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Category: College Work

To increase diversity in games, we need a diverse industry (x-post from Games and Culture)

I initially wrote this post for the Games and Culture class blog taught by Dr. Zach Whalen at the University of Mary Washington. I wanted to archive it on my own blog as well, partially because this topic is so dear to my heart and partially because I want to revisit this piece soon, perhaps with some new conclusions.

A fellow classmate already tackled this topic, albeit in regards to race. I highly encourage you to read that post, and, depending on how angry you want to be today, the discussion that followed.

At the end of the day, there’s no arguing that the bulk of the gaming industry, just like any other industry, must be profitable in order to survive. That truism has been used for years to justify the narrow demographics represented within video games: video games have traditionally had excellent sales among straight white young cisgender men, so the majority of characters represented in games should, accordingly, be straight white young cisgender men. As anybody who isn’t actively living under a rock can tell you, the audience for video games as a medium is rapidly expanding (and was never all that narrow in the first place), but the demographics and kinds of stories represented within video games themselves are still lagging way behind.

While it would make some sense to assume that gaming companies might not want to produce a game with, say, a female protagonist out of fear that doing so might damage their earnings, it stands to reason that making more games appealing to a wider audience brings in more profits. I’m not suggesting that game companies should start marking to every categorical niche in existence, but when every conversation about diversity in games seems to conclude with “everybody’s playing something,” investing in more diverse video game casts seems like a rock-solid business decision. At this year’s Game Developers Conference, Microsoft narrative designer Tom Abernathy structured an entire talk around that point:

Abernathy also pointed to a study which said 56 percent of the US urban population plays games, compared to 47 percent of the rural population. Abernathy said with more rural areas of the country tending to be less diverse, the numbers would seem to shift the gamer audience even further away from the idea of an average gamer being a straight white male.

“Our industry, our art, and our business stand to gain in every sense simply by holding a mirror up to our audience and reflecting their diversity in what we produce,” Abernathy said.

The Liberal Arts, or: Haley learns something obvious

Before I get into the bulk of this post, a minor update: I’m going to be presenting this project at UMW’s Kemp Symposium, which is in actuality kind of a big deal. I’m not sure how I’m going to present the project yet or what kind of resources I’ll have at my disposal (i.e. a screen, or just a podium) but it’ll come out to a 15 minute overview of my research. I am both super excited and quite nervous, but what else is new?

Back to the actual project, I’ve recently realized that the idea of “liberal arts education” is a far more complex concept than I had assumed. I’d always taken it at face value: “liberal arts” refers primarily to the humanities, and therefore a “liberal arts education” has a similar focus. Turns out I was working under a painfully narrow assumption of what the liberal arts really are. Since the phrase crops up quite frequently in discussions of open online education, though, I finally asked Dr. Whalen what exactly all of these researchers and teachers and scholars mean by “liberal arts.” He informed me that there is (surprise surprise) an entire mindset and tradition informing the concept behind it. This week on “Haley’s Mind Is Blown,” I’m going explore those definitions, and look into how that informs my research overall.

This post probably won’t mean a great deal to anyone who’s immersed in teachingĀ  or administration at a liberal arts college (or anyone who didn’t utterly miss the memo about this) but it strikes me that I might not be the only student who isn’t 100% clear on this definition. I’m mostly attacking this for my own benefit, though.

Digital innovation and yet more rhetoric

Martin Weller’s The Digital Scholar: How Technology is Transforming Scholarly Practice has finally come up on my to-read list, and I’ve realized that I probably should have started with this book in the first place. Because Weller and Jim Groom share a lot of the same ideas on how digital and open education should operate, Digital Scholar does a great job of illustrating the ethos behind ds106, which Jim Groom was instrumental in founding (Weller actually mentions Groom in his Acknowledgements). While his work relates specifically to how teachers and scholars are interacting with digital tools and how they might approach digital pedagogy, his work is highly accessible and relevant to anyone interested in how digital media applies to education, including your very own intrepid student. Digital Scholar is more or less an overview of the ethos behind ds106, so I’m excited to explore how it’ll inform my final paper.

Second winter reading list

second winter

Seriously though. I know astrological spring and meteorological spring are different concepts and I’m all for more snow, but the bouncing back and forth thing has got to stop. GET IT TOGETHER, VIRGINA.

This post is a day late thanks to the Sweet Briar creative writing conference eating most of my brain really late because my brain is a strange, unpredictable thing and I do not work well under vague, looming stress. Forthcoming: a post about how I need to figure out what I’m doing after graduation, and whether or not that plan involves an MFA (spoilers: probably).

The problem with crafting a reading list for this project before I’d actually begun doing the bulk of my research was that I wasn’t entirely certain what kinds of texts would be the most useful to me. With that in mind I collected anything and everything I could find that seemed vaguely scholarly and added it to my reading list, and now the time has come for some weeding.

ds106: teaching an ethos

My final paper is proceeding apace. And by “apace” I mean WHY DID I SIGN UP FOR THIS LAST SEMESTER? What made me think this was a good plan? DEAR GOD I GRADUATE IN TWO MONTHS!

Panicking aside, I’ve made some decent progress on sorting out how I want to conclude my paper, and how I’m going to get there (kudos to my adviser Dr. Whalen for all the awesome conversations in that vein).

