Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!

©2010 Sara M. Grimes, Grimes Family Christmas Tree
Wishing all of my readers, students, colleagues and friends, a very happy holiday season!!! Merry Christmas! Happy New Year's! Have a fun, relaxing and peaceful finale to 2010. I'll be off for the next week celebrating various Xmas-related events, but you can expect new posts on Gamine Expedition early in the New Year, including a discussion of the Smurf iPhone game, new concerns about corporate censorship and the unveiling of my two new kids & game-related courses!

Friday, December 17, 2010

CFP: "Hermione Granger Saves the World"

©2008-2010 ~thepolestar, DeviantArt
Via the Exploring Childhood Studies mailing list, a very cool sounding volume, proposed and edited by  Dr. Christopher Bell, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, is looking for chapter submissions. I've shortened the ad somewhat for the purposes of this post (below), but it's worth reading the original in its entirety for a great overview of Dr. Bell's rationale for the book and its focus on Hermione. As indicated by the image I've included above (a fan portrait of Hermione created by ~thepolestar and published on DeviantArt), I'd love to see something on fans' engagements with gender/feminism and Hermione through the creation (and circulation) or art, stories and digital artifacts, though I'm not sure that would fit in the volume's current scope. Anyway, here are the details:

Call For Chapters for 'Hermione Granger Saves the World': a proposed interdisciplinary, multi-contributer volume
Our young, emergent feminist Hermione Granger is a pivotal character upon whom the entire series rests – that burden is not carried by Harry Potter solely. It is Hermione who solves almost every difficult puzzle, performs almost every difficult spell, and to whom her two male companions consistently look for guidance and advice. Quite literally, on several occasions throughout the series, Hermione Granger saves the world through her actions. This is an exceptional and accessible model for young women (and for young men as well) who are confused about how feminism manifests and operates in 2010.
Themes for discussion may include, but are certainly not limited to:
  • Hermione in relationship to third-wave feminism, post-feminism and Girlie feminism
  • Hermione as activist
  • Hermione as scholar
  • Hermione’s role in The Trio
  • Hermione’s as bridge between the magical and Muggle worlds
  • Emma Watson/“Movie Hermione”
  • Hermione Granger’s place in the history of literary Hermiones
  • Hermione and archetypes
Other themes will be considered as they relate to the overall theme of the collected work. Proposals from any academic discipline will be considered. Emerging and early career scholars are encouraged to submit. Final papers should be no longer than 30 pages, including references, and should be scholarly in nature yet accessible in language and tone.
For consideration, please submit an abstract/proposal of no more than 500 words to Dr. Christopher Bell, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, at
Abstracts/proposals should be sent as Word Document attachments, and should include the author(s)’s name, affiliation, title and email contact information.
Abstracts/proposals should be submitted no later than JANUARY 28, 2011. Final papers will be due APRIL 1, 2011.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Job Opportunity in Early Childhood Studies/Education - Pass it on!!!!

@Carsten Ke├čler, 2007, WikiMedia Commons
Head's up to anyone out there looking for a faculty position in early childhood studies/education - there's one opening up at the Ryerson School of Early Childhood Education, Ryerson University, which is located here in Toronto (their campus is even right smack downtown). I have some amazing colleagues who are at the ECE School (many of whom are housed at the EDGE Lab), and am collaborating with the School itself on a couple of levels. I've been really impressed by the students and other faculty that I've met there, who all doing really incredible work. For example, this very cool quilt project using visual narratives to explore how children use creative arts for learning. So this is definitely a wonderful opportunity (hint, hint - apply!).  Here's the posting in full, reproduced from an email sent out to the Exploring Childhood Studies mailing list earlier this week:

Tenure Stream Assistant Professor 

The Ryerson School of Early Childhood Education in the Faculty of Community Services invites applications for a tenure-track position at the Assistant Professor level effective July 1, 2011. The position is subject to budgetary approval.
The Ryerson School of Early Childhood Education is the oldest school of its kind in Canada with a proud history and an excellent reputation nationally and internationally. Over many years, the School of Early Childhood Education has consistently demonstrated its relevance to the learning needs of the communities it serves and its creativity in meeting emerging professional interests. The School offers a four year Bachelor of Arts (BA) program and a degree completion program for graduates of two-year community college diploma programs. A Masters of Arts in Early Childhood Studies, focusing on diversity and inclusion, was launched in Fall 2006. An on-campus laboratory school serving 57 children provides practice teaching experience for students and serves as a research venue for faculty and students. Faculty members of the School are actively involved in teaching, research, community outreach and international development projects. For more information please go to our website:
Qualified candidates will have a completed PhD or EdD in Early Childhood Studies or a related field. They will have a demonstrated track record in research, grant writing and publication and will contribute to scholarship in the field of Early Childhood Studies. Experience teaching in early childhood and/or post-secondary undergraduate programs will be considered an asset. Experience advising and supervising graduate students is preferred.
Candidates should have a strong interest and background in early childhood studies with a particular expertise in early learning curriculum in the areas of literacy, mathematics and creative arts and/or policy and professional issues.
The closing date is February 15, 2010, or until a suitable candidate is found.
Address applications to;
Dr. Rachel Langford, 
School of Early Childhood Education
350 Victoria Street
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
M5B 2K3

This position falls under the jurisdiction of the Ryerson Faculty Association (RFA). The RFA collective agreement can be viewed at: The RFA's website can be found at: A summary of RFA benefits can be found at:
Ryerson University is strongly committed to fostering diversity within our community. We welcome those who would contribute to the further diversification of our faculty and its scholarship including, but not limited to, women, visible minorities, Aboriginal people, persons with disabilities, and persons of any sexual orientation or gender identify. All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply but applications from Canadians and permanent residents will be given priority.

