LITA National Forum ’08: Portals to Learning: What librarians can learn from video game design

Presented by Nicholas Schiller, Washington State University and Carole L. Svensson, University of Washington

Session description from the conference program: “If they are not already, video games are becoming as ubiquitous a media as television. Librarians will be better equipped to engage students in the practice of scholarly research if we understand the culture of gaming and what it means to say that our students are gamers. What should we make of this new and rapidly evolving media? What can we learn from the best examples of game design and development? What do players learn from games? What forms does this learning take? Are there useful pedagogies librarians can borrow from game designers? This presentation will focus on the instructional character of video games and how librarians can learn from the teaching that video game designers build into their craft. The conversation will focus on the video and computer game Portal, a 2007 release from Valve Software. Gaming culture is a rich and largely untapped source of insight for librarians. This presentation will present attendees with a context for understanding the gaming culture many of our patrons share. It will analyze a particular game and show how game designers integrate teaching and learning into their craft. Finally, we will discuss how games use instruction techniques familiar to librarians and how they are innovating in ways librarians would do well to emulate. Practical instruction techniques will be identified and the group will discuss possible ways to integrate them into our teaching practices.”

Useful links:
Portal (for PC, PS3, Xbox 360 from Valve Software)
Portal: Still Alive (for Xbox 360 Live Marketplace)
What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy James Paul Gee
Using Video Games as Bait to Hook Readers New York Times
InformationGames.info – Nicholas Schiller’s blog

We’re not getting any younger, but our students are. We are tied to our old ways; we think of new technologies as methods to deliver old ideas. It’s time to mix it up. We don’t necessarily have to live in their world, but we should try to speak the language.

What is gaming literacy? Recent NYT article on video games was decent, but comments were _very_ interesting, seemed to indicate concern on the part of some readers that gaming was antithetical to traditional literacy.

Games are here, they are not “tomorrow.” Games are mainstream media. Much more significant for students than they were for us.
GTAIV and Halo 3 each set records for opening day revenue (more than Spiderman 2). 65% of college students are regular or occasional gamers (Pew IAL, 2003). 97% of all teens (12-17) play computer, web, portable, or console games (Pew IAL, 2008).

Like McLuhan & Postman, we don’t need to be fans of new media in order to understand them. We do need to be literate in new media in order to connect with those who are fans.

Key terms:
Console – standalone computer hooked up to the television, i.e. Nintendo Wii
MMO/MMORPG – Massively Multiplayer Online (Role-Playing) Game

How do we think intelligently about “childish” things? Separate content from format. Use the tools we already use.

Use the tools you know –

Deb Gilchrist’s 5 questions for outcomes assessment in instructional design
1. What do you want the student to be able to do? (Outcome)
2. What does the student need to know in order to do this well? (Curriculum)
3. What activity will facilitate the learning? (Pedagogy)
4. How will the student demonstrate the learning? (Assessment)
5. How will I know if the student has done this? (Criteria)

How to Read a Book – Adler & VanDorn
Multiple readings for multiple purposes – not all reading is created equal
1st reading: unified perspective of the whole document
2nd reading: close analysis and outlining of specific arguments and evidence

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

Instruction applications from World of Warcraft – Carol

Collaboration and apprenticeship: You’re never alone. It’s a team exercise, just like in our workshops. Establish common goals (quests).

Deemphasis of authority, emphasis on peer knowledge: Average time for a response from a peer in WOW – 32 seconds. Users build reputation by demonstrating knowledge to peers. More like a wiki than an LMS.

Parsing out learning, using the “level” concept: scaffolding : instruction :: levels : games
Video games don’t give you access to more of the world than you can handle at your current level. In instruction, she would focus solely on the few aspects of a given database that were appropriate to the level of her audience.

Socializing/Community:
“The real takeaway from a good swordfight session in World of Warcraft is its masterful community building.”
Players build the resources, they _are_ the resources. How can we build community through collaboration?

Intrinsic Motivation & Rewards
Players choose to play the game – Their activities are rewarded in tangible and measurable ways
Students are accustomed to having choices – Choice can be worked into classroom instruction – choice of partners, choice of “quests”

Persistence through failure:
Failing is normal, useful. Rare is the game in which you don’t die. It doesn’t take away from enjoyment.
When you fail in WOW, you know what to do – level up, read FAQs
When students fail, do they know what to do? Building expertise and community allows students to succeed.

Other gaming examples:

Gating: Software design term. The problem: button mashing, problem solving by random input. Gating is the solution, a mandatory pause in the action that requires a demonstration of skill acquisition.
Classroom application: Design research assignments to require identification of and reflection on research choices. (annotated bibliographies)

Why doesn’t Lara Croft obey Professor Van Croy?
Telling vs. Doing: which is the surer path to student learning?
Discovery-based learning: Nicholas stopped giving instructions on use of databases, rather, encourages students to explore the tool.

New ideas as I’ve leveled up:
The higher your level, the more you require the community.
The jargon gets confusing again at each level.

Gaming literacy can increase information literacy
If we can help our students see that when they’re playing games, they are functioning on a 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 have already done while playing games.

As long as we keep our focus on the research process, and not on zombies, aliens, etc.

One thought on “LITA National Forum ’08: Portals to Learning: What librarians can learn from video game design

  1. Goodday I’m new here
    And it looks like a great forum, so just wanted to say hello! :):):)
    And looking forward to participating.
    Going on vacation for a few days, so i’ll be back

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