Leveling Up

Principal Investigators:

Associated Researchers and Staff:

The Leveling Up project investigates the learning dynamics of interest-driven online groups that support academically-relevant knowledge seeking and expertise development. How do online groups and platforms support feedback, publicity, and reputation development that fosters skills and expertise? What kinds of learning resources are in the environment, such as teachers, coaches, and instructional materials? What kinds of social and technological supports encourage young people to participate, persist, and achieve? What are the learning and social outcomes of participation? Our initial case studies focus on the learning and production resources surrounding gaming. We are also developing a case study of fiber arts expertise development, centered on a case study of ravelry.com and plan to develop further cases that center on interest-groups that attract large numbers of women and girls.

Our gaming cases center on the learning resources and supports that surround specific game communities. The experience of games is bigger than the designed games themselves. Players think about and work on games before, during, and after play. They develop complex relationships to their play, write detailed theory about their play, invest in their gaming reputations, and bring all of this into other social contexts. All of this “other” activity is known as the metagame, and designing for it is a key consideration in the crafting of games. More explicitly, gaming activities that include a social media component, span physical and virtual space, leverage the social labor of players in ways that reinforce and extend the experience into the everyday lives of the players.

Our project investigates the design and nature of the metagames in two popular gaming communities: The LittleBigPlanet 2 game creation platform and the Starcraft II competitive play leagues and modding activity. By investigating these games and the their metagames we develop better understanding of how to bridge between designed experiences (games and curricula) and the rest of children’s lives. Our work is guided by the following research questions:

  • In what ways does metagaming activity provide connected, coherent, and sequential learning experiences for young people?
  • What are the motivations and incentives that drive engagement with metagaming or modding participation?
  • What structures associated with metagaming exclude participation by certain groups?
  • What structures invite participation at individual and collective levels?
  • Are there gender, racial and ethnic differences in how and why young people participate in metagaming activities?






Connecting Youth Interests Via Libraries

As libraries across the country reimagine themselves, patrons, particularly young ones, are finding them more relevant in today’s technological age. Examples of innovative projects, tapping into the power of the Internet, include the Chicago Public Library, which offers a free Maker Lab, with access to 3-D printers and milling machines; and two branches of the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL), where underserved kids are learning to code and tell stories through photography this summer. Many other l

Support the n00bs: Community Design for Inclusivity

A common topic of discussion among our team of Leveling Up researchers is how communities maintain different barriers to entry. Every community, be it an online forum for Worldwide Wrestling enthusiasts, One Direction fangirls, or Starcraft II players, has its own etiquette and sets of rules for entering the community and becoming a full participant. But for platforms that wish to continually attract a new and engaged user base, designers must think through how to minimize barriers to entry. In essence, lea

The Powerful Combination of Interests and Peer Culture

The connected learning model emphasizes the importance of peer culture and interests in fueling members’ participation and learning in the rich activities and opportunities these communities create. In interest-driven communities, it is the passion or interest that leads people into joining the community (Gee and Hayes 2010). As a researcher who has focused on interest-driven communities, I sometimes take this for granted. But the depth of what this means to members - that they are able to find a communit

Supports for Help and Feedback in Peer-Supported Communities

As I’ve described in a previous post focusing on the professional wrestling community, the Wrestling Boards, help and feedback are key ingredients to an active peer-supported community. Peer-support is one of the three main spheres of the connected learning framework. But what enables help and feedback? Analysis of the Leveling Up case studies suggests two major supports for help and feedback: community design and community culture. Community design refers to the way in which online communities intentiona

Tracking “Interests” in Interest-Driven Learning Communities

Why the interest in interests? Learning researchers have long posited that when animated by passion, learning can be rich, relevant and resilient (Hidi, 1990; Renninger, 2009). The connected learning model, building on part of this research, focuses on supports and mechanisms for building environments that connect the spheres of interests, peer culture, and academic life. Alignment between these spheres is echoed in the learner biographies from our case studies of online communities. Our learner biograph

A new year and a new book

It’s the start of a new year and time to take stock. It’s been three years since the launch of the Connected Learning Research Network and the Leveling Up project, and a year and a half since the launch of this blog. Along the way, we’ve delved into stories of knitters, boy band and wrestling fans, fashionistas, eSports enthusiasts, and game makers, as well as how the online world is supporting their learning, sharing, and civic engagement. The cases we’ve developed over these years have both confir

