LITA 2008: Portals to Learning – What librarians can learn from video game design

Saying “this is how you type in a text box” is like saying “let’s talk about breathing today.”

Speakers: Nicholas Schiller (Washington State University, Vancouver) and Carole Svensson (University of Washington, Tacoma)

We’re not getting any younger, but our students are. We think of new technologies as ways to deliver old ideas, but really we need to mix it up.

Gaming literacy is a way of looking at the media of video games and interactive media through the eyes of the designers and the players. It’s not helpful to view this as a zero sum game – it’s not about competing with reading literacy.

Games are now mainstream media. They are more significant to our students than they were for the generations that came before them (i.e. most of us librarian types). Video games are viable competitors with movies, television, and popular music. All indicators show that the population of gamers is only going to get larger over time.

We don’t need to be advocates of games in order to understand our users that are gamers. We need to be literate in this new media in order to connect with and serve those users. If we don’t understand them, then we are not equipped to either critique or use gaming media.

How do we think intelligently about “childish” things? Separate the content from the format and use the analytical tools we already know (like Deb Gilchrist’s 5 questions for outcomes-based design or Adler and Van Doren’s How to Read a Book) and apply them to new media.

Think about the experiences of using character based interfaces and a GUI like III’s Millennium. The two experiences are very different, but the content is the same.

The point of studying gaming behavior is rarely the context of the games. Games are complex information systems. They must teach players to evaluate information and make informed choices in order to succeed. Games that fail to do this well do not sell. Being frustrated is not fun.

We want students to understand that their information needs are complex and require complex tools like scholarly bibliographic indexes in order to meet those needs. However, most of our users think that their information needs are simple and instead gravitate towards simpler tools like Wikipedia and Google.

MMORPGs like World of Warcraft (WoW) have an emphasis on collaboration and apprenticeship. Working with friends meant that the experience was less frustrating as a new user. In library instruction classes, allowing students to self-select their groups for team exercises will guarantee groups that are more comfortable with each other from the get-go.

Collaborative games also de-emphasize authority distinctions and emphasize peer knowledge. Peers are the best sources for information in games, rather than the help document or support tech. The average time that a peer responded in WoW was 32 seconds. What’s your IM/email reference response time? Also, for peer knowledge to work well, we need to have FAQs or knowledgebases that are built on by student knowledge over time.

In the games, each level builds on the next one, which is like how we try to teach library stuff. However, in the game, it tends to be more fun. Game players are not tempted to skip forward because the games are structured so that you only see the part of the world that you’ve mastered. When game players get to the point where they need additional information, it’s desired rather than being overwhelming. In teaching library tools, focus on fewer things until users get comfortable with them, and then show them more.

Players build resources for helping each other and developing community. Do we see that happening with EBSCOhost? No.

When you fail in WoW, you know what to do. Find someone to help you or look for information in the user-created content online. When students fail in the classroom or library, do they know what to do? Building expertise and community allows them to understand that keeping at it will result in success.

Gating is a mandatory pause in the action of a game that requires demonstration of skill acquisition. In the classroom, design research assignments to require identification of and reflection on research choices, or create annotated bibliographies.

Why doesn’t Laura Croft obey Professor Van Croy? Players learn that sometimes if they do what the instructions tell them to not do, they get rewarded. By exploring the game outside of the small boundaries, they learn more about what is there. In the classroom, this translates to discovery based learning. Pique their curiosity and then let them discover the advanced tools in a resource.

As in higher education, the more you “level up,” the more you need help from experts. Experienced librarians are better equipped to say “I don’t know” and refer the information seeker to experts. With each level of research, you have to keep at the process until you find the answers you seek.

If we can help our students see when they’re playing games, they are actually functioning on a fairly high level on Bloom’s Taxonomy. Then, we can help them see that their complex and involved academic research is not only something they are capable of doing, but it’s something that they’ve already done while playing games, as long as we keep our focus on the process of games and not the zombies and vampires.

Students don’t have trouble figuring out how to use our tech, but they don’t understand why they would want to use it. So, instead of teaching them how to use the catalog, we should be instilling in them the motivation to use it and they’ll figure out the quirks on their own. Saying “this is how you type in a text box” is like saying “let’s talk about breathing today.”

women in digital librarianship

In the August 2006 issue of Library Journal, Roy Tennant writes about the gender gap in digital librarianship. It’s a concern that I have been pondering on a more personal level for quite some time. I totally geek out over the shiny toys being pumped out by the Library 2.0 geniuses, but when it comes … Continue reading “women in digital librarianship”

In the August 2006 issue of Library Journal, Roy Tennant writes about the gender gap in digital librarianship. It’s a concern that I have been pondering on a more personal level for quite some time. I totally geek out over the shiny toys being pumped out by the Library 2.0 geniuses, but when it comes to creating my own contributions, I falter. Even just writing about them makes me nervous. Who am I to pretend to know something about these things? I’m just the person who pays the bills.

