Sunday, March 29, 2009

Discussion Questions:

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!

Gamer Ethos

I just read another article from the September-October 2006 issue of Library Technology Reports called "What Librarians Can Learn from Gamers."

I have tangentially heard of the phrase "gamer ethos" and wanted to know more, this article helped me understand what is meant by this a little more. This article focuses not so much on the how-to's of bringing games into libraries, rather the atmosphere required to do anything new and creative in libraries. Librarians should embrace the gamer ethos. This involves an atmosphere where they can implement, evaluate, and improve new services through trial-and-error. Where there is no punishment for failure, knowing that failure can sometimes turn into success (probe, hypothesize, reprobe, think). Where librarians turn to others with expertise when needed (including patrons), and are flexible to adapt to changes. They absolutely cannot buy into the "status-quo" culture that prevails in so many libraries.

This is interesting because I just attended an ACLCP (regional association) meeting about fostering creativity in the library. This included instructions on shaking up the status-quo, brainstorming correctly, and focusing on what you're doing right rather than what you're doing wrong. Much of what we have to learn from gamers was covered in the presentations, though not in the context of video games.

George Needham gave a speech at Gaming in Libraries in 2005 that offered librarians suggestions on "adapting to the world of gamers." One suggestions intrigues me, and that is to "provide shortcuts (like a strategy guide) rather than just training." I definitely want to come back to this suggestion in relation to bibliographic instruction. If we could only familiarize ourselves with the walk-throughs and cheat sheets that gamers write for each other and model our class handouts after them... ideally getting students to create such things for each other (even more ideally, with the same kind of enthusiasm). I'm not sure how much different these walk-through-like handouts would be, but perhaps it could make all of the difference.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Big Games Article

While trying to figure out why not all of Jenny Levine's gaming articles from Library Technology Reports show up in EBSCO, I stumbled on a great article called "Broadening Our Definition of Gaming: Big Games" from the April 2008 issue. Here are some of the juicy tidbits from this article:

Storytelling is a big theme in librarianship that I haven't yet had time to follow up on. I think the story is a key component to making a "game" and making "work" seem like fun. Really, so far my games are little more than a worksheet loosely set to a story. There was a poster on digital storytelling at ACRL and I hope to look more closely at her poster on the Virtual Conference and maybe get in touch with her to learn more about storytelling.

"Big Games" can also be called "pervasive games," "Alternate Reality Games" (ARGs), "Live Action Role Playing games" (LARPs), or "location-based games." They often use some sort of technology, esp. for communcation or verification, but don't usually rely on technology the way video games do.

Companies exist to create custom-made games for people. Such companies include area/code, 42 Entertainment, and GameLab. Their Web sites are worth a visit.

There is an annual Come Out & Play festival that takes place in different cities. The 2009 one in NYC is coming up June 12-14. As we are only 3.5 hours from NYC, I'm contemplating a visit to at least witness this phenomenon, if not get involved. Anyone want to join me?

Eli Neiburger at the Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) turned part of their annual staff in-service day into a Big Game. He called it Dewey Dare, and was inspired by Greg Trefrey's You Are Not Here (the map game I am so interested in) and Jane McGonigal's Reverse Scavenger Hunt (I'm not familiar with this). In Dewey Dare, players gathered in teams to take a picture of an Ann Arbor downtown business with its address clearly visible. They then had to find a book they could thematically connect whose call number matched the address. For example 332.04 Retirement on a Shoestring and 332 S. Ashley: Red Shoes Boutique. The entries were judged on the best connection. Teams could also take photographs of other teams out on the town to steal their entries.

ALA Annual 2007 had Cruel 2 B Kind which was part of the Come Out & Play festival of 2006 in NYC. It was a kind of zombie-tag game where teams hunted and were hunted using random acts of kindness (I can't imagine what a naive bi-stander experienced that day!).

Come Out & Play 2006 also had a game called Hot Books where books are attached to players, and players have to find those books and a keyword that will help them detach the book. Part of it involves players finding books they like and identities for the book.

The article was published before ALA Annual 2008's Big Game. It promises information on the details of the game so that people can adapt it to their own libraries, but I haven't been able to find this yet.

