Serious Games: Counterintuitively Delightful

Posted on: May 18, 2017

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When you see the phrase, serious games, do you think of something educational and boring? Or do you think about games to teach college professors how use active learning approaches in their teaching?  Games to inspire computing teachers in Qatar about how algorithms help solve social problems such as traffic jams?  Games designed to encourage young learners of English as a Foreign Language to correct each others’ common grammar mistakes?

Do you think about games designed to cause game design students to think about why they play? Games to motivate todays’ youth in China to save the endangered Pangolin?  Games to raise college student awareness about the harsh challenges for civilians who live in war zones?

The coolest thing about Michigan State University’s serious game graduate certificate program courses is the students.  The second coolest thing is the projects our students create.  I offer you a quick tour of a handful of the many great spring 2017 serious game projects from MI830: Foundations of Serious Games.


Active Learning Land by Nick Noel, Instructional Designer, Michigan State University and MSU Educational Technology MA student

Audience: University faculty who teach undergraduate courses and are at a development workshop.

Serious Goals:

  • Introduce simple active learning activities to university faculty
  • Show that these activities can be implemented easily
  • Introduce the concept of synthesizing technology and class activities


Traffic Manager by Hanan Aishikhabobabkr, Computing Education support for middle and secondary school teachers and MSU Educational Technology MA student (who lives in Qatar)

Audience: Secondary school computer teachers in Qatar with ICT (Information and Computer Technology) background who will be trained to teach computational thinking.

Serious Goals:

  • Experience some of the ways where algorithms can be used in solving problems in the real world
  • See how algorithms are executed
  • Notice some of the factors to consider when making up an algorithm


WarZones by AJ Moser and Bingzhe Li, MSU Media and Information HCI MA students

Audience: 18-24 year old college students who may be active voters, and care about the innocent people suffering from war and would like to know more about them

Serious Goals: 

  • Give players a sense of what it is like living in a war zone as a normal civilian
  • Show a variety of serious problems civilians might encounter
  • Demonstrate the cruelty of war on people living in the area


EFL Foundational Grammar Decks by Justin Thibedeau, EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher and MSU Educational Technology MA student (who lives in Taiwan)

Audience: English as a foreign language (EFL) students

Serious Goals: Motivate students to generate meaningful language as they recognize and practice grammar patterns to combat native language (L1) influence


Pangolin! Protect or Poach? by Yiqing Ling, MSU Media and Information HCI MA student

Audience: Chinese teenagers

Serious Goals:

  • Evoke interests of pangolins
  • Enrich knowledge of pangolins
  • Raise awareness of their biggest threat – poaching


Cloudwalker by Mars Ashton, Director of Game Art in the department of Art and Design and Assistant Professor at Lawrence Technological University

Audience: Budding game designers

Serious Goals: Teach players to question what games are asking them to do and why on a critical level

In MI830, students begin by completing a series of short “gamelabs” to  learn the serious game design process. Then they embark on a 10-week “epic quest” to create a serious board or card game. They create a prototype, playtest the prototype, and iterate the design.

More than half of students in the graduate certificate program are full time working professionals, including K-12 teachers and university professors, corporate trainers, museum professionals, outreach professionals, fortune 500 employees, IT workers in the healthcare industry, game designers, and more.

The graduate certificate program also serves MA and PhD students in Media and Information, Educational Technology, other MSU departments, and other universities.

The deadline for applying for admission in Fall 2017 is June 15.  All three courses can be taken online. For more details, visit the SGD site.  Or email professor Carrie Heeter, director of the serious game graduate certificate program (

By Carrie Heeter, Professor of Media and Information, Michigan State University

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Bob Albers prepares for retirement from MSU, premieres film at CCFF

Posted on: April 18, 2017

MSU Media Sandbox photography exercise; with Zydecrunch, performing atop the Comm Arts & Sciences parking ramp. 9/17/12. photo: w.r. richards/CAS-MSU

After a 35-year career teaching at MSU’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences in the Department of Media and Information, Senior Video Specialist Bob Albers will retire after the current spring semester.

