Epistemic Games - Shaffer's games with meaning

I meant to post this back on the 26th when the book was released, but here it is...

How Computer Games Help Children Learn

David Williamson Shaffer's new book focuses on using video games to immerse students in learning. I just finished reading his article Before every child is left behind which gets at the thesis of his book. He advocates for games not for fun, but for education. Games that help students think like doctors, lawyers, engineers and other professionals as they play out those roles in the game. His example of Yu-Gi-Oh trading cards being more complex than much of the reading done in elementary school fits right in with video games. If the students are interested in the content or the interface, they are more willing to stay engaged and motivated to succeed. Shaffer identifies that many students can learn facts, but are failing to apply the concepts or to develop new ideas.

Shaffer advocates for the creation and use of "epistemic games" - games that immerse students in real world professional activities in order to get them to understand, create, and innovate within those applications. In other words, he attaches meaning to assignments making them not only relevant to their lives but relevant to their future careers. Shaffer states, "Epistemic games are about knowledge, but they are about knowledge in action-about making knowledge, applying knowledge, and sharing knowledge." The games are there to get the students thinking, acting and caring about real issues.

Sound like information literacy to anyone else?

Our role, as librarians, in these games does not even need to be fundamentally different - information literacy skills are vital to succeeding in these games.
They are researching within the context of their game goals. Students playing these games still need to know what information they need, how to find it, and how to evaluate it - in order to apply to the problem presented within the game. One of Shaffer's games, Madison 2200, deals with urban planning and the students need information from a wide variety of sources. The game could give them that information or the game could allow them to determine what information they need... and here's where information literacy comes into play. Our role is to help them through the process of determining what information they need, finding it and evaluating it.

Research for a game that students want to succeed at is a lot more fun and productive than researching for an assignment they don't care about.

Check out the article link or the book and let me know what you think.

The Chicago Tribune also did a nice article on him back on Christmas day and it also gets at the thesis of his book - check it out here

Why We Play - aka Motivation

Here's a gaming research news story that was picked up by the video game media today about a study conducted by the University of Rodchester on 1000 gamers:

A reason why video games are hard to give up: Kids and adults will stay glued to video games this holiday season because the fun of playing actually is rooted in fulfilling their basic psychological needs.

I love the connection here to the educational strategies in games. Many of the driving desires to play and find enjoyment are the same as those educational benefits found by the Federation of American Scientists:

- opportunities for achievement (assessment)
- freedom (choice and personalization)
- connection to other players (social interaction)
- autonomy (self achievement and goal setting)
- relatedness (real life applications)

It's good to see the motivating factors that keep players playing are many of the educational factors as well. This bodes well for us as educators looking to use games and game strategies. If and when we can weave our content into gaming formats the research is there to show that it may not only be educational but also successful in keeping the students engaged.

Tags, tags and more

I hope everyone had a good holiday. Since it is the holidays and many of us recently finished writing and ripping tags, I'm starting to add my own. Last week I updated to the new Blogger software and it includes tagging labels.

So I'll be going back through the old posts (since the relaunch) and tagging them so they are easily sorted for those interested. Once that's done, I'll get the tags incorporated into the right-hand column. And with the new Blogger software... look for a layout update sometime in the near future (or at least some late night). Let me know if these are helpful or if they are too broad/narrow - I'll never claim to be a catalog librarian.

Happy Holidays

From my digital natives to you and yours - Merry Christmas.

Are your patrons or students are getting video games for the holidays? Find out... and find a way to incorporate it. At our Christmas, here are the games given as gifts for my niece & nephew, each game has applications to learning and research...

Guitar Hero 2: A fun rhythm game with classic rock music, great fun for multiple players of all ages; 40 year olds played alongside 10 year olds; the co-op mode is a nice parallel to any group work where each player has a role and strengths; without teamwork the game can't advance.

Kingdom Hearts II: The loved the first KH game which mixes classic Disney characters and locations with Final Fantasy characters into a fun and light action-rpg; although the game doesn't do anything new it still requires players multi task to balance and manage multiple characters and items; while there are some critical thinking strategies involved in some of the quest, unfortunately it often breaks down into simple button mashing;

There's a danger in games just being seen as button-mashers
- just as there's a danger in research being seen as simple Google. Games are not that simple, and we all know that research is not that simple.

Madden 07
: There is a lot of analysis, prediction, logic and strategy involved in most sports games and Madden excels here, the depth of options and management actually involves in-game research to exploit each teams and players' strengths and weaknesses.