So here are lots of examples to examine. I am really interested in how these can be used in class, for fun (yet sneakily educational) programs that students will actually come to, working with career services to have some kind of catch-'em-early program for freshman and sophomores, and of course for freshman orientation.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Home from ACRL

I've been overwhelmed this week after returning from ACRL with a nasty cold, but hope to post a series of thoughts as I reflect on my ACRL experience. I haven't yet sat down to write the follow-up e-mail I promised the people who came to see my poster, but may also do that tonight.

Last Friday morning contained two programs on gaming. Here are the notes I took from those sessions:

We’re Not Playing Around: Gaming Literate Librarians= Information Literate Students
  • Games also have outcomes, curriculum, pedagogy, …
  • Look at the Theory of Fun by Ralph Koster:
  • Generation M. never really has had to work alone, in MMPORGs, they expect to get and give help. How does this translate into learning research?
  • In gaming, there’s no central authority
  • In MMPORGs, they get answers within 32 seconds
  • Students trust their peers
  • They want student-created resources to find information
  • They learn through scaffolding
  • Worksheets they gave students will be added to the virtual conference materials

Percolating the Power of Play

  • Champlain College focuses on professional education and has an Emergent Media Center
  • Their library instruction program focuses on the Inquiry Method, and they see all students every semester
  • They got two students in the computer design program to develop information literacy games. The games aren’t quite ready for public viewing yet, but should be available soon.
  • Gaming is a very good petri dish for information literacy learning
  • They strive to make an learning environment students WANT to be in
  • “Hero’s Journey” game model can emphasize key thoughts and feelings during the research process
  • Their games were called “Dustin King in Locked & Literate” and “Searchlight”
  • How does this fit in with their instruction program? It provides an approachable place to test out what the students have learned in traditional bibliographic instruction.
  • One activity they do to get them to understand keywords and synonyms is to have them describe a normal can of soda. It forces them to think critically on something they already know very well
  • It focuses on information literacy rather than bibliographic instruction, and on students rather than the library

Friday, March 13, 2009

First night of ACRL

I have been having a great time in Seattle visiting my cousin and a friend from grad school who is now a teen librarian in a public library an hour north of Seattle. She showed me her library and we spent two days catching up. This is the first time I've really gotten any kind of feel of what it would be like to work as a public librarian.

Much of what she does is programming aimed at teens. She gets attendance numbers upwards of 130 for some of her programs from gaming nights to murder in the library programs. I realized that academic librarians who are interested in bringing gaming aspects into the instruction room and orientations could probably learn a lot from the teen librarian literature. Maybe some of you have already looked at this and found it didn't work, but it is something I really want to look into when I get home.

Teen librarians have the same disadvantages as academic librarians when it comes to engaging a generation we are not part of (some of you may be, but I've realized recently that even at 29, my college experiences were so different than our students). They have the added disadvantage of the teens having less of a connection to the library than our students do. They aren't even physically near it on a regular basis. They have to create and market programs that make the grumpiest age group WANT to come to the library. We've often got captive audiences, but they don't necessarily WANT to be engaged by us.

Granted, many of the programs that teen librarians put on have nothing to do with education or navigating the library. But some do. Even if they don't, we might still be able to find something we could turn into an educational experience. She said they had a treasure hunt activity where groups were given a picture of items in the library, like a part of a sign, and the groups had to run around and find it. Learning the parts of the library wasn't the main goal of this, but the students would learn.

I'm wondering also if I could get more ideas for "big games" from board games. I went to the game night at ACRL and played Don't Stop with a librarian from L.A., one from Syracuse, and a friend of the librarian from Syracuse. I took a picture, but will have to wait to post it. I had never played this game before, but there's something about it that is similar to the kid's game Red Light/Green Light. There might be something there that could be used for library instruction, but I don't know what yet. I also played Dance Revolution (I think) with Jenny Levine. I stank and I don't think there's anything I can use for instruction, but it was a lot more fun than I expected!

Monday, March 9, 2009


I am currently in Seattle having a great time doing non-work-related things, but still anxiously looking forward to ACRL. I guess that proves I'm in the right profession when I can look forward to work-related activities!

This is going to be a really quick post because I'm on an unfamiliar laptop with no mouse and I have other things I want to be spending my time doing, but I wanted to share two pieces of news.

