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INMS Update: Current Research and Initiatives

By Nora Paul and Karen Kloser

Playing the News An illustration from “Playing the News”

Building game creation tools not child’s play

The first year of work under the two-year Knight Foundation 21st Century News Challenge Grant awarded to the institute has been, literally, a challenge for co-researchers Nora Paul and Kathleen Hansen. Developing the front-end game- building tools for their winning proposal, “Playing the News,” a prototype of a news game scenario to explain current community issues, is taking longer than planned. They’ve encountered the difficulty of building a high-level game space with a low-tech front end enabling newsrooms to quickly and economically create new games as new issues or stories gain public attention.

Paul and Hansen have developed two game styles focused on one issue, ethanol production, to develop and test in year two of the grant.

The interest in games for news is growing. Ultimately, these tools will be available to all newsrooms so that they can modify the game structure by adding current, relevant content from their own backfiles of reporting. Paul and Hansen hope this encourages news organizations to consider innovative ways to engage their communities in the work of citizenship–the first step of which is to be well-informed. The goal is to discover whether, in fact, these innovative storytelling methods are not just novelties but rather effective ways to engage communities.

INMS launches game training certificate program

Xbox, Wii and PlayStation have captured the attention of serious academics. As the world of game and simulation software grows increasingly sophisticated, so does its range of applications. Higher education is no longer on the periphery of this explosion of “edu-tainment.” Today’s generation of students has grown up comfortable with one foot in the real world and the other in virtual game environments. A wide variety of disciplines see the potential of games and simulations as important research areas and potential learning approaches.

Yet the higher education programs that offer course work in games usually focus on training in the programming and design of entertainment games. There is little that focuses on the development of game technologists who can craft games and simulations for training and educational purposes or that helps educators and developers understand how games can be applied for “serious pursuits.”

The Institute for New Media Studies and the University’s Office for Distributed Education and Instructional Technology are collaborating with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System (MnSCU) to create a multifaceted certificate program addressing technology training, critical thinking, and practical application of game and simulation environments targeted initially to the health field.

This Game and Simulation Studies and Training Certificate Program will leverage the strengths of both programs—the technical training of MnSCU and the research traditions of the University of Minnesota—to provide a strong program for students within and outside of these two systems. It will offer a unique array of programs and courses in games and simulations in both traditional classroom and distance learning courses for enrolled and nonenrolled students. This partnership will offer an alternative to the technical- and entertainment-oriented training offered by an increasing number of colleges and technical training institutions.

Eyetracking Research Consortium experiments under way

This past spring, the INMS conducted eyetracking experiments testing several online news sites for members of the Eyetracking Research Consortium, a groundbreaking partnership formed this year between academia and the news industry. More than 80 research subjects participated in the first round of studies conducted at the SJMC. The second round of research took place at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, led by co-researcher Laura Ruel. 

The first round of studies looked at how 18- to 22-year-olds engage with online news sites. Consortium members from the Star Tribune, the Las Vegas Sun and the San Jose Mercury News submitted materials. In North Carolina, experiments focused on navigation through multimedia presentations and “information density” on story pages. Paul and Ruel presented their findings at the conferences of the Society for News Design and Online News Association in September.

For more about the Digital Story Effects Lab project, visit http://www.disel-project.org.