Sunday, March 29, 2009

Girl Gamers, Not Stewardesses

Leave it to the serendipity of the web to point me in the direction of this article on gender and video games. I was reviewing the blog posts thousands of individuals (1,980 individuals, to be exact) contributed on Ada Lovelace Day (March 24), when I came across a reference to "Crossing the (Gender) Divide." Who would have thought that Delta Sky, the magazine you find in the seat pocket of Delta Air Lines flights, would have an article on gender and video games? Here's an excerpt from that piece:

Many of today's video games are shedding their decidedly male "skins" and reaching out to female players with both avatars and themes designed specifically for "girl gamers." And that's just the beginning. Avid gamers of the "gentler persuasion" are heading back to the classroom to earn advanced degrees in computer programming so they can create the games they, and others like them, have dreamed about playing.

The end of the piece includes a "Chick Click" site, which includes links to "chick-friendly" video game-related sites. One of those links leads to a hard-core girl gamer site - Frag Dolls. Learn more about these tech-savvy females here.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

New Educational Video Players

Hulu and YouTube have tossed their hats into the educational video ring. Hulu's contribution is Academic Earth, a site where visitors can access "thousands of video lectures from the world's top scholars." Not to be left behind, YouTube introduces YouTube EDU, which offers "videos and channels from our college and university partners." Who are the college and university partners? A list is available here.

What does this mean for sites, like TeacherTube? Can all three survive in these tough economic times? What features and characteristics will distinguish one from the other? These are just a few of the questions that come to mind, and I'm sure others will surface over time.

What's in a name?

Women librarians have made great strides in recent years. According to Deyrup (2004), more than 50% of library leaders (top administrators; library directors) are women. This is significant in that in 1991, women made up 80% of the library workforce, yet 80% of the library administrators were men (Kauffman, 1993). Moreover, there are scholars (e.g., Zemon & Bahr, 2005) who claim that there are cases where the salaries of female directors exceeds that of the male directors. So, the issues surrounding the "disadvantaged majority" (i.e., women librarians) is over, right? Not so fast. While scholars such as Cassell and Weibel (2007) suggest that there are bigger issues today, there remains the image problem that has been plaguing libraries since the 1940s (O'Brien, 1983).

The image problem has recently reared its ugly head at Rutgers University. At that institution, the School of Communication, Information and Library Studies is trying to remove the term "library" from its name. Some graduates, like Mary Chilton, a professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies at Queens College (CUNY), are not happy about this move and state that they will not support it. In fact, Chilton claims the following:

It sounds as if the Dean really wants to say that librarians are female and poor and mostly wedded to a diminishing public sector, and SCILS wants private money and therefore has to appeal to private money biases, or to academic administrators who share these biases, all the while reaping the headcount of the MLIS students.

Chilton continues to suggest that should the name change be approved, she would like a "divorce" from her program. It appears that the presence of a female majority continues to taint the term "library." Maybe all women librarians who graduated from programs that remove "library" from its name should take similar action. Just a thought.

Despite the advances women have made in libraries, we cannot allow them to lull us into a false sense of security and mask the gender-related problems that still exist.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Cindy Sherman: Photos & Film

I first learned about Cindy Sherman a few years ago when I took a feminist methodologies course. We were using her work to learn how to analyze our data (i.e., photos) using a photovoice approach. (For more information on photovoice, this site has information about the creators of this method - Caroline C. Wang and Mary Ann Burris.)

Until the end of December 2008, a collection of Sherman's latest photos were exhibited at Metro Pictures in New York. While I was not able to view the collection in person, the kind people at New York Art Tours made it possible for me to vicariously experience the photos. The video tour for Sherman's work is available here.

Tomorrow (Friday, March 27), the new documentary, Guest of Cindy Sherman, will open in New York and in selected cities (read: The Film Center, Santa Fe). Co-directed by ex-boyfriend Paul H-O, this film has generated quite a bit of controversy. In fact, Sherman has spoken out against the documentary and does not want to be associated with it. For those who do not live in a community that will show Guest or who are looking for an alternative view of Sherman and her work, Culture Monster recommends the 2005 short, Cindy: The Doll is Mine - directed by Bertrand Bonello and starring Asia Argento. You can watch this film in its entirety here. Time to break out the popcorn!

