Gaming & Academic Success: Pilot Survey

Help me out. Take a look at this draft of my survey.

Click here to take the survey now.

Please let me know your thoughts? Are the questions clear? Do they make sense? Any changes in wording and other suggestions will be greatly appreciated. Thanks for the help in refining this tool.


Running Silent

I'm out of rhythm. Well, given that I can't dance that shouldn't come as a surprise, but I got out of my posting rhythm this past week. I first I thought that I didn't really have a whole lot new to add after spending two weeks of new content posts. But yesterday I realized how much I value keeping up with my blogs. I value the information and the insight people provide, and I just recently had someone tell that to me. Thanks.

My Thanksgiving started with cleaning 4 20lbs turkeys, getting covered in brine and ended with some late night gaming sessions. Sure there was family and a little shopping along the way as well. I did use the weekend to get caught up on some articles that I've wanted to read. And so I'll post some summaries of those.

I've also been running silent after the research momentum of the console launches. I'm close to finishing a draft of my survey and I'll be looking for feedback on the questions once I'm done... so expect a post here for that. Once the survey is done I'll be trying to push it out to as many people as possible and I hoping some fellow bloggers will help.

There's what's on tap for the next week or so. Talk to you soon.

The Song Remains the Same

Not to be out done by my interviewing of PS3 seekers on Thursday night, I went out on Saturday night to see who was out waiting for the Wii (Nintendo's new system). I thought that I'd find fewer people but those out would be interested in the games, not the profit of Ebay. Although, for the prices the PS3 was getting who could blame them.

I thought I'd name this post "For the Love of the Game" since the percentage of those flipping the Wii was much smaller, but the title fits. Of the 8 people I interviewed between Target and Best Buy, much of what they said was consistent with the PS3 interviewees.

Beyond "practice" as what makes them good, two said they learn quick. Again, as with the PS3, I saw a few students from my college. One of whom said, "I catch on quickly and figure it out."
Another gamer said, "I just get it." While one the surface these may not seem all that insightful, but paired with the results of my recent class activity (read below if interested) helps to explain why students may have rushed through demonstrating their search results. They "get it" or at least the end product and the motions to get there. Whether or not they understand why they are going where they are going, using certain tools, and decisions is in question. I can be good at a game because I know how to use the game system to advance - the same is true for research. But I may not be able to explain why I am choosing the path I am. Sounds like a teachable moment (ahh, buzzword) to me.

When asked what they do when they get stuck there were two answers that were different from the previous statements of trying all opitions and then "cheating" by asking for help.

- "I don't get stuck." I've heard this in class before, usually followed by some poor source choices. Self-determination is a wonderful and dangerous thing, and breaking down that wall is important for reference and instruction.

- "I set it down and come back to it the next day." This isn't that different from what others had said, but this gamer went a step further, "Now that I'm in college, I do the same with my homework." By taking a break and coming back he felt he was able to get through most challenges or questions. It was great to see someone make the education / gaming connection that I'm working toward.

Both of these experiences were a lot of fun. The people I met and the stories they told are most certainly interesting. Maybe I'll come back to those sometime. But until then, this exercise was a good test of some questions and really helped me focus in on some ideas. Plus, it was fun. Posted by Picasa

PS3 Launch Night Interviews

Tonight I went out and talked with the people in line at both Best Buy and Target. Best Buy had about 26 people in line and they stated they were told the store had 27 PS3. They were fun to talk with, most had tents, and even a few were running power cables out of their cars. I saw a few of my students at Best Buy. I think they were surprised to see me, but we had a good conversation. Target had about 12 people in line, but they were not sure if the store had 8 or 12 PS3s. All in all I interviewed 6 people and got some useful information.

I had some survey questions I wanted to test out and cold gamers, waiting in line in the dark is a captive audience. asked the people questions about what they are were planning on doing with their PS3 (of all the people in both lines (38), only 2 said they were planning on selling it. I asked a few questions on what systems they owned and why they play. I was surprised by the number of systems people have from the last two generations. There was a wide range of responses to why they game, and many cited playing old N64 games as a fun social interaction.

The two questions I was directly interested in and that I believe relate to education and research were:
1) What makes you a good gamer?
2) What do you do when you are stuck in a game?
Both I think parallel how people respond and act during the research process, at least that is my hypothesis.

1)"Lots and lots of practice." Practice was the response from all six people interviewed. In games, as in the research process there is not a quick fix and one path that always works. Through practice and experience we are able to navigate that path more efficiently. Heck, as librarians, we don't always know the quickest search with the most relevant entries. It is only through our practice that we can come close and adapt to find what is needed.

