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).