Good luck!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Must Read: Mimi Ito on YouMedia

©2010 YouMedia, Chicago Public Library
I've been neglecting my blog this month, due to an abnormally intense crunch time at work - deadlines, teaching duties, research, and planning for next semester have taken over (and extended) my life these days, leaving me little time to ponder or read anything that isn't imminently (or  much more often over-) due. However, in a rare moment of down time, I had the chance to read Mimi Ito's recent Huffington Post article describing the Chicago Public Library's (Harold Washington Library Centre) amazing and awe-inspiring YouMedia project. I don't think I've talked about YouMedia here on Gamine Expedition yet, but I'm really interested in what's going on there - both in terms of the activities and creativity that the centre is enabling, as well as the research and theory that the design of the project is based on. In the article, Mimi describes her recent visit to the Centre, as follows:
The space was teeming with teens sitting on bright comfy sofas, chatting and eating, playing Rock Band, mixing music, heads down in front of laptops, and getting feedback from digital media mentors. Check out spoken word artist and mentor Mike Hawkins freestyling if you want to sample what YouMedia has on tap. Unlike any other library experience I had growing up, YouMedia is loud, sociable, and hip -- but it's still all about the public mission of the library to serve as a point of access to culture, information, and the media of the day, staffed by smart guides to knowledge and literacy. Nichole Pinkard and Amy Eshleman, who oversee the site, took me aside to explain that over a hundred teens come through the space every day to check out laptops, make media, read books, engage in workshops and special projects, or just hang out with friends in a safe environment. They say that since they opened their doors to this teen-only media space about a year ago, news spread by word of mouth, texting, and social media messaging peer-to-peer among teens across the city, and their population includes young people in diverse public and private schools, as well as home schoolers. 
The article is fantastic and a definite must read for anyone interested in children's media, libraries and/or education. It looks at the foundations of the program, how it fits into the current debates (and mounting crisis) around public education, and proposes that we think more seriously about the role and potential of DIY Media in young people's lives, education, and civic engagement (both as enabling and as a form of). There are direct links between the centre and Mimi Ito's Digital Media and Learning Initiative - as Ito describes, they credit her research as the "as part of the inspiration for the design of the space" (as well as some sort of relationship with the New Learning Institute - so many connections). I'm always a fan of Mimi's work, and this is no exception. And as soon as I have a moment, I've got to set aside some time to find out more about Nichole Pinkard and her work as well! Happy reading :)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

DIY Citizenship - Day Two

Today is the second jam-packed day of the DIY Citizenship conference, which runs until tomorrow. Ive had an amazing time so far - it's been quite a rush of awesome talks, conversations and displays, and too many totally intriguing panels to choose from. I presented my bit yesterday morning, which means that I'm now free to just enjoy and listen for the rest of the weekend. I won't be blogging this one, but I have been contributing occasionally to the Twitter feed (#DIY10).

For anyone who's interested, my presentation is online here - and here's the abstract:

Playing at Making Games: Child-Generated Content and Commercial Game Systems
A growing number of commercial children’s games now feature user-friendly tools that allow players to contribute directly to the game design. These tools provide children with important opportunities to engage in the production of user-generated content (UGC), fashioning virtual items and designing game levels and missions. Players can then share their finished products with other user-creators, by uploading them to a commercially managed system. UGC games such as Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet and Nintendo’s WarioWare D.I.Y. not only motivate the formation of vibrant new cultures of practice, but could also potentially represent a major shift within children’s cultural production. Whereas popular children’s toys, media, and videogames have traditionally consisted of artifacts made for children by adults, UGC games provide children with a uniquely accessible entry point to both means of production and channels of mass distribution. UGC games enable children to both make their own digital games and play games made by entire networks of other children. However, this entry point also leads into unfamiliar new legislative territories, as children’s burgeoning roles as collaborative game “designers” raise complex questions about authorship, fair dealing and freedom of expression—questions that have yet to be adequately addressed within either commercial or regulatory systems. This paper will examine the presence and function of child players (and child-generated content) within the social networks and market relations currently unfolding in and around UGC games, and consider some of the opportunities and challenges that these games present for children’s emerging cultural rights within a digital context.

You can watch a live webcast of the conference here, and break out sessions here.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Kids, Teens and Reading For Fun

©Maurice Sendak, Reading is Fun
Two studies pertaining to the current state of recreational reading among kids and teens have come out recently, providing a mixed bag of findings and a shared message of optimism about the future of reading (or rather e-reading) among young people. The first reports on findings from a survey of more than 2,000 children (ages 6 to 17) and their parents conducted by children's book publisher Scholastic last spring. According to a recent article by Julie Bosman for The New York Times, the Scholastic study found hope in the rising popularity of digital or "e-readers" such as the iPad and Kindle. For example,
Many children want to read books on digital devices and would read for fun more frequently if they could obtain e-books. But even if they had that access, two-thirds of them would not want to give up their traditional print books.
Well, they say they would, anyway. While only a quarter (about 25%) of the kids aged 9 to 17 years surveyed reported having already read a "book" on a "digital device" in the past (not sure what constitutes as a book here, but digital device is described as a category encompassing everything from e-readers to computers), 57% said that they would be interested in doing so in the future. And while only 6% of the parents surveyed owned an e-reader at the time the study was conducted, another 16% said they "planned to buy one in the next year" (Bosman, 2010). More significantly perhaps, was the finding that 83% of the parents surveyed said they would "allow or encourage their children to use the e-readers" (Bosman, 2010). With amazingly creative, interactive titles like Atomic Antelope's Alice for the iPad, I can definitely see why kids and parents are so excited:

At the same time, the parents surveyed expressed the usual reservations and concerns about the role of digital technologies in their children's lives, particularly around displacement effects (e.g. more time with new media would mean less time spent reading) and the fragmented/ing nature of multitasking. One of the issues raised in Bosman's article that I found particularly interesting was that parents were worried that their kids' multitasking habits, combined with the fast pace of other digital media contents, would prevent their children from every getting truly engrossed in a novel. Given all the new data emerging about the negative relationship between multitasking and focus, I wonder if this may be the case...even if just in terms of habits and norms.