Curriculum Changes in the UK

According to The Guardian, there will be more emphasis in the UK primary curriculum on emerging technology such as Twitter and blogging and less on the Victorians and WWII. This proposed curriculum is designed to give teachers more flexibility in what they teach, while ensuring that students are well-versed in the latest digital spaces. English, mathematics, communication, health & well-being, and science & technology, as well as art & design are the six core areas outlined in the proposal. While it appears that educators in the UK have jumped on the latest technological bandwagon, there are signs that the government didn't want to completely scrap traditional education. Although, an emphasis on books and the concept of reading for pleasure is downplayed in favor of online resources.

A statement made near the end of this article struck me. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, stated, "Children need to be enthused by learning, so they want to learn and gain the skills which will enable them to learn in later life." At present, I'm reading Dee Garrison's Apostles of Culture: The Public Librarian and American Society, 1876-1920 for my project on women's roles in libraries. The third chapter in this book discusses early library leaders and educational reform during the mid-to-late 1800s. On p. 52, Garrison highlights the influence Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi had on American pedagogy during this time period, and states, "With Pestalozzi, learning came to mean not the gathering of facts alone, but the enjoyment of those facts to solve practical problems." While another influential educator during this time period, Johann Friedrich Herbart, concentrated on ethical instruction, he emphasized the importance of learner interest, as well. Even though Pestalozzi and Herbart were calling for educational reform more than 100 years ago, their message mirrors those being touted by today's educational technology advocates - individuals like Mary Bousted.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

SL and Other Virtual Learning Options

An article came out Monday (3/23) on virtual training and options beyond Second Life (SL). One of the first things the author, Jon Wilcox, mentions is that SL is not the virtual world darling it used to be. Wilcox is not the first to suggest that SL has entered a "gloom stage" (see Greenberg, 2008), but he doesn't dwell on this apparent turn of events. Nor does Wilcox imply that this signals a decreased interest in virtual learning. On the contrary. He instead turns to examine virtual worlds that are being investigated such as OLIVE, IBM's INNOV8 v.2, and TruSim. Mary Matthews, the strategy and business development director at TruSim outlines several requirements for successful virtual worlds. She argues that one of the most important features can also be the most difficult to determine - the right level of fidelity. Stated another way, not every training or learning task may require a highly detailed representation or a depiction of realistic characters.

While the current economic downturn may make some institutions more cautious in their experimentations with virtual worlds, this is not the case for everyone. Wilcox mentions, for example, that 50% of classes on one subject at a Boston university are using virtual worlds. Unfortunately, the name of the institution and the specific subject are not provided. On the surface, this sounds impressive, but it may not be. The subject could one in which two classes are offered; this would mean only one class was using virtual worlds. Also, why wasn't the name of the institution given? Does this Boston university even exist, or was this example used because it gives the illusion that virtual educational initiatives are alive and well in the physical world?

I do believe that virtual worlds have the potential to improve distance education and training. But because institutions are looking for ways to cut their budgets, they are likely to be more cautious in their adoption of emerging technologies. Many educators have been consuming new technologies like a child eating cotton candy at the county fair. After awhile, though, the excessive amounts of unnutritious fluff don't taste so good. At present, it appears that some virtual worlds may not be quite as appealing as they once were. Thus, it is necessary to examine these digital spaces more critically than has been done in the past and determine whether more nutritious options are available.

Video Games and Pauline Kael

Earlier I was pondering the idea of borrowing from the art world to better understand virtual worlds. At Pop Matters, L. B. Jeffreys questions whether video games need a critic like the late Pauline Kael. Kael was a film critic and regular contributor to The New Yorker. In her work, Kael was against any particular set of rules or guidelines for art or criticism. Instead, her belief was that the only requirement was to astonish the viewer/reader. As Jeffreys points out, though, the problem with video game criticism today is that it doesn't serve to generate any enthusiasm or appreciation for the games. Are we being too academic in our interpretation of video games (and virtual worlds)? Should we be following Kael's lead and attempt to undo the intellectual approach of analysis?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gender & Language Quote

What a fitting quote to send me off to teach my gender and computing class!

"It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs." - Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd

Art Inspired Research

Over Spring Break, I was fortunate enough to visit two art galleries - Krannert Art Museum and the Indiana University Art Museum. The focus at Krannert was on two exhibits: Polaroids and Portraits: A Photographic Legacy of Andy Warhol and Audubon at Illinois: Selections from the University Library's Birds of America. Warhol's work has interested me for years, and his use of Polaroids was an attempt to democratize the concept of photography. It was also a way for him to create a visual diary of everyday life, which is very much like blogging, twittering, Facebooking, etc.

In contrast, the Birds of America plates, which were life-sized (the bound volumes of the plates are commonly referred to as the double elephant folio), had a more surreal feel to them. The colors in Audubon's work are so muted, yet there are plates such as the Roseate Spoonbill, 1836, where the colors are so striking. Prior to this particular viewing, I attended an entertaining and informative talk at the Lilly Library about Audubon. The event was by invitation only, and I (and the person who invited me) agreed to attend without knowing what to expect. Surprising to everyone in attendance, Christoph Irmscher was the guest speaker. Even if birds are not your thing, I highly recommend attending any talk given by Irmscher - a truly inspiring speaker.

These events merely whetted my appetite for art, so I went in search of another exhibit. I didn't have to go far - one was right in my own backyard. Because the weather has been more temperate, I've unearthed my camera from its hibernation spot and started taking photos again. As luck would have it, one of the current exhibits at the IU Art Museum highlights the minimalist photography of Hiroshi Sugimoto, who is influenced by the concept of 'Ma'. His images of movie theaters has stuck with me even several days later. Perhaps it's because at least two of the theaters included in the exhibit reminded me of the interior of the Art Theater in downtown Champaign, which is slated to close in December 2009. If the community cannot rally around this single screen theater enough to keep it open, someone should at the very least photograph the interior of this wonderful space. Maybe Sugimoto should add it to his collection?

Prior to my art binge, I read an interesting article by Osberg and Biesta (2008) on the emergent curriculum. In this piece, the authors refer via Ulmer, to the German performance artist, Joseph Beuys (1921-1986). Osberg and Beista suggest that Beuys' presentations did not transmit meaning; instead they inspired the audience to generate their own meaning. In other words, the audience was charged with creating their own art from the materials given to them by Beuys. Thinking outside the realm of art, this description sounds very similar to the rhetoric that surrounds constructivist ideals. According to those who espouse a constructivist approach to education, students construct their own meaning; the instructors merely serve as facilitators or coaches.

I guess one question I have is this: Can viewing research involving virtual worlds through an art world lens can be enlightening? By expanding my reading scope and drawing for what appear to be unrelated disciplines, I'm trying to shake things up a bit and alter my perspective. A misguided adventure? We shall see.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Isn't It Ironic

The latest issue of EDUCAUSE Review hit my in-box today, and this issue addresses the issue of learning spaces. Joan Lippincott wrote a piece that caught my eye, and it explores the involvement of faculty (and students) in the design process of technology areas. Rather than simply remodeling an existing structure or building an eye-catching new facility, Lippincott suggests that the ultimate goal should be to create a technology-rich design that will enable faculty to easily incorporate technology into their curriculum, as well as support them and their students in these endeavors.

Lippincott begins her discussion with a brief description of new computer labs and information commons, just to name a few. Interestingly, the University of Virginia just announced that they plan to begin a three-year plan that will eliminate the the computer labs on their campus. Instead of planning for new tech facilities for students, faculty, and staff, U. of Virginia states that most students come to campus equipped with their own computers. Thus, while their computer labs are heavily used, administrators argue that these facilities are not essential in tough economic times.

