Byte Speed: Video Games & Education

MIT literature professor, Dr. Alice Robison, discusses video games and education on a podcast on Byte Speed.

Dr. Robison discusses gaming & learning and general learning practices that are reflect in the act and experience of video games. Video games are not about the content, but they are about the process. This line of thought is in line with Gee and Shaffer's work, that while games do not teach math problems they do teach students how to think link a mathematician.

Games are designed to encourage social interaction for success. I've talked about this before, but she provides support to the general discussion.

She also makes the point that thinking is traditionally separate from doing, while most students are used to think and do at the same time. Mulit-tasking is not a distraction, but is a natural practice. I makes me think of the complaints I've heard from others about all the distractions the students get into once they sit at a computer. Would they be any less distracted in a traditional classroom if the content was not either engaging or relevant?

Headline: Information Literacy Librarian Scammed

Okay, last weekend I took a physical vacation and since I've been back I've been on a mental vacation. So sorry for the lack of posts.

Now here's my sad story. As I was preparing for vacation, stressed about the upcoming article I need to write and generally distracted. I feel victim to an Amazon scam. I wanted to believe and wanted to sell the Gameboy, and even though something didn't quite fell right I shipped it out anyway. Unfortunately, I discovered the scam too late to stop the package. Scammed.

Now, here's the lesson (you know just like at the end of most cartoons from the 1980's): I was just like my students. Sure I checked the links and they all traced back to real places. But I didn't go far enough.
How often do our students settle on quality because they just want to believe this is right or just need it to be done?

I paid the price in losing a GameBoy Advance. What price do our students pay?

While I have no idea who this photo is of, that's pretty much how I felt.
Photo via by M J M

The Escapist Magazine

By now you have probably heard about the most recent issue of the Escapist. It's been covered on Game On, Jenny Levine's theshiftedlibrarian, and others. And rightfully so. The Escapist is an alternative online video game magazine that provides weekly theme based issues. Issues are quick reads and provide unique and insightful essays and news stories.

This week's focus is on education. The article on DDR and libraries is a fun read. It shows what is being done in public libraries with games to a whole new audience. I was also interested in the Whyville: Saving the Children article. I have not seen it discussed in library blogs, but it is worth your time.

What sets Whyville apart is not what it teaches kids about the world around them, but how it teaches them. Whyville takes a hands-on approach, introducing kids to the science they take for granted.
I do not have experience with "Whyville" but it gets the video games and learning piece correct. Games succeed in teaching because of how they teach and help us (or force us) to learn, not because the content needs to be revolutionary.

GTA Social Research

Since I'm on a GTA: San Andreas as a reflection on society research kick, I've read two very different articles that look at GTA from two distinct directions.

Barrett, P. (2006). White thumbs, black bodies: Race, violence, and neoliberal fantasies in Grand
Theft Auto: San Andreas. The Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, 28:

The article takes a very critical view of GTA and the racial issues it represents. It looks at the representation of body, sex, gender, and class as shown through GTA. Barrett discusses how Rockstar's game portrays a negative stereotype of African Americans through the characters and environment of the game.

Murray, S. (2005). High art / low life: The art of playing Grand Theft Auto. Performing Arts
Journal, 80
: 91-98.

The article views GTA: San Andreas as a mirror and dissects the gameplay, characters, and environment as a satirical commentary not only on the early 1990's society it depicts, but also on today's society. Murray views Rockstar's use of providing the African American main character with the ability to rise above his surroundings an achieve a jaded version of the "American Dream" as a satire on institutional racism.

The criticisms that Barrett makes about GTA reducing the African American male down to nothing more than a physical commodity and thus promoting racial stereotypes is viewed by Murray not as continuing racism but as a "reminder of a shameful history of genocide and slavery." Both points are valid and anyone playing GTA: San Andreas should welcome a discussion of these issues as depicted in the game and how they are played out in our current society. Rockstar created a very mature game, both in the content and themes, and we (as educators) should treat it maturely. While there is certainly content that is objectionable, there is a unique opportunity to use that content as a jumping off point for a serious, meaningful, and mature discussion about race and class in America.