Finally, as with every study of this nature that I've read to date, the Scholastic survey also examined the relationship between parents and children when it comes to reading habits. As Bosman describes, "Children ages 9 to 11 are more likely to be frequent readers if their parents provide interesting books to read at home and set limits on time spent using technology like video games." Indeed. And with that I give you the following, brilliant David Malki Wondermark comic strip:

©2008 Wondermark by David Malki (#442)

The second study comes out of the University of Maryland, where researcher Sandra Hofferth has been analyzing the daily activities of teens aged 12 to 18. The study was described in a Washington Post article by Donna St. George, but you can also read working papers outlining the results of the original study here: The “Hurried” Child: Myth vs. Reality and Validation of a Diary Measure of Children’s Physical ActivitiesUsing daily time-use diaries of a "nationally representative sample" (which, upon further examination of the original research paper, appears to actually mean 92 participants - 38 male and 54 female - drawn from a larger public school sample of 9 to 17 year olds, half of whom were from low income families and 30% of whom were minorities). Hofferth found that reading for pleasure had dropped 23% between 2003 and 2008 (which I find incredibly significant for a 5 year time frame), decreasing from 65 minutes a week to 50 minutes a week. She also found that tween/teens aged 12 to 14 had experienced the greatest decrease.

Nonetheless, the article, Hofferth and the other experts interviewed make a point of qualifying these findings, trying to construct the more positive argument that reading may not be decreasing as much as changing form. For instance, Hofferth proposes that: "They could be reading on the cellphone, in games, on the Web, on the computer. It doesn't mean they're not reading, but they're not reading using the printed page." Kim Patton, president of the Young Adult Library Services Association, is quoted saying basically the same thing: "It's not that they're reading less; they're reading in a different way." What we need now are studies (rather than educated guesses and anecdotes) that pay specific attention to these different ways of reading, including focused analyses of emerging technologies, applications, etc.:

To dream again. on Storybird

And in studies that have addressed this possibility head on - by taking a more nuanced approach to definitions of "reading," for instance, or by deconstructing what kids are reading as well as when - this does in fact seem to be the case. St George points us to the Kaiser Family Foundation report released last January, which found that the decline in "reading" among young people aged 8 to 18 (from 43 minutes to 38 minutes a day), was almost "entirely related to magazines and newspapers." Conversely, the study found that  time spent reading books remained steady at about 25 minutes a day for the past five years. In an interview with St. George that also appears in the Washington Post article, KFF researcher Victoria Rideout stated: "The data say to me that kids have a love of reading that is enduring, and that is different than other things teens do." This is certainly supported by industry statistics, which show significant and continued health in the sales of young adult the point that YA author David Levithan (Wide Awake, Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist) has proclaimed: "This is the second golden age for young-adult books" (cited in Reno, 2008). Lots to ponder...

©2010 CBC Book Club

As an aside, and just for fun, be sure to cast your vote(s) this week in the CBC Book Club's ultimate throw down for the title of top YA character. The first round lets you vote in four different categories - "Super Sleuths" (my pick = Nancy Drew), "Adventurers" (my pick = Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games), "The Girl Next Door" (my pick = Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables), and "Magical and Mystical" (my pick = Pippi Longstocking).

Monday, October 25, 2010

Guest Post on The Cooney Center Blog

A few weeks ago, the fabulous folks over at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center invited me to write a post for their (really quite) fantastic blog exploring a topic related to gender and gaming. Having just watched the footage from last summer's 3G Summit (The Future of Girls, Gaming & Gender), I was inspired to write about the ongoing debate around girls and games (e.g. why don't more girls/women design games and/or play non-casual games, etc.), where it stands today, and how it overlaps with similar concerns about girls and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). I also wanted to touch upon potential for UGC games to open up design practices to a greater diversity of players - and this seemed like a good place to start working out those relationships. The result, Getting (More) Girls into (More) Games, went live earlier today, and I'm quite pleased with the feedback so far (albeit, all through personal correspondence...that comments section is looking mighty lonely!). Here's an excerpt:
While the issue of "girls and gaming" has resurfaced several times over the years, there has been a noticeable shift in approach. During the past decade, girls and women have continued to play digital games in greater and greater numbers. They have done this in various ways, from embracing mainstream games, to contributing to the massive success of gender-inclusive games like Mario Kart and Dance Dance Revolution, to sustaining a small but enduring "pink games" market. Much of the discussion has now shifted onto the importance of paying better attention to the games girls do play, and finding out more about how and why. The conversation has also broadened to include boys and men, through a more inclusive consideration of the issues that all players face when it comes to games and gender. 
In other respects the gender gap first observed in the 1990s remains as wide as ever. 
To read the rest, please check out the original post on the Cooney Center Blog. Big thanks to Marj, Michael and the rest of the team for inviting me to contribute to what's turning out to be an amazing online resource for media producers, educators, students and users. I've been following their informative updates and thoughtful debates with great interest (e.g. the Waiting for Superman discussion from a couple of weeks ago, and ongoing posts on the Creativity Crisis), and am thrilled by the opportunity to add my voice to the mix. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

