The WILU 2010 conference began today in Hamilton at McMaster University and it looks like it will be a great event. The opening keynote address was given by Dr James Paul Gee, an American academic who has recently published some very interesting work on the relationship between education and video games. Increasing academic interest in gaming is a fascinating trend that I want to understand better. Gee made the argument that players of highly interactive and flexible games (e.g. World of Warcraft and The Sims) master complex rules, language and narratives to successfully play games. They also construct theories about the game’s operation, build software and teach themselves new skills in cooperation with other gamers. There was a lot to digest in this address and there is a challenge to discern how to apply these ideas to education and libraries. One appealing idea is to find ways to increase the speed, quality and frequency of feedback in education. Make a mistake in a game and your character perishes; make a mistake in class and it might be weeks before you fail a test and realize you have to go back and relearn it.
As with other conferences I have attended, deciding which sessions to attend is always a challenge. In the afternoon, I attended two sessions: “Student-focused learning curriculm planning: starting from the ground up” and “Good, better, best! – in peer learning” both given by librarians from Edmonton, Alberta. The student focused learning session, based on research conducted by Professors Heidi Julien and Lisa Given explored how K-12 education prepares students in research and information literacy skills in Alberta. The preliminary results from this multi year study – which tracks students from the senior year of high school to about half way through undergraduate study – are not encouraging. The median score of high school students on the James Madison University Information Literacy Test was 51% or less than proficient. The researchers identified several possible explanations for this weak student performance including the fact that information literacy skills are not formally tested in the province’s education exams. It looks like there is a significant if not institutionalized disconnect between secondary and post-secondary educational priorities.
The last session of the day concerned an interesting internal training program in place at Grant MacEwan University. As Karen Hering described it, the non-evaluative peer learning program involved librarians observing their peers teach and learning new approaches that they could apply on their own. Designed in cooperation with the Faculty Development Office and library leadership, the program has been a success in encouraging better information literacy teaching and bringing together the institution’s librarians who are spread out over several campuses. One of the critical rules that made the program successful was the participation rule: every participant must observe and be observed. This reminds me of Dr Gee’s opening address where he remarked that gamers tend to insist that all players contribute actively; sitting out and underperforming is noticed.