Thursday, August 23, 2012

Three books on games, learning, participation and expertise

Over the past several months Peter Lang has published three excellent books that look at gaming from complementary perspectives in our New Literacies Series. With a number of new books due for publication soon, this is a good time to bring these books together here.

In chronological order, the first to appear was Myint Swe Khine's collection on Learning to Play: Exploring the Future of Education with Video Games. Following the editor's careful Introduction, the book addresses nine highly relevant contemporary themes:
Simon Egenfeldt Neilson claims that "to push the field forward we need more critical thinking like this book, that will find innovative ways to get us from experiments to practical use in schools".

Next came Mark Chen's full-participant ethnographic account of Leet Noobs: The life and death of an expert player group in World of Warcraft. T. L Taylor rightly describes this book as "a must-read for anyone interested in the rich forms of action, and interaction, in multiplayer spaces". As editors we were riveted and, ultimately, traumatised by the unfolding epic recounted by Mark of what transpired over a 10 month period of involvement in a 40 person raiding 'family'. The back cover statement best describes the contents:
"Leet Noobs documents, for over 10 months, a group of players in the online game World of Warcraft engaged in a 40 person joint activity known as raiding. Initially, the group was informal, a 'family' that wanted to 'hang out and have fin.' Before joining, each player had been recognized as expert in the game; within the group they had to adapt their expertise for the new joint task and align themselves to new group goals. Through their shared activity, members successfully established communication and material practices that changed as they had to renegotiate roles and responsibilities with new situations and as the larger gaming community evolved. Players learned to reconfigure their play spaces, enrolling third-party game mods and other resources into their activity. Once-expert players became novices or 'noobs' to relearn expert or 'leet' gameplay. They became 'leet noobs' who needed to reconfigure their expertise for new norms of material practice. Ultimately, these norms also changed what it meant to play World of Warcraft; some group members no longer wanted to just hang out and have fun, and eventually the group died in an online fiery meltdown."
The most recent publication is Elisabeth Hayes and Sean Duncan's collection Learning in Video Game Affinity Spaces. It is largely concerned with what James Gee calls "the 'beyond games' part of the 'games and learning' movement -- with what people "do with games beyond just playing them".

Bookended by the editors' account of 'Expanding the affinity space' and James Gee's 'Afterword', the book comprises 8 engaging chapters on diverse dimensions of being members of affinities:
Donna Alvermann describes this book as a "highly accessible text [that invites] readers to use, expand and critique current understandings of learning in affinity spaces". Constance Steinkuehler appraises it as "a powerful empirical follow up on Gee's notion of affinity spaces that asks us to move beyond the view of games as merely a designed object to the view of games as both designed object and emergent culture".

We are thrilled to have these books in the series and thank all those who have contributed to them for gracing our series with their presence.

Electronic serendipity and the Nexus 7 tablet

Like anyone, I guess, there are times when I get overwhelmed and weary of the digiverse: I get gadget gaga, web weary, and doc-demented. Often it just seems like it's all a bit much and it feels like time to escape to analogue space and the world of nuts and bolts for a good long stretch.

Of course, it only takes a day or so and I'm ready to get back. For all kinds of reasons.

Among the reasons is the wonderful serendipity that seems never far away from the interfaces among the internet, everyday purposes and routines, and the digital tools I use as a matter of course.

Today brought a case in point. I'm still waiting for the keyboard and case for my Google Nexus 7 tablet to arrive, but meanwhile a couple of micro usb adapters had arrived that allow for plugging regular usb devices into the micro port on the Nexus. I had got this for exploring using a mouse for the time when the keyboard arrives, and it works fine.

Being pretty much ignorant of the Nexus architecture I tried plugging a usb stick in, but to no avail. The file app didn't help. So I figured "ok, no go. No loading media from a stick".

When I first got the Nexus, Michele sent me a message about the Reddit Nexus forum and I took a look. Lots of people saying lots of things of interest, but many of those folk are programmers whose topics I but dimly understand. But I filed it away.

Here comes the serendipity. Today, while idling away a bit of time I thought "I wonder what they are talking about on the Reddit Nexus forum. For some reason unknown to me -- although almost certainly linked to my regular states of befuddlement -- rather than going direct to the forum I just keyed "Reddit Nexus" into google search.

Of course, you can guess what happened.

Right. The first hit on the search was for a thread on a usb media importer. I clicked on the page with no idea of what might be there and started reading about the Nexus not being root based. And before I could sneeze I found I had hit on a discussion of a brand new app that did exactly what I had been trying to do a couple of days ago. It would, allegedly, make it possible to save or stream media from a thumb drive. And for $1.99.

I went to the site that the thread pertained to and found the developer had a free app there for photos, and recommended trying the free app to see if it would run on the device.

It did.

So I downloaded the media importer app. It didn't run the first file type I tried, but it did run the next one. In no time at all I was streaming the movie Australia from a 16 gig stick.

That is precisely the kind of app functionality you need for a device that has no SD slot but does have Bluetooth and micro usb capacity.

I bought the 16 gig version of the Nexus to allow me some space for downloading media files from the computer, but this app means that for anyone who wants the Nexus for the kinds of uses I put it to they will be fine with the 8 gig version.

That is a LOT of wonderment for $199. This tablet just keeps getting better and better.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Go, Nexus 7 Tablet

Sheer prejudicial bloodymindedness meant that when it came to tablets I was never going to be in the market for a mehPad, so when the first android tablets became available I got one. Trouble is, it was early early running Android 1.6. Subsequent android updates meant it was soon struggling. But we needed to learn a bit about apps for some writing we were doing at the time, and the sheer amount of travel going on at the time meant that a small tablet was handy for trips when I had a computer available upon arrival. The thing has run well for years now, but it has really only been running as a media player on bus and plane trips for the last 18 months. Last year when the Kindle Fire came out I reckoned it would fit Michele like a glove, and so it proved. Impressed with the Fire's speed and functionality I began thinking about getting a new tablet myself and the Fire appealed. Around that time I read about Google's plans to have its 'own' tablet and I decided to wait until they were released. 

A few weeks ago I picked up my new Google Nexus 7 by Asus. I was as excited by the prospect of an Asus Nexus as I had been by the prospect of a Samsung Chromebook, having had excellent experiences with 3 generations of Asus netbooks. I had so enjoyed the Chromebook that I was prepared for the Nexus to be a slightly less exhilarating experience. But such preparation was unnecessary. The Nexus is stunning. It is lightning fast, light and comfortable to operate, and the bluetooth is a total bonus. The screen is great and the spelling anticipation for keying means that very often I only have to key every third word or so, because the semantic power of Google's algorithms flashes the options faster than I can think anyway, and the main challenge is to get my fingers to the right option.  The USB charging adapter is small and light and recharging is very quick. Dropping media on from Windows and Mac machines is a snap. Notwithstanding Michele's throwaway line (in response to my interest in running a bluetooth keyboard) that if I need a keyboard I'm using the tablet wrong, I have ordered a cover that includes a built in keyboard. I'll post on my experience with the keyboard as and when I get it, and get it going. The easy sync to Google docs of files written offline on  an app, and the ease of working in google docs online means that this very light and tidy set up might be sufficient for 80% or more of my travel needs.

Not that I'll be leaving the Chromebook behind when on the road. No way. That thing packs so much soul it would come on every trip simply for company.

At the start of the year our friend and colleague Donna was pondering tablet options and I recommended waiting for the Nexus and giving it first refusal. In light of the first few weeks messing with the Nexus, Donna, I'd say the same again -- albeit in bold and in large font, highlighted in the color of your choice.

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