These games are just the 3 PS2 games my niece and nephew opened on Christmas day. I received my own Christmas video game for the Nintendo DS, but I haven't had too much time yet to dig in... There are a wide range of systems out there all with games that can be tied into learning and research - we just need to try.

So ask and explore, find out what your students and patrons are playing or received over the holidays. Find out why they like it... and use those answers as the gateway to link games and learning in their minds.

Gamers are a Go!

I found out on Thursday that my presentation proposal for the state academic library conference got approved. I also got another proposal approved that a fellow instruction librarian from work and I put together. I'm excited for both. Of the 12 presentations at the conference, I'll be leading 2.

With that in mind, I'll be keeping the ACRLog post in mind... Higher Expectations For Presentations

Steven sites a good post by Dave Paradi and both discuss issue that I'll factor in as I'm preparing my presentations.

On a related professional development note, I'll be getting a review copy of Jenny's "Gaming in Libraries" report. I love Jenny's work, but I'm also excited that I was contacted to get a review copy... I'm excited someone out there is reading this.


Gaming News... what I'm reading

I meant to get this post out late last night, but I was up past 1:00 with a sick baby. Tis the season for snow, lots of family, spreading joy and germs. Anyhow, I trying out a new story idea by posting some of the video game news stories I'm reading. I'm still using the "What I'm Reading" column on the top of the blog to highlight what I'm reading, but since there's starting to be more traffic on this site (from none to minuscule) those of us using RSS feeds may never get those. So here's my gaming wrap up for the past couple of days. The column will still feature other articles that relate to gaming and education/instruction.

These are a few bigger topics that while not directly related education or libraries but are significant and potentially useful.

Teaching Thinking Skills Through Game Authoring
Serious Games always does a nice job covering educational issues.

The Designer's Notebook: PS3 versus Wii
Here's a nice comparison, from a designer's perspective of both the PS3 and the Wii. One reality that seems to pop up in article after article is that because of the cost of development for each console (tens of millions for PS3 vs. hundreds of thousands for the Wii) developers can take more chances on Wii games since it will be easier to recoup the costs of development. This means more creative original games that take chances.

Brief History of Game Console TV Ads
An interesting feature from PC World magazine that shows the changes in how video games are portrayed over the years.

Video Game Media Watch's Review of Time Magazine's PS3 Coverage
Video Game Media Watch is a good watchdog blog on video game journalism.

West Virgina University Studies WV Schools Use of DDR in Gym Class
Game developer Konami partnered with WV to introduce DDR in gym classes... here's the first studies to see how effective it's been.

Gamasutra's Quantum Leap Awards
It's the end of the year and lots of gaming sites have "Best of" awards out now and most are worth checking out. Gamasutra's awards are nice since they are about advances in the industry. Enjoy.

"How did you do that?"

"How did you do that?" "How did you get there?"

Two questions I've heard many times by students, either in an instruction session or at reference interaction. I usually chalk these comments up to us not presenting the material well or the student just not paying attention. But after my experience yesterday trying to turn our library staff into DS fans, I realized that part of the equation, part of their response, is a lack of context.

After watching one technically endowed co-worker stumble through the menus in a game and put the student's reaction in context. The navigation and logic of using the game and playing were foreign. And it took some trial and error in order to feel more comfortable and to start understanding. I know I'm guilty of diving into a database (I try not to over explain too often) and I've seen others start off with basic assumptions as well. What if the students do not have the context to for those basic assumptions?

I assumed the navigation of the game was straightforward, it was for me. I even had another co-worker state he got stuck trying to enter a door (in New Super Mario Bros.). I assume - enter a door in a 2D space, press "up." But I've done that since the 5th grade. Some librarians have been searching and constructing search strategies just as long. Even those new librarians still can enter with certain basic assumptions. If a librarian can get stuck in navigating an electronic interface (in the game) why can't a student (in the database)?

What can we do?

I'm going to take some time before the spring semester starts and look back at how I present the various interfaces to first year students and try to determine what assumptions I project. Now here's the tricky part - don't solve the problem by explaining the assumptions. It's nature, I want to. I would give them an overview of the interface, but in no more than 2 sentences. Then using game strategies, I want to let students explore, discover their barriers and work together to try to overcome them.

