The Gamer's Oral History Project...

I picked up on Timothy's Greig's blog a few weeks ago, and this week he posted about a project that really gets at the heart of gaming and gamer's passions - sharing their stories. The idea of gathering stories about game experiences for others to reflect and draw upon. It's within these stories where the meat of why and how games can assist in education. The passion and excitement relaid in these stories can help us understand what grabs and holds a gamers attention. Even if the gamers are recounting specific in game experiences, there are emotional undertones at work.

Ask a gamer to share a gaming experience... and be open to the response. Also be ready to get a curious look that says, "Really? You want to know?" I asked that question of some of the people I talked to waiting in line back in November for a PS3 & Wii. Once they got past the idea that outside there peer group wanted to know, they shared lots of stories. Stories that matter and have deep roots.

Here's the reference & instruction piece - I had a student from one of my classes this spring stop me on the first day to remind me that I had talked with them in a PS3 line. Any hesitation she had about asking questions or asking for help was gone. Asking about games isn't any different than finding out other interests, but it works. Like any culture, like any interest, stories matter.

Required Reading: Video Games

The Chronicle of Higher Education picked up the story of Michigan State offering a master's program in serious games. The quick post, here, is on the Chronicle's Wired Campus blog. More and more colleges and universities are offering courses (beyond programming courses) on video games - design, narrative, business, cultural history. While news like this does move me closer to my dream job of a Video Game subject specialist librarian :), it does show progress for video games as an industry and as an artistic expression.

On the same note, today I listened to this week's's "1up Yours" podcast, the 1/26 broadcast. It's one of the many gaming podcast I listen to on a weekly basis. The 1up network includes the long standing video game magazine "Electronic Gaming Monthly (EGM)." The podcast is a great way to stay updated on gaming news and trends. This week the group discusses "gaming literacy." They discuss significant and revolutionary games that someone studying games should know. They take they same approach of a game or film studies college course. While there are academic courses out there that do this same thing, it's interesting to hear it from the perspective of people in the industry.

It is a good discussion for anyone interested in games or wanting a historic perspective. The games as required reading discussion starts about 37:30 minutes into the podcast, right after the first break. As a note, the podcast could be rated PG-13 for crude humor and language.

Give a listen and let me know about your gaming required reading.

Class Soundtrack?

I just finished listening to's Retronauts most recent podcast on video game soundtracks. It's also an interesting (if somewhat geeky) podcast about older games. The history of video game music they discussed brought back a flood of memories and emotions attached to the game's soundtracks. Just like movie soundtrack, (well done) game soundtracks can carry a lot of feelings and even motivation for the listener.

Does anyone out there use music in there instruction? I've been in conference presentations where people have talked about playing music as the class is entering in order to help set the mood. But what about setting a soundtrack or even a few music clips into a powerpoint, lecture, or workshop for dramatic effect?

I haven't tried it, but now I want to. Even a little music to draw attention to certain key points could be useful in grabbing some attention from the class. What do you think?

theShiftedLibrarian strikes at my library... Thanks Jenny

Thanks Jenny. Jenny Levine's Gaming & Libraries:Intersection of Services from the ALA TechSource just got back to my desk after making the rounds through my library. I've also shared part of this report with a local seminary librarian and have brought it with me to my local public library.It's been out for a while, but I got my copy after returning from the holidays. It's a great resource for libraries interested in getting involved in gaming and finding out more information.The report pulls together background on video games, educational uses, and how public, school & academic libraries are using video games. While I was very pleased that there wasn't a lot of new information for me (good to know that I am current on my research topic), it is great to have it all combined in one place. The report is a great lead in for librarians interested in learning more and getting started with video games in their libraries. Since it's an ALA publication, even the few librarians who are pretty negative about video games were willing to pick up the report and read. Levine writes to a variety of levels of knowledge and experience. She leads off slowly and allows those new with the subject the ability to understand most everything that comes after.

Jenny's first chapter "Why Gaming?" sets up the justification for gaming in librarie collections, programming and scope. It digs into one of the most important aspect of games - what they teach and how we learn from them. Jenny's use of Johnson's "Everything Bad is Good for You" made me go back and review my notes from this summer on his book. I was pleased see the detailed references which provided me a few more articles I hadn't read. Our library also used the case studies to help plan out our stalled gaming night. There are a variety of examples of setups, promotional ideas, and other helpful pieces to help everyone get started on gaming in their libraries.

