ALA, Bioactive, and More!

On Monday morning, Val Davis (from the University of Florida Marston Science Library) and I presented on “Bioactive: A Library Game” (currently online here) that several UF librarians made as an alternative to the standard 40 minute library intro tutorial to increase student engagement with the actual work of learning about using library resources.

Bioactive was originally designed in Inform and it’s now moved to a web quest design, which is an even greater simplificiation from the earlier text-based Inform format. The simplicity of the design is for sustainability and ease of maintenance, but it’s more importantly used to ensure that the interface doesn’t get in the way of the learning objectives.

Our presentation was incredibly fun thanks to the wonderful crowd, and great set up from all of STS and especially Margaret Mellinger and Barbara MacApline. We were not only lucky in the great setup for our own presentation, but we also got to see Felice Frankel’s presentation. Frankel presented on her work in scientific photography, capturing the beauty and scientific information in her photographs and then using scientific photography to aid in working toward creating a visual scientific language for scientific literacy. Frankel also spoke on how many images have become too computer-focused in many senses, and this is true. Her photographs are computational, like good flowcharts and paralleling much of the current thought on computational modeling and representation (UF’s own Paul Fishwick’s work on aesthetic computing; Ian Bogost’s work on procedural rhetoric and situational/contextual modeling for interaction/testing; James Paul Gee’s work on situational learning in games; and many others). Even with all of this wonderful work, often the computer as artifice/interface seems to encourage the wrong inds of computation where computationally cleaned/corrected is favored over computationally modeled/accurately presented. Frankel’s work is especially excellent because it offers the visual equivalent of what a sound bite should be–even a glimpse and viewers are hooked into wanting to see and know more. Frankel mentioned a number of sites that showcase her work and methodology, including PicturingtoLearn.org and ImageAndMeaning.org.

Frankel also mentioned her interest in capturing the images for a book on the “science of cooking” and I can’t wait for her to do it! So much of gaming and new media is about the appropriate design of the interface to conceal and reveal the underlying structure to generate interest and to pull players/users in at a set pace. Frankel’s work pulls viewers in through its sheer beauty and then each images teaches how to look by making us want to continue looking and understanding what we’re seeing. These ways of seeing relate to aesthetics that communicate as well as the use of metaphor, with metaphor as a reduction/abstraction of information that still remains true to the integrity of the information and the image, the need for the transparency of the interface or the exposing of the interface to show context while editing noise (unnecessary/confusing information), and all to develop images that speak to multiple viewpoints and the modeled system as a method/view. Frankel’s work essentially exposes variables in play and combining this with the additional motivation of making/playing with something tasty through cooking is brilliant. The hands-on play using concepts best known from computing within real world style crafts continues to grow rapidly in popularity, including the knitting/hacking with sites like Ravelry (thanks to Merrie Davidson for pointing this out in our Library 2.0 meetings, otherwise I wouldn’t have known to read up on Ravelry and I could have missed the story on the success of Ravelry community funding drive) and on more traditionally tech-oriented sites like O’Reilly launching Makezine and on yet other sites like Boing Boing that are technologically agnostic in their fusions of hack/make cultures.

I’m too tired and jet-lagged to write more now, but the STS session was wonderful and I’m already looking forward to the next one!