I want to give the students some quick time (2-3 minutes) to dive in and explore on their own. Then pull then back and use examples from their results, problems, and successes to have them teach each other (with my additions of content, explanation and analysis). They are going to hit challenges, just like the staff did with the interface, but the class can help them work through it. Granted I'll want to add in content to help the students with quality and evaluation and other IL skills. But navigation is different. Navigation needs context... or a willingness to explore and discover boundaries.

I think that having the librarians struggle to navigate through the game was a good & uncomfortable experience. If you have non-gaming librarians and staff, force it on them. Have them work through those few moments of awkwardness. Then let's all remember that during our next instruction session.

Nothing like walking a mile in their shoes. Or playing a level with their controller.

Spreading the Love

I spent this day in expectation, waiting to see if Game|Life or Joystiq would pick up and blog about my survey. Kyle Orland, of Joystiq, sent me an email around noon. He was ready to post about it, but I had forgotten to open the survey. I closed it late last night in order to tweak a few questions, but forgot to open it back up. Kyle said he was willing and so I spent the afternoon following up with Kyle providing some more information. So I'm hopeful that Kyle will blog about it tomorrow.

So while I was following up with Kyle, I was spreading my Nintendo DS love around the library staff. I "forced" the DS and a few games to some of the librarians and staff at my library. It's a slow time of the year and a good time to let others play. I introduce my nongaming co-workers to accessible games like Elite Beat Agents and Brain Age. Elite Beat Agents was met with enjoyment, while the idea of Brain Age was more exciting for the staff than the actual game. Elite Beat Agents is a fun and light rhythm game that is easy for anyone to pick up, Brain Age is interesting and stimulating but can be frustrating during the initial attempts...

"easy for anyone to pick up"
"frustrating during the initial attempts"

I've heard these exact words used to describe internet search engines and library databases. Switching places is an important piece. The library that gets frustrated with the game interface, but can quickly navigate a research database and a student frustrated with a database interface - are they that different? If we realize that not everything is as intuitive as it is for us, we've made a good first step toward creating more accessible instruction sessions.

Video Games & Education Success Survey, final draft

Here is the link to the final draft of my video game / education success survey.
Click here to take the survey now.

Please take a look at it and let me know what you think. I have a hypothesis that how players react to challenges in games corresponds to how they relate to challenges in homework. I want to know what they do and what help they seek. This draft hopefully clears up some of the questions and adds a Likert scale for how helpful each group is. Survey directed at high school and college age students and hope to see what correlations exist and then begin to explore what that means for reference and instruction. I'm hoping to find ways to move reference help away from the stigma of a "game cheat" when a player is stuck and closer to the tutorial first level that prepares each player for the challenges of the game.

My next step is to contact two of the major video game blogs and see if they will pick up and post my survey. I'm going to contact Kyle over at Joystiq and Chris at Wired's Game|Life to see if they will help. I've capped the initial responds at 2500 (mainly due to the $) and I'm optimistic that with a blog post from them I can get it.

If you have feedback, let me know... otherwise stick around and let's see what happens.

Time Not on My Side...

"Time, it's on my side, yes it is"

I wish those song lyrics rang true. Time was the theme running through my head this past weekend. Time as a parent, a husband, a professional, a researcher, and a gamer. The approaching holidays and looming vacation means that I'm trying to clear up items before leaving... although since I've been reading a handful of articles I'll be posting some literature reviews over the coming days. But before then, I need to find time to get my survey out. All of these things add up to realizing (again) that I don't have the time I want.

Since 2001, during my first Master's program, I promised myself that I'd buy a new video game console once I finished the program and my thesis. That came and went and I had a new baby ($) and knew I was going to start the MILS program soon. Thus, I told myself the time would come at the end of this degree program. That time is here, and as much as I can rationalize getting a console I just can't find the time. Heck, I'm still trying to keep up on a regular basis here. But it's Christmas time, so anything can happen.

Thinking of time got me thinking about the time our students have. Not only is good research a matter of practice and motivation, it's also a matter of time. Our students may know the best path to take, and may even want to take it (if that happens we are doing something right), but may just not have the time to take it. They take the efficient path to "decent" sources since they have deadlines and the research paper/project is only one of the many assignments they have.

I love a good adventure/rpg game, but don't always have time to complete every side quest. I always start out with the best intentions, but usually somewhere along the something happens... my interest wanes, other demands pop up, or I just want to push through the main goal. I think most of our students are not that different.