This is not entirely an accurate picture of my work, but a great deal of it does involve managing budgets, as well as staff. Occasionally my Dean will discuss my scholarship direction and interest in library technology, and inevitably the phrase, “but I’m not an expert on that!” will come out of my mouth. He wants me to publish, and I find myself floundering around trying to find something – anything – that I might know more about than the average librarian. The problem is that I am the average librarian.

I’m not Michael Stephens and Jenny Levine, jetting off to here and there to bring the wonders of Library 2.0 to the commoners. I’m not Sarah Houghton with my hands buried up to my elbows in library technology. I’m just a normal person with some HTML skills and an interest in technology. I’ll never be a Mover and Shaker.

This is the mental block that gets thrown up every time I think about my role in digital librarianship. I’m always going to be on the second or third wave of folks implementing new technology in libraries.

What I need are the tools to become more technologically savvy. I’ve looked into some of the options offered at my university, but aside from seeming rather intimidating, I worry that they will be too broad for my needs. What I would really like to see are some training sessions like what Michael and Jenny have been doing, but at a higher level. For example, how about something for folks who already know about RSS feeds but don’t have the skills or tools to use them in more creative ways? That would be very useful. Or maybe a crash course in MySQL databases with PHP interfaces. I can think of a lot of uses for that just in my daily job.

Some of us are lucky enough to live relatively close to Library Science programs. If the iSchool at the University of Washington offered a day or two long continuing education course on MySQL and PHP in the library setting, I would attend.

Maybe that’s something that Tennant and his posse should consider. We can’t wait for a new generation of women to grow up encouraged to be interested in technology. We need to do something for the women who are currently in the profession, as well.

old friends

Mourning the loss of contact with old friends…

On Thursday and Friday of last week, I attended the ACRL Oregon and ACRL Washington Joint Fall Conference. One of the first persons I ran into at the conference was a college acquaintance I had not seen in over seven years. For some people, this may not be unusual. However, this is this first time I have ever run into someone from my undergraduate school outside of a context related to that university. I attended a small, liberal arts university in Virginia, and this conference took place in Oregon. As far as I knew, this old acquaintance had no relationship with libraries or librarianship, which as I discovered was true until recently when she began the distance MLIS program through the University of Washington. Go figure.

I’ve been thinking about old friends lately that I have lost contact with. Some of this was inspired by having recently gotten a great deal on a minidisc recorder/player and finally being able to listen to live recordings I made of a singer/songwriter friend in 1999-2001. For a while, it seemed that Thea Zumwalt was working towards doing music full-time, but her website has disappeared and none of the email addresses I have are working anymore.

One of the many recordings of Thea at the Artful Dodger in my collection makes reference to another old friend, Adi Raz. The last time I tried to email Adi, the message was returned undeliverable. I guess I shouldn’t have let over two years go by without communication. Now I can’t find any contact information for her, which is both sad and frustrating.

For over ten years I have been trying to get in touch with a childhood friend, Katie (Kate, Kathryn) Connolly. About eight years ago, or so, I got her address through her mother and a teacher at the high school where we would have both attended had I not moved the year before. She never wrote back, and the last time I tried, the letter was returned. Our friendship ended on a bitter note, sharply contrasting the sweetness of the friendship to that point. All I’ve wanted since then was to make up for that heartache, but I suspect she’s long forgotten me.

I’ve moved so much in my life that there are countless other people that I occasionally wonder about. People like Susan, my friend who lived down the street with whom I saw (and was frightened by) Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. Joanna Mullins — my first serious crush in junior high school. Dan Nietz — my best friend in high school with whom I lost contact after he got married (although my Dad says he’s seen him around town and gave him my email address… not going to hold my breath, though). And there are and will be others.

I used to be very good at writing letters and keeping in contact with everyone, but as I’ve grown older and busier, my life has become too full to keep up with those who are not a part of my routine. Maybe letting go and moving on is a part of what makes us mature adults, or at the very least, numbs the pain of the loss. I guess I haven’t quite figured out how to do that yet.