*This* is Learning: How Perceptions of Learning Relevance Matter for Student Success

This is the first of a series of posts by the authors on learning and social fields. They draw on multiple research cases to articulate how different contexts determine valued forms of learning. Parent: “I think [Fashion Camp] teaches in an educational way. Is it academic or is it educational? That’s two different things. No, it’s probably not academic from a teacher’s standpoint...I believe 100% of it is educational, but I don’t believe it’s academic.” Interviewer: “So educational meanin

On-ramps, Leveling Up and Recognition: How the StarCraft 2 Community Deepens their Interests

The StarCraft community is one of the most productive gaming communities, spearheaded by community leaders who earn recognition by expressing their passion for the game through creating gaming content or organizing gaming events.  Many active community members become community leaders, recognized content producers, and top level players.  We found that some of the most productive and recognized community members had support for their gaming interest at an early age, which transitioned into deeper engageme

Self-Directed Learning in Online Connected Learning Environments

Many people would not think of professional wrestling fans and knitters as having a lot in common but the two communities share many underlying principles and cultural norms. The Hogwarts at Ravelry knitting group and the Wrestling Boards professional wrestling fan community are connected learning environments. The communities are peer-supported, interest-powered, and academically-oriented. The connected learning experiences of Hogwarts at Ravelry and Wrestling Boards support production-centered activities,

Sports for the Mind: How do you bring Connected Learning into the Classroom?

Ugochi Acholonu is a postdoctoral scholar for the Connected Learning Research Network looking at ways that formal learning environments can be adapted to support Connected Learning.  Junaidullah Khan is a teacher at ChicagoQuest (a public charter school) implementing curriculum to support connected learning in his classroom. In this post they combine their perspectives to think about the theoretical and practical aspects of changing formal institutions to facilitate connected learning. Connected Learn

On Schools, Sackboys, and Sponsors: a Tale of Two Online Communities

Leveling Up is a research team focused on learning practices within interest-driven online and face-to-face contexts. Ksenia Korobkova and Matt Rafalow draw on their unique cases to compare and contrast literacy practices in online communities. Chris, a 10th grader, has passions for theater, English literature, and gaming. Although he describes himself as an average student, he’s definitely “more of an English/history person” and excels in those subjects. When not in school, he enjoys playing the Pla

Training with Purpose in the Junior Lifeguards

Every summer, in beaches across the Southern California coast, young swimmers aged 9 to 17 come together for five weeks to train, bond, and learn how to save lives. Under the warm but strict guidance of professional lifeguards, junior lifeguards engage in an intense program of open water swimming, beach runs, surfing, and lessons in ocean safety, rescue techniques, and CPR. In keeping with its reputation as a standout lifeguard service employing nearly 800 guards, the Los Angeles County lifeguards run an ex

“Join Team Apple!”: Co-Creation and Openly Networked Design on Sackboy Planet

On Sackboy Planet, players take advantage of the level editor’s openly networked design to collaborate on projects together. Team projects provide opportunities for people with diverse design skill sets, including logic, design, art, and music, to experiment with creative production around a shared purpose. While players may use the level editor by themselves to design their own creations, Media Molecule, the creator of LittleBigPlanet 2, included a feature in the level editor that permits more than one p

Hogwarts at Ravelry and the Connected Learning Core Values

  Figure 1. A crocheted mandrake, inspired by the Harry Potter movies. It’s been nearly two years since I began fieldwork with Hogwarts at Ravelry, and, as the fieldwork winds to a close, I’d like to take a moment to step back and reflect on how the core values of connected learning make up the foundation of the group and allow it to become a thriving learning and social environment. By looking at Hogwarts at Ravelry, we are able to see that the core values of connected learning - equity, fu

HOMAGO: A web platform to hang out, mess around, and geek out

Over two years ago, the Teach Me Stuff experimental platform was launched in an effort to investigate how to best match individuals with coaches and mentors based on their interests.  The lessons learned from the trials of Teach Me Stuff lead to the development of HOMAGO) which stands for Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out. The design of HOMAGO was built from a number of lessons-learned during our coaching experiments with Teach Me Stuff.  Through coaching trials done with the StarCraft 2 commun

