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.

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: http://21cif.imsa.edu/rkitp/challenge/evaluation/useitorloseit_index.swf

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.

Videogames in the Classroom? - Newsweek Education - MSNBC.com

Some mainstream media coverage on the Federation's report on education & video games.

Videogames in the Classroom? - Newsweek Education - MSNBC.com: "“When you show a child a traditional educational game, they’ll roll their eyes,” says Kay Howell, a coauthor of the study. “But I don’t think they roll their eyes because it’s learning; I think it’s because there’s such a huge and obvious gap in quality compared to what they play at home.” "

I love that quote. That is where most educational games go wrong. Powerpoint Jeporady and quiz games miss the mark of really USING games to teach. Don't get me wrong, quiz games are good for mixing up review activities and as assessment/evaluation. But there is more that we can use games and games strategies for. It's what games do and what they ask us to do that is useful, not just hiding learning in something "fun."

Game Features = Educational Features

Okay so when I said I would post again "“later tonight"” two days ago I was referring an old druid calendar. Sorry. I’m wrapped up in studying (read: CRAMMING) this week for my comprehensive exam on Saturday. But I did start looking through the powerpoint summary, it'’s a lot easier to read eating lunch than the full 40+ page report. I did put together a few comments and ideas last night before I went to bed and since they still look good in the light of day...

The list below should be no surprise to any one reading some of the literature on gaming strategies in education, but the report is giving it broader coverage. The comments on each feature identified by the report are mine.

1. Clear learning goals: What every educator strives for. What are the students walking out with? What do I want them to know? In planning any lesson/instruction session it is important to know what the goals/objectives are.

2. Practice opportunities: Homework. We teach and want to give students the chance to practice those skills and demonstrate understanding and mastery. If only homework would be as fun or at least as captivating as games, or at least that's the complaint typically heard. Education research into gaming strategies is trying to do just that…

3. Monitor progress, provide continual feedback: Sounds like assessment and evaluation to me. What level are you on? What'’s your score? Did you find that item? Switch "level"” with "“chapter"” and these all could be reference questions.

4. Move player to higher challenges: Upper division courses, sequenced classes, even moving students from popular magazines to scholarly journals does this. Players are used to having the challenge increase in later levels in games, but not always in education. In a game they value the process (playing) and the end product enough to keep going when the challenge increases. The amount of value (or lack of) placed on the process and product in education is an important discussion for another time, but one that is necessary in relating gaming strategies to education.

5. Encourage inquiry and questions: How many times have you stood at the front of a class waiting for someone to ask a question, or answer one. How can we bring the same type of probing inquiry and exploration from games into library instruction? Research is all about probing, but unlike a game, it is usually seen as a hurdle and hassle in reaching the end boss (or final draft).

6. Contextual bridging: We are always looking for “real life” applications of the concepts that we are teaching. Why evaluating sources is important in your daily life? I'’m always working on showing applications of what we are doing and how it is relevant. Games continually do this. In a game, you learn a new skill or get a new item and a new area is accessible to you. There is a direct application of that skill that entices the player to try it out.

7. Time on task: Anyone that'’s seen that stats that show students rarely move beyond the first page in Google or EBSCO know that a little more time (combined with some of that inquiry in #5) would do everyone a lot of good.

8. Motivation: Need I say more…

9. Scaffolding: A favorite educational theory of mine that I'’ve gone back to time and again in my Library Science program and in my daily work. Educators build on previous experience and knowledge and introduce new material that expands the existing understanding.

10. Personalization: Not a huge learning concept, but the ability for a student to control their own pace and growth is beneficial for students learning and testing new concepts. Like anything, when the user feels ownership they are more invested. Ever encourage a student to pick a topic that they are interested in? Personalization.

11. Infinitely patient medium: If only databases and their "“time out"” limits would be as patient.

Combine patience with the motivation (#8) to practice (#2) and you have a pretty successful student who continues to challenge(#4) themselves and explore (#5) new ideas. Sounds good doesn't it… Stick around.

Summit on Educational Games

Summit on Educational Games

Here is the direct link to the report from the Federation of American Scientists. Later tonight I'll start (1 of 4 posts) some of my thoughts, comments and applications to the findings.

Lots of good info that fits nicely into the mission of this site: using games and gaming strategies to help students learn and research.

