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 mnhum.org/blues.

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!              

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Randy Ellingboe - Our World, Our Water

Randy Ellingboe has been manager of the Section of Drinking Water Protection at the Minnesota Department of Health since 2008, working with the people who operate public water supply systems to ensure that Minnesota's public drinking water meets all federal health standards. Randy has also worked for a number of other state agencies on water quality issues and in agronomy on hayland and pastureland research projects. He is currently the president of the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators and his agency was a state partner with the Minnesota Humanities Center’s Water/Ways exhibit and is a current partner in the We Are Water MN planning process..

Drinking water has been in national and local news a lot recently. Stories about lead, chemical spills, harmful algal blooms in lakes and rivers, and impacts from agriculture and industry on drinking water have captured our attention.

These news stories are alarming; contaminated waters pose threats to our health and the health of our environment, and safe drinking water is the foundation of community and business prosperity. At the same time, unless we are directly affected by one of those stories, we often take safe, plentiful drinking water for granted. It can be hard to know what we can do as private citizens to protect the drinking water that comes from our groundwater, lakes, rivers, and streams.

While valuable, statistics, facts, and theories are hard to grasp unless they are part of a larger context — part of a story. Often, it isn’t science that changes our views. Instead, change comes from the stories that touch our hearts and inspire emotion. Stories can help us connect the things we do every day in our jobs, homes, and activities to what we learn from science about our health and environment.

This year, Minnesotans had an exciting chance to share stories about water across the state as part of the Water/Ways exhibit. The exhibit, sponsored by the Minnesota Humanities Center in cooperation with the Smithsonian and many state and local partners, travelled to six communities across Minnesota. It was a chance for these communities to come together around the stories of their water(s), to share what their water(s) mean to them and how they protect them, and to think and talk about what we all must do to protect them into the future. It was a new way for state and local government agencies with interests in water, like us at the Minnesota Department of Health, to connect with citizens and communities.

The Water/Ways exhibit blended stories from Minnesotans about how they value water and what water means to them with stories from agencies that monitor our waters and work with the people who manage our lands, businesses, and utilities. The exchange of these stories about water is crucial to help us connect as private citizens, businesses, government, landowners, and utility managers. We all play critical roles in protecting the health of our water — and by doing so — ourselves. We can learn from each other’s stories, to help us better understand our world and our water.