Jenny's blog, theshiftedlibrarian, is a great read if you are not already, and her ALA report is not any different. Levine's put together a great resource for all librarians and is a must read. Thanks for continuing to push gaming in libraries to a broader audience.

If you are interested in ordering it or finding out more information click here.

Shortsighted and Naïve

Today a coworker showed me a rather alarming blog post sent to her by a faculty member. The post was by a professor at a private Christian college (I’m not linking to for my own emotional well being). His short sighted and uninformed point was that “information literacy” was nothing but tech savvy and computer know-how. He felt there wasn’t any literacy without books and “information literacy” wasn’t teaching books.

Even after coming off of a few days worth instruction sessions where I felt we didn’t stress books enough, I see flaws in his argument. One look at the ACRL standards can tell us that. But his shortsighted post reminded me of another shortsighted post from earlier this week. EDUCAUSE blogged about too much emphasis being placed on digital natives and “eductainment” and more focus needs to be on critical thinking.

I don’t argue with the need for critical thinking, in fact I would say that most people would agree with the need for critical thinking and discussion. Games and game based strategies are a great way to engage and motivate students, but like any teaching strategy it can’t succeed alone. Textbook reading and individual assignments are not any different. These traditional teaching strategies only take a student so far, and classroom discussion and analysis provide additional learning opportunities. Students learn and grow through games, but also through the analysis of what they are playing and why.

Richard Halverson’s Innovate article What Can K-12 School Leaders Learn from Video Games and Gaming? (2006) makes the same point. He uses the example of the off-the-shelf computer game “Rise of Nations.” Students learn through playing, managing resources, and strategizing battles, but a large content piece comes from the research and discussion about the individual nations and events depicted in the game. The critical thinking component is key to pulling the full potential out of the game. It’s important to have both sides for the education of any student, digital natives included.

My co-worker used the naïve information literacy blog as a way of marketing to the faculty who passed the post along all that the library does for students. The EDUCAUSE blog allows us the same opportunity – We can take the chance to discuss with others not only the success and impact of games in education, but also the importance of discussing the games used. Games are not a magic bullet, but they are wonderful teaching strategy; one of many successful strategies for digital natives.

I'll See Your Turning Point, and Raise You...

I’m not a big fan of long rambling blog posts, and since my last one was turning into that I decided to stop. I was the first person on campus to use Turning Point in a class and like any new technology we had a few hang ups along the way. After going through the "Choose Your Own Lecture" with Turning Point 9 times, I felt very confident with the technology and the content. Thus, yesterday our library director asked me to give a presentation about the “clicker” technology and it's uses for our local area library association. Since I’m always up for a challenge, I said yes.

It was a nice opportunity to not only present the technology in front of librarians from 7 other libraries, but it was a good platform to advocate some gaming strategies: engagement, motivation, choice, & personalization. Using Turning Point is really just another way for the students to interact with their environment and influence their surroundings.

I had positive feedback from a couple people and one librarian stated that she knew her campus had technology like this, but hadn't thought of too many ways to apply it to information literacy instruction.

Making other librarians aware of the successful application of gaming strategies is always a good time.

Choose Your Own Lecture

Choice. Personalization. Freedom. Exploration. All are game based strategies and all helped keep students interested and engaged in the classes I’ve taught over the last 3 days.Over the past days at work, I’ve taught 12 class sessions and I’ve run around like crazy (a good thing). Why? And how does it relate to gaming… read on.

The Librarians meet a total of 9 times, 3 times per paper with each Research Writing class. The first meeting is to provide them with some context and background on the geographic region they will be writing about and introducing them to the research process.

I’m responsible for that first lecture that provides the context and process to each class (another reason I’ve been MIA during the first week of the semester). Putting together a 45 minute lecture that provides an overview of the social sciences and potential topics within the Mississippi Watershed area would be challenging enough, but add the entire scope of history into the mix – from prehistory to today, and it’s impossible. Like any lecture it can fall into the trap of being pretty straightforward and not all that exciting.

So to make an already long story brief, I knew I wanted to do something to keep the students involved as we touched on bits and pieces of history. Enter Turning Point. Some of you may have used Turning Point or other instant polling software for classes or meetings, but briefly it allows you to create quizzes or polls within a Power Point presentation that the students can vote on. I used it to engage students and allow them the ability to direct our discussion during the lecture. In addition to having slides about whether or not they had ideas for topics and slides to evaluate the lecture, there were multiple slides that allowed the students to choose their own lecture.