So how do we combat the issue of "time" with our students? We can't expect them to research as deeply as we would, heck we don't always have time for that. But we can help them make the most of the time that they do have. If we can help them learn quality search strategies, evaluation skills, and other information literacy skills during our limited time with them... they have the tools. Even though I know I struggle with moving beyond the "saying" to the "sinking" with students, so that the content actually sinks in and stays with them. I think if we can help them reach beyond the "good enough" model, even just a little, with their limited time we are doing well.

Now there's a whole different debate over the "right" way and "good enough." And while I understand the academic desire to do the "right" or "best" way, I'm too much a realistic and too practical to hope for that. I may want to take every side quest in a game, and sure they provide better items and make my character stronger... but I do not need them to complete the quest. If our students take a few side quests each time, by the end of their time with us they've taken the "right" paths. They may never have the time to any much more than that, but is that so bad?

Impressive, most impressive

Here's the stats:
2 Master's Degrees -
Master's of Arts in Teaching & Master's of Information & Library Science

2 Children -
Carter, 3 (currently in trouble for eating part of a book) &
Anderson, 1.5 (currently in trouble for covering himself in a tube of lipstick)

2 kids and 2 master's degrees all before the ripe old age of 30.

Congrats to me... I finished my final class tonight.
So stick around and join the discussion.

Grand Theft Information Literacy

Here is the conference proposal that I submitted last week for our state ACRL chapter. I'll hear back next week if I got accepted or not, but it's a place to start. I've also submitted a poster presentation proposal for LOEX which is more focused than this, but still contains the general idea. Any thoughts or feedback is welcome on this. Thanks


Video games do teach. The challenging question is not if they teach, but how. Gee (2003), Prensky (2006) Shaffer (2006), Van Eck (2006) and many others are part of a growing body of research devoted to answering how video games teach. In the fall of 2006, The Federation of American Scientists released a report identifying the educational aspects of video games and called for increased integration into the classroom.

This presentation analyzes commonly identified educational features of video games and how they apply to information literacy. These educational features correlate well with traditional pedagogy and map to academic standards. Regardless of if the students are gamers or not, gaming strategies are rooted in educational theory and can create a new classroom experience.

But how do can these strategies be implemented into our classrooms? The presentation looks at how a variety of libraries are integrating games, from simple quizzes to more complicated flash based exploration games and even first person 3-D research quests. These engaging efforts are exciting, but can be intimidating. The University of Dubuque’s small steps into game strategies provide a successful example for other libraries looking to get started.

The goal of the University of Dubuque’s program was to integrate the educational benefits of games into existing courses. The presentation describes how the instruction program mapped game strategies to ACRL outcomes, created activities based on game strategies, and assessed the success. Through these strategies the students were more engaged in discussion, more willing to ask questions and performed more authentic demonstrations of information literacy skills.

At a time when the majority of college students play and have experience with video games, we as librarians can increase the worth of those game skills. A successful researcher and a successful game player share similar skills and through the application of games within our classrooms we can create rewarding experiences for both the students and the librarians.

Who says we are not thinking...

Tom has 12 pieces of candy, but he wants a piece of pizza. Jon has 4 cans of soda and wants candy. Bill has 2 packs of gum and wants soda. Steve has 1 piece of pizza and wants gum.
If 4 pieces of candy = 1 soda can, 2 cans = 1 pack of gum, and 2 packs of gum = 1 piece of pizza, how much candy will Tom have left once he has a piece of pizza?

Sound familiar? It’s not much different than any of those dreaded story problems we all faced in junior high and high school math. The reason I bring this up is that I had a great conversation with an 11 year old this evening about a game he is currently playing, Final Fantasy V. A great classic SNES game recently re-released on the Game Boy Advance. He was talking about where his at in the game, which went something like this:

I'm currently a level 18 paladin with monk fighting skills, if I have level 19 monk skills then I can become a level 20 barbarian and unlock the Black Wizards' summon magic using the Bahmout scale from defeating the Fallen Knight. (Granted the names, classes, and skills are changed)

If you know anything about Final Fantasy this string of events could not happen - but the logic holds true. Take out the fantasy setting and this statement is not all that different from the one at the top of the post. Some parents, teachers and others see this level of game involvement as an example of a kid "lost" in the game or sucked in and wasting time. But the 11 year old was able to project the logic out through this series of events to reach his desired outcome. The logic is often more complex than the traditional logic of traditional word problems. The capacity for logic and success is clearly there.