Column Idea - update

EDIT: Okay, thinking about this idea for the past few days I've started to realize who my audience is. This column idea was first thought of as directed at gamers and would allow me to get practice writing before doing something for educators and librarians. But really, why would should a gamer care? They already care about games. I'm out to get others (educators) interested in using games and gaming strategies not those already emersed in those experiences.
I think the column is still a good idea, but I need to adjust it for the correct audience. Oh, and getting people to read it would be a good thing too.

It's 2:00 am and I'm up kicking around ideas and can't sleep. Here's a column proposal that I've been thinking about for the past few days... thoughts?

The "Rotting" Brain (suggested title, but open to ideas)

Ever feel the need to defend gaming to others? Have you heard the not so subtle "Oh" or "Huh" comments in a social setting? Whether or not you care is a separate question, but for those times that you want video games to raise above entertainment, The "Rotting" Brain is here to help.

There is a growing body of literature about the positive impact video games and gaming, but much of it is authored by scholars and researchers. The "Rotting" Brain is a column written by a life long gamer and researcher analyzing the positive aspects of our passion.

The "Rotting" Brain column analyzes what video games are teaching us. As far back as playing Moon Lander on the Commodore VIC-20, video games had something to teach. Throughout each generation of consoles, video games not only evolved in graphics and gameplay, but in the content of what they teach. The "Rotting" Brain looks at what games have taught us over the years and what they are teaching us today. The column discusses the scope of the current video game research and expands the current audience. The column discusses the positive educational aspects of gaming both through reviewing the current studies and through personal reflection. The "Rotting" Brain also refutes the impact of current video game studies with negative findings. Video games develop the mind, not rot it, and The "Rotting" Brain is here to show how.


I've been meaning to post this for a while, but it is hard to keep posting when I'm only talking to myself. I do enough talking to myself. Typing to myself only reminded me of how little I'm doing. But that's not entirely true... during the first eight weeks of our semester myself and the 3 other instruction librarians taught 148 information literacy sessions. I lead or assisted in 49 of the 148 sessions, or about 1/3. So that and 2 small kids has contributed to my lack of posts.

But really it's the talking to myself part, that just gets me. I relaunched this blog in the summer as a place to collect and sharpen my ideas. It sounded great, but really it means I think my ideas are important enough to write about. Now I believe that regardless of how important they are, just writing them is the start. I am also working on getting my name out in both gaming and education gaming blogsphere (I think that's the first time I wrote that buzz word, hopefully the last). The effort of getting my name out there, and maybe even some writings, means I've got to keep up the home front.

And so, as of November 1st, I will be blogging 5 times a week. Sounds good- yes, optimistic - certainly. But in order to follow through I'm setting forth this schedule:

Monday: Notes on Current Readings
Tuesday: Video Game Reflections
Wednesday: News Updates & Commentaries
Thursday: Game Strategy Applications
Friday: Analysis & Commentary on Current Research
Saturday: News Updates & Commentaries (yes that's 6 times a week... optimism right)

There it is. Laying down the person gauntlet. Until 11-1 though I'll still be sporadic since I'm finishing up a second master's degree.

A long, dark month

It’s been almost a month since my last post. And I could throw out a lot of reasons why I’ve delayed getting back: 1) getting ready for fall semester; 2) creating a website; 3) watching 4 seasons of the Sopranos; 4) just damn tired. Really the biggest reason is a dark cloud that’s hug over me for the last month. My last post was done during the days after the death of my Godson. 12 years old. 12 years old. It has hit me hard.

My last interaction with him was a phone call with him where we spent time talking about gaming strategies for a RTS Star Wars game. We talked about managing resources, splitting units, and tactics for swarming the opposition. It was a wonderful conversation. An equalizer. It didn’t matter what our age or our relationship, we were able to talk about this common bond in detail. We were friends and I miss him.

Heck just getting a 12 year old to talk about resource management in order to produce a variety of units, military tactics and agriculture options is a good thing. And that is exactly what Steven Johnson talks about in his book, “Everything Bad is Good for You.” The cognitive forecasting and planning that is required for success is a good thing. Johnson calls it “telescoping.” It’s the ability and necessity to plan multiple moves ahead and plan for alternative routes. This is one of the many reasons, gaming is good.

Luke could forecast out a variety of possibilities while playing the CPU or others online. He learned strategies for success through experimentation, multi tasked and monitored various action points and anticipated all of them. The cognitive level of this play helped create a wonderful person full of love and excitement, who was always looking for ways to stay interested in school.

Both Prensky and Johnson talk about why current students are bored and turned off with traditional educational practices. And really give the previous paragraph, who could blame them. Our job, MY job is to help find ways to connect these students to the content and get and keep them interested.

