The importance of visual literacy

Over the past couple of months I have received numerous calls about the Biz Wiki.  The callers,  emailers, and IMers all have something in common:  they all own a business or work at a business whose name or contact information is incorrect on the Biz Wiki.  I even got a call recently from some lady in Mississippi who kept getting calls at her home  because people thought she was in the recycling business.  All of these people said they got their information from the Biz Wiki.  Actually, the did get their information from a biz wiki, but it was not The Biz Wiki.  I don’t have information about individual companies in the Biz Wiki, as it is a site meant to promote useful business research sources.  The other wiki is a collection of company names, addresses, and other information.   (I’m not going to link to the other wiki here out of spite, as I don’t want to increase it’s page rankings.   Google it if you want to see it. The address has something like bizwiki and .com in it. 😉   )  While the idea of using a wiki as a company directory is a good one, it’s not so good if a lot of the content is just plain wrong.  Wrong information is irritating, as are the frequent phone calls requesting that I fix the inaccuracies.   Folks are even more irritated when I very politely tell them they’ve got the wrong wiki, but a little visual literacy could have saved them a phone call.

If we compare the two sites, they are not very similar at all, save for the words “biz” and “wiki.” I seriously wish I had trademarked the name.

The cheap Biz Wiki knockoff
The cheap Biz Wiki knockoff
The original Biz Wiki
The original Biz Wiki

Folks are likely finding me by searching for Biz Wiki, and then they see a guy named “Chad” with lots of different ways to contact him.  They’re good at Googling, or so they think, and they think they’ve found the root of all the misinformation about their company.  Unfortunately, their sleuthing isn’t good enough, as somehow they can’t figure out that the two sites (see screenshots above) are not similar at all.  A quick look at the two sites ought to alert them that something is different with my contact information page and the other web site.  A simple look at the address bar would tell folks that the sites are in two different locations, but perhaps they don’t know to look in the address bar.    The people are kind of miffed when I p0litely tell them that I’m not the guy responsible for that site and I cannot correct the information there.  Many of them ask who I should contact, but the contact information of the other site is very sparse (a email form with no contact info whatsoever).

These are basic skills that librarians teach in information literacy and library instruction sessions.  We teach our students how to look for authority in a website, how to look at the address (edu, gov, org, com, etc.) , look for the author information, and even to look at the design.  Hopefully the things we’re teaching them are sticking, so they’ll be a bit more saavy consumers of web information.  While the phone calls and email about the other biz wiki are a bit annoying,  they do lend evidence to the fact that librarians are still important in the education process.  My theory is that the folks who called me never had a library instruction class in college, or perhaps they’re the one’s who didn’t listen very well.  I know I’ll be a bit more deliberate in my libray instruction sessions from now on, and hopefully I’ll save some poor chap some phone calls down the road.

Games, Research, and Hidden Evidence

This week I had the pleasure of finishing Syphon Filter:  Logan’s Shadow on my PSP.  I’ve had the game about a month, and with off-and-on play times, I was able to finish it relatively quickly.  It generally takes me forever to finish games, but the game had a pretty good story that I wanted to see through to the end.   A couple of days after the fact, I’m very pleased to have finished the game, and am longing for the next chapter of the game.  This is my second Syphon Filter game that I’ve completed on the PSP.  I’m already looking forward to the gameplay of the next Syphon Filter game, but I also want to see where the story goes next.   While ultimately fulfilled with the game and its challenges, I longed for a deeper understanding of the characters, their histories, and their futures.

My buddy Paul Waelchli writes extensively about the game’s narrative and how he was initially looking for more in the game’s story.   He and I agreed that there was a lot lacking in the story compared to previous Syphon Filter titles.  However, after investigating the game further, as any good gamer should, he discovered that much more of the game’s story was revealed in the hidden evidence files that he collected throughout the game.   Ultimately, after reading the hidden files, he’s come away from the game completely satisfied with the game’s resolution.  After reading his post, I’m looking forward to going home tonight and reading the hidden files myself so I, too, can dig a bit deeper into the story.

After some reflection, I’ve wondered why the game designers didn’t just put the entire narrative out there so that everyone could see it.  The answer to this relies in one of the core fundamentals of gameplay.  Playing games is all about choice. While Syphon Filter is a fairly linear game, the player can choose to play the game however he wants to.  He can fly through the levels, blasting everyone in his path and causing a huge ruckus, or he can try to sneak around and use stealth to complete a mission. The player can take time to explore every nook and cranny in the game to uncover hidden evidence files and other secrets, or he can simply stick to the well-defined path.  The player can choose which weapons to use and how to use them.  There are even incentives built into the game that encourage the player to play the game in different ways.  For example, as a player I get medals (which unlock more guns and other goodies) for using my knife more, for using the environment more, for using my sniper rifle more, and for simply surviving a level.  Basically the game rewards players for playing how they are most comfortable, while offering incentives to play the game in an entirely different way.  By offering the hidden evidence (which unlocks more story elements) and the medals (which unlocks more guns and additional game content), the game designers are encouraging gamers to not only play how they are comfortable, but to test themselves with new ways of play.   The player is rewarded for trying something new, for stepping outside of his comfort zone.

