Gaming the Library

I’m getting ready to head out to the ALA conference in Vegas tomorrow (American Library Association, for those who don’t know). I feel a bit like this at the moment –

It’s been an exciting day so far, with the World Cup Game and getting set for my trip, so I thought I’d post something fun before heading off on an adventure. The something fun I thought I’d ponder? Games.

I’m a big fan of Wil Wheaton and his webseries, TableTop, where he and some of his friends get together to play a different board game each episode – Settlers of Catan, Sabotage, Ticket to Ride, Pandemic. I love board games and watching Wheaton and friends celebrate games is a lot of fun.

As with most things I like, I thought “how can I incorporate this into teaching/curriculum design and therefore justify watching TableTop episodes at work?”

Just kidding (only partly). I do think that board games and game design can teach a lot of valuable lessons to kids of all ages (this is turning into an advertisement for an amusement park, or a Chuck E Cheese).

But really, board games are about strategy, playing nicely with others, working together (sometimes), thinking logically, and having fun with challenges. And the things I teach, whether it’s information literacy, tech skills, research strategies, etc. can all involve a lot of the skills needed to play board games and a lot of the experiences you can have playing board games.

I’ve done activities before, in tech classes at museums, where I’ve had kids design their own games, which teaches them a lot about communication skills, logic, planning, and creative problem solving. I’ve been wondering whether or not I could apply gaming to my current library work though. Board game night in the library would be a really fun outreach activity, but could gaming and game design be used in a classroom?

I play small ice-breaker games in a lot of my classes, whether it’s a bingo game to keep students engaged during an orientation session or a quick round of “is it a popular or scholarly source?” or “is it cited correctly?” to have some fun during a research skills class.  I would like to work on ideas to incorporate actual game design into my library classes, though. Maybe an activity where students map out a research strategy as you would a game? I plan to work more on this, so stay tuned for more ideas.

For now, here are some links about gaming, learning, and libraries.


Hacking Away: Activity and Expectations at Museums and Libraries

A few weeks ago I participated at a Civic Hack day event at the Adler Planetarium here in Chicago (where I volunteer with teen groups). Civic Hack Day is a nation-wide event that lets groups come together and spend the day using technology to work on solutions to social problems. The event I was at had teams working on everything from ways to reach out to LGBT youth in Chicago to teen groups working on improving school culture.

Civic Hacking and hackathons in general definitely seem to be gaining steam – they’re happening at museums, at universities, at tech companies. And I really like the spirit of them – you work collaboratively, you share big ideas, you tackle problems, you use technology.

The traditional museum-going experience

That hacking spirit fits really well with museums and libraries, in their current form. Though, traditionally, museums weren’t really seen as active places. You went to an august cultural institution like a museum to look at things hanging on the wall, to look at things under glass cases. Museums have definitely taken the whole participatory, active experience thing and ran with it; you can still look but you can also play and make and, well, do.

When I worked at a museum, and people inquired about what I did for a living, the reaction I got from those asking was generally some sort of exclamation of “cool” or “fun.” When I tell people I work at a library, I often get something more along the lines of “do you like to read?”  Libraries are definitely changing and evolving, but stereotypes are stubborn and there can be a disconnect between what I actually do at my job (mostly teaching!) and what a lot of people think when they hear a word like librarian or library (it’s a bit of a marketing fail and Leslie Knope’s propaganda isn’t helping matters, of course).

But while libraries are embracing newer opportunities like maker spaces and hackathons and digital media labs and information commons and other cool, active learning opportunities, the fact is that libraries have always been active places, in a way. Libraries have always been places of intellectual creation, problem-solving, research (an active process of making something new), and learning – but these things are often cast as passive pursuits in contrast to the revolution of making and doing and hacking.  (Check out this great blog post by Lane Wilkinson over at Sense and Reference for more on this concept – Lane discusses knowledge creation and how libraries have always been places of learning.)

Museums, it seems to me, have managed to make clear their shift in purpose, from more passive absorption of information to more active experiences; libraries seem to have an issue with descriptive marketing sometimes and don’t always make clear, to a broader audience, what they do now and what they’ve been doing for a while in terms of active learning.

There are new and exciting developments in making and hacking and working with technology, and I think that hackathons, makerspaces, and the like can provide great and valuable experiences for visitors at museums and libraries.  But libraries in particular could also use these active, tech-oriented events as a platform to demonstrate how they’ve been doing a lot of active things for a long time by reframing the conversation. 

A hackathon involves using technology but it also involves collaboration, research, discovery, and sharing – things that aren’t specific to tech-oriented events, things that involve active learning, and things that have been happening at places like libraries for a while, albeit it in different forms. After all, if a civic hack event encourages people to look at social problems with a new angle, then that spirit can apply to the institution hosting such an event.

Credit Where Credit is Due: Teaching About Plagiarism and Online Culture

I regularly teach an Avoiding Plagiarism class at the library where I work – something a lot of academic librarians do (it’s one of those learning-about-research gaps we leapt to fill en masse, it seems). I do the usual spiel about how plagiarism is bad (trying to not sound like Mr. Mackey from South Park when doing so), why we cite sources, how you can cite sources properly, tips of paraphrasing, etc. But most of the content I cover is related to the omnipresent research paper. There can be serious consequences for plagiarizing in college and it’s a content area that many of my students aren’t really aware of when they arrive on campus.

I really like teaching my plagiarism classes – we play games like “cite it or not”, do group paraphrasing activities, and talk about real world examples (and I rather shamefully become quite gleeful when another notable person becomes embroiled in a plagiarism scandal – Rand Paul was a goldmine, let me tell you). It’s pretty fun.

