Relax, Play, & Learn: GLLS 2008 Speaker Reflections

After spending the second half of last week taking in all the election coverage, I've finally worked my way through the rest of my GLLS 2008 notes.  While I initially started posting the sessions during each speaker/session, I quickly got wrapped up in getting ready for my different presentations and decided I could come back to the posts afterward.  Regardless, you can catch all my session and speaker write-ups under the glls2008 tab.  In addition to the individual write up, I wanted to take time to reflect back on the keynote speakers and the symposium as a whole.  

It is useful to discuss the speakers as a whole because there were many themes that overlapped and while initially some of their content felt redundant, upon reflection it feels like multiple perspectives in the same debate.  Ultimately the keynote speakers combine to make the point that:
Games create learning opportunities.  Teens are already playing and not being psychologically harmed.  Libraries are supporting gaming and thus supporting these learning opportunities.  So play, have fun, and the learning will come through play.
There were about 10 minutes from Marc Prensky's opening keynote that really summed up his writing and thoughts on how "complex" games teach players a host of skills.  This series of skills was part of the impetus for my own thinking and writing about video games and libraries.   He talked about how complex games can help players learn:
  • Collaboration
  • Effective decision making
  • Prudent risks
  • Ethical decisions
  • Scientific deduction
  • Think laterally
  • System thinking
While those skills still hold as much meaning today as they did back in 2005 and 2006, it was disappointing to see that his discussion of them had not evolved since then.  Those in the audience that had not read Prensky before, hopeful walked out with these key points.  Unfortunately, it appeared that the distractions he created about "renaming the library" or trying to redefine librarians or even the suggestions of things to do (all of which libraries are already doing) were what many librarians took away from his keynote.

Prensky's keynote was followed by Amanda Lenhart from Pew Internet & American Life.  While I had read through the report and the questionnaire before, it was a wonderful piece to the larger message the keynote speakers created.  The Pew Study showed upwords of 95% of teens play games regularly (99% of boys).  If they are learning the skills that Prensky (and similarly Gee and others) have stated, then the current and coming generation is well prepared to think critically and apply a variety of literacies.  Hopefully, Chris Harris, Brain Mayer, and myself helped support this perspective by discussing how games (board and video games) can be directly connected to established learning standards.  Tying games directly to standards should help make advocacy for gaming in libraries easier.

Scott Nicholson's update on how libraries of all types are using gaming showed continued support for gaming not just as a one shot program, but as an ongoing service in libraries.  This growth and sustainability in libraries creates continued opportunities for the type of learning discussed and the type of civic community that the Pew Study found.

Dr. Kutner's keynote highlighted that the reported negatives of playing violent games are overshadowed by the positive experiences discussed by the other keynotes.  His research found little real evidence of increasing in violence based on violent video games.  Kutner stated players play violent games not because they are violent but because the experience is often engaging and motivating.  It is these violent and "complex" games that also lead to the learning discussed in the opening day.  Andrew Bub's GamerDad supported Kutner's data and findings, not through additional data but through antidotes and personal experience.  Bub and Kutner provided librarians with two angles in the common thesis of the impact and advocacy of video games.  Bub summed up concerns over video game addiction nicely, calling it "a page turner" and comparing engaging gameplay to a book "you can't put down."  When the medium is not vilified, then fears of prolonged engagement become something to celebrate and admire rather than fear and condemn.  

And finally, Jon-Paul Dyson was a wonderful summation to the symposium.  His point that games are play - play supports learning - learning is good - games are good.  The logic in his speech capped the arguments made by the other keynotes perfectly.  

The keynote speakers at GLLS 2008 can be summed up in the following statements: 

Games create learning opportunities.  Teens are already playing the games and not being overly psychologically harmed.  Libraries are supporting gaming and thus supporting these learning opportunities.  So play, have fun, and the learning will come through play.