Three Take-Aways for Librarians

Today was ARLD Day at the Arboretum just outside of Minneapolis. Aside from the thick clouds and persistent rain that kept us from taking our planned walk through the grounds after the day of meetings, it was a great day with three main take-away messages:

  • Research Portals 2.0 are coming.
  • Gaming tests and stretches problem-solving, collaborative, and communication skills. [One question: are these skills transferable?]
  • We can teach better instruction sessions if we pay attention to engaging students. Try incorporating gaming principles.

Now that you’ve got your take-aways, here’s some detail.

First Take-Away

The first take-away heralds the beginning of the planning of a concept that could revolutionize research. The University of Minnesota has been working (under a Mellon grant) to develop My Field, a research portal of the future. It’s not live yet, not even in beta (we saw mock-ups of page concepts at this session), but the documentation is here and mock-ups (in powerpoint) here. Basically, it’d be a space where researchers could log in, have resources suggested to them, gather other resources, tag everything, develop goals and time-lines, collaborate with other scholars, share what they want to share, keep private what they want to keep private, and get help with anything from resource discovery to publishing.

Now that they’ve finished working through the planning grant, they’re moving toward getting an implementation grant that would fund both the library and the computer science department to design the various mix-and-match components of this highly web 2.0 space. The really good news is that this thing would be completely open source.

Second Take-Away

The second point came from the morning’s keynote address given by Constance Steinkueler on the intersections between Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) gaming and cognition, learning, and social interaction. Not only was she an engaging speaker (even though she’d broken her toe just the morning before speaking to us and had to hobble around during her presentation), but she did an absolutely fabulous job of charting the cognitive and skill-building activities that (should) make gaming so intriguing to educators. I’ve heard talk of gaming before (though as my last post makes clear, my poor computer just won’t let me join in the really high-powered stuff myself), but this is the first time I’ve heard someone make such a clear connection to my work life. Here are some snippets from the notes I took at during the address. (I was too busy taking notes to actually blog while there, which I think also speaks to how interesting and engaging the talk was.)

  • Collaborative problem-solving is absolutely required in the gaming world, so gamers get very good at coming together, pooling their resources and talents, planning out strategies (including information gathering from fansites and fan forums), attempting the task, and then disbursing to join other groups. This is the same as the “Cross-Functional Teams” touted in the business world.
  • Gamers become skilled at highly stylized communication and even learn pidgin forms of other languages (since games are populated by avatars maneuvered by people from all over the world).
  • Collective intelligence, generated through fansites, blogs, forums, wikies, and the like, is the best and most authoritative information out there. (If you’re thinking Wikipedia, your on the same trajectory I am.)
  • Games become the new “third space” where people can engage and socialize on neutral ground (not work or home).

I should note that the discussion following the presentation was particularly un-useful. People asked the same old questions about the connection between violence and gaming… And I never got up the courage to ask whether any research had been done to show if these wonderful cognitive skills are often transferred to other areas of gamers’ lives. Too shy. I need to get over that.

Third Take-Away

The final take-away point came from the session called “Find Your Inner Gamer: Adapting Instruction for Digital Natives” by Robin Ewing and Justine Martin from St. Cloud. This session focused on what makes games such engrossing activities that people of all ages will spend 20+ hours every week exploring, trying, failing, trying again, learning, and collaborating. Wouldn’t it be great if they could be even 1/20th as engaged in a 50-minute session?

Well, these two librarians have been looking for ways to do just that, and they’ve begun by distilling what makes gaming so engaging. They’ve found that gaming engages gamers because they focus all attention on a goal or a problem, there are rules and goals to keep things focused and give instant feedback, there’s the challenge and the satisfaction of achieving new levels, players have control of their actions, and they are in a fantasy world, so they are free to be creative and experiment with new things.

They’ve translated this into their instruction by making sessions student-driven (that’s right, NO DEMO!), doling out “power-ups” strategically so that just when students want it most you reveal the added searching power of AND, and intentionally working in feedback and reflection. This last is analogous to touching something in a game, having something happen in response, reflecting on what happened, and moving forward with that extra piece of knowledge that can be tested and re-formed as necessary.