MBMH Seminar

Summary of Blending Education and Entertainment Seminar by achapin63
October 27, 2009, 2:11 pm
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Thanks to all who participated in this first seminar of this series.  I’d like to try to summarize the topic and presentations here.


physics-superheroesThis is a big topic, both timely and timeless, that tries to get at the heart of how we engage and enrich our minds.  The seminar started with an overview of efforts to combine education and entertainment, from Sesame St to The Wire, interactive science museums to The Physics of Superheroes, from Homer’s Odessey to Joyce’s Ulysses to Fox’s 24.  Arguments for blending education and entertainment were culled from Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad is Good for You and from Douglas Rushkoff’s notion of the “renaissance prospects” introduced by the internet.

New Tools

Marshal McLuhan writes in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, that “We shape our tools, thereafter, our tools shape us” (Mike Roy notes that McLuhan likely based this on a statement Winston Churchill made in speech to the House of Commons, “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us”).  The new tools of particular interest here are the internet and applications that are designed for user contributions such as iTunes and YouTube.  These tools have shaped us, encouraging us to be more collaborative, expressive, creative and connected.  By making is easy to participate, tools like iTunes, YouTube, Wikipedia, Flickr and so on have begun to blend entertainment and education.  As academic information professionals, we can help, particularly in the area of metadata, ensuring academic content is as discoverable as the machinima videos.

Why Digital Storytelling

Digital storytelling is a great example of how new tools shape us, both as “content” consumers and producers.  Digital writing need not only include text, but can integrate images, audio and video.  New media literacies are needed to understand how to use images and video not only to entertain and also educate.  Examples include mash-up videos of social rituals with theoretical explanations, data-driven simulations to describe economic indicators, video essays and immersive environments.  New pedagogical theories such as constructivism emphasize learning as an active social process and teaching as facilitating this process.  Digital storytelling requires new ways to composing and evaluating stories (see: The 7 Elements of Storytelling).  Instructional practices need to include training in tools and software applications, production equipment and file management and move beyond checklists of accuracy, currency and authority to teaching new rhetorical conventions such as sound tracks and camera angles.

creepyAs librarians and technologists, how can we/should we/do we want to participate in the education/entertainment trend?

“Technology is anything that was invented after you were born,” notes Alan Kay, a computer scientist (see: Kevin Kelly’s blog post, “Everything That Doesn’t Work Yet“).  As adult librarians and technologists, many of the technologies that have shaped students have altered us much less (see: Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants), so that we are less fluent with the technology, while at the same time more objective, or at least able to bring a different perspective, a perspective informed by older technologies.  This generationally-induced digital divide has opportunites and dangers.  There is the opportunity to meet students where they are by using the same platforms they use for entertainment to educate them including Facebook, YouTube and blogs.  The danger is that of the “creepy treehouse” effect on students who see these attempts by adults to join in on the fun as weird and perverse.  There are ways to avoid these dangers. Set up online presences for institutions (instead of for older people with funny accents).  Make participation in these “educational” virtual places optional.  Educate students and faculty on how to create separate personal and professional profiles on social networking sites and how to use advanced settings to control who sees what.

Evaluating New Media

How do we evaluate these new tools and media, particularly as media such as gaming shift from being purely entertainment to offering real educational value.  Unlike books, which traditionally have been reviewed by faculty, many new forms of media are evaluated by students themselves or by observing how students use a new tool or media.  Evaluation of content is still very important of course, but so is determining how engaging a tool/media is, how easy it is to use, its design and aesthetics, how much it encourages creativity and critical thinking.  Unfortunately, games and new media products too often use popularity as a primary means of evaluation and borrow from the movies rating systems that focus on content suitable to different age groups (AO for adult only, M for mature, T for teen and so on).  The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has 32 difference descriptors for games that help consumers understand what distinguishes one game from another.  However much less work has been done on game rating systems that focus on learning outomes.