Connected Learning Environments and Common Core Standards

The Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy for grades 11 – 12 in the United States are meant to mark the readiness of youth to enter college, focusing on reading and writing benchmarks that are necessary to succeed in post-secondary educational contexts and non-academic careers. These standards focus on such crucial skills as writing an argument to support a claim; writing informative texts to convey complex ideas; writing narratives to develop imagined experiences; developing and st

Encouraging Connected Learning Means It’s Okay for Students to Opt-out

One of the purposes of developing Connected Learning environments is to support the development of the Connected Learner.  The Connected Learner can, and seeks to, effectively knit together his or her social networks, academic inclinations, and individual interests to form learning communities that develop his or her expertise in a particular domain [1]. However, for individuals to become Connected Learners, they must first value this approach to learning.

Nerf Gun Modding, Parenting, and Winding Pathways of Interest Development

This is the first of a series of posts I plan to contribute on how connected learning relates to my own everyday life as a parent, and what I am learning from my own kids about making, learning, gaming, and online communication. Clearly the role of parents, siblings, and other caregivers in the family is critical to supporting, directing, or impeding connected learning for young people, and it can be a challenge to get a view into these micropolitics of the home.

To Geekdom! What Can StarCraft II Tell Us About Attaining Geek-hood?

Not long after I first participated in the StarCraft community, I fell in love with it. I admire its members’ activism, congeniality, and camaraderie. The players built the community infrastructure including organizations, learning ethos, social networks, and other programs. The StarCraft II community reveals one possible model of how peer-supported and academically relevant learning may manifest in grassroots and openly-networked settings.

Feedback and Help as Key Ingredients for an Active Peer-Supported Community

The Wrestling Boards is an online community based around a set of forums that discusses all things related to wrestling. There are sub-forums for fans to discuss wrestling companies and shows, like General WWE, RAW, Smackdown, NXT, Payback, and TNA impact. There are also sub-forums for members to introduce themselves, give suggestions, and discuss off topic, games, sports, and fantasy wrestling. The members of this site are big fans of wrestling and avid participants in the community.

Becoming a Knitting Pattern Author: A Teenager’s Story

In previous blog entries, I have talked about designers in fiber crafting. In this entry, I will share one designer’s story of how she moved from learning to knit and crochet to eventually become a designer. Through her story we can see how the online community of Ravelry has played an important role in her becoming a designer. 


Exploring interest-powered learning in informal game design clubs

Guest blogger biography: Gabriella Anton is currently a research specialist and the project manager of Studio K at the Games+Learning+Society Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her current work focuses on examining the educational and computational thinking benefits of learning game design. More broadly, she’s involved in the study of interest-powered learning, especially in online communities.


Boss Level: A School’s Experiment with Connected Learning

As a CLRN Research Fellow, I spend a lot of time thinking about Connected Learning and what it means for schools.  At its core, Connected Learning is about equity and empowering students to become change agents in their communities now, and not just when they reach adulthood.  But what does connected learning look like in practice, in a school setting?  To gain some insight on this question, I have spent the last couple of months observing schools that are trying to integrate connected learning principles into their curriculum and organizational structures.

Fantasy to Reality: One Fan’s Journey from Interest to Career

This blog post follows the journey of one fan, Henry Jenkins IV, a writer for the television show Cult and several other upcoming shows, from the beginning of his fandom to his current career. Jenkins, from a young age, was very interested in the drama and storytelling of professional wrestling. These academically-relevant creative practices housed within his interest inspired him to pursue creative writing as a profession, creating a connected learning experience. This post details how Jenkins’ interest in professional wrestling lead him to a career in writing for television.

No One Edits Alone: Connected Learning in Game-Based Wikis

Guest blogger biography: Amanda Ochsner is currently a PhD student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Interim Research Manager at the Games+Learning+Society Center. Amanda’s research interests focus on learning in online game communities. She is also working on a team project for the design of an online space for young women to learn computational literacies and computer programming.