But I always feel like there’s an elephant in the room, though I’m often the only person aware of it – what about plagiarism in online environments? And as much as I know my students are at an academic institution where they have to write old school research papers, I also feel quite strongly about teaching them about the wide world of the internet – copyright debates, online etiquette, proper use of hyperlinks, how to attribute sources on a blog, why people get mad on Tumblr when they aren’t credited for a GIF set. Some days I feel like internet culture is the most valuable thing I can teach them about (which might be more of a “me” issue than one of the profession, but I do often ask – what are educators, particularly librarians, teaching kids about technology and how can we do more?).

At any rate, places like Mozilla’s Web Literacy Map touch some upon issues of sharing, privacy, collaborating, etc. And the blog-sphere erupts periodically often with discussions about good attribution practices (see the 2012 curator’s code and the ensuing debate) and what constitutes plagiarism online. Places like Tech Dirt keep up a steady stream of, often infuriating, news about problems with copyright and patents and how problematic laws affect ordinary individuals online. Part of being an information literate individual means, in ACRL’s opinion (though those ACRL standards are currently being revised) as well as mine, being able to understand the ethics of information and how it’s shared and that entails, in my opinion, understanding the debates surrounding how we share and consume information online as well.

And this means, to me, that I can, and maybe even should, to do more to inform my students about information ethics in environments like Twitter rather than just the confines of the academic research paper. Information literacy doesn’t begin and end with the research paper, and neither should my instruction.

For next semester, I hope to revamp my plagiarism classes to include more about internet culture. Is anyone doing this type of education in their classroom? Share below!

Backseat Driving

I first heard the phrase “let someone drive” in relation to using a computer, and not actually driving a car, during an adventurous period in my life when I worked briefly at a tech company doing… techy things. (Needless to say I soon headed off to library school and was a happy camper). I found the phrase somewhat odd at the time, but I find it somewhat profound now, oddly enough. Letting someone drive is about control – being confident and comfortable enough to let someone else take over.

I’ve started hearing the phrase more and more in relation to teaching – let students drive! We can learn so much from them! As trendy as it is, and as unpopular as it might be to confess the opposite, I think that many educators, myself included, really struggle with handing the keys over to our students. But why is this?

First off, it can be terrifying to fly without a net – leaving a neatly planned lesson/activity/lecture behind and veering off script into discussion-land (which I’m generally fine with) or, even worse, student-led-demo-ville (a particularly harrowing experience in a library research skills session where you are working with things like wacky databases) can lead to the unexpected, the chaotic, and the disastrous. Suddenly nothing is going as you envisioned! You’ve lost control! The inmates have taken over the asylum and they’re doing everything wrong!

This leads me to my second point/concern – worrying about a loss of control is really a worry about two things – your end destination and the route you take to get there. Letting someone else drive can mean sacrificing your vision for how you’re going to reach a certain goal, and, in an education environment where you’re worried about learning goals and outcomes and the need to prove that you’ve actually reached your destination, relinquishing control can be alarming.

And finally, the reluctance to hand the keys over can also be a reflection on how we see ourselves and how we see our students. A lot of teachers (definitely including myself here) have a bit of a showboat quality. When we can’t do our lesson it can be disappointing – we were all set to go on! We were going to dazzle! And, even worse than the audience being deprived of our brilliance is this – the understudy might stink.

Thinking about letting students drive got me thinking about driver’s ed and how it’s portrayed (stay with me here). It’s a pretty common trope to see a teen in a TV or a film have a driver’s ed disaster – like Cher in Clueless. Those adults were right to not let those kids drive! The kids are a menace! Maybe we too sometimes think that our students can’t handle “driving.”

That cyclist really did, like, come out of nowhere. But she, like, offered to leave a note, so it’s cool.

Having the confidence to let go, having the faith in our ability to guide our students, and believing in our students’ ability to rise to the occasion doesn’t always come easy. It’s something I’m really working on in my own teaching – I feel fortunate to have a good foundation in this, having come from a museum education background which emphasized hands-on and discovery learning, but it’s still sometimes scary/exhilarating/hard to turn things over to my students. Check out below for some ways I’m trying to let my students drive, beyond my usual open class discussion!, and chime in the comment section with your own ideas.

Letting Students Drive: Some Ideas

  1.  Student run search session: I tell students what I need help finding (typically something like information on a current event or even a new pair of jeans or a puppy). They take the wheel and work together in groups to find what I need. We talk about what they did and why they did it. Then we regroup and go again, this time with a more academic topic. Standing back and letting them make mistakes or do things inefficiently can be really difficult, but the experience can open up great conversations and give students something concrete to refer back to once we start going through (together this time) optimal ways to conduct research. It’s basically taking some inquiry based learning principles and engineering ideas about iteration, where it’s okay to make mistakes, and running with them in a non-science environment.
  2. Student developed rubrics: This idea of student self-assessment (which I plan to blog about more later) is discussed by, among others, the great Buffy Hamilton. A type of self-assessment could be where students actually write their own rubrics to assess their research skills. Doing something like this can help students be invested in what they’re working on and letting them compare their own criteria with one of my rubrics can open up great conversations.
  3. Polling sessions: Using something like Poll Everywhere or even Google Forms, students tell me what they want to hear about. I deliver. As much as I might think, but they need to know about such and such!, I also think, in certain instructional scenarios, like orientations or an in-class research workshop, it can be useful to let students play a role in determining the content I cover. Plus, it’s really nice not having to prep a lesson plan in advance. Letting students drive = timesaver.