Exploring this new Planet

I spent some of the wee hours of the Thanksgiving break actually playing LittleBigPlanet for the first time.  (I have a son who is too young for TV, so gaming was restricted to after his bedtime.)  I definitely get what all the fuss is about!  The beautiful graphics have a depth my partner described as “the opposite of the Wii.” The personalization was reminiscent of Second Life, without being nearly as flexible of course.  And the game play was not unlike the Atari video games of my youth, with a lot of jumping around, picking up glowing prizes, and avoiding dangerous pits.

The game does a nice job of walking the newbie through the basic skills and concepts, gradually ramping up the challenges to dexterity and problem-solving.  After completing the first three story levels a whole new world of user-created community levels opened up before me, as well as an area of blank canvas for me to create my own levels!

…And that’s as far as I’ve gotten, but I will continue to report back here as I learn this game.  If you are a Playstation gamer, and especially if you are interested in “serious games” or real-world applications of video games, drop me a line.  Rubyji is my Playstation network ID, feel free to friend me there.

[PSN badge]

Press releases

I thought folks might be interested to see the official press releases from the White House and the MacArthur Foundation about last week’s launch of National Lab Day and the Educate to Innovate program, of which the Digital Media and Learning Competition is a part.

They are excerpted below. Click the links in the previous paragraph to read the full document.

Speaking to key leaders of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) community and local students, President Obama announced a series of high-powered partnerships involving leading companies, foundations, non-profits, and science and engineering societies dedicated to motivating and inspiring young people across America to excel in science and math.
[...]

Today at the White House, President Obama launched the “Educate to Innovate” campaign, a nationwide effort to help reach the administration’s goal of moving American students from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math achievement over the next decade. President Obama announced a series of partnerships involving leading companies, universities, foundations, non-profits, and organizations representing millions of scientists, engineers and teachers that will motivate and inspire young people across the country to excel in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
[...]

National STEM Game Design Competitions: The MacArthur Foundation, Sony Computer Entertainment America, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) and its partners (the Information Technology Industry Council, the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, and Microsoft) are launching a nationwide set of competitions that include the design of the most compelling, freely-available STEM-related videogames for children and youth. The competitions will include the 2010 Digital Media and Learning Competition, a $2 million yearly effort supported by the MacArthur Foundation that advances the most innovative approaches to learning through games, social networks and mobile devices. One of the competitions will be open only to children, to help them develop 21st century knowledge and skills through the challenge of game design.  This year Sony will participate in one segment of the competition and encourage the development of new games that build on the existing popular video game Little Big Planet.

- whitehouse.gov: President Obama Launches “Educate to Innovate” Campaign for Excellence in Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (Stem) Education, 11/23/09

As President Obama called for new efforts to reimagine and improve education in science and math, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced a $2 million open competition for ideas to transform learning using digital media. The competition seeks designers, inventors, entrepreneurs, researchers, and others to build digital media experiences – the learning labs of the 21st Century – that help young people interact, share, build, tinker, and explore in new and innovative ways. Supported by a grant to the University of California at Irvine, the competition was planned and announced in partnership with National Lab Day, a movement to revitalize science, technology, engineering and math in schools that was highlighted at a White House event today.

Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA), in cooperation with the Entertainment Software Association and the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, will team with MacArthur to support Game Changers, a new component of the competition. Game Changers will provide awards for the creation of new game experiences using PlayStation’s popular video game, LittleBigPlanet™. [...]

The competition is designed to promote “participatory learning,” the notion that young people often learn best through sharing and involvement. Participatory learning, as defined by the competition, is a form of learning connected to individual interests and passions, inherently social in nature, and occurring during hands-on, creative activities. Successful learning labs and games will exploit all of these elements. Awards will be made in two categories: 21st Century Learning Lab Designers and Game Changers.

The competition includes three rounds of submissions, with public comment at each stage. The public will also be invited to judge the final candidates, including the selection of People’s Choice awards in each category.

“Learning labs are digital media projects that promote hands-on participatory learning,” said Cathy Davidson, Duke University Professor and David Theo Goldberg, Director of the University of California Humanities Research Institute, HASTAC co-founders. “They promote learning together with others, by interactively doing, trying, sometimes failing. When we think of laboratories, the image of beakers and microscopes come to mind, but learning labs help us reimagine and expand our understanding of learning across all domains of knowledge.”

Competition winners will join an existing community of 36 awardees from 2007 and 2008, including a video blogging project for young women in Mumbai, India; a cutting-edge mobile phone application that lets children conduct digital wildlife spotting and share that information with friends; a project that leverages low-cost laptops to help indigenous children in Chiapas, Mexico learn by producing and sharing their own media creations; and an online platform for 200 classrooms around the world that allows young people to monitor, analyze, and share information about the declining global fish population.

- macfound.org: $2 Million Competition Seeks Ideas to Transform Learning, 11/23/09

You have lots of questions and we’ll have lots of answers!

We are thrilled that yesterday’s announcement has generated so much excitement and that word is traveling fast through the blogosphere (you can keep track of our coverage by monitoring our Delicious account).

We know that many of you have questions. Here at headquarters we are putting the final touches on this year’s shiny new (and President Obama endorsed!) Competition.  Details and more information will be forthcoming December 14th, including information about when the Competition will actually open, the application structure, materials, deadlines, FAQs, etc.

Stay tuned to this blog, follow us on Twitter, or join the Competition list-serv for all the latest details!

Elmo and friends enlisted in STEM education

One of the first public hints about this year’s competition theme was this story in yesterday’s New York Times.

To improve science and mathematics education for American children, the White House is recruiting Elmo and Big Bird, video game programmers and thousands of scientists.

[Elmo testifies]President Obama will announce a campaign Monday to enlist companies and nonprofit groups to spend money, time and volunteer effort to encourage students, especially in middle and high school, to pursue science, technology, engineering and math, officials say.

The campaign, called Educate to Innovate, will focus mainly on activities outside the classroom.

Science and engineering societies are promising to provide volunteers to work with students in the classroom, culminating in a National Lab Day in May.

The MacArthur Foundation and technology industry organizations are giving out prizes in a contest to develop video games that teach science and math.

“We’re finding extraordinary engagement with games,” said Connie Yowell, director of education for MacArthur. If the engagement is combined with a science curriculum, she said, “then I think we have a very powerful approach.”

- NYTimes.com: White House Pushes Science and Math Education, Nov 22, 2009

Getting to know LittleBigPlanet

Ruby G
Working for HASTAC has it’s perks. Today’s Presidential announcement about National Lab Day was the culmination of several frantic months of percolating, planning, wondering, worrying, creating, and kvetching. And it was all worthwhile to see the big public launch of this incredible strategic initiative to improve education and address global challenges.
One of the interesting aspects of this year’s Digital Media and Learning Competition is that it includes a partnership with Sony to create “levels” in their PS3 game LittleBigPlanet that incorporate science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning. So, dutiful New Media “expert” (ha ha) that I am, I have started to research the game. Not surprisingly, Wikipedia is a definitive resource.  I also found a site where users can create their own avatars (known as “Sackboys”) for the game.  Seen at right is my very own Sackgirl! Cick on it to make your own.
There’s more over on BoingBoing today about National Lab Day and on the unique art of LittleBigPlanet (a sample of which is below).

[LBP artwork]