The language of Webkinz: Early childhood literacy in an online virtual world

Rebecca W. Black
Published Online: May 31, 2010
Abstract | References | Full Text: HTML, PDF (528 KB)

Abstract

In recent years there has been an explosion of virtual worlds intended for early childhood populations; however, because the majority of research on games and such worlds has focused on adults and adolescents, we know very little about these spaces. This article attempts to address this gap by providing a qualitative content analysis of the affordances that Webkinz World an online environment that as of March 2010 had over 3 million unique site visitors per month, offers for children’s literacy and language development. Analyses suggest that the site provides unique opportunities for immersion in literacy-rich contexts and academically-oriented practices that may enhance those that are readily available in many children’s daily lives. However, looking beyond the discrete linguistic and technical aspects of learning in Webkinz World reveals a designed culture with limitations on learning and a constrained set of literacies and social messages that warrant further critical exploration.

Keywords: Virtual Worlds, Literacy, Early Childhood

Biographical Statement

Rebecca W. Black is an Assistant Professor of Language, Literacy, and Technology at the University of California, Irvine. Her research interests center on how youth, particularly English language learners, are using new technologies to learn, create, and communicate. Her publications include a recent book, Adolescents and Online Fan Fiction (Black, 2008) and articles in Research in the Teaching of English (Black, 2009) and the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (Black, 2009). Recently, Prof. Black has started exploring opportunities for literacy, learning, and development in virtual worlds aimed at early childhood populations.

Email: rwblack@uci.edu


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