2) "It's not fun if you don't try it for as long as you can without doing it."
"I don't like cheating in a game unless I tried everything." The personal determination is wonderful. If only our content to hold their interest as long (it can if we try, hence that's why I'm here). I see this mentality at the reference desk quite often. We are their last place to go when they are stuck. Is this mentality used in research as well? They want to try and figure it out and any help is "cheating?" If it is that latter, then we need to market ourselves differently. As the controversial Stanley Wilder said at the 2005 ACRL National Conference, we should be their first stop not their last.

"If it's driving me absolutely insane... maybe I might ask for help." I don't want reference to be seen as that, and I hope it isn't but it is a challenge if there is the mentality that they should be able to get it and coming for help admits defeat.

Another person said that there was nothing worse than watching someone breeze through a particular hard section of a game easily. Is this the feeling we give off if we breeze through a reference transaction? I've always thought there is value in struggling at reference. There is always the potential to struggle regardless of job title.

Overall it was a good start to developing my survey and gave me a bunch to think about.

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Reach them where they are at... as one gamer said tonight, "They (video games) define our generation."

I enjoyed meeting everyone tonight. Stay warm and I wish them luck tomorrow.
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I'm going out...


Here's a nice story of someone helping out those waiting in line tonight. 11/17 is the U.S. release of the PS3 and there are lines across the country.

I'm going to try to head out tonight and interview a few people waiting in line. I'm got some ideas for a larger survey and want to test them out. What better way than to hit up some people just trying to pass the time until midnight... I'm off now.

This post is also to try out a new blogging extension for firefox , performancing firefox.

The Hits Just Keep on Coming

Yesterday, we moved through the final two game strategy based activities with continued success. Although by the 8th one I think my excitement level had decreased a little. But the students were still moving through the activity well and able to demonstrate most concepts. Overall, I continue to be very impressed with the students’ performances on this activity.

And it appears the students are impressed as well. Between yesterday and today, 5 classes came back for their second instruction session and we had a chance to debrief and discuss the review activity - nothing but positive reviews. When I asked the classes if they felt the activity was valuable I got head nods all around. Myself and another librarian asked each class for feedback on the activity - what worked, what didn’t, suggestions for the future.

Some general positive comments include:

- “It was good to get everybody on the same page.”

- “It helped me figure out a use for encyclopedias.”

- “Definitely a good thing.”

Even one usually disengaged student said in all the casual tone he could muster, “yeah, I’d keep it. It was pretty good.”

Interestingly, there were many students that suggested we do the activity earlier in the semester. Comments like, “I wish we had this earlier.” Make me wonder what the heck they were doing during the other 4 library sessions? The flip side to that question is just as important is – what the heck were we doing? Being able to see the students walk through this process has opened a lot of doors and questions for what and how we teach.

Of the students looking to see the activity earlier, most suggested that, “this would have been nice after the first paper.” A few suggested starting off with it, but most suggested doing it at the start of the second paper as a review. This is a suggestion that we’ll discuss after we finish up this round of instruction.

One important comparison is the complete lack of any neutral or negative comments. Last semester we tried a similar activity, but it was not open ended and included no options for personalization. It was very task specific and structured, but still focused on the aspects of the research process… except we told them what aspects we wanted. The feedback from last semester was mixed. Some thought it was useful, but many didn’t get it or saw it as a waste of time. Sounds like a gaming strategies success story.

We have two more classes tomorrow and should have a little more to talk about tomorrow.

Interactive ≠ Game

Here’s a problem:

If something is electronic or interactive
does not make it a game!
Yesterday I took part in a TLT Web seminar by the 21st Century Information Fluency Project entitled “Game Based Website Evaluation.” Sounds good doesn’t it? I thought so too.

Unfortunately, “game based” meant dragging a file card image representing different criteria for web evaluation into a yes or no box. Once the file cards are sorted, clicking on the “wizard” shows how many cards are in each box. Based on a simple tally, the site tells you whether to “use” or “lose” the website. It’s not a bad checklist, but that’s all it is. A fancy checklist, is not a game.

I was not only disappointed but irritated by the web seminar yesterday. Maybe if I didn’t write or read this site and others like it, I would have thought the “game” worthwhile. But come on gentlemen – that is no “game.” They did a solid job creating fake sites to evaluate, but the “game” is only a checklist, nothing more. Their “game” falls into a trap that many teachers slip into. Just because we create something a little interactive thinking it’s a game – can turn off our students and ultimately the teachers to the idea of using games. Done well, games work. But like any learning strategy, done poorly leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

Here's the link, although it's not active yet:

I’ve emailed the creators to see how they justify the site as a game and what research they did to reach that conclusion… I’ll post any response that I get.