Albers teaches one of the Communication Arts and Sciences classes that many ComArtSci students choose to take as a part of their degree programs. The course is called Story, Sound and Motion, which explores the central role of storytelling, sound and editing in media communication. That being said, the number of students that have had the opportunity to learn from Albers reaches into the thousands. He has had a particular impact on students who have taken his documentary capstone class. In fact, last year, a film produced by students in Albers’ class, From Flint: Voices of a Poisoned City, earned entrance into several film festivals and even won a Student Academy Award.

Before he retires, Albers has been able to cherish the relationships and connections made during his time at the college. The department recently celebrated the sixth Albies Awards, an Oscar-like awards ceremony recognizing students for their work in production and film. It simultaneously commemorates Albers and his name for the impact he has had on the program.

At this year’s Albies, Albers was celebrated with a plaque from the students, “It was one of those bittersweet things. I think, ‘Why am I leaving? I’ve got this group that I’m a part of that I am still connected with and I can tell they care about me’ ... So, I’ll miss that.”

Celebrating his craft and most recent film

You have likely experienced that moment when you’re doing the thing you love and you enter this state of being where you’re absorbed in the action or performance, commonly referred to as being “in the zone.” Albers’ recent documentary film, Chasing the Moment, follows 11 individuals who have experienced those moments and continue to seek them out in their lives every day.

The film features a chef, a marine sniper, a pulitzer prize-winning photographer, dancers, an Olympic Silver Medalist and more. It recently premiered at the Capital City Film Festival in Lansing on April 8. 

“(The film is) about how do you get to that place where everything goes away and you’re not thinking about anything, you’re just being whatever it is that you do,” said Albers.

Like the people in his film, Albers said he has experienced this sensation, too. Before entering the classroom, he was a college basketball player at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky, where he studied psychology. He said the feeling was present as an athlete, but it also happened later when he picked up the classical guitar and when he went to art school to study sculpture and photography, too.

Throughout the course of his life, he’s been a teacher of various subjects and crafts, including teaching science to junior high school students, giving guitar lessons and, today, mentoring and educating future directors, editors and other industry professionals about all aspects of film and documentaries.

Albers’ teaching went beyond the classroom during the 4.5-years of production for Chasing the Moment. He selected a handful of MSU students and two faculty members to assist him.

“Some of them were involved in the shooting (process) and so I feel as if that’s a window into the professional world for those people,” said Albers. “They get to do classes, but then they get to work on a big project."

The 2016 Albies attended by over 200 members of Telecasters, alumni, staff and guest. 04/23/2016. Photo Credit: Amanda Pinckney

Leaving a legacy

Albers’ ability to connect with his students dates back to the 90s when Bob Gould, a professor in the School of Journalism, was a student of Albers’. When Gould later returned to ComArtSci as a professor, he said Albers was a friendly face to see walking the halls.

“The first semester teaching here, I leaned on him a little to get some professional advice, but every time I would see him in the ComArtSci building, I would smile and was a bit nostalgic. In fact, even today, 10 years later, I still feel that way when I see him or talk to him,” said Gould. “He had that kind of impact on me and so many other students. His kind soul and quiet demeanor always creates a calming effect when stress levels are high. I’m sad to see him retire, but it is so well deserved.”

Gould said one of the last things he did as a student at ComArtSci was create a small documentary as an independent study with Albers. Now, 30 years later, Gould’s daughter, Ilene, a freshman media and information student at MSU, is doing the exact same thing.

“He knows how to teach creative, out-of-the-box thinking and I’ve definitely learned better ways to approach storytelling," said Ilene. "He’s just a genuine and kind person and shows a lot of care for his craft, but most importantly for his students."

His daughter’s work with Albers has impressed Gould and he is happy to know she had the chance to learn from one of the greats.

