Alice Robison, Xplane, New Media and Fascinating Conversation for a Thursday Afternoon

by Marianne Richmond on June 29, 2007

Dave Gray at Xplane, probably one of the most interesting people making their home here in the Gateway City began inviting me to his Thursday afternoon Visual Thing Schools after we met as they say on Facebook {semi}" randomly in the blogosphere." Visually, maybe it would look like this.

I always want to go to VTS but 4PM in the afternoon is probably best known as the onset of witching hour in my life and its relationship to the needs of others, ’nuff said. Now that one of my sons is driving himself and 4PM has other meanings for my other son, I was able to attend this week’s VTS. It was a fascinating session.

Alice Robison, who along with Henry Jenkins and other new media big thinkers is working on the MIT New Media Literacy Project , was the featured guest. Jenkins gave one of the conference keynotes.

As we endeavor to define social media or as Brian Solis states it,

"There are many of us who have spent the last year defining and defending Social Media as a legitimate classification for new media as well as documenting the tools that facilitate the socialization of content, including Stowe Boyd, Robert Scoble, Jay Rosen, Chris Heuer, Jeremiah Owyang, Shel Israel, Todd Defren, Brian Oberkirch, Chris Saad, Jerry Bowles, Marianne Richmond, JD Lasica, Rohit Bhargava, Jeremy Pepper, Greg Narain, et al. However, we always seem to run around in circles defining it and re-defining it, over and over again"….

it is always interesting to listen and discuss new media with people whose lens zooms in on a topic from a slightly different orientation than one’s own.

Alice was in St. Louis for the National Media Education Conference and her sister Susan Robison works at Xplane. Lucky us. Alice presented some of the fascinating work that they are doing at MIT and facilitated an equally interesting discussion about various media participation/media consumption issues as it related to education and youth. Especially interesting coming on the heels of the recent Facebook vs MySpace obervations made by Danah Boyd and the life of it’s own that her writing took on within the blogosphere and MSM, as she herself duly notes.

 I think perhaps that the fallout of Danah’s blog essay is a case study in new media participation and consumption in and of it self: Her observations were interpreted, misinterpreted and remixed within the context of academic research that is more typical of the author…even though the standards of academic research were specifically stated by the author as not applicable.

Some of the highlights of Alice’s session from a personal standpoint involved the discussion about education and games….and oh yes, the thought that "things" wouldn’t really change until all the baby boomers died. I had no idea.  I looked behind frequently as I walked to my car….

Frequently my vantage point on games is as mother to 2 teenagers who play them. This makes them media consumers.If they were out in the garage developing software, this would make them media producers. I encourage this behavior but their idea of media production is writing "sup, dud?" on a friend’s Facebook wall. When the new printer has to be added to the network or their computer freezes, they call me. We have generational confusion syndrome in our house. Except for playing games. That is something that they were pre-wired to do and I remain non-compliant.

How wonderful it would be if this "pre wiring" for games could be connected at school to learning. How unfortunate it is that so many schools sound like Harold Hills warning about River City when they speak of video games and the Internet….

And all week long, your River City youth’ll be fritterin’ away. I say, your yound men’ll be fritterin’ Fritterin’ away their noontime, suppertime, choretime, too


As James Paul Gee, author of What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003) writes, "The secret of a video game as a teaching machine isn’t its immersive 3-D graphics, but its underlying architecture. … "each level dances around the outer limits of the player’s abilities, seeking at every point to be hard enough to be just doable. In cognitive science, this is referred to as the regime of competence principle, which results in a feeling of simultaneous pleasure and frustration-a sensation as familiar to gamers as sore thumbs." Gee accurately notes that schools aren’t into invoking feelings of pleasure and frustration to stimulate learning. He also mentions that games operate on the principle of expertise….mastering one level, moving to the next level which undoes that mastery forcing players to "adapt and evolve."

Gee writes, "This carefully choreographed dialectic has been identified by learning theorists as the best way to achieve expertise in any field. This doesn’t happen much in our routine-driven schools, where "good" students are often just good at "doing school." I am merely an observer of a sample size of 2, sometimes 3 gamers, but this explanation seems completely accurate. If my kids are consuming and not producing media, it is at least gratifying to know that they are learning while they are gaming.

There is lots of great content on the New Media Project website here and the paper, Confronting the Challenegs of the Particiatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century by Henry Jenkins, Alice Robison, Kate Clinton, Ravi Purushotmo, and Margaret Weigel is here.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Alice Robison July 1, 2007 at 11:50 am

What a wonderful post, Mariann! I was hoping to get a chance to speak with you afterward but it’s nice to get your feedback here. I was thrilled to be part of a great conversation and was especially impressed by how open the group is to these new ideas. Lucky for me, these weren’t new ideas to many of you at all!

Marianne Richmond July 1, 2007 at 8:49 pm

Thanks for your comments….what you all are doing is awesome! I have to tell you, I didn’t really connect the dots on gaming until your talk.


Dave Gray July 3, 2007 at 9:18 am

Great post Marianne. I laughed out loud about the baby boomer bit.


Marianne Richmond July 3, 2007 at 9:20 pm

Thanks for commenting!

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