What’s important here is that the game didn’t force any of this down our throats.  As players in the game, Paul and I could choose how we wanted to play. We both finished the game within a day of each other, and we both really enjoyed our experiences.  However, we both likely played the game in very different ways.  He may have opted to use his knife more, I might have chosen to use my tazer gun more.  Nevertheless, after finishing the game, we both reached the same conclusion.  Also, since the game encourages replay with all of the unlockable content, we’re both very likely to return to the game in the future and try to play the game in differnt way (harder difficulties, with different weapons, more exploration, etc) in order to unlock more content.  We were rewarded for our mastery of the game,  the game will continue to reward us when we master the game at a new level.

So how can I take what I have learned about this game and about myself and apply it to my daily life as a librarian?  Here are a few initial thoughts:

1.  Recognize that research is a game.  The goal may be a dissertation, an address of a long-lost-friend, or a statistic for a speech.  Trial and error helps the researcher unlock the information that they need, and each researcher may approach the process differently.

2.  Recognize the need of the patron.  Like the game, we need to realize that not every single researcher wants spend enormous time to unlock every single nugget of content.  Sometimes they just want three articles.  And that’s it.

3.  Wait for users to drive the research process.  If after showing the patron how to find three articles, and he asks “how do I know which one is good?”, then you can show him how to evaluate the resources.  We should not expect that all users will want to master research in the same way.  Just like the example from Syphon Filter, if they are left wanting more, they’ll let you know if they need more hidden evidence.

4. Understand that it takes time to hold the controller correctly.  When I first picked up a PlayStation controller, it took me forever to figure out where all the buttons were.  For each game, the buttons are assigned to different purposes.  However, gamers eventually figure out which buttons do what.  Likewise, we need to understand that each interface (Google, OPAC, Ebsco, etc) are likely to have the same buttons, but perhaps slightly different functions.

5.  Encourage mastery.  This may be as simple as saying, “If you need more help or get stuck, come back and see me.”  As librarians, we hold the key to unlockable content that can help complete the researcher’s story.  It’s our job to let them know we are available to be their guide.

On video games and libraries

I’ve been working a lot lately about how to incorporate some to the concepts of video games into new and existing library services and resources.  I’ve written before about how games make you learn by doing, and I’ve pointed to how specific games teach the player how to play the game.  I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading on the topic of learning and video games, which has helped me to look at playing games in a different way.  While I’m playing a game, I’ve been looking at how the game teaches me to play, how it encourages me to master the skills, how it keeps me engaged, and how it keeps me coming back for more.  As a librarian, I’ve begun trying to see how the things that make a game an engaging learning experience can be applied to some of the things that we do in the library.  Do we need a library video game on research or plagiarism?  Is that sort of thing scalable?  If we build it, who might play it?  Or should we just try to incorporate gaming concepts into things we are already doing—-teaching, library websites, catalogs, online tutorials?

Paul at Research Quest has been working with these ideas as well.  He and I had a pretty good conversation via IM last week where we discussed these ideas.  Paul and I truly believe that librarians can create engaging educational experiences based upon video games, and perhaps even game-based learning experiences as well.  These projects can be extremely time and resource intensive, so it only make sense to start small.  Paul sums this up nicely when he writes:

But I can’t overlook the small successes. Incorporating video
game strategies into our traditional instruction is beneficial and improves our
teaching. While I’m starting to discuss and play around with developing and
modding, I’m currently working on converting the content from a traditional
power point slideshow into an open ended, branching path review.

Video game strategies work to engage our students in
educational experiences both in the long term and the short term. As an
educator, we can start big or small. But the reactions from those who are
discouraged after starting big, suggest that small successes will be more
successful in building the political capital required for the bigger gaming
projects in our libraries.

Can we do it? Yes we can! And we should.

Educause articles of interest

Here’s some articles/resources that might be of interest to some:

These resources and more can be found in the Information Literacy and Fluency  and Games and Gaming categories in the Educause Resource Center. 

Librarycasting SE

This is sweet! Librarycasting SE: Screencasts, podcasts, tutorials and titles for the sciences and engineering.

Librarycasting SE is a compilation of selected educational and information resources for the sciences and engineering, with a strong emphasis on new media and communication formats such as screencasts (pc screen video), video, and podcasts (audio). Resources covered include those produced at Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries, the VCU campus community, and the extended sciences and engineering world community beyond.

A major goal of Librarycasting SE is to make available a range of brief screencast and podcast tutorials answering specific questions, and demonstrating specific techniques, relevant to the sciences and engineering. Conveniently access these resources at any time from your Firefox browser bookmarks or RSS aggregator, through the subject-specific, automatically updated RSS feeds provided at this site. These tutorials are in constant production at VCU Libraries, and your suggestions for new tutorials in this format are always welcomed!

Pete Kirlew, Ph.D., MLIS
Reference Librarian for the Sciences and Engineering
VCU Libraries

This truly is awesome, Pete. This serves as a great model for other subject specialists. It’s a blog, it’s a podcast, it’s a screencast. No, it’s super-duper subject librarian outreach!!! Fantastic! Makes me want to go out and make some screencasts of business databases. Thanks for the inspiration, Pete.  You’ve got me thinking of new ways to expand my Business Blog.
Link via Library Marketing.