Critical Thinking Article

The video game violence research unit that I've mentioned before is part of a research component for our English composition classes. The library created and leads this unit in collaboration with our writing center and the faculty. It's resulted in some interesting discussions from the students. My co-worker drafted an proposal for an article and it just got approved last week. Now we just have to write it. I'm digging into the literature now, as my co-authors are, but here is an overview of the article:

As part of an ethics initiative on the University of Dubuque campus, the librarians created and implemented a collaborative project to incorporate ethics, information literacy, and critical thinking into a beginning composition course.The course is a required introductory English composition and rhetoric course, equivalent to English 101 at most institutions. This article focuses on the process for the creation and implementation of this collaborative unit, and the qualitative data collected through the first three semesters of integration.
Hopefully, as we are digging through the literature and writing the article I will find some new critical thinking applications to apply video game strategies to.

Lazy days of summer

I've been off for a few days with family in town and home improvement projects, which means I've been too sore the past few nights to do more than log a few battles in Puzzle Quest (download the free PC Demo here).

But I did start playing around with modding. I started playing around with the game editor for Freedom Force, a 2002 super-hero role playing game. I choose it based on a few key reasons that would make it easy to use at my library and ideally other libraries as well. The game has:

  • A solid 3D engine
  • Low system requirements
  • Robust modding editor
  • Mouse based game interface
  • NPC characters in modern clothing
  • Pre-existing urban maps
  • Existing modding community
Based on these factors I feel that Freedom Force is a good first start. It may not result in a final product, but it should at least help me test out some design ideals and create a proof of concept. Now I just have to get over my intimidation of all the fields in the modding editor. Wish me luck.

Info Lit Alternate Reality Game

This week John Farquhar from Western Washington University, posted an email to the IL listserve about an upcoming alternate reality game designed to teach critical thinking and info lit skills.

During the fall term of 2007, a team of faculty, librarians, instructional designers and student volunteers will be hosting an internet-based alternate-reality game (or ARG) designed to teach critical thinking and information literacy skill. The game will be targeted to college students, yet will be freely open and promoted in order to attract a broad range of participants
The only thing I know about alternate reality games comes from Jane McGonigal's I Love Bee's success. I know very little about the entire concept behind alternate reality games, but I am interested in knowing more about what they hope to teach and how it would happen.

Since I'm habitually behind on my IL listserve (really who isn't), if anyone knows anything more about the project please let me know.

Yesterday over at Tame the Web, hosted a guest blogger Michael Westfall who shared his concerns over school libraries and video games.

But beneath my game racism – my gamecism – is a fear. What frightens me is that many of my students have significant difficulty reading and comprehending text online, whether it’s a Wikipedia entry, an advertisement, or even detailed directions for a game.
He also states his concern about the learning that happens from games since...
The tangible product doesn’t exist after playing a game.
His post got me thinking about how he and others could use the experience of playing video games to address his comments and concerns.

What about an activity like, let one group play for a few minutes, then have them write down what the game is, where it was found, and how to play it... the next group would rotate in but only use the written content. Their task would be to determine if they are able to read and understand what the previous student wrote, what's the game and how to play it. Then give them an equal amount of time to play and see if the directions were accurate.

This activity could be repeated for additional groups. If the instructor could use the student's gaming desire and gameplay to have them create some of their own content (reflections, directions, descriptions) the students could see the connection and relevance with reading and gaming. Tapping into the students' knowledge base and having them share it opens the door to a wide variety of information literacy and critical thinking skills.

Take a look in the mirror...

If you read my last post, I hope you were thinking, "Well of course that worked - that's just good pedagogy." That's what realized during the planning of the session at least.

Unfortunately, I spent time preparing for conferences and trying out creative instruction sessions this past semester. I pushed some instruction sessions to the side. There were only a few sessions that I went into auto pilot, but there were others, like the content lecture, where I tried to improve it only within the existing framework. In my defense, part of that limited view was a result of the time requirements on all 4 instructions librarians as we taught over 190 sessions this Spring semester.

But regardless of reasons or excuses, now is the time to take that long look in the mirror. How is my teaching? How is my pedagogy? What sessions, classes or disciplines can I improve for the coming year? I'll be sharing my mirror reflections on my teaching and I encourage you to do the same.

Image via

By George, It Worked

Today's lesson was a success, all but one student left the session with a narrowed topic. As I mentioned yesterday, I felt there was a need to modify our instruction lecture to change it from a traditional lecture to something that engaged the class more. I took the 50 minute class time and broke it into 3 sections (brief overview lecture, individual topic exploration, and reporting findings) each were about 15 minutes each. The short introduction provided the class a framework for approaching topics and developing a thesis question, but surprising to some of the students in the class... I stopped talking.