Widow Mine Math

 By Lone (right) and mitosis (left) on TeamLiquid.net

Consider a circle drawn on a track field to have a radius of 5 feet.  If you had to run across the circle within a span of 1.5 seconds, what is the maximum cord length that you could traverse within the span of that time?

Will the real fan please stand up?

In November, as I drove from L.A. to San Francisco, I picked up an audiobook of the Hunger Games. After all, I was starting an inquiry into teenage girls’ fandoms and fanfiction practices. Having read literature on fanfiction and learning, I felt prepared to hack into the very roots of popular teen fandoms. My audio-archival research did little good, however, since when I ventured into forums, fanfiction aggregators, and blogs, I discovered that the most popular fanfic topics were pop music artists and TV stars.

What We Can Learn From the StarCraft II Elites

In early February of this year, I visited a middle school near a historic district in Chinatown. The school is one hundred years old with a rich colonial history. I met Gary, the head of information technologies at the school, who is also a math teacher.  Gary mentioned to me he wants to develop an app to help their 800 students learn about the school’s heritage. In the past, the school had students fill up a booklet by answering a list of twenty or so predetermined questions, like naming a celebrity alumni.

Connected Parents: Sharing Classroom Practices through Social Media

Classroom and afterschool programs sometimes organize competitions or recitals as a way to connect parents and friends with student achievements, generating excitement and motivation for all involved. Fashion Camp provides an example of how openly networked practices with new media, or environments that design links between institutions, home, and interest communities, engage parents with student classroom practices.

A Delicate Tension: Where Gaming and Education Intersect

Guest blogger biography: Stephen Paolini is a junior at Winter Park High School in Winter Park, Florida. His interest in the concept of interest-driven community stems from his experiences with his unique family structure and the International Baccalaureate program, an internationally constructed college prep program created to provide a rigorous all-around curriculum. With a passion for connected learning, Stephen has always been interested in gaming, education and the integrated role they play in a modern society. 

The House Unity Projects of Hogwarts

The House Unity Projects of Hogwarts at Ravelry began with Ravenclaw filling the Great Hall (discussion area) with crocheted and knit fireworks in the summer of 2011. After that summer, the House Unity Projects became a ritual performed by every House and in every “school rotation” as an expression of House Unity and pride.

Augmented Learning through Fashion Design

There was a lot to take in on my first day at Fashion Camp. Although the formal lessons weren’t scheduled for another few minutes, I had apparently arrived late for the first lesson: the teacher was talking with five youth about the latest trends. One young woman, about 13 years of age, said that she was into “ombre.” The teacher expressed that ombre is “very in right now,” and that they happened to have ombre polka dot fabric at the camp.

Attitudes, Success, and Engagement: A Comparison of Game and School Contexts

During my dissertation work, I interviewed three male youth from the same school: one junior and two seniors, who all had college aspirations of technology or game design, and came from a variety of home situations with varying socioeconomic status (SES).  These youth were avid gamers and were part of my research because they were World of Warcraft players. Despite the fact that they were highly engaged with World of Warcraft (WoW), they had all disengaged from a traditional school setting.

Learning to Learn: The StarCraft II Way

When we discuss learning, some people attend primarily to the learning content, such as physics or math. They may raise their eyebrows when the content to be learned is a game. But it is not learning content that concerns me in this blog. It is about how we can learn to learn. In many contexts, take StarCraft II for example, there is no assigned teacher whose exclusive role it is to teach. Therefore, learners learn based on productive social interactions with peers. In StarCraft II, learning is such a social process.

#hashtagging and #learning in boyband fanfiction

The One Direction Chronicles


“Louis saw it, and he retweeted it, adding hashtags like #brilliant and #mynewbff and before I knew it, he was following it. Our friendship was meant to be.” 


Alt_Pub: Getting the Research Out

I recently traveled to Athens, Greece and experienced the cab ride from the airport into the city centre as a trip through an alien landscape. This was partly due to the general lack of sleep and fresh air that accompanies trans-Atlantic travel, but was wholly amplified by the view out the car window. Every roadside billboard we passed—and there were many—was either sun bleached to the point of unintelligibility or completely empty. And not the hopeful empty symbolized by a crisp, white surface awaiting an eager advertiser but the sad emptiness of one left ragged and stripped by the crash.