The Winding Road - New Paths in Students' Process

One of the interesting results of turning the students loose to demonstrate their research process is exacting that – Their research process. I’m learning a lot more about where they search, how they search and why than I expected. The lesson was created to give the students the freedom to search however they wanted as long as they accomplished the goal. I’m thankful to have this window for observation.

I could be disappointed that not all the students are searching like we’ve instructed them to. But really I’m a realist. I never believed that we were reaching everyone, and how can we. Or even better yet, should we? Should students search like we do? Do they need to? Today two students demonstrating the research process for finding an article came to the same article. One found it through the library website and through our databases (yeah library instruction), and the other did a search in Google, which lead him to “Search for scholarly articles” through Google Scholar, and use the links within Google Scholar to find the full-text article provided by the library (yeah ease of access). Same article, same quality source, same goal. Is one path better than the other – I’m saying no. And we, as educators, should be aware of those paths and be ready to work with them and use them as well.

As a gamer, some of the best experiences I’ve had with games isn’t playing them but watching others play. Sitting and watching someone else work through a particular boss or puzzle can open up new ideas. Watching another player move throughout a game can open up new tricks and paths that I didn’t know about. Today was a good day to sit back and watch. Up until recently I’ve avoided teaching Google Scholar or Windows Live Academic. But after watching students play, oh I mean research, I’m starting to think of new paths.

Gaming Strategies in Action

What a success! After a lackluster first effort, the research process review is a success. With a few legitimate tweaks, the gaming strategies activity successfully achieved a good review of the research process. By foreshadowing the lesson a little more and using a powerpoint slide to briefly state what the students would find in the activity, each group was much more willing to dive into the activity and complete it. The initial setup of some framework not only allowed the students the confidence to jump in and get started it also created more bye-in and motivation.

I love teaching and watching with the students move through the research process. The goal did not have one set path and allowed them to determine what resource they would use. A few students questioned their path and sought approval of their course of action, but the small groups allowed them to turn to each other rather than us.

From a research and instructional point of view, it was incredible interesting to see the path different groups took to get to the goal. One group searching for a book bypassed the library catalog for WorldCat. A different group struggled to find books under their initial search terms. They went through the process of trying synonyms and then broaden their keywords out. It’s the research process. Another group used a database that we never discussed in class to find an article. They were able to do it successfully though, which is a good sign that they are transferring their skills from one database to another. Seeing student start with general encyclopedias and then move to subject specific ones demonstrates a growing understanding of resources. Every group searching for a website has selected quality sources using evaluation criteria.

Sure there are still a few students unsure, but they are only one or two per class. A student looked totally lost when asked to search for a book. At first I felt frustrated like, “What the heck have you been doing all semester?” But then the student provided an interesting insight into her process, “I always look online for my books first and then see if we have it.” Google book search anyone? In the past I’ve seen students start in Amazon. A discussion of OPAC changes can be saved for another day, but still the observations are useful.

As the student demonstrate their process to the class, although some rush to the end goal of the specific resource, but all are able to example their process and the decisions they made along the way. I’m pleased with the exploration and personalization the activity allows. Each group approaches the goal a little differently, but all reach the goal. The research quest in action.

We’ve got another 4 classes to do the activity week next week so I’ll provide some more analysis and some conclusions then.

Me Grammar Not So Well

Ouch! I'm sorry to anyone who read the previous post before now (I'd be curious if anyone actually did). Posting at 1:30 in the morning as my head is swimming is not a good idea. Sorry.

I've gone back and corrected some of the UGLY grammar and sentences so it should read a little easier. Posting past midnight, no more I say - no more.

I Get Knocked Down... but I Get Up Again

That statement could sure apply to my life, or to the Democratic turn across the country or to any teacher's lesson planning. Despite staying up until 2:00 watching election results, I adapted another instruction session using gaming strategies today. And, like most first time lessons, it had a few kinks - but should work out well.

Here are some of the gaming strategies used:
- Encouraging inquiry
- Open ended exploration
- Context bridging from instruction to application
- Scaffolding
- Personalization

These goals worked well and the students did a solid job of applying the research process to individual sources.