As the diagram shows, I created slides that allowed the students to choose between a few different topics in order to determine what we were going to focus on. Each student voted and we followed the topics of those with the most votes. By creating a branching content presentation, each class focused in different topics, but the overall content and research information was the same. The questions were created and then I linked the text to each of the corresponding slides, so that the class could directly jump to the topic they choose – hiding the rest of the information.

Well the approach meant that I did not cover the same information with class, but the individualized branching paths resulted in more students being engaged. Voting on the path four different times during the presentation resulted in keeping most students interested and involved in the discussion. I had one student say, “This was great, it kept me from falling asleep.” Although I wasn’t quite sure how to take that… coming from an 8:00 am class, that was pretty good. I had another student tell me that she was thinking about dropping the class, but now she is interested in the topic and was glad to be involved in the presentation.

Using game strategies to create a personalized path, allowing students the freedom of choice and a reason to stay involved, helped to create a lecture that students were interested in and had a stake in.

Another small, but successful application of gaming strategies.

Library 2.whatever

We will not go softly into the night, or at least quietly into the future. It’s a new semester and our library using technology for some wonderfully innovative (at least for us) purposes.

Two of my co-workers spent time last semester developing a blog for one of our research classes. We see the students in each class for instruction sessions about 12 times during the semester. It’s great to be able built and more importantly sustain relationships with these students throughout the semester. The blog will provide us with one more way to build that relationship.

One of the same co-workers worked with me to modify an existing lesson to incorporate GoogleDocs. The instruction sessions help students research the various aspects and impacts (both positive and negative) of a specific charity organization. We traditionally divided them up into groups to work together on a series of questions, and regrouped at the end of class to discuss our findings. Using GoogleDocs to creative a real-time document of their research seemed like a natural fit. The students add their information to the document, and all students then have acces to return to it as they are working on their projects. In theory it is a great way to share their knowledge with each other, to expand all their horizons.

Theory - yes; first try – not so much. Like any first time there are kinks, even after we tested it and played aroundThe problem was that even after inviting the class via email to join the document, very few of them received the email. We think the mass emails from a “@gmail” address got hung up in the networks spam filters, but we’re still looking into it. So, where everyone should have be up and ready to work on their shared document, they entered clueless and unable to access the page. Fortunately, since it was a new technology many were willing to be a little forgiving – or they were just happy it was Friday and they were doing very little in class. Regardless, I’m very thankful to my fellow librarian who stay cool in a time of classroom chaos, worked through the technical issues, and ended up with a good class.

I’m sure I’ll check in about how the course blog is going, and we have more classes for GoogleDocs so we’ll see what happens next. I’m very thankful for my co-workers, they are amazing. It’s great to be able to push each other and technology for the student’s benefit. Call it “Library 2.0” or whatever; I’m calling our student success.

Running into the semester

Wow, what a fast week. We started the spring semester on Tuesday and it feels like I've been running since. Actually, it feels like I've been running since the new year. Running isn't a bad thing, actually I thrive on it. But sometimes it's okay to step back.

I've developed a nasty blogging habit of starting a post and not getting back to it on the same day. I started a post on Monday because I wanted to preview the semester, but as I was writing my 18 month son climbed up in my chair and kept repeating, "Games, games." And really how can I as the "video games are good for you" guy say no. And so they played and I watched... and learned.

Video games are a social interaction, or at least they can be. Over the past week, I've had two good conversations with local librarians about the social nature of games and game players. We are not just playing games for hours on end, in our basements, staring at a screen, alone. Since this is the week of the new World of Warcraft (WOW) massive multi player online game (MMPOG) - at least we are not playing alone. 8 million monthly subscribers to WOW, means that as a player you are not alone. Even progressing beyond level 20 in the game is not possible without others.

More and more, video games are a social experience. PC gaming is dominated by gamer to gamer interactions through the games. The XBox 360 Live features connect gamers from anywhere. Players join not just for the freedom and control, they join for the social interaction as well. Granted like any group interaction, everybody contributes something different. But the creation and enjoyment of the social community is a draw. MMPOG's are group projects that our students want to be part of. There is no worry about someone not pulling their weight within an MMPOG, the alternative is game death. Our students can live with those game consequences because the goal that they are working toward is desired. The goal is worth the struggle.

There are education pieces and contributions that we, as librarians, can and should take part in. We need to help find ways to tap into that social enjoyment, if we can create or utilize existing social spaces to foster this sense of social interaction. We will be better off. I'll return to this post tomorrow and talk about a few ways our library is doing that.


