I have definitely hit that “what am I forgetting before ALA” mode where it is not a matter of if I forget anything, but rather how important the thing I forget will turn out to be. I am deep in the throes of preparing to present this pre-conference workshop with these awesome people while at the same time I try to make sure all loose ends are tied up here before I go.
So! I blog! Because I really want to just say a few words about one of the presentations I saw at LOEX of the West. Late, I know, but it’s sparked a really fascinating email conversation between several of my colleagues here at OSU and I want to write a few things about it before I forget them.
So the presentation was this one – A Portal to Student Learning, in which Nicholas Schiller of WSU-Vancouver argued that perhaps video games and gaming are not interesting to instruction librarians because we can make games that are more fun and engaging than traditional instruction sessions. Instead, they should be interesting to us because the people who design games put their considerable skills, talent, time and resources to work to, essentially, teach a group of players how a system works, how to navigate that system and how to get what they need to solve problems and achieve goals within that system.
Apologies to Nicholas for that very brief and rough paraphrase but even brief and rough — it sounds a lot like what research is?
One of the overarching points here, and one that came up as well when Rachel and I talked about Alternate Reality Games at the last Online NW, is that good games and good game environments are really, really hard to do. There are people who spend all of their professional time, every day, creating these games and environments and sometimes even they fail. Librarians have other jobs being librarians and do we really have time to create the types of games that will be engaging, that will contain within them whatever it is that makes success within the game environment an end in itself to players?
One of my co-workers pointed out that it is hard to design a game to teach people how to research effectively because everyone’s research process is different, everyone’s goals are different, and people’s goals shift and change even as they engage in their own research process. And that’s certainly true -if we expect their motivation to play and do well at a game to be external to the game – I want to do well at a game because of what it will get me outside the game — then I think that’s probably not the way to get engaged in a game. But a game about information literacy skills that has within it enough motivation that people want to succeed at it for the game’s sake alone – I might be a little too cynical to be able to picture that.
But what I liked so much about Nicholas’ presentation was that he showed a way to think about this that doesn’t require us to design games that meet our users’ idiosyncratic and deeply individual needs. It doesn’t require us to have the technical skills to develop games that will be engaging and effective. It requires us to understand that when people are playing games they are learning, about systems and environments. In effect, the game gives them what they need to teach themselves the rules of the game, including where those rules can be bent or broken.
And I think that’s a really exciting way to think about our interfaces, our tools and our systems. Because they have rules too. The ways that game designers use feedback, scaffolding, and other techniques to help the user teach themselves by doing — that seems to have direct applicability to how we can think about our systems and the tools that give our users access to those systems. This might be a deeper and better way of thinking about visual search than I’ve been doing here for a while now. I suspect that it is.
Because where I’m not cynical at all, I’m probably downright Pollyanna-ish, is in the idea that research brings with it its own rewards. One reason I’m so resistant to the idea that we need to staple another motivation (winning a game) on top of learning research skills is that research itself is fun, adventurous, creative, surprising — and even competitive. Haven’t we all felt like we won, somehow, when we made that breakthrough, found that thing that showed us where our project was going to go so that all of a sudden we could see it all the way through to the end?
I’m not sure I can describe it better than Caleb did here – talking about games and research and the fun. I think he’s right – that libraries are very well suited to that kind of learning. But our systems don’t always keep up. So thanks Nick, for suggesting some ways that maybe they can.