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.

Results From The Survey On Surveys

In a post last week about survey proliferation, I raised some questions about the impact of the surveys conducted by way of e-mail solicitations to library discussion lists. First, I want to thank those of you who provided comments, especially those that added some insight to my contention that while seeking survey respondents from discussion lists is a convenient method for quickly gathering data (and we never did get into a discussion of how response rates are calculated), this method is susceptible to response bias. Second, many thanks to the 31 individuals (out of some 1,500+ ACRLog readers) who took the time to complete my highly informal survey. The results, which may not be generalizable to the entire library profession (my official “escape clause”), show that 60% of you have received a whopping 6 or more surveys by way of a discussion list so far this calendar year – and a total of 71% have received 5 or more. I think we can officially declare that our profession is over surveyed. The majority of you, 53%, complete about half of the ones received. Only 10% complete them all while 10% complete none.

The top two reasons, by far, given for choosing to complete a survey are (1) there’s time to complete it and (2) being influenced by the survey topic. This seems to support the suggestion that bias will occur because those who respond do so because they have an interest in the topic while those who do not just don’t care about the survey. Now, you could make a case that even in totally randomized distribution method, those who don’t care about the subject could just as easily choose not to respond. That’s why I find the third highest response “I think it’s important to help a colleague doing research” of great importance. If I get a survey by discussion list I think, “Well, this is going to thousands of people, I’m sure the person sending it will still get a bunch of responses if I delete this message.” I have no personal attachment to the survey. I think it’s quite different when I make the effort to develop a unique survey population, and then mail those individuals a message indicating they were randomly chosen to participate, and that my chances of getting a statistically significant response rate will depend on their willingness to respond. I think that personal touch can make a difference in motivating the less interested person to respond.

Another indication from the responses is that, as a profession, we appear to be uncertain about our knowledge of survey methodology. Many of the respondents, 75%, when asked if soliciting survey responses from discussion lists was a valid methodology, responded “maybe”. Or it may be that some of us feel it could be a valid method in some research situations but not others. The results also support that fewer of us send survey questionnaires directly to individuals, and instead now show a clear preference for using the discussion list. A majority of 65% indicated they had been directly solicted for a survey 2 or fewer times in calendar year 2005, and 30% received zero direct invitations to participate in a survey. The final question, “Do you think requests to complete surveys sent to distribution lists have become excessive?”, was a mixed bag. While 39% responded “definitely yes” or “yes”, 45% responded “neutral”. So there’s no consensus there, but only 15% responded “no” or “definitely no.”

It seems there is hardly a case for calling for an end to the distribution of surveys by e-mail discussion list, and even if one were to do so this is one practice that’s hardly likely to reverse itself anytime soon. As I noted in the original post, and as did some commenters, the fact that librarians are conducting research in an effort to improve our knowledge of professional matters is a good sign. As long as the journal editors find this survey methodology (or at least the noting of its use) acceptable the practice will continue. Still, it might be good to explore this entire issue in more depth, and some commenters addressed this specific need. So for those of you looking for a meaty research topic perhaps this is it. What about doing two surveys on the same topic, one by direction solicitation using a completely random method and a second one that gathers data completely from responses by way of discussion lists, and then comparing the results. Who knows, it could lead to some interesting conclusions.

Professional Education, Recruitment, and the Online Degree

Library Link of the Day brought me this interesting essay on online degree programs. In it, Karen Glover of Georgia Tech asks why a recent survey of HR professionals showed that they view online degrees as less “credible” than degrees earned through traditional, face-to-face programs. She wonders about this bias, and so would I (although Glover doesn’t say that the survey she cites was of HR professionals in libraries, which seems a significant point to omit). I’ve taught in 2 online MLS programs (Illinois and San Jose State) and have found the majority of my students to be as actively engaged in preparing for a career in libraries as anyone that I knew during my own F2F MLS program at Indiana. Although my perspective on their work is typically limited to what they do for my class, I certainly think that they have the opportunity to receive as good a pre-service professional education as I did (although, as anyone who has read my work knows, I’ve taken issue with a number of aspects of professional education for librarians, in general, and those issues are not any less evident in online degree programs).

Professional education and recruitment into the profession have been identified by ACRL as one of the top issues facing academic librarianship, and there is no question that the availability of online degree programs has opened up the field to people who cannot relocate to one of the cities housing a F2F program, and has opened up opportunities (albeit limited ones) for practicing librarians also not located near one of these programs to take part in LIS education. I know that I would not be at all “concerned” if a candidate for a position at Kansas had completed the ALA-accredited degree through an online program (and I might well be thinking about how that experience could translate into effective delivery of services to faculty and students making use of Blackboard here). Others? Is Glover’s citation of the general study not applicable to the academic library environment, or is this something that needs further research within our own community? Is there any difference between completing one’s pre-service professional education in an online environment vs. completing continuing education (much of which is sponsored by LIS programs and by ACRL) in that same environment?

ACRL-Ohio Conference Report

I attended the annual meeting of the Academic Library Association of Ohio on Friday, which included a keynote on censorship in America by Mad Magazine writer Joe Raiola, as well as more traditional academic library fare such as programs on accreditation, information commons design and assessment, emerging models for human resources management, and integration of library resources into online learning environments and campus portals.

Raiola’s keynote is likely to have people talking in Ohio for some time, as it was (true to its content) wholly uncensored and veered into areas both obscene and profane. Raiola made some excellent points about censorship, including that there is no form of censorship as effective as self-censorship, and his discussion of the place of Mad Magazine founder Bill Gaines in the early debates over comic books during the 1950s was interesting, but no few audience members were offended by his use of language defined by the FCC as obscene and his targeting the political and religious right as the objects of most of his humor. Personally, I enjoyed it, but I anticipate a local renewal over the issue of the appropriate place of political commentary at library conferences.

I also attended an excellent introduction to blogging in academic libraries by Ohiolink’s Candi Clevenger, author of the LibTalk blog, who described blogs as an opportunity to “tell your library’s story with a human touch.” I didn’t agree with all of her assertions about best practice for library blogging, but it was a good talk that raised some important issues and generated good discussion. You can find find her handouts here.

There were lots of other good presentations and I’ll invite our Ohio readers to include comments about their favorites.

CLIRing Things Up

The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) has a new report out on Acquiring Copyright Permissions to Digitize and Provide Open Access to Books. Among the findings: orphan works are a problem. Locating and dealing with publishers is daunting. If a book includes materials for which the publisher had to acquire rights (say, to quote a poem) they don’t feel they have the right to include the book in an open access project. And now that “out of print” doesn’t mean what it used to mean, publishers can hang onto rights for as long as they can print on demand – so even if the copyright holder is willing, the publisher may not be. Ever.

This reminds me that during the e-book boom around 2000 I asked a representative from NetLibrary what the biggest challenge was. He said it was winning over publishers – it took far more time and effort than anything else. That boom, of course, went bust largely because everyone in the industry was trying to figure out how to make money by cutting someone else out of the picture. In an article I wrote about it I quoted a New York Times book critic who asked a key question: “What’s in it for the reader?”

I think the industry needs to ask that question again if they want to be in business.