I like to talk as much as the next librarian, but by turning the topic discovery and teaching back on the class they were instantly more engaged and tied into their assignment. Each student was focused on finding a topic and exploring the region. I was pleased that no one was really out on a limb doing their own thing.

Taking a look in the mirror and analzying what we already are doing is a great place to start incorporating video game strategies. Today again showed me, that we can gain the benefits of video games through modifying our existing sessions to increase student choice, and personalization.

Photo via by Automania

Click'em if you Got'em

I'm surprised by the amount of recent interest in what I've done with "the clickers" / Turning Point classroom voting technology. I've had interest from some LOEX attendees and the IL list serve on creative uses for "clickers." I'm also surprised by how unique my application was. The multiple paths, branching lectures and decision tree review activities like Library Dusk were new ideas. My co-worker also received an email request from the UW-Madison libraries about how we are using the "clickers" on our campus.

I'm excited about the interest others are showing and I hope that more people will adapt this strategy. If you are at a school with some type of classroom voting tech, I encourage you to play with it, be creative and think about how it could engage your students.

GTA as Social Study

A few nights ago, I got sucked into the world of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. After all the conversations in my classes before the end of the semester, I wanted to explore the world from a societal reflection of violence and culture. My challenge with GTA: Vice City is that I wanted to play it as a Role Playing Game. I tried to converse with the people walking down the street, testing the limits of the law enforcement, and exploring the city. I wanted a living world with consequences for my actions.

Although I was disappointed playing GTA this way because Vice City was mission focused, I continued to come back to explore. I wanted to see what kind of life choices I could make within the framework of the game. GTA as a social commentary is not a new idea and there's a body of work about it. One article that stuck with me recently was a post on MIT's Henry Jenkins blog.

The article was on research done by Kurt Squire on teenagers perceptions of GTA: San Andreas. You have to scroll down to get to the article via the link here... but it is well worth it. Here are a few quotes that peaked my interest:

In fact, these kids were a little offended that white researchers would focus on gaming violence rather than the real violence surrounding them... These same kids were concerned that white kids might also think that it's easy to leave the ghetto:
"The most unrealistic part of the game is that as a black man, you can't just up and buy a house."
The social dialog on race and class in America that GTA: San Andreas could stimulate would be a great discussion. Unfortunately, too often it is easier to target and attack the violent depictions, rather than engage in a discussion about the acts and circumstances depicted.

Photo via by Gem

Feeling Tapped Out

Since returning from LOEX, I've felt creatively drained and tapped out. This past week I scrambled to get caught up. And with the summer classes starting on Monday, I am diving right back into instruction. Monday morning I have an introduction section for our college's Research and Writing course which is focused on the region of Oceania. Over the past few semesters, I've opened their first research paper with an overview of the topic and lecture on potential topics. This past semester I modified it to incorporate student choice and gaming strategies.

Although those sessions went well and the student feedback was positive, as the semester went on I grew more uncomfortable about the long lectures the librarians were giving at the beginning of each paper. If I'm an advocate for video game strategies, like personalization, multiple paths, decision making and feedback, as ways to engage our student - a 45 minute traditional lecture didn't use any of those strategies.

Instead of a traditional format, I'm designing the session to focus on student exploration of topics and having them share the topics they found. The ideal is to get me out from in front of the class and have the students more engaged and sharing with each other.

Over the past year I spent time developing instruction sessions with specific video game strategies in mind, now it is time to go back and look at the other sessions and see how they can be adapted.

Image via by Rob Surreal

ECA's Halpin weighs in on games as social interaction

There's nothing quite like being gone for a conference (LOEX) during the last week of the semester. Yes it was a huge recharge for my energy level, but the back load of work piled up quickly. Given my last post on the social nature video games, this post from Tuesday at ties in nicely.

Halpin as president of the ECA disputed the results of a study by the "Save the Children" organization. As my previous post stated, I agree with Hal Halpin on why and how games can be a social experience.

The survey itself is a nice example of information literacy. The "Save the Children" organization is not an unbiased group. And the "study" they refer to is based on interviews of 100 teachers and their perceptions. There isn't any experimental data with a sound methodology to support the "findings" of the study... sounds like a good place to start an article search.

Gaming as Social Interaction

As a result of the comments from the AZ State University Gaming project presentation, I’ve thought about my experiences growing up at the arcade. Gaming in the arcade was a social experience. I was reminded of this yesterday upon walking into the arcade here at the hotel. Suddenly memories of my childhood came rushing back at me. Playing the games, like The Simpsons side scrolling brawler, now make me realize one key fact:

I didn’t sink dozens of quarters into these machines because the gameplay was good, I did it because the experience was fun.