Who says games are not making us think? Here's an eleven year old that would cringe at the first word problem but would log hours into solving and completing the second. It's a matter of motivation... and that's were we come in.

>He also said, "I like games were I can customize a lot of stuff, it makes it feel more like my game."
I'm hoping that this phrase sounds familiar.

Why Our Attempts Fail

Failure is not a lack of effort, it's a lack of understanding.

My wife raised a good point with me, "All this educational stuff works for games like Zelda, but it doesn't really apply to me if I just play Mario Kart." Now my wife, in spite of my best efforts, would not identify herself as a gamer (although she logged two months worth of Brain Age over the summer). But that is the point. Another librarian and co-worker raised the same question; Do these strategies and applications fit for those that don't play video games? Yes.

Before I dig further into the research, I want to make a comparison that I don't often see.
Why people fail at games and research.
The parallels exist. A co-worker and fellow librarian that I respect stated that she could never figure out which buttons to press. My wife has echoed that sentiment as well. There is a frustration there in both cases. What button should I push, what site should I choose, how to I get what I need? I believe that the problem exists in both games and research because people do not know how to get at what they need. The lack of understanding the system creates failure.

Think about these questions in terms of both gaming and research:
- If the interface is confusing can the user move beyond it?
Think of the well documented simplicity of Google's interface compare to library databases like OCLC or EBSCO. Think of the 10+ button of the PS2 or XBox 360 controller compared to the Nintendo Wii's 3 buttons. There is an effort to simplify for the benefit of the user.

- If the user doesn't know how to navigate the interface without training, what is the incentive to move on?
If the user is confused by where to go or what buttons to push the fun of the game quickly dies. If the user is confused by how to find relevant results in a library resource, does their frustration manifests elsewhere? Do they give up or find lower quality sources? When user starts a game or a project with good intentions, where are we to help?

- How can the user succeed without knowing the physics of the system?
The idea of testing and exploring within the game environment are essential for success. I told my wife of a "power slide" move within Mario Kart and she was surprised, "Really!" I knew this because I tested the physics of the game. What about subject terms in a database? What happens when a user doesn't test the limits of the game or search? If the physics of a game are unknown, how does the player know how to succeed. If the physics of a database are unknown, how can the user find what is needed?

-What about a lack of confidence?
There is an implied correlation between the amount of time practicing either with the game, or practicing a search database. The more a user can practice, the more their confidence level increases, which leads to their exploration and testing of the physics limits. How can we as instructors help support this confidence?

Both gamers and our students have "ah-ha" moments when they discover a new feature, skill, article or link within the system. We need to help these moments happen more often.

I'm not just the president, I'm also a member...

Or in other words, I'm not just a researcher I'm also a gamer. And I've been doing some of both recently. There are a few projects that I'm trying to finish up for my final master's degree class and I've been sucked into two games recently. Both of which helps explain my absence and has provided some interesting correlations.

The research on marketing is interesting since I'm limited to only scholarly sources. (I have to laugh after typing that, if one of my students said that it'd be hard not to reply with, "And that's a bad thing?") But with marketing being as fluent as it is and after reading about the wonderful work others are blogging about... that's where the innovation is - on the ground. Granted if you are reading this blog you place some value on blogging, but it's got me to stop and think about the sources students are using. If I'm citing some ideas from Brian (who's "The Ubiquitous Librarian" blog is very insightful) on his blog why is it any less useful than sighting from his upcoming book published by ALA? Editorial process? There is a difference between application (blogs) and research (publications), but that's a whole other debate. The gaming difference is a matter of static versus interactive.

I've sunk a few late night hours into playing the action-RPG game Diablo II online. The offline and online worlds are the same, but the difference is the interaction online. The main story is the same, but through online interactions of those in the game - the game's focus can shift and adjust to those playing. Reading an article can only take me so far, but through the personal interaction of people in the field we can modify and adapt as we go to create and evolve ideas to fit the changing situations. Working together either in the game or in our field allows us all a better chance at success in our goal.

Okay so playing a game online is more interactive than just reading an article, so what? The interaction is not only more engaging but more rewarding. It's quality information because it came from someone practicing it. I trust it because they are doing it. The information is just what I needed to move forward... Starting to sound familiar?

I had a student say it to me today. I used it as a chance to talk about evaluating the source. Maybe it is a quality source, but without asking and exploring the student wouldn't know. Exploration and evaluation are key... something I learned the hard way after a level 25 character tried to kill me.