Going back to Lippincott's article for a moment: she points to a 2008 CDW Government report that claims that when it comes to selecting a college, students say that technology ranks high on their list of important features to consider. Self-report data is often suspect, but if this finding is correct, then cuts to computer labs may lead to lower student enrollments in the future. I also found this report finding interesting in that other research, such as the ECAR studies (an EDUCAUSE research center), suggest that students - individuals who are typically prolific technology users in their personal lives - only want moderate technology in the classroom. Also, the face-to-face interactions with faculty are important to them. Moreover, students at the University of Colorado at Boulder were frequent laptop users in the classroom, but they stopped after their instructor pointed to the decline in grades for the web surfers in the group. While laptop bans are difficult to enforce, highlighting the impact they have on grades may motivate some students to stop surfing.

To add technology or not, that is the question. And, if technology is added, Lippincott's suggestion that planners should take into account the stakeholders' perspective is a valid one. Proper planning may take more time, but it may be more cost-effective in that it leads to the effective use of the new and remodeled tech spaces.

Monday Morning with Foucault

It's amazing the thoughts that come pouring into the brain during an early a.m. run. Today is not a particularly lovely spring day - cloudy, around 50 degrees with gusty winds from the SE, and rain is on the way - but the run was one of the best I've had in recent weeks and left me feeling inspired. Must be the adrenalin high.

So, how does Foucault fit into this? Over the past few months, I've been preparing my dissertation prospectus, human subjects materials, and dissertation proposal. While the chair of my committee told me I didn't need to do any additional reading, I felt that my current perspective felt tired. Perhaps that was merely a reflection of the physical tiredness I've been feeling from training for a half-marathon, but I was in the market for inspiration.

Luckily, Dr. Elisabeth Davenport visited IU at the end of January during an unprecedented snowstorm. Following her discussion on dialogic methods in information science, I was able to talk to her about her interest in social media. In addition, she pointed me in the direction of some of her colleagues who are currently involved in social media research, including virtual worlds.

One scholar in particular who has caught my attention is Dr. Siân Bayne. In the several articles and book chapters I've read thus far, Bayne takes a more critical approach that most elearning scholars. Because reading much of the educational literature is like consuming an endless amount of cotton candy at the county fair, Bayne's references to philosophers such as Foucault and the points she makes about the limitations of digital spaces was like adding a serving of fruits and vegetables to an otherwise unhealthy diet.

Through Bayne's work, as well as a piece on virtual topographies by Mark Nunes, I stumbled upon Foucault's work on "other spaces." In that article, which originally served as the basis of a lecture presented in 1967, Foucault discusses utopias, or "unreal spaces," environments that have no place. In contrast, he presents the concept of heterotopias, which are based on real places, but at the same time are unreal, as well. In his discussion, Foucault outlines five principles of heterotopias: 1) all societies likely have a heterotopia; 2) existing heterotopias that whose function can by altered by a society; 3) the juxtaposition of heterotopias, some of which may be dissimilar, in the same space; 4) heterotopias linked to time (i.e., heterochronies) and breaks with traditional time; and 5) entrance into and exit out of the heterotopia.

As I was trying to wrap my head around these principles of heterotopias, the characteristics of Second Life (SL) came to mind. First, several scholars claim that today's students are a different type of learner - they want an educational experience that is unlike traditional teaching and learning interactions. Next, education is undergoing changes such as moving from a physical classroom to an online space. Third, in SL entities that individuals may not find located in the same part of town may be neighbors in this virtual world. For example, an island were educational activities occur may be located next to a risque nightclub. The fourth principle - time - also applies to the SL environment. In-world, following SL time (SLT) is the norm. Individuals unfamiliar with SL may not realize it at first, but SLT is simply Pacific Time. And finally, SL is free, which means that it is open to everyone. Yet, at the same time, the steep tech requirements exclude individuals who cannot afford high-end computers.

I'm still trying to determine how to incorporate the concept of heterotopias into my own work and how they related to SL. At present, it has served as rich food for thought.