The students were given a research question and asked to find a source within the given resource. The students quickly ran through the process to reach the goal - this action makes since within the context of games. Given a specific end point the students work to reach that goal to complete the task or goal as quickly as possible. The challenge, as instructors, is to pull back the layers and expose the process more. Question the students. Find out why they took the path they took. When asked the students were able to explain the choices they made and provided good examples for other students.

The one piece that challenged the lesson and knocked me down was the struggle the students had getting started. The lesson tried to provide an open ended exercise for the student to explore and find their own way. Sounds good on paper doesn't it? The lesson did not clearly define the learning goals for the lesson. And due to the large degree of personal exploration and exploration that the lesson encouraged, the students struggled to get started in the activity.

Open ended lessons are a good gaming strategy, but the students struggle without a framework. I think that providing the students a framework for the activity does not take away from the productivity of gaming strategies. In a game, players test and discover the physics of the world/game they are playing. For the in-class activity, the students were not aware of the activities "physics."

I'm working with the other librarians to modify it and help define the "physics" and framework. I'm teaching it again in 11hours so I'll post about the success/failure again after the class.


Practical Steps

Okay, so that last post sounded good (I hope), but what does that mean for us in the classroom? Here are my 5 tips on how to get started using games in the classroom and library session:

Start small. You do not need to have a full game up and running or create your own product. Start with using some gaming strategies (see last week’s post) to modify existing lessons.

Talk with students, find out what they like to play and why. This not only gives you some info to draw on, but helps validate video games for them.

Keep traditional outcomes in mind. When I created my first lesson based on game strategies, I knew specifically what game strategies I was using and mapped the lesson to ACRL Information Literacy Standards. Using traditional standards begins the dialogue with other faculty.

Don’t be afraid to fail. My first lesson was rough. The students were all over and confused by the lack having a set process to proceed with. Just like gamers, we can learn from our failures and try again.

Remember all games teach. Once outside the classroom there is still learning to do. Expose new people to games (I’ve brought my DS Lite to work many times) and help all students see there is a learning process that mirrors life in games.


Are Video Games Evil?

Are Video Games Evil?

I saw this on Friday from Steven Bell’s blog and on Monday The Chronicle’s Wired Campus blog picked it up. It is a good article and a great introduction to the educational uses of games for someone new.

Video games are easy to target, just as music, comics, even (as the article mentions) pinball were in the past. As I’ve written before, when a fringe medium moves into the mainstream there is an adjustment period. The current controversy over Rockstar’s Bully is a good example of this. Without playing the game, many have cried “murder simulators” and “evil.” The article makes a very important point that games provide a lot more than just fodder for gunfire (laserbeams, chainsaws, or insert violent stereotype here). We can see this as the extreme, but the difficulty is that this is how some parents, administrators and faculty feel about video games. I hope I’m in the minority, and someday I believe I will be, but I can name a handful faculty at my college that do not let their children play video games let alone bring them into the classroom. For those situations, it is a matter of framing the dialogue. “Introducing software” that helps teach higher level skills and critical thinking – is welcomed. Just changing the language and jettisoning any preexisting connotations is a start.

The article makes the wonderful point that video games “do” teach, it is up to us to determine the “what” and “how.” Because we are teaching digitally immersed students, games are just a way to communicate through an understood medium. The article draws this comparison as well, DDR is Twister, The Sims is just playing house. If we view video games as just another instructional technology, why shouldn’t we incorporate it into class? Games are not the “magic bullet” but they should be another tool in our repertoire as teachers. Not every lesson should involve video games and/or strategies, just as not every lesson should be lecture or small group. Or worse, video games should not be the new power point. Part of the motivation for games is the ‘fun’ factor, once we suck that out they are just another software package forced on students.

The idea of testing a hypothesis to a problem based on the given information, and testing again once it fails sounds great and it is just as valid running through the fields of Hyrule or the streets of Liberty City as it is in a traditional classroom. We just need to continue to find ways to tap into that interest and exploration. The work of Steven Johnson, James Paul Gee and others are included in the discussion.

The one idea that I challenge is the fact that gamers are bound to the rules of the game and that teaching to succeed with the existing bounds is a key piece of video games. While understanding the dynamics of an environment (either the physics of a game world or the politics of the regular world) is important – and often necessary for success, a gamers ability to reinterpret those limits is the difference between good and excellent. Pushing the boundaries, discovering new combinations and exploiting new ideas is the result of the freedom and motivation that games provide. Getting our students to think beyond the defined boundaries of any discussion is a wonderful step toward success. As a librarian, getting my students to think beyond one article or one source and critically analyze is a great step in information fluency.