Obedience & Innovation - Both Play into Games

In my post earlier this week, I talked a little about the Utne Reader article on video games. While I agree with the majority of the article, I disagree with the thesis Suellentrop states at the end:

"Our video-game brains, trained on success machines, may be undergoing a Mr. Universe workout, one that leaves us stronger but less flexible. So don't worry that video games are teaching us to be killers. Worry instead that they're teaching us to salute. "

Suellentrop argues that games teach players not to think outside of the system, to accept the framework they are given and try to succeed within it. Games reinforce living within the rules of the gameworld and this translates to living within the rules of society. Thus, decreasing innovation and potentially critical thinking.
If this thesis is correct, what does it mean for using games within higher education? And why would a professor use games within the tradition of the creative thinking and challenges of a liberal arts education?

But other studies applaud games for pushing players to test the limits of the systems and understand how to use it in order to succeed. The Federation of American Scientists (in my posts from October) found that games are educational because they push players to test the physics of a game and succeed within the system. The FAS report stated that these skills help prepare gamers to be more successful within the existing corporate and business worlds.

I believe that games successfully to both - help players succeed within existing systems and challenge them to them to find new and creative paths. Yes, games encourage and reward the player for exploring the physics of the game and testing the world for success. But there is not a gamer around that at some point has wanted a game to do more. The "If only I could do..." pleads that frustrated gamers can make are a good example that gamers do not settle. They want to innovate and do more... are presented with an opportunity to do so in a real world environment would. The success and frustration within games (the testing and exploring required) has empowered them to propose and try new ideas. Yes, innovate.

The path a gamer goes through find success in a game looks something like this:
- Engagement in the game and interface
- Motivation and desire to succeed and advance
- Testing of the system, discovery of game physics
- Analysis of limits and boundaries
- Evaluation of successful application
- Discussion (internal or external) on desired physics and gameplay
- Generation of new ideas/applications = innovation

The final two steps can often take place outside the game and away from the act of playing. Players often are engaged enough to continue thinking, planning and enjoying the game away from the physical act of playing. It is in this reflection time that creativity and innovation often occur.

Adapting to New Higher Ed. Challenges

I love the college where I work. There is a devotion and caring for the students and their well being that I really respect and appreciate, and a day like Thursday, really helps remind me of that. I spent most of the day Thursday in a faculty and staff seminar/workshop on success of at risk students from under served demographics.

My background in politics and teaching are paths I chose to help people succeed, and this topic is a wonderful extension of that. There was a variety of ideas and actions points discussed. Some of which myself and the other librarians will be trying with our students this semester. But there were a few statements about higher education trends that applied to us here about the use of video games.

Robert C. Dickeson, one of the presenters, is a researcher and policy analyst for higher education. He discussed 7 trends within higher education, 3 of which apply to using games within education:

1) "Not taking advantage of innovation"
He discussed about a gap between teaching research and actual practice, and that this gap leads to the lack of innovation. Using games and game strategies bucks this trend. Video games in the classroom is taking advantage of innovation. It is a growing area us as educators and an innovation that our students consider second nature. While all our students are not gamers, surveys show that the vast majority have tried a video game and all had some exposure to games. As I'm trying to show (and have found in my own applications) that using games and game strategies is a great innovation that results in more engaged and motivated students.

2) "The trend of decreasing quality"
There is a trend of a lower level of commitment by the students for the content discussed within classes. Again, games are part of the solution to this trend. One reason for this lack of commitment is that students are not always engaged with the content. If they do not care about the content, they often do not care about the class. The creative use of games in a variety of classes can help engage students and get and keep them interested in the content. If the students care about what they are doing and are committed to it - the quality of their work should rise.

3) "Too few students are prepared to particpate and complete higher education"
Here again, games can be part of the solution. If our classes are filled with a variety of students all at different levels of ability and preparedness, we as teachers/instructors need to find ways to connect with all our student. Games are one medium that almost all students have experience, regardless of socio-economic backgrounds. As I stated above, games can and should be used to help increase interest and engagement from students who traditionally struggle. Video games can also be used to help bring those under prepared up to an average level. Games are self directed, naturally assessing and engaging - all 3 are good qualities for a tutorial. Using games to help increase skills, also encourages discussion with the student about their progress, challenges and successes.

Success: Obedience vs Innovation

The latest issue of the Utne Reader contains a well written article on the positive and educational effects of playing video games, Playing with Our Heads. The author, Suellentrop, spends most of the article summarizing much of the positive video game research out there and how gaming is mentally stimulating and beneficial. It's a good overview of some of the past topics covered here on like the work of Johnson and Gee. Overall the article is very positive and helps support the statements of myself and others, that games (even violent games) have mental and educational value.

