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* Tuesday, June 28, 2005

What I Took Away from the GLS Conference

The most obvious, glaring thing is that librarians (in general) have absolutely no clue about what is going on in this area. Academia is only now starting to do more than just study it, but it’s not even on our radar. I’ve noted before that I talk about Millennials in the context of serving them where they are (rather than making them come to us), but I hadn’t really thought through all of the implications of the gaming side of it. If you have young children or grandchildren, you can see how gaming affects them, and in turn how they interact with information and multi-modal interfaces. Henry Jenkins, James Gee, Kurt Squire, and all of the other speakers presented a compelling case for bringing gaming into education and taking advantage of what these kids are learning from it to innovate, create, and collaborate. I’ve definitely drunk that Kool-Aid.

None of this would have changed what we submitted in the gaming grant last week, but now I’m thinking so much bigger. At MLS, we were already discussing holding an institute or a symposium on gaming and libraries this fall, and now I’m even more motivated to make this happen. There’s a lot going on here that librarians need to learn about, but I also want to see some action. For example, it seems to me that parents are also very unprepared for what is happening. Most of them don’t even know there is something happening, and I think libraries can help educate them. So my first thought is to have a two-day event where the first day is learning and education, and the second day is brainstorming actual implementations.

In addition, I’m totally on board with the idea of libraries helping close the “participation gap,” similar to how we’ve helped close the digital divide (yeah, I know that one’s not done yet, but….). I’m starting to dream about a second Gates Initiative (or a Jobs one if Apple would be willing to start donating to libraries on that level) that would help make libraries media centers where these kids can produce their own content (in other words, participate).

Then there’s the whole concept of shifting to where these users are. I talked to several people at the conference who loved the idea of librarians being present in the games when the users need them (very OCLC-scan-ish). In fact, when I first told Megan Conklin about this (because I was curious if she was working with her librarians at all), she said, “You want to be an embedded librarian? COOL!” So maybe I’m not so much shifted as embedded. ;-)  Megan encouraged me to try Second Life because she thinks the idea could work.

Overall, my landscape broadened during this conference, which is about the best thing you can say when you go to one of these things so I’m glad I went. As a librarian, I was already buying into the whole video games in libraries meme, but what also struck me was how I filtered everything I heard as a parent, too. Having a 9–year old, male gamer at home informed much of what I heard, and there were many times I thought to myself, “That’s Brent,” during the presentations.

I fully realize now how much the games are content for him and just how much learning he’s actually doing. When James Gee talked about his son schooling him in how to play Civilization, I was nodding my head vigorously. I immediately thought about last fall when Brent wanted to spend some of his birthday money on a computer game. He chose “The Alamo,” which is a simulation game. We stood in the store debating it for 10 or 15 minutes, with me arguing that it was too advanced for him. He wanted it anyway, so we gave in.

After playing it a couple of times, he became frustrated because his Alamo kept getting overrun by the Mexicans on the second day. It gave us a chance to talk about ratios and “no-win” situations, but I didn’t have the time to learn the game so he gave up pretty quickly. Then a couple of months later, I noticed he started playing it again, this time with his friends. For whatever reason, now he was able to advance to the next level.

Then at the beginning of this year, he asked for “Age of Mythology.” I was even more convinced it was too far beyond him, but I figured we’d see a similar pattern so we bought it for him. This time, however, he got it right away. He plays it every day, at the expense of “Runescape” now. Last week, we discovered that he knew about the online component of AOM and that he had started playing with his friends (and strangers) this way. What a wake-up call that was! The kid is only 9–years old, but he’s learning about mythology, strategies, troop movements, managing resources, and time, among other things. Talk about multitasking - he can run a campaign, talk to his friends, and taunt the girls all at the same time. And as Gee was talking about foundational learning that helps you handle more complex situations in the future, I realized that Brent started playing the more rudimentary “Army Men” computer games at age 7, and now he’s moved on to “Age of Mythology” and “Runescape.” He played, learned, and mastered the Yu-Gi-Oh rules a couple of years ago, too. He turns out to be the poster child for that whole session.

Brent really has learned a lot playing these games, even beyond just the reading. We have him do homework sheets on weekdays during the summer, and you should see his face fall when it’s time to do them. That must be the face his teacher sees every day, because I think he’s pretty bored in class. He does well enough in school, he’s smart, but he gets marked off a half point here, a half point there because he answered the question but not in the exact way the curriculum wanted him to answer it. If they actually examined his answers and assessed if he was learning, he’d be a straight-A student. Instead, he fills in the blanks, circles a choice, and underlines words, and he’s bored.

But what if he was engaged by this new type of learning instead? What if evaluative assessments were based on tests where he could demonstrate he acquired the knowledge by applying it? I really want that world for him (and for Kailee, too). So part of my goal now is to try to figure out how I can help that happen. My mind is still running fast, processing everything I heard.

So thanks to the organizers for putting together this conference (it was very well done), and thanks to Alice Calabrese (my executive director) for letting me go! I heard there was one other librarian there (from an academic library in Arizona), but I never found her. Maybe next time (and I hope there will be a GLS 2.0), more of us will be there.

Addendum: Welcome, Slashdotters and others! You might also be interested in my notes from the sessions, which can be found here and here.

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» Gaming in the Classroom from Cox Crow
Gaming does not mesh with the prevailing educational model. That said, I find Jenny's posts on the GLS conference sessions to be remarkable, if not fantastic. In 1987 or so, I, as part of a class project, attempted to teach history to a recalcitran... [Read More]

Tracked on June 29, 2005 10:49 AM