"Arts & Crafts" Materiality in (and out of) Digital Games

©2010 Nintendo, Inc., Kirby Epic Yarn promo materials

This week Nintendo released it's newest installment of the Kirby series, Kirby's Epic YarnWhat piqued my interest about the game is its use of arts & crafts as an aesthetic motif - everything looks like it's made of string, buttons, yarn and zippers. The aesthetic is supplemented by some clever looking game mechanics, which add to the sense of materiality and texture introduced by the game's environments and imagery. For instance, backgrounds contain loose threads that can be pulled, and things made of yarn (including Kirby himself) can change shape. I should add in a d
isclaimer at this point that this description is based on a cursory review of the demo videos (such as the one I've posted below) and early reviews - I haven't actually played it yet:

Of course, this immediately reminded me of LittleBigPlanet, which obviously also applies an "arts & crafts" aesthetic, albeit in a significantly (i.e. stylistically) distinct way. But as I thought about it a little more, I started to list all the other games I've come across that "play" with materiality, textiles and crafts, and realized that there is a small but notable genre emerging here. Nintendo itself has applied a similar "material" or "arts & crafts" aesthetic to a number of games in the past - most notably in the Paper Mario games, but also in the cardboard cut-out environments of Yoshi's Story:

Games like Crayon Physics, And Yet It Moves and Okami might also be included on this list, though more on the arts aspect than crafts. From Majesco, we now have Crafting Mama for the NDS. And there must be just about a million "girl games" or "pink games" that incorporate crafting to some degree - though I suspect this is predominantly in the form of mini-games, rather than on an aesthetic dimension.  Searching for more examples, I came across this website for KNiiTTiiNG!!, a game that uses the Wii to simulate and teach knitting. Apparently, the game is still in Beta, but it got some media coverage last year (e.g. Kotaku), and is currently being featured as part of an art exhibit at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles. Again - not quite what I have in mind when I'm thinking of materiality and an "arts & crafts aesthetic" - but worth mentioning nonetheless.

All of which leads me back to the other side of this burgeoning relationship between arts & crafts, materiality and videogames, which manifests as physical objects, crafts, embroidery, etc., that reify (reproduce, remediate?) elements and characters from videogames. Aldo Tolino calls these "ludic artifacts": player-created objects that are inspired by video games, but created outside of the games themselves. Oftentimes, these objects aim to transport game themes or characters into the physical world, thereby extending the game experience into other areas of cultural experience & fan practice. 

Gaming community members have long engaged in these practices, which include everything from knitting Metroid Prime dolls, to dressing up as Pacman characters and running around the city, to baking the Portal cake (based on a recipe included in the game as an Easter Egg). For Tolino, one of the most important features of "ludic artifacts" is that they are quite often shared online - through pictures, videos, and other digital artifacts - with other members of the game community. There are also online communities that have formed around particular forms of "ludic artifact" production. An example of this is Sprite Stitch, a blog and forum dedicated to "videogame inspired crafts" and the people who make them. The forum community includes over 1200 knitters, embroiderers and other craftmakers who exchange pictures, patterns and advice about making videogame characters into tangible objects. One of the things that interests me most about these practices is how frequently they combine traditionally feminine (or do I mean feminized) craftwork with videogame fandom - baking, knitting, sewing, carpentry and metalworking. The transfer from digital to material and back to digital again (as the objects are photographed and filmed to be shared online) is simply fascinating. 

More Examples:

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Creativity Crisis Revisited

©laffy4k, Crayola Lincoln Logs, at Flickr

Way back in June, Newsweek did a cover story on the Creativity Crisis, centered on an article by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman about a steady decline in American children's Creativity Quotient (CQ) scores since the early 1990s. The main focus of the article was the most recent batch of findings from a longitudinal study (50 years and counting) initially led by E. Paul Torrance and now headed by Garnet Millar at the Torrance Center for Creative Studies at the University of Georgia. The "Torrance Kids Study" has tracked hundreds of kids over their lives in order to measure creativity, and to understand how early creative skills and expressions can be predictors of later creative accomplishments, ingenuity and success. The gist of the study - and the topic of the article - is summarized in the following excerpt:

Nobody would argue that Torrance’s tasks, which have become the gold standard in creativity assessment, measure creativity perfectly. What’s shocking is how incredibly well Torrance’s creativity index predicted those kids’ creative accomplishments as adults. Those who came up with more good ideas on Torrance’s tasks grew up to be entrepreneurs, inventors, college presidents, authors, doctors, diplomats, and software developers. Jonathan Plucker of Indiana University recently reanalyzed Torrance’s data. The correlation to lifetime creative accomplishment was more than three times stronger for childhood creativity than childhood IQ.
Like intelligence tests, Torrance’s test—a 90-minute series of discrete tasks, administered by a psychologist—has been taken by millions worldwide in 50 languages. Yet there is one crucial difference between IQ and CQ scores. With intelligence, there is a phenomenon called the Flynn effect—each generation, scores go up about 10 points. Enriched environments are making kids smarter. With creativity, a reverse trend has just been identified and is being reported for the first time here: American creativity scores are falling.
What is particularly surprising about this finding is how quickly & recently the shift has happened. As Bronson and Merryman describe:
Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William & Mary discovered this in May, after analyzing almost 300,000 Torrance scores of children and adults. Kim found creativity scores had been steadily rising, just like IQ scores, until 1990. Since then, creativity scores have consistently inched downward. “It’s very clear, and the decrease is very significant,” Kim says. It is the scores of younger children in America—from kindergarten through sixth grade—for whom the decline is “most serious.”
The authors highlight the centrality of creativity/human ingenuity to everything from business and corporate leadership, to everyday problem solving to saving the world. In terms of causes, the usual suspects are fingered (*sigh* - videogames, television, et al.), with a few others inferred, including the enormous emphasis/time taken by curriculum standards. I was especially interested in the coincidence between standards-based education reform, which apparently only started gaining momentum in the US in the early 1990s, right about the time that children's creativity scores began to decline.