Suellentrop cites Paul Trachtman, from the Smithsonian magazine, who encourages non-gamers to "ignore the dubious content, the "surface or the imagery or the story line." Underneath that layer, as Trachtman states, is a medium that is "a test of your facility for understanding the logic design that the programmer wrote into the game." The value of games is not about the atmosphere, violent or not, that players exist in. The value is in the analysis, critical thinking and problem solving that games require in order to be successful.

Suellentrop supports this point by stating, "Games, in short, are teachers. And electronic games are uniquely suited to training individuals how to navigate our modern information society."

Read: Information Literacy Skills.

note: this post was written on Wednesday, but due to meetings and a conference at work it is posted a day later.

Gaming Controversy

This radio story from the BBC came through my feeder today from It compares two controversial media both of which were said to "corrupt the youth" - novels and video games. It's a fitting news story since the UK is currently working to pass video game regulating legislation.

Long View

The story is also fitting since our library walked into a little controversy over video games as well. We are planning on doing a gaming night in the library using a variety of games (Wii Sports, Guitar Hero, DDR, Madden, Halo, and maybe Gears of War). The library staff involved in planning (including the Director) are excited about the possibilities of a gaming night, but we are getting questions from above about the appropriateness of including "M" rated games in an academic library sponsored event.

While these questions delay our gaming night, I am looking forward to the engaging in the discussion about the value of video games. This provides an opportunity to expand the assumptions people hold about video games and advocate the positive aspects of gaming and what it bring to learning. The work of James Paul Gee, Mark Prensky and others including The Federation of American Scientists provide a variety of justifications for the positive applications of games. So I'm pulling together some research and I'm looking forward to discussing video games which others on campus whose opinion I greatly respect.

Making you think

The Escapist - Shark Bone or Snake Oil?

With the success of games like Nintendo's Brain Age, there is a growing interest in using games to stimulate and increase brain activity. The market has proved these games to be successful and is creating more interest from mainstream publishers.

Games are not a cure, but more importantly they are not the curse either. Even though the "brain games" focus on more traditional skill sets, all games involve brain activity. Whether or not some object to the content of the games is a point for another discussion.

NPR covered this same topic last week

For a Healthy Brain in Old Age, Start Early

Both are quick reads and provide examples of games used as teaching tools outside of traditional education settings...

Life long learners = Life long gamers

New Year - "Newer" Look

Happy New Year everyone! I hope everyone started the new year off as exciting as I did – jumping out of bed post midnight to the sound of a large explosion (due of course to my “fun” loving neighbors).

The new year brings a few site design changes, like including the tag links on the right. I'm also now registered on Technorati. I’ll continue to tinker with the layout and color, so let me know what you think.

Pokemon Learning - Gotta Catch'em All

I spent part of my New Year’s Day discussing Pokemon with a friend’s 8 year old son. It turned into a wonderful conversation as he fleshed out the details of playing his Pokemon game on the GameBoy Advance. He discussed, at length, the strategies needed to capture different varieties of Pokemon and train them. From choosing different Pokemon based on elemental match-ups, to completing multi-tiered quests, to battle commands, he was thinking multiple steps ahead and making decisions based on the information available. And he was loving every minute of it.

Pokemon just finished celebrating their 10th anniversary and really launched onto the American pop culture scene around 1998 with the release of the original GameBoy games and the first movie in 1999. Kids from ages 6 to 16 were playing it, and are still playing. Many of the kids that started playing Pokemon, are now our students and will continue to be. There’s an opportunity for instruction and application in the “gotta catch’em all” world of Pokemon.

If the 8 year old student sitting at my kitchen table (and others around the country) can evaluate and maintain up to 386 Pokemon, then keeping track of a dozen specialized databases for research should be a breeze. If he could recite the attributes, strengths and weaknesses of a handful of Pokemon, then understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the resources and databases used by our students should not be a challenge.

Our students are up to the challenge, we just need to help them want to. The sense of completion, social interaction, and motivation to catch just one more all help to make Pokemon popular – now we just have to tap into that. Of course, we’ll never be a pop culture fad, but we can take steps to make us more engaging.

Pokemon makes me believe our interfaces do not need to be more simple, they just need to be more interesting. If a student can play out and navigate a world to catch a Bulbasaur, they can "play" through quality research.

Thanks Fuzzcat for the photo, via Flickr's Creative Commons