My time with Luke told me a lot of lessons about faith, love, family, and education. Thanks Luke. There’s other places to talk about the grief, guilt, faith and love feelings lingering. But I hope that with these discussions and actions I can help shift the education prespective.

Research = Game Quest

“ultimately all about filling in that information gap (p.30).”

As I librarian, this is what I spend most of my days doing. I help students fill in their information gaps. The have an assignment and need some information to complete it. The extent of information needed varies, but the need remains constant. The downside is that students are much more eager to explore a game than they are to explore an assignment.

“Filling in that information gap” is what the research process is all about. You know the end result: win the game, beat the boss, save the world/ or write the paper, complete the project. You may know the start, but what paths your game/research takes along the way is unknown. Some sources lead you to others; prioritize results/quests; evaluate information/characters to trust. Place those tasks in a game and people are interested, lay it out as an assignment/paper and well you know the results.

I think there is some work within those parallels… more on that tomorrow.

Johnson's "Everything Bad is Good for You"

“tyranny of the morality play.” P.13

Every medium has gone through this. In the 1970’s, the violence in Bonnie & Clyde touched off a debate about violence in Hollywood. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, N.W.A. and Ice-T’s Body Count kicked off another debate about violence in lyrics. Even crusading lawyer, Jack Thompson, got started on the national moral stage with his fighting 2 Live Crew and Body Count’s “Cop Killer.” And now violent movies and games are accepted as part of a larger body of work in each medium, and neither medium is judged solely on it’s controversies. So I guess video games get their turn.

But Johnson argues that it is not the morality, or lack of, that make video games valuable. It is the cognitive effect they have on the players. So much time and effort is spent discussing the content, that little time is given to the context. The act of thinking, planning, and playing is valuable. Some of the content is most certainly not suited for all ages (that is why the ESRB exists and rates each game), but the skills the games can teach provide the foundation for learning. Yes we as parents, educators and the public need to be aware of the ratings and the content but we should not eradicate them and cast them off as meaningless wastes of time.

Video games thrive on “seeking” as Johnson states (p.37). There are many layers of activity (both on screen and in brain) going on as a player moves through a game and that “seeking” is what keeps players playing. What’s next? What’s needed? How do I move forward, complete this goal? Johnson states that video games are “ultimately all about filling in that information gap (p.30).”

Judge voids new law on video games

Judge voids new law on video games

I missed this ruling while I was on vacation. The video game law that my old employer, the State of MN, passed was over turned.

The ruling follows the previous rulings mentioned in my posts and is not a surprised based on that case law.

Final Analysis on Video Game's Value

Through the analysis of social informatics and the three key segments of design, uses, and consequences, video games have the potential to create positive value in each. The various designs of video games provide a range of stimulating experiences that provide positive value. The uses, whether escapist entertainment, social interaction, mental release or education, all contain positive value to the player and culture as a whole. The consequences provide both potential positive and negative affects and require further research to conclusively there is a completely positive or negative consequence to video games.

An economic analysis provides video games contain economic value on multiple levels. There is clearly a market value to the information provided and the artistic expression contained within video games. The billions of dollars spent by consumers world wide on the industry, provide concrete evidence of their market value. Video games also have increased economic value as primary goods. The positive information learned from experiencing video games should be classified as a primary good since the skills help lead to a successful and rational life. This evidence for a primary good is offset by the potential of the video game information to do harm, which results in an irrational life.

Taken together there is strong evidence that video games do contain both artistic and intellectual value. Because video games are determined to have value, there is no support to treat and regulate video games any different than any other established media, art or information. If negative consequences can be directly and conclusively proven then there may be a negative value and provide justification for separate treatment under the law. But until that time, the current regulation legislation will continue to fail under constitutional scrutiny.

The framework analysis established a recognized value to video games that does not require and should not allow separate regulation through the legal or social system. The recommended method to control the violent content without infringing on others access or expression is to use the parental controls built into modern video game systems. Computers already have control software available. By November all the new consoles, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Nintendo Wii all contain technology that allows parents to password protect games so ones with unsuitable ratings will not load (Lowenstein, 2006).

Finally, since the analysis framework recognized the positive artistic and intellectual value of video games, libraries should not hesitate to add them to their collections. Libraries believe in the collection, preservation and free access of ideas and expressions. This analysis shows video games are just that.