The first is that I submitted a proposal to a regional information literacy conference that will take place in Harrisburg, PA in May. The proposal is on the same game that I am presenting at ACRL, but I will be talking more about digital game-based learning in general and the "hows" of starting these games locally without large budgets and fancy programming. It got accepted as an hour-long presentation! I feel this is quite an honor and I'm really looking forward to this.

Secondly, I have recently been in contact with Paul Waelchli (sorry Paul, I will link to your info when I get back to my home computer!) who is trying to get a group together of academic librarians who are working with instructional games. This would be some time of virtual discussion group. This is another thing I am really looking forward to. I really want more people to be working on these games so I have more ideas to work with. If this ever takes off, I will quickly be left in the dust as far as programming goes, but I think the best games will always be locally-made.

So I am off to try and figure out what bus to take to meet a friend and hopefully I will have some notes on games from ACRL presentations (there are two on Friday morning!).

Friday, March 6, 2009

Lost notes

I found a folder of notes I took a few months ago on Big Games and promptly forgot about. We have a new director of career services who seems to be very interested in some of my gaming ideas. We are thinking of putting a "big game" program together this summer. It would be aimed at freshmen and sophomores and the goal would be to get them to learn a little big about career planning, and to meet key people. I don't know what any of this will really look like, but I'm excited to try it out!

So now that I have a more concrete context in which to think about Big Games, here are some of my lost notes.

Silliness is an important part of Big Games. You can see that displayed in the Pac Manhattan pictures. Players had to gather materials in a neighborhood while being chased by ghosts (a.k.a. people wearing colored garbage bags). Some other successful programs were live Pong and using aspects of children's games like players being frozen if they're hit by a ball. The whole city of Minneapolis got involved in B.U.G., which had a goal of getting average citizens to notice urban planning.

Along these lines, Juniata College has a campus-wide Monopoly game where teams of players dress up as pieces, the dice are huge and made out of foam, and everyone communicates over walkie-talkies. It was probably fun to play, though not terribly fun to watch if you didn't know the people involved.

I don't really understand alternative reality games (ARGs), but they keep popping up in my reading. One example is The Beast which was part of the promotional campaign for the movie A.I. Wikipedia has a very nice explanation of this particular ARG under the Plot heading.

Journey to the End of the Night was a version of zombie tag. The proof that you went to the places you were supposed to was taking a picture of yourself there.

Find normal activities and give them goals. Come up with simple ways to track progress (like the pictures I just mentioned).

Article Review: From Game Studies to Bibliographic Gaming

Branston, C. (2006). From game studies to bibliographic gaming: Libraries tap into the video game culture. Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

A 2003 Gallup Poll found that 69% of teenagers play video games each week, 1/4 of which play over 11 hours per week. She stresses the need to focus on the entertainment factor and gaming experience rather than the educational aspects. Game-based learning goes against the "point of need theory" but she feels the two can compliment each other.

It is important to get the players involved at every stage of development. Strive to make the players lose track of time. If a game fails, it is most likely because the game is not fun. In games, "the learning is completely interactive and immersive."

Gamers often do "secondary research," looking up information on strategies, tips, hints, fan fiction, and Web sites devoted to the game. Bibliographic instruction can use gaming literature in a BI session to show how the skills they already have transfer to academic research.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sounds & Games

The student computers in the library classroom were not equipped with speakers for obvious reasons. I have made most of my games without sound effects, which does help when trying to limit the file size of the games. However, sound is a critical part of the gaming experience. I have been struggling to give visual clues to students when an answer is right or wrong, but it interferes with their activities, which is a big no-no in game development. They should not have to wait for the "Correct!" image to fade before they can click on the next item. A simple bling or gong sound would allow them to know immediately if they got something right or wrong without interrupting their progress.

We are in the process of ordering some relatively cheap speakers for those computers specifically for my games. I hope they will arrive soon, though it's too late to use them in classes this year. This morning, I started putting sound into my plagiarism game. I am getting most of my sound effects from The Freesound Project. I don't think I'm going to go so far as to put music into my games, at least not yet. However, I found a great juicy-sounding splat noise when an answer is correct since the player is supposedly killing goblins, and a nice water noise to play when the player clicks on the courtyard's fountain.

Everything I have read has stressed the importance of the gaming experience to make the learning part less noticeable to students, and sound is definitely important to the experience.