Moving Towards an eSports Future

eSports are a specific category of computer games. eSport games like StarCraft II are intentionally designed by the game developer to be both highly competitive (“difficult to master”) and also easy for fans to watch. eSports is an emerging market participated in by professional gamers, coaches, sponsors, event organizers, and celebrities. An eSport is an emerging sporting genre entering public spheres occupied by traditional sports like football and soccer.

Information Literacy, Connected Learning, and World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft (WoW) is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game with a subscribership of 10.2 million1. The player is offered a variety of options when choosing a character. There are two factions each with six races (and the recently added pandarens which can play either faction), two genders, and there are ten classes and each class can have one of three specializations. There are many choices just to select your character. Then there are professions to choose and play style choices (like whether you want to join a guild), and the list goes on.

Ravelympics: The Games That Must Not Be Named

Last month, I blogged about the 2012 Ravellenic Games as a Ravelry community event that encouraged participants to craft while watching the Olympic Games. The event was a huge success and was a source of inspiration and learning for many of the 10,000 participants who scrambled to start and finish projects, learn new techniques, and overcome many obstacles to cross the finish line and earn a badge.

A Design to Broaden Creativity: Lessons Learned from LittleBigPlanet2

In my previous posts[1] I’ve talked just a bit about some of the design principles that our work with the game designers at MediaMolecule (Mm) revealed. The purpose of this post is to foreground a system of design principles underlying the LittleBigPlanet2 game that are relevant to the design of connected learning environments.

The 2012 Ravellenic Games: Community, Challenges, and Competition

July 27, 2012. The countdown on the London 2012 website hit 0, the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremonies began, and I made a slipknot and slipped it onto my crochet hook. My daughters – sitting with me in their red, white, and blue outfits – curiously picked at the yarn that I’d strategically placed in their laps for this photo opportunity. My husband took a picture that would later be uploaded to my team’s group to document our official entrance into the 2012 Ravellenic Games. 

Connecting Workspace Culture to Qualities of Player-Creator Communities

As a learning scientist one of the first things I was trained to consider is my underlying epistemology—the theory of knowledge, or what it means to know—and how that relates to the learning environment being studied. Seymor Papert (1980) discussed epistemology as what “reflects and reinforces a particular way of thinking and knowing that is aligned with the norms and principles of a particular community” (Hatfield, 2011).

When We Played Video Games With Kids

Most parents would agree that competitive sports like soccer and football are good for kids. How about competitive video games? In my research, I interviewed kids who not only share video game interests with family members and peers, but they also derive academic and social benefits from their gaming experiences.

What do you know? Connected learning outcomes explored

When I was a kid my dad used to come home from work and greet me by asking, “So what do you know, kiddo?” It was his way of saying hello. But as an seven year-old obsessed with World Book Encyclopedia’s way of sorting knowledge into alphabetized volumes of varying thickness I missed the obvious and instead took up his query at face value: What did I know? Each day I worried over selection of the juicy new fact or strange invention I could share with him over dinner.

StarCraft – Where Geeks, Digital Media, and Sports Collide

On October 22, 2011, I found myself in a full capacity crowd at the Anaheim Convention Center in California. We eagerly awaited the appearance of two superstars. The stars, with aliases MVP and NesTea, were professional gamers–among the very best in the world. They have team coaches, impressive skills, and fans. About 10,000 fans attended, and 200,000 more watched from home. Most of the crowd was male, white or Asian, dressed in T-shirts and jeans, and short-haired; some sported goatee beards. I sat on the floor in the aisle; the seats were filled.

Greetings and Welcome from the Leveling Up Team

We are delighted to announce the opening of our new blog for our Leveling Up project team. We’ve been hard at work for the past academic year, launching new fieldwork on games and online communities that can teach us a thing or two about how young people learn in highly networked and interest-driven settings. As we start to analyze our data and reflect on what we’ve learned, we’d like to share our work in progress in hopes that we might invite engagement and formative feedback from a broader community of researchers, designers, educators, and learners.

Fandom Unbound: Otaku Culture in a Connected World

I’m proud to announce the publication of a new book that I edited together with my longtime collaborator Daisuke Okabe and a new editorial collaborator Tsuji Izumi,