I received an e-mail from Paul Waelchli of Research Quest while I was in Seattle a few weeks ago. I've been meaning to respond to his questions ever since I got back, but all of my time has been consumed with getting caught up at work and getting over my cold/sinus infection. I'm still not caught up at work, but I'm over my cold. I have carefully read Nicholas Schiller' response, and Christy Sich looks like she plans to respond soon.
1) What is the current state of games and learning in academic libraries?
I'm still pretty new to the field. I have been toying with games since last summer, but have only been reading about them since October. My impression is that not very many academic libraries are using games for instruction, but that many academic librarians are interested in it. I agree with Nicholas that academic librarians are willing to listen, particularly when assessment proves that something works. I have seen literature about some large projects that failed, but I believe they started out with some bad assumptions about students.
2) What are some of the factors to that current state?
Among those who are interested in implementing games in instruction, I think factors that keep them from trying are intimidation, risk of failure, lack of technical knowledge, and the idea that they have to start with a huge and expensive project. I am sure that at some libraries, administrative environments prevent radical changes from what has been done in the past, though that is not the case in my library.
I also second Nicholas that we need to focus on the learning aspect of games rather than the medium, even as the games should focus on fun rather than learning. Teachers at all levels are coming up with more and more creative ways to engage students. Games are another method, which can be incredibly effective teaching mediums when done correctly.
3) Based on your experience and research, what are the next steps?
Progress needs to be made locally and as a profession. As a profession, we need advocacy of ways that instruction librarians can try out games in baby steps. This can be through turning classroom activities into games or it can be small-scale video games like the ones I am working on. I think it is important to encourage librarians to try something, see how it works, adjust it, and then make it bigger. This fits into Jenny Levine's "gamer ethos" and it is the only way to efficiently create effective games that fit the culture of the local institution.
4) What are the factors supporting or preventing those "next steps?"
Advocacy requires those who are doing games to publish and present their work to the profession. It also requires editors and committees to accept literature on instructional games in libraries. My experience at ACRL tells me that librarians are interested in instructional games, but there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of literature out there. This literature needs to focus on how games can help students most effectively learn what we think they need to know, and how to most effectively engage students into wanting to learn what we have to teach them. I think there is great work out there that isn't being published. I think there's an audience for it if authors and editors will get it out there.
5) What do the finical and economic situations at many institutions mean for instructional gaming in libraries?
While financial constraints do mean that librarians have access to fewer financial and staff resources, hard financial times are also can be a good time to shake things up. You don't have to get a $15,000 grant to start gaming in libraries. Your games don't have to hold their own next to Grand Theft Auto in complexity or graphics. Games don't even have to be on the computer. It takes no technical skills to bring gaming elements into the active learning exercises most of us already do. I haven't yet been successful with bringing "big games" into the classroom yet, but I hope to come up with some plans for this over the summer. Librarians don't even need to bring games into the classroom, but just read about the gaming culture and what games can teach us about how people learn. Then use what they learn from this literature and apply it to their existing instruction programs. So I believe hard financial times can be an excuse to not trying something new, but not a legitimate one.
6) What other issues/questions should we be considering?
I don't know yet. I think we're just scratching the surface of the potential of games, and that I'm just scratching the surface of what has already been done. I hope this will develop into a network of people who share interest in games so that we can learn from each other. I do have an agenda with my games- I want more people to work with games and instruction so I can use some of their ideas!