Thursday, June 22, 2017

Nicolaas VanMeerten - Sharing Experiences Through Video Games

Nicolaas VanMeerten is the Senior Programs Director at GLITCH, and third year Ph.D. student in the Educational Psychology program at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Nic is a data scientist by trade and his research focuses on learning behaviors in complex multiplayer video game environments.

Video games are an ideal medium for documenting and communicating the human experience. They allow us to take on the role of someone else and share in their experiences through a digital environment. For example, the game This War of Mine, which was inspired by the Siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War, was developed to communicate what it was like to live as a civilian during war times in that city. While helping your group of civilians stay alive in the war torn city, you experience a whirlwind of emotions from sadness to fear and even depression at times. However, this game is only one of many that have been developed recently that are intended to serve as a way to communicate a person’s experience.

My first encounter with this type of game was Papers, Please. In this game, the player takes on the role of an immigration officer at a border crossing in a country that is reminiscent of the Soviet Union. As the officer, you are charged with completing fairly mundane tasks on a daily basis, such as checking people’s immigration documents, inspecting identification photos for fraud, and frisking people for contraband. However, your performance on these tedious tasks is directly related to the officer’s salary, which has consequences (food, heating, medication, etc.) for the health of the officer’s family. In addition, you are regularly charged with making decisions that question your morality. For example, do you let a person’s spouse into the country, even though they don’t have the correct paperwork and risk the loss of salary, or do you reject their spouse and send them back to their home country by themselves?

These are just a few examples of why video games could be used more often as an engaging, experiential humanities tool used to share stories across cultures. These games are capable of delivering a rich digital world that mimics the experiences of people around the world who we may never meet, allowing us a chance to perceive the world as they do and help us better understand our fellow humans.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Blues Vision Workshop for Educators

”An enlightening, transformative, and safe space to learn and grow as an educator. Crucial learning for anyone who teaches in Minnesota and beyond.” - Allison Merrill, Educator

Join other educators for a very unique professional development opportunity: Blues Vision in the Classroom,to be held at the Minnesota Humanities Center on July 25 and 26, 2017. This workshop uses Blues Vision: African American Writing from Minnesota as the starting point for rigorous discussion and activities that will help participants create practical strategies for using texts from the book as catalysts for conversation and potential change in the classroom. This opportunity prepares participating educators for meaningful engagement with their students by encouraging a deeper understanding of African American experiences and the black literary tradition in Minnesota.

If you join us at this two-day workshop you will will receive supplementary resources, strengthened relationships with colleagues and authors, clock hours, meals, and a copy of Blues Vision as part of this experience. Space is limited so register soon!

For more information about this opportunity, visit

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Janice Gilmore - From Student to Educator to Collaborator: Creating Change

Janice Gilmore is a columnist, educator, popular motivational and inspirational speaker, and author. She took early retirement after a 31-year career in the Omaha Public School District (OPS) as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal. Janice writes a column for the Omaha World Herald newspaper and Revive, an African-American lifestyle and community empowerment magazine. She is also a consultant for Innocent Classroom, a part of the OPS - Minnesota Humanities Center professional development partnership.

I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska in the 50s. My experiences as a little black girl during that time were many — not all of them good. And, unfortunately, many of the unpleasant experiences I had during that time were based on race.

I remember when I was in second grade the white teacher in a classroom with mostly white students and a few black ones read the book Little Black Sambo. The book’s illustrations showed exaggerated features of Sambo including huge red lips, big white eyes, and skin the color of coal — an offensive portrayal of any person of color. After the teacher read a page, she would turn the book around for all the children to see the picture. The white kids would snicker and point at us; the black kids would feel ashamed. The teacher seemed not to have a clue on the impact it would have on us black kids. And of course, there were no black teachers around, as black teachers were few and far between during that time.

When I became a teacher, and ultimately a principal, I wanted to guarantee that all children were treated fairly. I still carried some hurts from childhood, so I was especially sensitive about ensuring that these little children were not subject to some of the experiences that I had.

Then about five years ago, after I had been enjoying my early retirement from OPS, I became affiliated with the Humanities Center. I was so impressed with their professional development program that I was eager to become a part of it if possible. The passion that Humanities Center leaders Dr. David O’ Fallon, President and CEO, and Dr. Eleanor Coleman, Education Strategy Consultant, have exhibited concerning this program is contagious. And being a part of this organization has been exciting to me.

Not only am I a consultant for Innocent Classroom, but Increase Student Engagement Through Absent Narrative workshops, School Action Team, Story Circles, and Reconstructive Curriculum, are other workshop offerings that I have been able to see or participate in over the years. There are other programs that are touted by educators that I have not personally witnessed, but my understanding is that they are superbly designed to help teachers better educate students.

If my teachers had access to professional development of the magnitude that the Humanities Center provides, I would venture to say that no little child would have had to sit through the humiliation of Little Black Sambo as my friends and I did.  And that would be a good thing!