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Friday, October 22, 2010

What is Science?

Why, Science is big words and diagrams of "molecules," of course!

And Science will make you beautiful! You don't have to understand all the big, hard, Sciencey words we throw at you - just trust us that Science will do all the work for you.

Take a look at the Olay ad, especially. White lab coats? Check. Sterile environment? Check. Clipboards to check things off on? Check.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lady Gaga, Literary Criticism, and Why the Internet Really Is Changing the Learning Game

On March 11, 2010, the 9.5-minute-long music video for Lady Gaga's new single "Telephone" was released to much fanfare.

On March 12, this blog post went up on the literary criticism blog "Only Words to Play With." The blog's tags include terms like Nabokov, Nietzsche, Academia, and Freud - and now Lady Gaga. The post itself is an extensive breakdown of the symbolic imagery in the Telephone video, with subsections titled "Prison and Identity (Foucault's Discipline and Punish, Technological Entrapment, etc.)" and "Commodifying and Commercializing Murder," among others. (There is now a second part posted, and the blog had previously posted an essay on Gaga as Mythological Trickster.)

But what is really cool is what happened on March 13.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I am on the ballot.

I passed my dissertation proposal on Monday, so I am now officially a doctoral candidate. I hope everyone will vote for me when the election comes up, which probably won't be for another two years.

My dissertation is on the connection between science literacy and science media - in particular, whether engaging in authentic scientific practice in the classroom leads to changes in how middle school students interpret representations of science they see in various media. I'll be looking both at non-fiction news-type media and fictional television shows that contain "scientists." I'll certainly be posting more about this in the future!

Friday, August 27, 2010

TV Fandom and Participatory Media

The International Conference for the Learning Sciences was held here in Chicago this summer. It was my first chance to attend (couldn't quite make it to the Netherlands last time), and I have to say it was the most solid conference I've ever been to. Much higher signal:noise ration than AERA, NARST, SRCD, or NAGC.

One great thing was that the poster sessions were scheduled with no talks to compete and with very tasty food in the room, the combination of which led to higher attendance and, from what I could see, more in-depth conversations than I've seen at other poster sessions. I certainly had more good conversations than usual (as an attendee, not a poster-giver). One person I had the pleasure of meeting was Sean Duncan, a student of Constance Steinkuehler's who is now a professor at Miami University.

He was presenting a poster about video game players (of WOW, Zelda, and Kongregate) posting in online forums. We got to talking about conversations he saw where game developers/designers were interacting with the players online. We had a great discussion about this breaking down of the divide between creator and audience, which is something I've been thinking a lot about with respect to TV shows because I see it in my own fandoms. For example, the executive producers and cast of the show Bones (a show I'm likely to post more about here in the future) often take to Twitter to answer fans' questions, give teasers and semi-spoilers, and post behind-the-scenes photos. It's often unclear how bidirectional this interaction truly is, of course - the power is still in the creators' hands, and they could choose to ignore everything fans say and just use it as one more promotional medium. Or they can, like the creators of Glee, include fandom shout-outs in the episodes (to the delight of some fans and chagrin of others) and otherwise take fan input into account in their creative process.

Overall, this means that kids growing up today are going to see television as a very different medium than it was even when I was growing up in the 80s. Not only is there much more choice now - between DVRs, DVDs, Netflix, Hulu, and a million other ways to watch what you want, when you want it - so that the decision to watch TV is a more active one, a TV show is no longer something to simply sit and watch for one half-hour or hour. You can still do this, but the possibilities for participation before, while, and after you watch an episode are nearly limitless now. Spoiler-hunting, liveblogging, post-episode analysis, recaps, fanfiction, Q&As with creators: all of these and more are a standard part of nearly any TV show fandom. Take a kid who grows up participating in this, and what will their viewing, participation, and even creation habits look like as an adult?

Because one of my dissertation studies involves TV (though not fandom specifically), I've been looking into the literature on this. I've got a long way to go, but one study I'm currently enjoying is by Mark Andrejevic: Watching Television Without Pity: The Productivity of Online Fans. It mostly stays at a descriptive level, like a lot of current writing about this sort of thing. It'd be nice to see people pushing methodology and analysis a bit further, though this stuff is enjoyable. Reading recommendations are welcome!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Response to Cultivated Play: Farmville

I've got a few posts saved up that I've written while trying to decide what to do with this blog. It's gone through a few different hosts (ultimately back to Blogspot), a few different titles/URLs, and dozens of different templates. I think I'm finally happy enough with it to start posting for reals, so I'll be posting some of that backlog. So that explains why I may sometimes, like here, be commenting on articles from months ago.

Quite a few blogs have linked to this piece. There are a few critics, and a lot of people who just seem to like the idea of criticizing Farmville.

There are many things to criticize about these games, but I don't think that Liszkiewicz's criticisms happen to be valid ones, so I feel the need to rebut most of his points individually. Specifically, I'll just focus on his assertion that Farmville is not a game. Now, I haven't read Caillois, though I really should. But I will go ahead and take his definition of game at face value rather than debate the definition itself - and I still think that if Farmville doesn't count as a game by this definition, many other things commonly referred to as games don't count either.

A couple thinky videos

Neither of these is all that new, but they both make some interesting points about the future of education.

The first gets a bit alarmist in spots, but I like what it has to say about the changing face of knowledge, learning, and education:

Did You Know? from Amybeth on Vimeo.

The second is a talk by Philip Zimbardo, of the infamous Stanford prison experiment, who apparently is doing stuff about perception of time now. As my husband put it, it comes off as he's found his hammer and is now turning everything into a nail, but I don't think that makes it any less interesting. Anyone studying cognitive, behavioral, or social sciences knows by now that there are a million factors involved in any action and a million lenses to view it through, and every lens gives you a bit more of the whole - so viewing all of this through a "perceptions of time" lens certainly won't hurt.

I do take issue with his characterization of time spent playing video games as "alone" - Reed Stevens, Constance Steinkuehler, and plenty of other scholars will tell you that video game playing is very often a social activity, whether with others physically present or online. The point remains, though, that many of these interactions are different from "traditional" socialization (especially those that happen online, often semi-anonymously) and so might be changing the ways that young people view social interaction.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


When I created this blog, I was intending two things:

1) That it would be about learning through play, games, and toys.
2) That it would mostly be a place for me to make note of publications and other resources I've found for later reference.

Since then I've realized two things:

1) That kind of learning is one thing that I study and am interested in, but by far not the only thing (I knew that already), and I'd like to post more general stuff as well.
2) Focusing only on what other people say without ever saying anything myself (except brief comments on what they say) doesn't make for an exciting blog, nor does it really make me excited to update it.

So this blog just got a new URL (from play-learning to cognitive-informalist), a new description, and will now have both more general learning content (but toys and games are still a big focus!) and possibly more original content. Possibly.