potentially biased results. In my findings, I propose that COTS video games offer an alternative curricular entry point, which can elicit higher-order discussions when paired with pointed, teacher-led inquiry.

The combination of face-to-face and digital discourse can improve students’ interpersonal skills, media literacy, and civic competency through informal digital game-based learning standards. Pupils who struggle to vocally contribute their opinions in a traditional lecture format were able to shape the conversation via their virtual input. After conducting a discourse analysis of my triangulated qualitative data sources, I affirm that the three most commonly occurring themes (multiple perspectives; vivid, virtual imagery; expressing empathy) underscore the study’s capacity to meaningfully investigate historical actors and contentious topics. This methodology, if properly harnessed, could transmit subject manner more effectively and create critically reflective, game-based learning cohorts. While this pedagogical strategy is by no means a silver bullet to bridge the disconnect between classroom ennui and extracurricular excitement, it may serve as a helpful model for social studies educators with a background in video games to employ.