I am taking a course on Instructional Games this semester, and the primary theme running through it is that play is a lifelong mediator of both learning and socialization. Museums know this – think of how children’s museums are intentionally designed for discovery learning. Primary schools know this – think of all the education games that are being marketed to them now. Public libraries know this – think of summer reading programs and gaming contests. Corporations know this – think of the way the Google corporate headquarters is designed. And now higher education is beginning to recognize this. Gaming and play in higher education, and particularly in academic libraries and the learning commons is a research interest of mine.
Scott Nicholson is the director of the Because Play Matters game lab at the iSchool at Syracuse University, and has published some very interesting research on the issue, though much of it centers on gaming and play in public libraries. Gaming and play in academic libraries and the learning commons hasn’t received quite as much attention. I find this interesting, especially since the purpose of the learning commons is to promote collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking. These are all elements of play, and gaming is an important way to mediate this.
I see a few approaches to integrating gaming and play into academic libraries and the learning commons:
- Gamification of library services. Library contests are probably the most frequently used method for this, but they don’t necessarily promote learning. Another gamification option that is currently getting a lot of attention is the use of badges to motivate learning and engagement. For example, students could earn badges by the number of visits to the library seeking help.
- Gaming in libraries. I see the library or learning commons as the ideal location for a gaming lab, but unless you are planning a renovation project, that’s not likely in the budget. Instead, you could consider developing a gaming collection or even look to public libraries for inspiration. At the very least, providing spaces and places for students to game is essential.
- Gaming and gamification in library instruction. Designing engaging educational games is very difficult, but you don’t have to do that to incorporate gaming into instruction. Badges can work just as well for instruction as they do for library services. Also, look to serious games that can be integrated into instruction. Bibliobouts is one serious game made specifically for library instruction, and while the project itself is no longer being funded, it would not be difficult to adopt some of the elements of that game into your instruction. The game does not have to be specific to library instruction though. You can find a wide variety of serious games through Games for Change that have potential for being integrated into library instruction. The NTeQ lesson plan builder is a useful tool for integrating games into instruction.
- The library as a playful workplace. When I think of a playful workplace, I think of one that inspires creativity, productivity, collaboration and innovation. That kind of “vibe” is contagious to library users. Have you ever walked into a library and said to yourself “this looks like a fun place to work?” I have, and it was because the library staff looked like they were having fun – they were smiling, chatting with patrons, talking to each other, and generally enthusiastic. On the other hand, I have walked into libraries where I would never even think to approach the reference desk because of the “vibes.” Students pick up on that too, and I believe that libraries need to embrace a playful culture in order for gaming and gamification to achieve the intended objectives. Of course, this takes some truly dynamic leadership.