Games are so much more than hand-eye coordination. If you are reading this blog, you hopefully know that as well. Getting this article into the hands of those unconvinced is a great start to helping our digital students succeed.

Bibliographic Gaming

Bibliographic Gaming

Shameless plug #1, blogging about my other blogging posts. Okay, this is the first and only time (maybe) that I'll link to a blog post on another site. I just joined the blog last week. And since I haven't mentioned it here yet so it's fair game. I'm happy to be bringing my ideas to a wider audience. Check it out.

Summit on Educational Games: Wrap Up pt.3

Okay, this is the last post on the Federation of American Scientists report. Milking three posts out of it is enough. But really, when government scientists tell us that games are good and can be helpful in education (neither of which should be shocking) we should take heed.

"Educational games potential for teaching higher-order skills under appreciated"

While I believe this is true, I think that there is hope. Although it is hard to assess higher learning skills, games can help. The assessment is built into the game. It is not a grade, it is progressing to the next level or completing a quest. It is different from the mold, and harder to report to administrators - but it is possible. If a student of mine completed all the steps in the game/quest/assignment and was able to explain the path they took it can easily be mapped to traditional standards. I did just this with my website evaluation lesson (I'll post the lesson soon).

The report also states that there are few clear outcomes for educational games. I do not agree with this. As a parent and an educator it is very possible to determine the outcomes for most games. The challenge is that it requires the parent/teacher to play the game. I've rambled off a list of skills that our son is working on as he plays DS. With knowledge of the game and knowledge of outcomes, mapping them is not complicated.

"Train teachers to support game-based learning"

Welcome. Let's work together, along with a growing community to do just that. Librarians, we are teachers. You all know that. Games and gaming strategies is one way that we can improve our teaching, engage our students, and have some fun along the way. I'm glad that the government agrees.

Summit on Educational Games: Wrap Up pt.2

I started talking about this report last week, and now that my comp exam is over and my brain is back, I'll finish up with a few other thoughts on the findings and recommendations the report had.

The report suggests that the game industry modify commerical games to target specific learning goals. Some individual teachers are doing this already. They are modding existing computer games (Never Winter Nights for PC is one example) to create lessons out of them. Many existing PC games come with a toolset or some game/level design functions. These could be used to create lessons through games. The challenge with this model is the time involved. Teachers that like games would spend the time to create, but others who like the idea but don't know how need something that is more 'plug and play.' The internet and online learning communities could help distribute what others are already creating. There needs to be enough of a business incentive for game companies to modify existing games, and state and regional educational systems could provide that incentive.

The report suggests the game industry look for new markets like after school programs. There is a discussion going on this week (see my post on Bibliographic Gaming for more) about pathways to games and one of the speakers is from a large after school program. If our students are playing games at home and in after school programs, and learning as they enjoy the game, how can a traditional classroom keep their interest. Marc Prensky talks more about this in his book "Don't Bother Me Mom - I'm Learning." We as educators, need to be aware of these influences and passions and work to apply them within our classrooms.

The report also contains recommendations for schools and instrutional uses, but that's for later.


It's official. I'm posted the blog onto a growing wiki of other academic librarian blogs. Research Quest is now out there for a wider audience. It's also a little more pressure to keep up. Check out some other blogs at:

If you are new here, feel free to dig around in the back posts. All the posts from 2006 are focused on Research Quest's mission. But the posts from 2005 about random personal stuff. I originally started this blog as a personal blog, but changed the focus in the summer of 2006 as I focused my own research. The 2005 posts are not really library related, but the give a feel for who I am as a person. They are the prequel posts, nothing too damning though. I'm okay with providing the extra window into my life... it should provide a context for who I am and what I say. In the interest of full disclosure, I did delete a few posts dealing with Star Wars and Fantasy Football. Although Fantasy Football is the librarian's sport... but more on that another time.

Here's the official wiki entry for "Research Quest" if you haven't seen it yet:

Research Quest provides information, suggestions and commentary on using video games and game strategies in information literacy and education. Research Quest also monitors academic literature and news from the video game industry and fan base for new educational applications.

Video games require the player to fill in the information gap in order to progress. The research process is the same. The end result is known, whether it is to win the game or save the world or write the paper or complete the project. What paths the game/research takes along the way is unknown, this is the information gap. Research Quest is designed to help draw those parallels and help students learn.

Research Quest is created and maintained by Paul Waelchli, a librarian at a small Midwest liberal arts college and lifelong gamer.