Connecting With Generation Xbox

You’ve no doubt been following some of the discussion about gaming, and how higher education responds to this massively influential societal trend. Even before the Chronicle partially covered the issue with their story about the Millennial Generation – many who are gamers – publications such as Library Journal devoted articles to gaming and OCLC sponsored a lengthy program about it at last year’s ALA midwinter conference, and offered some articles in one of its newsletters. That program offered the wisdom of Jon Beck and other gurus of the gaming phenomenon’s impact on society and culture.

So having digested all of what’s being said about gaming, what position are most academic librarians taking? I had no doubt that there was a gaming culture among the students at my own institution. The big question for both our profession and our faculty is do we change our methods to accommodate the changing nature of our students. Should faculty seek to integrate gaming techniques into the teaching and learning process? Should academic libraries offer video game titles for loan, or sponsor video game competitions in the library? What are we willing to do to reach Generation Xbox and draw them into the library? What if you and your library staff know zilch about video games, or perhaps you see them as abhorrent wastes of times, not to mention finding the shoot ‘em up, violent aspects of some video games to be morally repugnant. How do you respond to the video game phenomenon?

No matter how we may feel about it personally, I don’t think we can ignore it professionally. Last week, along with the Dean of my institution’s Design and Media College, we offered a program on “Teaching Generation Xbox”. Our speaker, Christopher D. Clark, developed sixteen video games, and currently develops simulations for the government. He spoke about the history of video games and current industry trends. He then explained how games are developed, and the factors that go into making a game irresistible to players. Clark stated that the best games get players emotionally involved, and he believed that educational simulations can do the same. Clark’s most memorable statement: video games and learning simulations have 30 seconds to hook the player or the player is gone for good. Once hooked however, gamers will spend hundreds of hours to master the game.

I’ve been thinking about that with respect to what happens in most campus classrooms and my own instruction. I think most of us would fail the 30 seconds test. Then again, we can’t offer car chases, create war battles, put a laser sword in someone’s hand, put them in the cockpit of a fighter jet, or offer any of the many other escapes from reality offered by video games. All we can offer is a chance to learn something new to help a student successfully complete an assignment or achieve lifelong learning. It seems our challenge, in reaching Generation Xbox, is to establish methods to get students emotionally connected to our content and to do it quickly. It’s much easier to simply say “they’re here and they have to learn it my way,” but perhaps that mentality no longer gets the job done. I’d like to know what you think. I hate to do this to you again now knowing most of you feel over surveyed, but please take a few minutes to complete this six-question survey instrument, and I’ll share the results in a future post.

Report from ACRL-NJ: Quarantine the Plagiarism Plague

I recently attended an all day ACRL-NJ conference on plagiarism. NJ librarians have really taken the lead on this issue, spurred on by Rutgers University librarian Vibiana Bowman’s book of essays, the Plagiarism Plague. Previously I hadn’t thought too much about plagiarism, conceding the issue to disciplinary faculty and wondering what the librarian’s role could be. Librarians at least need to begin to inform themselves on the various issues surrounding plagiarism, such as defining what plagiarism is, gauging if it is on the rise and if so what are the causes, and then figuring out what we can do about it. Plagiarism seems to be on the rise throughout our culture, not merely among college students. Librarians can provide information about citation, develop tutorials, and be part of an overall culture that discourages academic dishonesty. In giving an overview of the legal issues of plagiarism detection services, Luis Rodriguez (Montclair State) made a point that stuck with me: he connected plagiarism to student learning. This seems to me a fruitful possible way to tie together plagiarism with information literacy.