The authors also address the systematic cuts to the arts in public education - although they also dismiss increased arts funding as an option, claiming that the "age-old belief that the arts have a special claim to creativity is unfounded" by studies comparing creativity in music and engineering (an odd choice considering the highly mathematical dimension of music...not to mention the highly creative problem solving aspects of engineering. I'd rather see studies comparing a range of arts and sciences, and focused specifically on curriculum taught in elementary and secondary schools rather than universities, esp. in cases such as these where the findings are being extrapolated - potentially quite erroneously - to kids). The more palatable point of this argument is that allowing more room for creativity across curriculum and subject matter would be immensely valuable to kids. They even point to a couple of examples where incredibly innovative teachers have been able to reach established curriculum standards and foster enormous amounts of creativity and innovative thinking from their students (e.g. using Treffinger’s Creative Problem-Solving method used at the National Inventors Hall of Fame School).

The article - and the many studies and projects it covers - is a really compelling, and I highly recommend reading it now if you missed it last summer (I'm embarrassed to admit that I only skimmed through the first few paragraphs when I initially looked at the story back in July - most of the juicy stuff starts mid-way, though, so I really missed out). I am a bit troubled by the enormous emphasis that is placed on purposive outcomes - both in the article and in the emerging discourses around the creativity crisis. For instance, there's a bit too much focus on the potential negative impact that diminished creativity could have on the market (in terms of product innovation and corporate leadership), and almost no discussion of how this could undermine the richness and diversity of culture. Add those aforementioned substantial cuts in arts education (or even just opportunities to engage in and enjoy the arts) with these general decreases in creativity among today's youth, and the question that first jumps out at me has little to do with outcomes, and everything to do with cultural experience, the aesthetic dimension, joy and beauty...those unmeasurable, quite possibly non-purposive facets of life that make it all worthwhile. But then again, when it comes to kids, purposiveness and instrumentality (and outcomes - developmental, educational, physical, etc.) always take centre stage, so I guess I can hardly blame creativity's champions for wanting to frame the problem in a language policymakers and the public can easily understand.

Anyhow - all of this is rattling around in my brain at quite an opportune time, seeing as I've become somewhat obsessed with creativity, particularly within children's play and cultural production. I'm seeing lots of links with my UGC Game project - at the very least a narrative this study/discussion could provide a great frame for pitching the project and relaying to others (funding agencies, public, press) why it's important to foster spaces for kids to create their own games and play spaces...and films, comics, stories, etc. There are also clear linkages with all the stuff going on with STEM - if we can start refocusing the discussion a little to incorporate a more comprehensive understanding of what goes into innovation - technological, scientific - to include creativity, there may be more space within the discussion for kids' creative practices, like storytelling, make-believe and play. The idea that STEM should be changed to STEAM - science, technology, arts and math.

Lots to think about, and I still need to sort out my ideas about this, but here are some "nodes" in my thought process right now that might eventually become a trajectory for research:

STEM and Storytelling
Many thanks to my assistant, Erica, who got me to give Alice a second (and now a third, fourth, fifth...) look.  In particular, I'm fascinated by the thinking behind Storytelling Alice, which articulates a wonderfully layered approach gaming and learning to make games, as a process that includes both technical skills and storytelling skills. This brought me back to chapter written by Storytelling Alice's creator, Caitlin Kelleher, which describes using storytelling to get girls into computer programming. What about vice versa????

  • Kelleher, C. Using Storytelling to Introduce Girls to Computer Programming. In Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Computer Games. Yasmin Kafai, Carrie Heeter, Jill Denner, and Jennifer Sun editors. MIT Press, 2008

A multi-modal project being conducted out of the IIT Institute of Design, ThinkeringSpaces is focused on creating "interactive environments that encourage school age children to tinker with things, both physical and virtual, reflect upon what they discover, and elaborate their ideas in ways they can share with others." learning by tinkering and making.

An approach developed by one of the members of the Torrance Centre, Bonnie Cramond, at the University of Georgia, "Cartooning" uses some of Torrance's theories (along with others) about teaching creativity through manipulations with cartoons and comics. You can read more about this particular approach on the Centre's Creativity Resources page. Highly reminiscent of a number of tools now available - many of them free - to kids online, including Storybird and Bitstrips.

Creative Explorations
My students just did a workshop on Gauntlett's "Artlab" approach, one of the recommended readings in my research methods class a couple of weeks ago, and I think it fits in somehow here as well. Hmmm...

Joan Ganz Cooney Center
I was actually first alerted to the Newsweek article by Michael Levine and Ann Thai at the Joan Ganz Cooney Centre, who have been at the cutting edge of the story, exploring the issues behind the crisis and formulating possible responses. Of particular interest is the way they are linking this with their ongoing work on kids, education, creativity and digital tech, which you can read more about over at The Huffington Post and on the Cooney Center Blog (especially here, here, and here).

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Banned Books Week 2010

©American Library Association, Banned Books Week 2010

This week is Banned Books Week in the US, and a great opportunity to learn more about (not to mention contribute to) the ongoing battle against censorship that readers, librarians, educators and authors across the continent and around the world are engaged in every day. Since last Saturday (September 25th), and ongoing until this coming Saturday (October 2), members of the American Libraries Association (ALA), libraries (and the people who love them), book sellers, book clubs and other fans of intellectual freedom play host to a variety of activities, including read-outs, displays, and even a few events in Second Life. Just like Freedom to Read Week (the Canadian equivalent), one of the primary aims is to raise awareness about the surprising pervasiveness, arbitrariness and absurdity of censorship and book banning campaigns, and to spur a broader debate and discussion about the implications for both individual rights and for the democratic health of our culture(s) as a whole. Since children and youth are so often the ones who pay the price, this issue and event is of particular relevance to young people, child/youth advocates, librarians, educators and parents.