We shared the experience with friends and strangers alike. Quarter after quarter we came back for more. We played the game through with people standing next to you, commenting, condemning and commending along the way. Under this model, even single player games were a community experience.

But the question is, how can we adopt that social experience for library video games? The AZ State librarians were discouraged about the initial feedback (but thankfully they are still moving forward). George Washington’s Muckrackers game and staff are discouraged as well. GW was trying to make the game multi player, which is an excellent idea, but costly in terms of creation. The development time and money that is required to develop a multiple player game raise the barrier of entry for libraries. And that does not even take into consideration the logistics of administering to our students.

So in the short term, increasing reflection discussion time and promoting conversations throughout the game can promote that social experience for our students. Gamers are not silent people. We just need to tap into that natural desire to share and critique during gameplay into to create that social feeling of community.

Library games may never give players that same feeling that sinking quarters with friends at the arcade. But we learn from those experiences to engage our students more fully in gaming and learning.

Quarantined: Gameplay Reflections

I spent some time playing AZ State University's game on Monday after posting about Quarantined over at Bibliographic Gaming. I enjoyed the game and was able to complete it under the 30 minute time frame both with and without contracting the virus (which then reduces the amount of time allowed in the game). It does a nice job of introducing students to citations and how to begin searching for sources (books, articles, web). If you haven't tried it for yourself, I've provided the link with login and password here.

Take a moment and give it a try. Unfortunately, I only asked for permission to post the free trial for the Bibliographic Gaming blog, not over here. So please bear with the link jumping. The game itself still has a few improvements, but most of what I experience the team of Tammy, Bee and company are already working on them. There were a few times that I thought I needed to explore more, only to realize my path was very limited. Exploring buildings, library stacks and other locations are either not allowed or result in nothing. Although I assume this was a result of either time or programming. Overall I an very encouraged and excited about the work they did on the game.

I am disappointed by the feedback the students provided on the game were not as positive as the team expected and hoped. They found the results “kind of depressing.” I agree with Tammy's statement at LOEX that much of the current frustration and lack of enjoyment may stem from the multiple bugs in the current build.

The students also found the board game more engaging and successful, but why? Is it the content? The gameplay? Was it the social nature of playing the board game that motivated the students? What did you think of the game?

Quarantined: AZ State University

I just got home from LOEX and worked on these notes on the plane... there's more to come on this session, including my opinions, but this post is strictly informative.

For anyone not familiar with the project, the librarians initially developed a board game which they planned on being a testing ground for the video game. The many in the audience appeared to be more interested in the board game than the video game. The physical game has gone through four versions board game and the student feedback is positive. The students enjoy creating their own teams and get rather competitive about it.

Their powerpoint presentation was very similar to their presentation at the Internet Librarian conference last fall. The information was still very useful since it included their feedback from this spring semester. Spring 2007 was the semester they used the game within the class.

The video game project itself started with specific learning objectives that included:

  • Library as physical and virtual space
  • Services the library offers
  • Online catalog
  • Types of sources
  • Evaluation skills

Game Design

Tammy and Bee provided their timeline and game design process. Tammy stressed the importance of versioning a game and realizing that multiple builds are necessary to get the feedback needed to improve the design. While Tammy had some flash programming knowledge, they needed someone with flash game design experience. It was also important the flash programmer have educational game design experience. Both Tammy and Bee highly recommended Rollings & Adams “Game Design” text as a foundation and overview on how to begin planning, designing and developing a video game. Their High Concept document was their sales pitch to the Library Director and others. They commented multiple times that their director was not only supportive about the project but also highly energetic. After the approval of their high concept they developed their 15+ page game treatment, where every choice and decision tree consequence was outlined. The timeline for development was as follows:

  • 7 months spent on plots and character story, a lot of time
  • 2 months for design
  • 1 month for character interaction
  • 2 weeks for animation
  • 2 weeks for information retrieval / game catalog and database
  • 2 weeks for sound creation
  • 1 month for bug tracking

The process took over a year and they are still working on correcting bugs and suggestions identified by the students. Students got confused about what was the next step… not as evident as thought and thus the beta testing and in class use provided critical feedback. Some of the specific bugs and improvements included:

  • Inability to leave library after checking out books
  • “Copy & paste” option for storing articles
  • Need to include “mission” screen to help keep
  • Hot spots for interactions, more event based encounters
  • Better visual doorways to make navigation easier
Tomorrow I'll post the reflections the AZ State Librarian's had on the project, but I'm off to bed.