There Is A Difference Between Information And Learning

I came across this item in the Chronicle’s Wired Blog. Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, said he is worried about what he called an emerging “Home Depot approach to education,” in which there is “no distinction made between information and learning“. Gregorian said this yesterday as part of his remarks as the keynote presenter at the Higher Education Leadership Forum, a two-day event sponsored by The Chronicle and Gartner, a technology-consulting firm. This remark really resonated with me because it hits right on the head a nail that is being driven into the long tradition of user education within academic librarianship. I have seen more than one instance, in print and at conferences, of some of our colleagues suggesting that we are wasting our time with information literacy. They claim that in a Google universe our students no longer have the patience or need to learn how to conduct research, and that we do a disservice to them when we attempt to raise the quality of their research through user education. Doing so, we are told, simply alienates them and drives them farther away from libraries. Instead, we are told, we should just give them the information they need so that they can get on with their writing. I think that philosophy of academic librarianship is exactly what Gregorian would describe as the “Home Depot” approach to education. Let’s not forget why we entered this profession. We need to continue to make the distinction between learning and just supplying information.

More on Purdue University and the “Learning Library”

Earlier, we noted the announcement of the creation of an Endowed Chair in Information Literacy at Purdue University. Today, the Career section in the Chronicle notes the opening of a new administrative position in the Purdue University Libraries with the search for an Associate Dean for Learning. Here (in good “Google” fashion) is a snippet from the posting:

“The Purdue University Libraries have embarked upon a dynamic new role within the University, emphasizing a closer integration of the Libraries into the academic mission of Purdue. An administrative re-structuring of the Libraries supports this new direction through the creation of this position, Associate Dean for Learning . . . . Greater emphasis is being placed on advancing the Libraries’ reference and information literacy instruction program, using multiple approaches (in-person and virtual, one-on-one and classroom settings) to integrate active learning throughout the University curriculum along with expanding and deepening the research/discovery efforts of the Libraries’ faculty.

As someone with an interest in instruction who has served as an AD for Public Services, I have watched the recent appearance of learning-centered administrative positions with great interest (see also the ongoing search for an Associate University Librarian for Educational Initiatives at Berkeley). To me, the creation of such positions (if they truly are focused on articulating and enhancing the role of the academic library as an instructional center on campus) suggests a level of recognition for the teaching role that is new and (for people like me) very exciting. What do people think when they see these positions being created: new focus for the profession, or old wine in new bottles?

And, while a 2-time degree-holder from Indiana University like me is hard-pressed to say it, kudos to Purdue for pushing the envelope and getting us to ask real questions about what it means to integrate a commitment to teaching and learning (in the libraries and across campus) into the core mission of the academic library, as represented by the commitment of human resources and representation at the highest administrative levels.

Evolving Discourse Communities

An article that has been discussed recently on the ILI-L discussion list (sponsored by the Instruction Section of ACRL) is well worth reading. “Librarians as Disciplinary Discourse Mediators: Using Genre Theory to Move Toward Critical Information Literacy” by Michelle Holschuh Simmons (published in portal: Libraries and the Academy, 5.3: 297-311) shifts the focus in information literacy efforts from finding and using information to the interpretive work of understanding both the context of the texts students use and the disciplinary conventions that shape it. Simmons argues that librarians are uniquely situated as mediators among disciplinary discourses and that by helping students understand the rhetorical underpinnings of texts we will help them “see that information is constructed and contested not monolithic and apolitical.” It’s well worth a look, since we frequently stumble when it comes to the aspects of information literacy that involve evaluation and understanding the ethical, economic, and social issues surrounding information called for in the IL Standards. This article is not available free online but can be found in some libraries through Project Muse.

I admit I thought of this article when reading a story in today’s Inside Higher Education. In “Too Much Information?” Scott Jaschik raises the issue of faculty members blogging before they have tenure. In part, this is really a genre question: will scholars take blogging seriously as a form of expression? how do blogs blend otherwise distinct genres – opinion, scholarship, personal narrative? is blogging is invading the space previously owned by journalists and public intellectuals, where speech is limited to those who hold the proper credentials? The more our genres morph and reinvent themselves, and as new kinds of discourse communities arise, the more agile we all need to focus information literacy on the critical work involved.