Social Informatics Analysis

I'm back in town and finished Steven Johnson's book, I'll post my thoughts on that soon. But in the meantime (while I unpack and mow the grass), here's my analysis of video games based on social informatics:

Under a social informatics framework, it is possible to analyze video games through the design, uses and consequences. Specific attention is given to the people, hardware, software, techniques/game-play and cultural structure of the games and the players.

Design: The design of video games software ranges in content appropriate for users ages 3 and older. The ESRB has ratings designed to describe games for 3-6 year olds, 6, 10, 13, 17 and 18 years old and above (Vance, 2006). Video games are designed in a variety of different genres to appeal to various constituencies. There are sports games (Tiger Woods from EA; Mario Tennis from Nintendo), action games (like the previously mention Grand Theft Auto), educational games (Oregon Trail), flight (Microsoft Flight Simulator), life simulators (The Sims), fighting (Mortal Kombat ), puzzle (Tetris) and a variety of other games designs (Buckleitner, 2006). The editor of Children’s Technology Review, Buckleitner (2006), stated in his testimony to the House of Representatives that there “there has never been a better time to pick up a controller and to play (¶5).” This variety of software creates value for the people engaged in and interested to engage in playing video games. The software design is a strength for the players and a strength for the industry since it allows a wide range of expressions and experiences.

Without this variety of design, many players would not find meaningful experiences with the games themselves and the people they are playing with. Many games are playable online with players from across the globe. This multi-player design creates common shared experiences for players from varied cultural background within the United States and around the world. Some multi-player games (World of Warcraft) are designed to encourage player groups (guilds) to form and experience the game together. This specific example creates value and utilizes all components of socio-technical systems (Kling, 1999). The people playing are interacting with the hardware running the software/game using the group experience game-play design technique to advance through the game and by doing so create their own in game sub-culture.

Uses: The courts cited that playing video game software that contain violent game-play elements may serve as an outlet for other violent expression (ESA v. Granholm, 2006). If this is the case then, violent games provide value under a social informatics framework for both the person playing and the cultural structure as a whole.

Consequences: The design of the game-play, in the variety of games mentioned above , includes a wide variety of elements that result in positive consequences. Author/researcher Marc Prensky (2006) claims that kids are learning from video games, and learning more than within traditional educational settings. Although the claim of more than traditional educational settings may be a lofty goal he does site specific skills. Players are learning logic, reasoning, prediction, math, team building, and responsibility from games across genres (Prensky, 2006). While only some of these are skills taught in school, all are qualities society and culture gives value to. Many of these games, from “E” to “M” rated, contain open ended game design that allow a player to explore a game world, interact with other characters and deal with confrontation in a variety of ways (Price, 2006). Games that utilize an open ended design often set up puzzles or tasks for the player to complete in order to move forward. One example of this is the adventure game series by Nintendo, The Legend of Zelda. The game-play challenges from these types of software create what Steven Johnson (2005) calls telescoping. “This skill lies in focusing on immediate problems while still maintaining a long-distance view (Johnson, 2005, p.54).” This skill creates value under social informatics for both the player and the culture as a whole. The planning, multi-tasking, organization skills created through this game-play is a positive consequence.

While these are positive consequences of video games, under social informatics analysis there are other negative consequences as well. The consequences for the players and culture through violent video game software and game-play are well documented by the advocates of video game regulation, as stated earlier. The increased aggressive brain activity and the reaction training that violent games and media create negative consequences on those experiencing the games and those interacting with them later (ESA v. Blagojevich, 2005; ESA v. Granholm, 2006). The consequences are valid and important under social informatics since the technology and the interaction with it play a role in impacting society and the culture as a whole. If violent video games are creating negative consequences while other games are creating positive consequences the value of each type of game may not be equal and additional evidence should be considered.

Other studies on the consequences of video games directly challenge the findings of Dr. Anderson or Dr. Kronenberger in the ESA v. Blagojevich case. The court found that the tests of Dr. Anderson failed to show that video games ever caused a to directly commit a violent act or even increased the level of overall violence in society (ESA v. Granholm, 2006). Dr. Nusbaum, from the University of Chicago, challenged those consequences stating that are multiple behaviors that could show the same results (ESA v. Blagojevich, 2005). These challenges to the negative consequence of both the person/player and the society/culture suggest that the negative consequences are not direct. There research of Dr. Kronenberger does show negative effects of violent media, and under a social informatics framework violent media in general would have a negative value for both the person and the culture.

Given the current state of research on video games the consequences to both the person and the culture are mixed. Video games can provide the value that Prensky and Johnson discussed, but the violent aspect of some games can lead to the results described by Anderson and Kronenberger.