Ten Years. Three Truths. One Lie. (And a gratuitous lolcat.)


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My speed run talk from the closing keynote at GLS 2014

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Ten Years. Three Truths. One Lie. (And a gratuitous lolcat.)

  1. 1. Ten  Years.  
 Three  Truths.  
 One  Lie.
 (And  a  gratuitous  lolcat.) Liz  Lawley   Rochester  Institute  of  Technology   lawley.rit.edu  •  slideshare.net/mamamusings
  2. 2. Ten  years  ago,  at  the  first  GLS,  Kurt  and  Constance  were  untenured  assistant  professors.  It  wasn’t  just  them;  we  were  all  new  at  this  “games  and  learning  stuff.”  (I  didn’t   actually  make  it  to  the  first  one,  my  first  GLS  was  3.0)
  3. 3. When  I  went  looking  for  a  recent  photo  of  them  on  the  website  for  their  (not  so  new  now)  GLS  Center,  this  is  what  showed  up  on  the  main  page.  They’re  both  senior   faculty  now.  As  are  many  of  the  rest  of  us  who  were  at  those  first  GLS  meetings.  Who  would  have  thought,  ten  years  ago,  that  they’d  be  running  a  major  research  center   and  acting  as  advisors  to  both  industry  and  government?
  4. 4. 1 We’re  the  grownups  now.   The  first  truth:  We’re  the  grownups  now.  We’re  the  ones  with  tenure.  Even  the  kids  we  taught—whether  they  were  middle-­‐schoolers  or  doctoral  candidates—are   grownups  now,  or  damn  close  to  it.  
  5. 5. My  son  Lane  was  was  13  when  he  gave  his  first  invited  conference  talk  (thanks,  Barry!)  based  on  his  accomplishments  in  Teen  Second  Life.  We  wondered  if  the  amount  of   game  playing  we  allowed  (hell,  encouraged)  was  the  right  choice.
  6. 6. Apparently  it  was,  because  he’s  in  his  final  year  as  an  honors  CS  student  at  RIT,  and  is  spending  the  summer  working  as  an  intern  at  Google  NY.  (He’s  pretty  much  my   retirement  plan.)    It’s  not  just  him,  though.  The  kids  we  were  teaching  ten  years  ago  are  professionals  now.  They’re  building  systems,  teaching  their  own  classrooms,   changing  the  contours  of  the  field.
  7. 7. 2 We’re  grownup  enough   to  challenge  our  own  assumptions. The  second  truth.  We’ve  had  enough  time  now  to  think  about  this  field,  and  it  has  changed  enough  that  we  need  to  be  open  to  rethinking  some  of  our  closely-­‐held  beliefs.  
  8. 8. Here’s one we’re particularly fond of: the idea that adding game components to unpleasant material constitutes “chocolate covered broccoli.” (How many times have you heard this over the past three days? A lot, I bet.) This particular image comes from a recent Edutopia article by Matthew Farber on the subject. But it turns out this may not mean what we think it means.
  9. 9. This is Gillian, and I took this photo of her at my house on Memorial Day. She heard some of us talking about “chocolate covered broccoli,” and decided to take advantage of the fondue dish to sample it. Turns out she loved it. Some kids really like broccoli. And some of those, in turn, like it even better when it’s dipped in chocolate.
  10. 10. What  else  should   we  be  challenging?   It  also  turns  out  that  a  lot  of  foundational  work  in  many  fields  is  based  remarkably  small  (or  out  of  date)  data  sets.  Miller’s  “Magical  Number  Seven,”  for  instance,  is  often   cited  as  gospel  in  interface  (and,  worse,  Powerpoint  slide)  design.  But  it’s  based  on  (a)  a  tiny  data  set,  and  (b)  an  incorrect  interpretation  of  the  original  research.
  11. 11. What  else  should   we  be  challenging?   What else are we accepting on faith that we should be challenging, retesting, exploring now that the landscape has changed?
  12. 12. 3 Failure  is  both   inevitable  and  necessary… The  third  truth:  We  need  to  fail.  More  often.  And  you’re  all  thinking,  “Yes,  of  course,  duh.  We  know  this!  That’s  what  we  keep  preaching  about  the  value  of  games  for   learning!”
  13. 13. And  we  do  know  this  about  games.  We  talk  about  it  all  the  time,  especially  in  the  context  of  games  and  learning.     ! Unfortunately,  we  FORGET  it  when  it  comes  to  our  own  scholarship,  our  own  post-­‐school  learning.  
  14. 14. 3 Failure  is  both   inevitable  and  necessary…   Even  in  scholarship. The  third  truth,  revised.  We  need  to  fail  ourselves,  in  our  work.  We  need  to  make  mistakes,  and  learn  from  them.  But  when  we  get  to  be  grownups,  the  reward  structure   around  us  doesn’t  reward  failure—especially  in  academia.  
  15. 15. It’s  really,  really  hard  to  talk  about  failed  scholarly  work.  It’s  not  just  that  we  don’t  want  other  people  to  look  at  our  failures,  we  don’t  want  to  look  at  our  failures.  And  yes,   if  you’re  not  yet  tenured,  the  fear  is  probably  justified.  Which  is  why  it  matters  that  so  many  of  us  are  “grownups”  now.  
  16. 16. But last year I wrote a Hall of Failure paper about Just Press Play, and writing it was one of the best things I’ve done in a long time from a professional growth standpoint. The bad news is that this year nobody submitted to that track. We all seem to be letting our fear of admitting failure control our public presence.
  17. 17. The  Lie Success  means     never  having  to  say   you’re  sorry  wrong. So,  these  truths  lead  us  to  the  lie…the  lie  that  success  means  that  you  don’t  make  (or  at  least  don’t  admit  to)  mistakes.  Think  how  reassuring  it  was,  back  before  you  were  a   grownup,  when  you  found  out  your  heroes  had  feet  of  clay.  It’s  important  for  us  to  let  the  people  coming  up  behind  us  know  the  same  thing  is  true  of  us.    
  18. 18. “For  the  first  couple  years  you’re   making  stuff,  what  you’re  making   isn’t  so  good,  OK?  It’s  not  that   great.  It’s  trying  to  be  good,  it  has   ambition  to  be  good,  but  it’s  not   quite  that  good.  But  your  taste,   the  thing  that  got  you  into  the   game,  is  still  killer.  And  your  taste   is  good  enough  that  you  can  tell   that  what  you’re  making  is  kind  of   a  disapointment  to  you.    A  lot  of   people  never  get  past  that  phase,   a  lot  of  people  at  that  point  they   quit.”   !                                    —Ira  Glass Ira Glass did an extraordinary interview on the creative process, and the fact that we all start out making stuff that’s just not good, and need to push through that in order to succeed. I can’t reasonably summarize it in 15 seconds. Google it. Listen to it. Then listen to it again, and again. It’s that good.
  19. 19. Here’s the promised gratuitous lolcat. Complete with old skool scifi reference! We need to let go of our fear of admitting and sharing our mistakes. The fact that there were no submissions to the Hall of Failure track at this year’s conference says that most of us haven’t done that. We’re keeping ourselves from learning from our own mistakes, and we’re failing to model for new students and scholars the reality that progress isn’t a straight line, that not only do we all make mistakes but that those mistakes are valuable to think about and share.
  20. 20. It’s not just conferences where we can do this, though. We can use blogs. We can organize informal gatherings at our institutions and in our communities and at conferences. We can be real grownups, and use our power for good. Let’s do that.