“When I heard Bob might be retiring, I told my daughter that she should take an independent study with him and learn as much as she can from him. I thought it would be a really cool thing for two generations to share that special mentorship,” said Gould.

Just as Gould and his daughter have enjoyed learning from him, Albers has taken equal joy from teaching, “I really do like teaching a lot and I enjoy being around young people. You know they say it keeps you young, but I don’t think that’s true, maybe a little bit younger than you would be if you weren’t involved with young people. They see the world differently than I do, maybe clearer in some ways than someone like me does. That’s a thrill.”

What’s next?

Albers, a Kentucky native, looks forward to moving back to his home state after 37 years away to build a home with his wife and “get to know Louisville again,” especially through his photography.

By Savannah Swix


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Meditate to Change Your State: MI Professor Publishes RelaxU App

Posted on: December 5, 2016

Just in time to help you keep your New Year’s resolutions, MI Professor Carrie Heeter has published a new meditation app.

RelaxU includes five 10-minute seated meditations: Calming, Favorite Place in Nature, Comfort, Releasing, and Stability. Each has been carefully designed, applying the tools of yoga (mental focus, breathing, gentle movement, and meditation objects) to help you change the state of your system in a desired direction.

relaxu1Three of these meditations were used in a research study by Heeter and colleagues on benefits of meditation for hospice and palliative health care providers. Significant, substantial changes were observed when these meditations were practiced regularly over a 6-week period.  For example, health care providers reported increased ability to manage stress, improved focus, heightened emotional awareness, and more listening to and trusting bodily sensations.

Heeter teaches user experience and serious game design. Since 2013, she has been studying and working with meditation expert/mind-body therapist Dr. Marcel Allbritton to design RelaxU and other cybermeditation experiences.

She values the humbling and sometimes hilarious privilege of working with a content expert who is also her meditation teacher.  Collaboration involves a certain amount of creative tension, exacerbated by the stress of deadlines. But in this case, it was essential to approach every aspect of creating the apps from an appropriate mental state. The state of mind of the creators colors the creation. So Heeter and Allbritton engage in “mindful wrestling,” rather than heated discussions. If she becomes agitated while programming or editing audio she stops (perhaps to do a mediation), resuming when her state is calm.

These meditations are simple tools for novice meditators that help you quickly change the state of your system (mind and body). Though simple, the meditations are highly refined, each on about the tenth iteration.  The designs draw from the science of yoga and meditation, Allbritton’s meditation expertise, Heeter’s user experience, game, and technology design background, extensive user testing, and scientific research.


The RelaxU icon

RelaxU meditations allow the individual to have their own experience. You move and breathe at your own pace, moving only as far as is comfortable. Subtle meditation design approaches such as synchronizing gentle movements with inhale and exhale can quickly change the state of the system. Meditation objects are also specific to the person. For example, in the Place in Nature meditation, you are guided to think about a favorite place in nature. The place each person thinks of will be unique to them.

The meditations on the RelaxU app are tools for changing the state of your system. The first time you do one, quite a bit of your attention will be on figuring out what to do.  Returning to that same meditation the next day, your experience can be more focused and deeper. Doing a meditation repeatedly over a period of time exercises and builds mental attention skills.

RelaxU is published by Heeter’s company, Mindtoon Lab. It is available for free on the Apple app store and on Google Play. To find it, search for “Mindtoon Lab” and then scroll down to RelaxU.

Mindtoon™ meditations are not medical interventions. They are potentially helpful tools designed based on Mind-Body Therapy principles, that may or may not be helpful to any particular individual.


By Carrie Heeter, PhD

Professor of Media and Information, Michigan State University

Director, Mindtoon Lab


By Savannah Swix

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The (Virtual) Reality of the Meaningful 2016 Play Conference

Posted on: October 27, 2016

The Meaningful Play 2016 Conference ended as a huge success. The event spanned from October 20-22, with most of the activities taking place in MSU’s Union. The Department of Media and Information (specifically their GameDev faculty, staff, and students) is the proud founder and host of this event, which takes place every two years.