Video Game Strategies Poster Presenation - Assessment Data

Thank you for everyone who stopped by my poster presentation. I enjoyed your questions and I hope the information was useful. Gaming strategies are a place that all of us can start without having to commit the time and cost to developing a game. I commend all of those working on gaming projects, but regardless of where your institution is at I hope you gained some ideas about how to start applying video games into your information literacy sessions.

If you are first visiting here, I encourage you to look at the previous post as an introduction with links to the classes discussed in the poster session.

Here are the links for the assessment tools that I used in the instruction sessions. Each link will lead you to a page to download the assessments.

I will post the poster as soon as I can get the publisher file small enough to upload. Any feedback or questions on my session is welcome. I'd love to know what you thought.

Thank you.

Welcome LOEX Librarians

Thank you for attending my poster presentation and I hope that I was able to provide you with some ideas and information about using video game strategies in the classroom. Since this may be your first time here, please take a moment to subscribe to the RSS feed on the right. I want to provide some additional information about the classes and reflections from my poster presentation.

Let's start off back in the fall with a post that would become the foundation for my application of gaming strategies. I followed up that post with 5 steps for using games, some of which I echoed in my presentation. The analysis and similarities about "Why Our Attempts Fail" in both research and in gaming is another starting point for gaming application.

Last fall, I wrote a series of posts (starting here) reflecting on the results of using open ended game strategies for a research writing review session. The results really opened my eyes about how we teach and how we could teach. I included some student reaction and comments in the final post as well. There are also some detailed notes on my branching / decision tree lecture and my branching "choose your own adventure" article search from this spring as well.

Finally, there are is a post on how the frustration playing games can help non-gamers understand what our students might go through with library interfaces.

Take a few moments to dig back through the last few months here at Research Quest.
I'd love to get your comments on these ideas and any others you want to share. Thank you and I hope that together we can find ways to use video games and gaming strategies to increase our students' success.

I knew I forgot something...

I left this morning with my family for the LOEX conference in San Diego. I thought I remembered everything:

  • Poster Presentation - check
  • Laptop - check
  • Clothes - check
  • Family - check
  • Nintendo DS - check

But it was at the 3 hour mark of a 4 hour plane ride with my two sons that I realized I forgot to pack the DS Battery Charger. For a long flight the DS was a wonderful solution. Explaining how to steer and accelerate in Mario Kart DS to my 3 year old was a great way to pass the time.

We made it here (without any the classic Hollywood "switching of poster tubes" drama) and I'm looking forward to spending the day with my family before the conference.

DDR Good for Kids & Librarians

Hot on the heels of the New York Times article about the success of using Dance Dance Revolution in physical education classes, our library staff "tested" DDR out today before our staff meeting. After all my talk of using games for education, this was my first DDR experience (as it was for most of the staff). I can easily say it will not be my last. In fact, I hope we will do it again as a staff over the summer.

Unfortunately, there were no cameras to record the event, but almost all the staff got involved and had a fun time playing DDR Supernova. The event drew many student and staff witnesses, as is bound to happen playing DDR in a classroom with glass walls.

Everyone laughed and enjoyed themselves. Now I hope the students will do the same on Wednesday night when our library offers up a "Finals Prep Study Break" with snack food, a root beer keg, and DDR.

Know thy Opponent

My recent focus on violent video games and their effects is a direct result of two factors:

  • First, the English class research unit on violent video and their effects on college students, means that for the last two weeks from 8 - 12 every Monday, Wednesday and Friday I've talked about nothing but violent game research on aggression.
  • Second, as my advocacy for video game applications and their value in education has grown stronger, I've encountered resistance based upon the "overwhelming" negative aspects of video games.
By understanding the research, and what it does (increased aggression, desensitization, difference in responses based on age group) and what it does not (violent action, large effect on stable personality types) show I am in a better position to defend the use and value of video games. Knowing the research also creates a better dialog with those who have concerns.

It is with this in mind that I continue to build my annotated bib on the effects of violent video games and aggression. It is also with this understanding in mind, that I direct you to the story in from Friday: Don't Shoot: Why Video Games Really Are Linked to Violence.