First and foremost, I think that for the purposes of this paper I’m going to define online learning as a branch of edtech. It makes a lot of sense to me: anything that happens on the internet is facilitated by technology, which, to my thinking, makes online education a function of educational technology. Therefore, when I use to the term “educational technology” or “edtech,” I’m also referring to online courses, open and otherwise. I hope to use “edtech” as an umbrella term, and then narrow my terminology when needed, such as when I’m referring to open educational resources or massively open online courses in specific. Then again, if that usage is completely wonky in the actual edtech/online ed world, I’d love some feedback so I’m not producing a paper that’s unintelligable.

I think one of the struggles I’ve been having in trying to pin down where I want my paper to wind up is that, as usual, my focus wasn’t narrow enough. I’m not going to be able to make large pronouncements about The State Of Edtech with this project, no matter how much I feel like that’s what I should be doing. What IĀ can do is narrow my focus back down, like I keep talking about, and bring things back to ds106. Finally. After about three blog posts insisting that’s what I was going to do.

It’s spring break! Here’s the vague outline of my final paper.

Here we are, just about at the halfway mark, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout so far in my edtech extravaganza it’s that there is so much I still have to learn. Hopefully the conference next week can help me fill in a few more blanks, but man, I have a long way to go.

Considering that I’ve only got about half a semester left, I think it’s time to figure out where I’m going with the paper I need to write at the end of this project. My original proposal stated that I’d write about this stuff:

Within my final paper I will explore the history and structure of the Digital Storytelling class and how it functions as part of Mary Washington’s Department of Teaching and Learning Technologies. I will focus on the unique aspects of this course as compared to other open online classes, such as its small size, student-driven assignment creation and flexible interdisciplinary curriculum. I will then connect the elements I’ve identified to larger trends within the field of online education, which will constitute the bulk of my research. I will use the analysis I have outlined in my blog posts and throughout my paper to speculate on the future of online education and educational technology as framed by my experiences in Digital Storytelling.

That… might be a little more difficult than I originally intended. I’ve expanded my knowledge of edtech and open education so much that bringing it back in to focus on ds106 and UMW feels a bit limiting. I do need to focus if I’m ever going to get this thing done., though Ergo… outline time!

Back to the beginning: ds106 and open education

This week’s post is going to be a bit short, but I’m hoping to lay the groundwork for a return to where all this madness began: ds106! My initial proposal revolved around framing a discussion of open education and edtech with my experiences in that class, and while I’ve spent these first few weeks getting my bearings in an unfamiliar field, I need to start bringing things back around.

I’m dipping back into Spiro and Alexander’s NITLE paper about open education in the liberal arts this week. They’ve provided some excellent definitions of open education, and I think it might be useful to examine ds106 to see how it fits into those definitions, and how it is affected by being part of the curriculum at the University of Mary Washington.

“Student as Producer” and integrating creativity

All right, I know I said I was going to discuss ds106 exclusively this week and go back to the NITLE paper I started with, but in finishing up this chapter of Alexander’s The New Digital Storytelling I came across one idea that I do want to explore in more depth. Plus, there’s still that Student as Producer initiative to digest—it remains insanely cool.

Last week I talked a little bit about the unwillingness of some students to adapt to certain kinds of edtech in their classrooms, specifically teaching through digital storytelling. I mentioned that I believe some of that unwillingness arises because students are taught to value rote learning and test-base assessments over more creative teaching methods. Bryan Alexander touches on that in his book in a discussion of curricular integration:

“… curricular integration… represents a subset of a broader conversation concerning the meaning of technology in education and the importance of making digital work evidently part of the learning mission. Storytelling cannot be seen as separate from learning, even though the mind-set may break from the ordinary classroom world of tests and standards. Story assignments, therefore, need to be interconnected with curriculum in many ways.”

Educating with storytelling: the oldest new trick in the book

New text this week! There’s still a lot I have to digest (and re-read) in Spiro and Alexander’s NITLE paper, but for the moment I’m moving on to Bryan Alexander’s book The New Digital Storytelling: Creating Narratives with New Media. I’m delighted to have such a specific resource at my disposal; it’s especially pertinent to the way I want to frame this independent study through my experiences with ds106, a class that’s focused on the practice and analysis of storytelling, digitally and otherwise. And if it seems like I’m focusing a lot of my time on Alexander’s work, it’s because I am. Not only is his writing directly applicable to my project, it was his lecture on “The Visible College” that made me realize I had to pursue this new media thing more seriously. (Kudos, sir!)

I’ve skipped ahead to chapter 14, “Digital Storytelling in Education.” Toward the end of this post I’m also going to try and pull in a bit more about the “make useful stuff” educational model I’ve been talking about. I’ve just discovered the University of Lincoln’s Student as Producer initiative, which is basically my last two blog posts put into practice across a whole university. So awesome!

Three ideals in one assignment!

Before I carry on any further with digesting Spiro and Alexander’s paper on open education in the liberal arts, I wanted to do two things: first, try to clarify a little of what I was discussing last week, and jump to the end of the paper to check out the section on obstacles facing open education. Wonderfully, I think I found a way to tie them both together! It’s a tenuous connection, but it is there.

What I was essentially trying to say last week is that grades and the degrees students are issued based on those grades are not intrinsically valuable; in much the same way as our currency operates, they operate on a belief system and, so long as we measure academic achievement in grades and degrees, the hope is that they can be “cashed in” down the line for a job, or an even more valuable degree. In that sense, a degree operates as a type of currency, an investment that will hopefully ensure a greater return in the future than the amount of money and effort initially invested. The problem, of course, is that rates of inflation for tuition have skyrocketed, student debt is at an all-time high, and the degree that would have guaranteed you some kind of employment a generation ago is now a riskier investment than ever.