Tuesday, March 14, 2006


EDUCATION: Teaching better journalism through video games?

ORIGINAL LINK (who graphic):

Better journalism through video games?
Instead of slaying monsters, players must tackle sources

Updated: 10:40 p.m. ET March 9, 2006

By Peter Svensson
Associated Press Writer

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- Being a rookie journalist can be intimidating. But what if your editor is an ogre?

To teach fact-finding skills, professors at the University of Minnesota have turned the fantasy computer game "Neverwinter Nights" into a tool for journalism students. Instead of slaying monsters and gathering gold, the players tackle sources and gather information. "When we initially did the game, it still had lava pits, the editor looked like an ogre . stuff like that. The librarian had breastplates," said Nora Paul, director of the university's Institute for New Media Studies.

The team, which includes game designer Matt Taylor and journalism professor Kathleen Hansen, have now modified the game graphics to look like a modern town, the fictional Harperville. A train has derailed, spilling toxic ammonia, and the players are sent out to cover the story. They dig up information by going to the library, government offices or talking to a retired train engineer at the bar.

For each step of a conversation, the players have four choices of what to tell to the interview subjects, ranging in attitude from assertive to tentative. If players are too brash, the interview subjects will say "Excuse me, I don't like your attitude," and end the conversation.

The goals of the game are not only to reinforce the thinking process behind information gathering and distinguishing between different types of sources, but also to teach etiquette, Paul says. The team had initially planned to have a crowd of game characters milling about the accident scene, but the game wasn't amenable to that. A bug in the program meant that any time a player approached a group of people, he was immediately attacked and killed.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.


Nora Paul
Director, Institute for New Media Studies
University of Minnesota
313 Murphy Hall
200 Church Street SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455

BELOW FROM: http://sjmc.umn.edu/mreporter/facupdate.html

(Professor Kathleen Hansen and Institute for New Media Studies Director Nora Paul were awarded a $16,000 grant from the College of Liberal Arts to develop an interactive simulation using an off-the-shelf game system called .NeverWinter Nights.. The simulation is being developed as a way to teach students the information strategy process through a realistic scenario in which the students play the role of a reporter covering a community emergency.)

at the University of Minnesota:

February 16, 2006

J-School students play games to learn

Journalism students will use a game this semester to develop research skills.

By Jeannine Aquino

This just in: A train derailed in the city of Harperville and spilled its load of anhydrous ammonia, a highly irritating gas with a sharp, suffocating odor. The story is assigned to a rookie reporter at the Harperville Gazette. He has only a few hours to get information, find people to talk to and figure out an angle for his story.

These are just a few challenges working journalists face every day. Now, through innovative use of the commercial computer game .Neverwinter Nights," University journalism students will have the opportunity to take on these challenges virtually.

This semester, in the Information for Mass Communication honors section, 25 students will perform the role of the rookie reporter. Each student will have to research, report and eventually write a 1,000-word article about the virtual spill in hypothetical Harperville.Journalism professor Kathleen Hansen teaches the class. She said there are a lot of skills the course is designed to give students that they might not necessarily be able to practice.

"Part of what we are doing with this game is to give students the opportunity to practice these techniques without having to go out in the physical world," she said. Hansen, along with Nora Paul, director of the Institute of New Media Studies, decided to use computer games because they were interested in whether the games would enhance a student.s comprehension of the information-gathering process.

"It's one thing for people to read something in a book," Hansen said. "It's another thing to have a game that simulates that process and forces you to put it together."

Similar to real-world reporting, the game allows players to do a little research before heading out for a virtual interview. Reporters can go to a news library stocked with hundreds of pages of documents and sources from online sites. The reporter even has the option of looking up a potential source.s address and making a few calls to prepare for an interview.

Paul and then-Dunwoody College of Technology instructor Matt Taylor approached Hansen about the possibility of using computer games almost two years ago. Hansen and Paul provided the journalistic content while Taylor worked on the actual development of the game. Taylor updated the original medieval content of .Neverwinter Nights" into a more modern setting for journalism students.

"We don't want students to be able to hit someone with a club," he said, referring to the commercial games ability to allow players to fight a multitude of fantasy characters. Hansen introduced the team's first working version of the game to honors students last semester. The version had several bugs that needed to be fixed, including an actual battle between the newspaper editor and reporter near the end of the game, Hansen said. "You might have arguments with an editor, but they don.t usually try to kill you," she said jokingly.The bugs have since been fixed and a more refined version of the game will be available for students to use in March, said Ted Whelan, a child psychology junior who was hired last week to help make the game more realistic.

Hansen said the game was not intended to replace the actual class. "It's another way we're trying to convey some of the ideas and concepts in the class," she said. "You can almost think of it as an enhancement." The use of computer-assisted instruction is a significant change from thinking of games purely for entertainment purposes.

"Games can indeed be useful and not just frivolous or dangerous," Whelan said. "I think that games as educational or research tools hold a lot of promise."

Barbara Garrity is a sophomore journalism student in the course's current honors section and soon will use the game."It could be more beneficial than reading because you actually have to interact with it," she said. "Like, with reading, I kind of zone out."


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