Jane McGonigal:”Let the World-Changing Games Begin”

Jane McGonigal thinks that we can solve real-world problems by engaging people in large-scale, collaborative games.  Her argument makes perfect sense the more you realize that many of our most creative, innovative people are hands-on learners – the very people that schools fail, but who thrive in virtual worlds.

This interview expounds on McGonigal’s vision with her new game, EVOKE

An Ontology of Journalism

Earlier this year, I raised the question of what a journalist should know of philosophy, I received thoughtful advice from two good friends who are professional philosophers. One asked me to think about the ethics of publicity. The other told me that students shouldn’t take a “philosophy of journalism” course; they should take literary criticism instead.

I have followed up on their reading recommendations, and I still intend to respond to them, but I decided to start with the more basic question: What is journalism? Is it a practice? An artifact? Can we categorize and subdivide its essential properties? In order to decide whether a thing is worth doing, or is being done ethically, mustn’t we first say what it is?

That was the starting point for the Committee of Concerned Journalists’ inquiry into the state of journalism in the late 1990s. They were motivated by the embarrassment of watching first-tier news teams chase tabloid headlines and internet rumors during the Clinton-Lewinski scandal, as well as the rise of media personalities such as Oprah Winfrey who were perceived as journalists by the public, but not by people in the profession. Their inquiry led to the book, The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and What the Public Should Expect

Since that time, the practice of journalism has changed even more radically than the PEJ envision. One fundamental aspect of that change is the fact that computer science has become central to the creation and sustaining of a journalistic enterprise. Computational journalism requires the ability to classify and journalistic practices and products clearly in order to create software and hardware that supports newsgathering and presentation. Therefore, an ontology of journalism would support the growth and effectiveness of computational journalism work.

Similar work is going on in computer science, owing in no small part to the proliferation of knowledge domains for which computing has become an essential element. My collaborator on the CPATH project, Lillian Cassel, has been spearheading an effort to develop just such an ontology for the computer science.

So, in my spare time, I’ll be playing with a concept map similar that moves toward an ontology of journalism to see whether it leads to anything useful. (Thanks to Va a suggestion from a very wise friend.) Your thoughts are welcome, as always.

Why is the state allowed to define sex for the purpose of assigning rights?

This question has been simmering in the back of my mind for a long time.

As a result of covering stories related to LGBT rights, and particularly, debates over hate crimes (see the “small murders” section) and same-sex marriage, it occurred to me that laws that use sex as a criteria for assigning marriage rights require the state to define a person’s sex. I am using the word sex here as a matter of biology, as opposed to gender, which is a matter of cultural performance. However, not everyone has a clear sexual identity, especially at birth. Given the variation in human biological sex that exists in nature, it’s hard to see how the state can define who is a same-sex or opposite sex couple without violating the equal protection clause of the constitution, which requires that laws be applied equally to all.

Whose rights are affected by laws assigning marriage rights on the basis of sex? Transsexual people who have been medically diagnosed with gender identity disorder have the outward appearance of being one sex, but have brains wired for the opposite sex. Transsexual people may have same-sex or opposite sex orientations. There have been legal cases in which the marriages of transsexuals to people they view as their opposite-sex partners have been invalidated by judges who insisted that biological sex is fixed at birth, is revealed by external genitalia, and can’t be changed.

However, intersex people may be born with ambiguous genitalia, or may present as one sex at birth and find at puberty that they have the sexual anatomy of the opposite sex. Parents and doctors guess the gender with which the newborn is most likely to identify, and they don’t always get it right. If you have someone who appears to be female, or is classified as female at birth, and who is ultimately determined to be male, what gives the state the right to decide whom that person is allowed to marry? Should that not be a private decision?

I don’t think that taking the legal definition of sex out of the hands of the state would invalidate sex discrimination laws, or keep private organizations from having membership or hiring criteria based on sex. For example, the Catholic church can continue to insist that all priests be male based on they perceive a male to be, because they are a private organization. An employee can still sue for sex discrimination based on their self-identification as a member of a particular sex, their employer’s identification of them as a member of a particular sex. All I’m questioning is whether the state has the right to determine who is of a particular sex.

In my mind, none of this is related to moral beliefs anyone might have about homosexuality, transsexualism, or gay marriage. I’m simply asking whether this is something that belongs in the state’s purview?

I’m not a lawyer, so there is a very good chance I’m missing something. Any thoughts?

When artists and scientists collide: Steve Harrison on collaboration

Steve Harrison is an architect by training whose work in academia and industry has crossed into engineering, computer science and interactive media. He is also a provocative thinker about the value of cross-disciplinary collaboration in research and teaching. Steve is also my co-PI on the CPATH Distributed Expertise Project funded by the National Science Foundation. The PI is Lillian (Boots) Cassel. In this video, Steve talks about what it’s been like to build collaborations between scientists, engineers and artists at Xerox PARC and between computer science, art, design and media students at Virginia Tech.

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Superintendent: IJIMS Strengthened Learning and Professional Development in New Jersey School District

In June, 2009, my colleague Ursula Wolz and I had a chat with outgoing Ewing New Jersey Public Schools Superintendent Raymond Broach about his views on the IJIMS Project. IJIMS or the Interactive Journalism Institute for Middle Schoolers, is collaboration between Ewing township’s middle school and The College of New Jersey that is supported by the National Science Foundation’s Broadening Participation in Computing Project.  Wolz is the Project’s principal investigator; I am a co-PI along with Monisha Pulimood. The other TCNJ members of our team are gender equity specialist Mary Switzer, several TCNJ student research assistants, and a select group of volunteer mentors. Meredith Stone is our external evaluator.

Our hypothesis was that students who don’t think of themselves as “computing types”  can be successfully introduced to computing and programming concepts by learning to do multimedia journalism about their own communities. Our research results more than validate our hypothesis.

In this interview, Dr. Broach lauded the constructivist nature of the IJIMS model – a method of teaching the emphasizes collaboration and discovery, making students participants in creating knowledge, not merely absorbing knowledge. Broach noted that the Fisher teachers and guidance counselor who collaborated with us also received training in multimedia journalism and programming in Scratch. This, he said was a departure from the usual professional development model, because it required the teachers to learn skills that weren’t necessarily part of their training.

By the way, one of the Fisher teachers, Laura Fay, recently presented her experience teaching the Scratch programming language in the 8th grade language arts classroom at a meeting for investigators in the BPC program. You can read the notes from the presentation she and Ursula Wolz gave on the IJIMS project: