In this issue:
Prospect • December 22, 2009
The play's the thing. Author Tom Chatfield notes, "Few things satisfy us more than the sense of incremental mastery that comes from negotiating an environment especially designed to challenge, stimulate and reward," and game designers are experts are at combining the right types of rewards, delivered at the right time, to encourage further play. Indeed, with the advent of online gaming designers can subtly adjust the parameters based on the online feedback stream to create even more seductive experiences. Read on for a thoughtful discourse on how gaming strategies are infiltrating many aspects of education, the military and customer relationship management.
Any industry that pulls down multi-billions in revenue has to be doing something right. Educators would do well, then, to use what the gaming industry has learned about personal motivation to better design curriculum. Educators should consider, for example, "reward schedules" and keeping students engaged and challenged, which is how the gaming industry has become so successful. As librarians we should also consider these strategies, since we often need to engage the attention of our communities, and our communities increasingly consist of those who are familiar with common gaming structures of challenges and rewards. ( Tennant)
Harvard Business Publishing • December 23, 2009
Wake up call. Tom Davenport argues that if information overload really bothered people, they'd do something about it — but that would take an effort that very few are willing to expend. The public's attention deficit has produced disastrous consequences economically (and some might say, politically) over the last 10 years, and Davenport's assertion that people actually prefer an unfiltered mix of information to a managed knowledge environment does not bode well for our future as knowledge curators.
It's true — until we embrace the idea that our attention is one of our most valuable resources, we will continue to behave regarding information consumption much like the poor fellow who repeatedly binges on junk food, only to become so soft about the brain and midsection that he can't summon the wherewithal to fight back. That, as the New York Times recently notes, is when Good Enough becomes the new Great. Davenport falls a bit short as a buzzword-maker (adopting the polite and overly sensual-sounding "satisficing" to mean "willingness to be satisfied with sacrificing quality") but he makes a strong case that we and our potential end-users prefer our Info-Twinkies unfiltered and at full strength. ( Massie)
Democracy • Winter 2010
Reining in costs. In the past couple of decades, college costs have risen much faster than even healthcare, but the concerted efforts of organizations housed at One Dupont Circle (Washington, DC) have successfully quashed any significant reform efforts. Education Sector policy directory Kevin Carey catalogs the failures of today's higher ed system to connect their activities to positive student outcomes and suggests some ways to start inching toward accountability.
Citing the escalating costs of a college education in the United States, along with a pervasive uncertainty regarding the actual value students receive in exchange for their investment, Kevin Carey argues that the federal government should take the lead in requiring higher education institutions to collect and disclose credible information about the quality of their teaching and learning services. Carey asserts that the US HE system is dominated by competition on the basis of "prestigious reputation," rather than the ability to deliver a cost-effective education. Consequently, institutions find themselves on an endless fund-seeking treadmill to support spending on visible reputation enhancements — distinguished research faculty, impressive buildings, even nationally renowned athletic programs — leading to significant increases in tuition and other student costs, and neglect of less visible investments that contribute to a quality educational outcome. Disclosure of information that speaks to the quality of the education delivered to students would encourage competition on the basis of credible assessments of the skills students actually learn, how well these skills prepare them for success in future employment, and whether these skills are delivered in a cost-effective way. This could lower the costs of a college education, while helping to redress an imbalance within the current system that tends to favor the elite, reputation-focused institutions at the expense of smaller universities and community colleges. Readers may not agree with everything Carey suggests, but the article provides much food for thought. ( Lavoie)
The New York Times • December 28, 2009
First, kill all the journalists. Rupert Murdoch's announcement that he's considering forming a partnership with a single search engine, which would pay for the right comb through News Corp content, is sounding alarms throughout a publishing world desperate to monetize their media output. "Content providers see that the idea that everything has to be free, supported by ads, isn't working very well, and they're trying to put the toothpaste back into the tube, but only partially," says media consultant Alan D. Mutter. "One of the problems is newspapers fired so many journalists and turned them loose to start so many blogs. They should have executed them. They wouldn't have had competition. But they foolishly let them out alive."
When I explain to people what challenges libraries face, I encapsulate it this way: "20 years ago, if you wanted information, you went to a library. Now, you turn to the internet." That's not exactly true, because libraries offer more than information — they also offer pathways and pointers to knowledge. If the consumption environment shifts from "a sweet steady flow of free" to fractured access to content based on subscription, will eyeballs roll toward the library (sorry, couldn't resist) where content is freely available? It's hard to say, but libraries would have to be more top of mind than they are, or would need to occupy more centralized network hubs than is currently the case. In recent years, libraries, archives and museums have been busily pushing pointers to knowledge and content to the Web. Even if the environment shirts from for free to for fee, I believe that being ready to spin data to partners is still the smart plan. This article says that "entertainment will be easier to charge for than news." Where does access to knowledge fall on that scale? An important question to consider in the economy of access to information. ( Proffitt)
Doctor Dada • December 21, 2009
Forget about eye contact. Most typical high-schoolers are loathe to engage with grown-ups, including the docents assigned to guide them through a museum experience. Read on for some great advice on how to overcome teen angst and ignite the spark that can lead to meaningful interaction.
Reading through the various tales of how (and how not) to engage high-schoolers in a gallery by seasoned museum educators reminded me of the research our own Lynn Silipigni Connaway has done on virtual reference services for screenagers (that's 12-18 year old teenagers). I fondly remember her presentation at the European partners meeting in Paris (check here for more recent presentations and papers). Both the museum educators testimonies and Lynn's research give a visceral sense of how fraught interactions across generations can be, and precisely because of that, how gratifying if they succeed. ( Waibel)
Times Online • December 23, 2009
On notice. The nascent field of augmented reality has potential to upend the print travel guide market. Wikitude, an AR travel app, debuted a year ago and now Google's launched a Google Goggles app that allows a traveler to snap a photo of an historic site with a camera phone and receive a list of search results describing the point of interest. Google's ambitions don't stop there, however — still in the fledgling stage are AR technologies that can tell you more about the Tuscan wine you're drinking (including restaurant markup) or where the best bargains on souvenirs can be found.
Goggles worked nicely in my limited experiments. At this early stage it seemed to be especially well-suited to recognizing and providing links to more information about images of various art prints and paintings that are known to others, and so it might already be a handy gadget for art dealers, curators, and scholars, and another kind of access point for art image databases like CAMIO and ARTstor. ( Washburn)
The Pew Research Center for People and the Press • December 21, 2009
The Dismal Decade. Just in case you haven't seen it, click through for the results of the latest Pew survey. There are few surprises here (a resounding 63% thought reality TV was a change for the worse and 40% said the same of tattoos), but the statistics may come in handy the next time you're putting a presentation together.
What can you say about a poll that shows that Americans think reality TV has been a change for the worse, even as Nielsen ratings are dominated by reality TV shows? Check the graphs to see gender differences about acceptance of gays and lesbians (a significantly larger number of women think it's a change for the better) and how different age groups feel about social networking (surprisingly, fewer than half of 18-29 year olds think it's a change for the better). We're divided on many topics in the last decade, but most of us think the 2010s will be better. ( Erway)