This year, much of the coverage and discourse around Banned Books Week has focused on a recent spurt of book bannings down in Missouri, and the related controversy around an associate prof who dismissed three popular YA novels that deal (apparently quite sensitively) with themes of sexuality as "filthy" and "soft-core porn." The Office of Intellectual Freedom of the ALA was quick to rally support for the targeted authors, a number of whom spoke out quite forcefully against the ban and the larger implications for youth in that area.

Laurie Halse Anderson, author of Speak, wrote an opinion piece, blogged a response and call for action for fans of the book, in the form of letter writing campaigns and other activities aimed at both protesting the ban AND countering the misrepresentation of the book by the associate prof., the school board and the media. The book has also inspired a Twitter campaign, #SpeakLoudly, which has evolved into a broader discussion about banned books, book banning, intellectual freedom and social justice.

Similarly, Sarah Ocker, whose book Twenty Boy Summer was also singled out for criticism and banning, responded in a number of formats, including a blog post, published opinion piece, as well as a Youtube video. I love, love, love that these authors are not only addressing heavy issues in their books, but also fighting back and taking a very vocal and well articulated stand against the book banners. It's not often the most popular thing to do, and it's never easy, and kudos to them for taking the ban so seriously.

Another key text/target being discussed this year is Sherman Alexie's highly acclaimed, award-winning YA book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which has also been banned by school boards in Missouri and Oregon, among others. And, refreshingly, a number of media outlets have also given special attention to the large number of banned graphic novels, such as Bone, which I wrote about briefly last spring.

For more info, updates, or to find events in your area, you can check out the Banned Books Week website, follow the #bannedbooksweek Twitter stream, check out the OIF's machinima contest, or simply make an effort to pick up and read a book on the banned/challenged list (for instance, one of the books listed on the ALA's Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books 2000-2009). Or you can pass these books along to others, as this awesome teen started doing last year, or through the Freedom to Read Week/BookCrossings "Free a Challenged Book" initiative.

Just a little reminder that Canada has its own sorted history of book banning, as well as our very own Freedom to Read Week, which takes place every February. Which means that we all have two excellent opportunities a year to take part in the movement.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Upcoming Public Lecture on Pinocchio, Representations of Childhood and Fairy Tales in Contemporary Culture

Check out this upcoming, free, public lecture by Children's Literature professor Laura Tosi - to be held at the Lillian H. Smith Branch (which also houses the The Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Booksof the Toronto Public Library on September 30th. I've reproduced the entire announcement from the Italian Cultural Institute website below - I think it will be a great talk, as well as a wonderful opportunity to (finally) visit the Osborne Collection. See you there:

The Fourth Annual Sybille Pantazzi Memorial Lecture

A talk by Laura Tosi


On the occasion of the fourth annual Sybille Pantazzi Memorial Lecture, the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Book with the support of the Italian Cultural Institute is proud to present the lecture: Once upon a Puppet: Pinocchio and Fairy Tales in Contemporary Culture by Professor Laura Tosi.

The conference is related to the exhibition "A name that will bring him luck": Pinocchio and the Italian Fairy Tale Tradition that is on view at the Osborne Collection from September 13, 2010 to December 13, 2010.

September 30, 2010 – 8.00 pm 

The Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books 
Toronto Public Library Lillian H. Smith Branch 
239 College Street , Toronto 
Free admission 
Call 416.393.7753 for info 

In her lecture, Professor Tosi will give a lively review of the context in which Pinocchio was written, its narrative and stylistic features, and its inspiration of drama, cartoons, film and prose narratives addressed to child as well as adult audiences. Collodi’s Pinocchio is a subtle and multifaceted book that has broken new ground with its subversive representations of non-model children, but pays tribute to the fairy tale tradition. Professor Tosi discusses Pinocchio as part of this canon of Western children’s literature, but possibly not the “original” that dominates collective imagination. Collodi’s book may be considered only one version among many (The Friends of the Osborne Collection, Gryphon newsletter).

Laura Tosi is Associate Professor in English Literature at the University of Venice- Ca’ Foscari. She has taught courses and conducted research on British children’s literature, especially on the history of the literary fairy tales in its socio historical context in England and in the English speaking world. She is interested in exploring the social values and role models offered by the fairy tales as historical documents and vehicles of dominant cultural patterns. On these issues in particular, she has lectured extensively at several Italian and foreign universities. In 2000 in Venice she organized an international conference on children’s literature in the English-speaking world, entitled “Hearts of Lightness. The Magic of Children’s literature.” 

The Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books belongs to the Toronto Public Library and had its beginnings in a large donation of children’s books made in 1949 by Edgar Osborne, a British librarian. The Osborne Collection has grown to over 80,000 rare and notable modern children's books.

The annual Sybille Pantazzi Memorial Lecture has arrived at its fourth edition and it was created to celebrate beautiful children's books in memory of Sybille Pantazzi (1914-1983), who was a noted Canadian librarian, book-collector and a pioneering scholar in the area of Victorian book design.

Date: Thursday, September 30, 2010
Times: 8:00 p.m.
Venue: Toronto Public Library Lillian H. Smith Branch
Presented by: Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Book
In collaboration with: Italian Cultural Institute
Free admission

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Putting Games on the Reading List

Screenshot of Rule of Rose, © 2006 Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. 

A colleague of mine has added Portal to the reading list of one of his grad seminar courses this year, which is oh-so-awesome. It's a wonderful game, with mind-blowing gameplay mechanics and a deep and multilayered story that has a surprisingly lot to say (given the game's short length and puzzle-solving focus) about surveillance, corporate control, institutions, gender relations, paranoia, human behavior, and human-technology relations. Coincidently, this is the second time in less than a month that I've heard about a humanities-type university course incorporating Portal as a required reading. The first was announced on Michael Abbott's blog Brainy Gamer, wherein he describes how Portal came to be included alongside Gilgamesh, Aristotle's Politics, and  Shakespeare's Hamlet on the reading list for a core course at Wabash College on "Enduring Questions" in the humanities. If you read the comments section following Abbott's post, you'll see an unfortunate rehearsal of the whole ludology/narratology debate (are games "really" texts, etc.), which is so past its expiry date it's not even funny anymore. When people challenge the idea of games as texts, I think that we can point as much to the players themselves as to the mushrooming body of literature addressing them as such in terms of evidence supporting the notion that games contain important experiential and narrative dimensions (among many, many others), all of which can be analyzed and thought about. But for the most part, the idea now seems sufficiently accepted/normalized that it's generating a thoughtful discussion of how, rather than eternally focusing on why.

As Abbott points out, there are various unexpected logistics involved in putting a digital game on the reading list - from securing licenses and access, to grappling with whether or not one should or can assume a certain level of digital literacy among the students themselves (or will they need tutorials in basic gaming skills first, or is playing the games firsthand required, etc.). Having attempted to incorporate games as recommended readings in some of my previous courses (not required, just recommended), along with my experiment in using Metaplace as a teaching and learning tool last fall, I have a small idea of some of the unexpected challenges and assumptions that arise when bringing games into an otherwise not-game-based curriculum. As I plan on incorporating even more games in my future courses, in exercises and as required readings, I think that I should probably start looking into this a bit more seriously, and potentially try to delineate some guidelines or best practices for points/issues that may need to be addressed.

I've got to say, though, so far I'm finding a lot more support for the theory behind games as learning tools, as well as instructions on how to use games for teaching, rather than practical advice about things like logistics, copyright, which game companies might be willing to offer an educational discount, and what to do about varying literacy/gaming skills. Though for this latter item, I'm sure a bit more delving into the following sites will yield some good advice. Anyway, all this to say that for now, what I've got is primarily a short list of resources that would be the obvious starting points for finding tips and established entry points for games in/as teaching (e.g. great for formulating learning objectives, developing in-class strategies, etc.):

Future Lab: UK non-profit (but surely industry funded) group dedicated to facilitating the incorporation of games and other digital apps into the classroom, enabling tech-based innovation in the development of tech curriculum & pedagogical tools.

Katie Salen's Institute of PlayQuest to Learn: An entire think tank dedicated to harnessing play for education, along with an entire school based around digital interaction, gaming and play. Salen has also written (& edited) key texts within game studies, and both organizations are based on theory grounded principles (as well as, no doubt, intentions to write some new theory).

McDaniel, R. and Telep, P. (2009). Best Practices for Integrating Game-Based Learning into Online Teaching. MERLOT: Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 5(2). Link

Max Lieberman, a graduate student at the University of Arizona, is generously sharing his in-progress research (from proposal to lit review to findings) on the use of games in humanities. He has also launched a resource for educators, called The Educational Game Database/'s still in the early stages, but hopefully will produce some good material soon. In the meantime, check out his slide presentations on his Research Proposal (examining the use of and outcomes of using digital games "as texts" in college English courses), and his Lit Review on the use of games in humanities education.

Additional possible sources of interest:
Adams, M.G. (2009). Engaging 21st-century adolescents: Video games in the reading classroom. English Journal, 98(6), 56-9. Link (subscription required? not sure)

Clayton, J. and Hall, M. J. (2008). Worlds of Warcraft: class audio and video (Podcast). iTunes U.

Games as writing/narrative tools (rather than texts):
Colby, R.S. and Colby, R. (2008). A Pedagogy of Play: integrating computer games into the writing classroom. Computers and Composition, 25(3), 300-12.

James Paul Gee's copious work on games & learning (e.g. What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy).

Jolley, K. (2008). Videogames to reading: Reaching out to reluctant readers. English Journal, 97(4), 81-6.

I've also found this massive list of resources exploring topics related to games in and for education/learning, which you can find here.

Not that I've lost sight of my original mission - I think that potentially some discussion with people who have done this before is the best way to proceed - learn from their mistakes and triumphs, as well as keep a good record of any admin and/or logistical hurdles my colleague (and later on myself) might have to clear this semester. I'm not sure though - was Abbott's experience typical? Have any of you who have incorporated games into a not-otherwise-or-entirely-games-focused course bothered to draft up established procedures for this, or have you even had to? Or has it been quite easy to bring games into a course reading list...both in terms of the associated admin and student response???? Any and all advice on this would be deeply appreciated (in comments or through email/DM).

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Job Opportunities in Children's Studies - Pass it on!!!!

Via the Childhood Studies mailing list, as posted by Peter Cumming, an announcement and call for applications for TWO(!) tenure-stream faculty positions at York University's Children's Studies Program. Very exciting news for those of you currently or soon-to-be on the academic job market. I'm so glad to see this program expanding, and am really looking forward to seeing who they get!!!! 

Here's the info, as posted by Cumming earlier today:

It is my pleasure to draw your attention to two new postings for Full-Time Tenure-Stream - Assistant Professor positions at York University in Toronto, Canada, in the Children's Studies Program in the Department of Humanities in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies.  One position is in Children's Studies (Contemporary Children's Culture) and the other is in Children's Studies (Children's Literature).  Both are for a start date of July 1, 2011, with an application deadline of October 30, 2010. 

Here are links to the two complete postings: 

Children's Studies (Contemporary Children's Culture): 

Children's Studies (Children's Literature): 

The posting also notes that they are conducting a broad search for both positions, and welcome applications from scholars from a range of specializations and backgrounds. Also, while all qualified candidates are encouraged to apply, priority will be given to Canadian citizens/permanent residents.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ready for the (Mockingjay) Revolution

©2010 Scholastic, Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay

A short follow up to my previous post on dystopian YA fiction from a couple of weeks ago, to note the release of the third installment of Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay, last night at midnight. While not as massively popular as "mega"-series like Harry Potter and Twilight (a comparison that will likely make any fan groan, as it's made way too often in discussions of the series), I have noticed that the hype around this series - and this title in particular - has gone from persistent hum to a fairly descent buzz, with most of the high profile kids/youth media sites covering the release, attending launch parties and generally paying attention. Small release parties appear to have been held all over N. America, and Suzanne Collins herself attended the midnight "madness" release party in NYC, at Books of Wonder, which was covered by MTV (no less). You can watch her reading the first chapter here.

A quick tour around the kids/YA lit blogs will confirm just how popular and highly anticipated this particular book is (I'll start you off: go here, here and here). Of course a movie is in the works, and I'm sure we'll be seeing some "interesting" videogame adaptations before too long (the story revolves around a game after all...seems like a total no-brainer. i know that videogames based on other media don't always turn out that well, but there are also some pretty awesome exceptions... American McGee's Alice, Tale of Tales' The Path, Lego Star Wars...). But for now, be sure to check out all the unsanctioned and unofficial fanfare around the series and its characters, from fashion to fan art, and everything in between.

Friday, August 13, 2010

It's Officially CFP Season: Another Childhoods Conference!! (Updated)

© Sesame Workshop, Image of Panwapa

From the looks of all these CFPs flooding my Inbox, 2011 is set to be an AMAZING year for children's studies...which is very fitting, seeing as this year has been proclaimed the International Year of Youth by the UN. This next CFP comes out of Rutgers University in Camden's Department of Childhood Studies, home of several of my favourite academics, including Dan Cook and Lynne Vallone. The conference itself promises to be a good one, with a nice broad focus that will likely bring in a diverse assortment of papers and scholars. Here's the description, as posted on the conference website:

Multiple Childhoods / Multidisciplinary Perspectives: Interrogating Normativity in Childhood Studies
May 20-21, 2011

The Department of Childhood Studies at Rutgers University, Camden, NJ, USA

We invite submissions for participation in a conference hosted by the Department of Childhood Studies of Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey, USA on Multiple Childhoods/ Multidisciplinary Perspectives. As a field, childhood studies has flourished in large part because scholars have recognized the necessity of moving between and beyond traditional academic disciplines and have resisted the idea that there exists one, normative version of childhood common to all. Indeed, Multiple Childhoods/Multidisciplinary Perspectives seeks participation from those who work to counter the presumption or invocation of an unproblematically normative childhood by making visible how varied material and institutional circumstances, ideologies, beliefs and daily practices serve to shape the unfolding lives and experiences of children.
In this spirit, participants are encouraged to interrogate practices and discourses surrounding childhood and childhood studies, asking, for instance: What forms do childhoods take in various social arrangements? How do the dynamics of social class, ethnicity, race, nationality, gender, sexuality, sexual orientation and religion configure notions of “appropriate” and “inappropriate” childhoods? How do children understand various kinds of social difference and inequalities? What about the understandings of researchers, and those who care for or otherwise attend to children? In what ways do conceptualizations of “the child” and of presumed normative childhoods—in research, in the commercial world, in institutional and everyday settings, in literature and discourse—inform the kinds of actions undertaken by and on behalf of children?
*Abstract submission opens here September 1st
Click HERE for full Call for Papers or download the PDF.

Updated Aug. 23, 2010: And here's another one:


Young People’s Cultures & Games, Gaming, and Play

MAY 28-31, 2011
DEADLINE: November 15, 2010
Gaming and play culture have long been central components of childhood taking many forms across the Global North and South. The digital format dominates playtime today, but play is, and has been, a more complex set of practices in the everyday lives of young people. This session aims to explore how games, gaming, and play are tied to contemporary forms of social interaction and alternative ways of thinking and learning in the context of a dynamic media ecology that is participatory even while being shaped by an unparalleled moment of media concentration.
Possible topics may include (but are not limited to): forms of participation games and gaming engender for children and youth; forms of learning present, missing or reinforced through gaming; gaming literacies and specific forms of knowledge produced by games; barriers to entry in gaming/game communities; the role of race, gender, and sexuality in gaming cultures; post-coloniality and gaming cultures; identity, performance, and game play; the “burden” of play on children and youth; the expectations that children will learn and be socialized through play; the “right” of children and youth to play.
Following the instructions under Option # 1 at, send three documents in separate electronic files directly to by November 15, 2010: (1) a 700-word proposal or 8- to 10-page double-spaced paper, without identifying marks; (2) a 100-word abstract and 50-word biographical statement; and (3) a Proposal Submissions Information Sheet.
NOTES: You must be a current member of ARCYP or ACCUTE to submit to this session. Rejected submissions will not be moved into the general “pool” of ACCUTE submissions.
Please feel free to print or forward the attached PDF of this Call for Papers: cfp ARCYP ACCUTE Congress 2011 Games, Gaming, and Play.