Geared toward gaming industry professionals, those in the world of academia and game researchers and developers, the event created an environment where attendees could come together to share and showcase their ideas. The goal of the conference is to decipher and improve upon the gaming community to influence the world in meaningful ways.img_1020edit

MSU alum and game developer, Xavier Durand-Hollis, shared how a large portion of this year’s conference revolved around the hot trend in the gaming world, virtual reality.

“Many speakers presented on the new gameplay experiences that augmented reality and virtual reality platforms offer, and what that means going forward for serious and non-serious games alike,” said Durand-Hollis.

Elizabeth LaPensée, assistant professor of Media and Information at MSU, was featured as a keynote speaker at the conference. As an Anishinaabe, Metis and Irish game developer and researcher, she offered a unique perspective to the conference.

LaPensée found the most beneficial aspect of the event to be “The convergence of academics, developers, and experts in many different areas makes Meaningful Play an exciting opportunity to reflect on your own work, better understand the role of playful experiences ranging from games of all forms to virtual reality, and connect for collaborations.”

Durand-Hollis added to this idea by saying how the conference always leaves him with a lingering desire to go out and make something, specifically directed toward developing for virtual reality.

Game designers and more gathered for the 5th annual Meaningful Play Conference at Michigan State University.

Game designers and more gathered for the 5th annual Meaningful Play Conference at Michigan State University.

The program coordinator of the Master of Arts in Educational Technology at MSU, Liz Owens Boltz, a second time attendee, revealed that Meaningful Play is one of the most inclusive conferences she has attended, with the organizers and participants remaining mindful of and encouraging diversity.

“Some of the best things about Meaningful Play are its scope and audience. Sessions tend to cross interdisciplinary boundaries and therefore encourage attendees to think outside of our traditional domains,” said Boltz.

While some attendees favored game exhibitions, Boltz loved the environment that so easily allowed her to meet, collaborate and learn with a group of talented and diverse people.

The conference draws in those in the world of academia and industry professionals on a global scale. The last conference attracted nearly 300 people from 17 countries and 24 U.S. States.

Despite this year’s Meaningful Play festivities having drawn to a close, MSU, the founder of the event, is proud to continue to host and encourage such an impactful conference.

By Lily Clark

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World-class New Colleagues

Posted on: September 6, 2016

We are excited to welcome eight world-class colleagues to our department! They are part of an amazing group of 28 tenure system faculty and professors of practice hired by the College of Communication Arts and Sciences and will and add depth and breadth to our research and creative faculty.

Our new members of the research faculty are (in alphabetical order):

David EwoldsenDavid R. Ewoldsen, elected an ICA Fellow in 2016, joins us from The Ohio State University. He received a joint Ph.D. in psychology and speech communication at Indiana University in 1990. David engages in the scientific study of the psychological processes involved in the selection, uses, interpretation, and effects of mediated communication. His recent research has included media and racism, adolescent risky behaviors, cooperative video game play, how people comprehend media messages, motivations for seeking narratives, and the psychology of entertainment.

Keith HamptonKeith Hampton joins MSU from Rutgers University where he was the Endowed Professor in Communication and Public Policy and Co-Chair of the Social Media & Society Cluster in the School of Communication and Information. Prior to Rutgers University, he was a member of the faculties of the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and at MIT. He is broadly interested in the relationship between new information and communication technologies, social networks, democratic engagement and the urban environment.

Natascha JustNatascha Just will be joining the department’s faculty in January 2017. Until her departure to the U.S, she will continue to be a senior research and teaching associate in the Media Change & Innovation Division, Institute of Mass Communication and Media Research (IPMZ), at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. Natascha has a Ph.D. in communication science from the University of Vienna, Austria. Her research and teaching interests are in media economics and policy, with a particular emphasis on Internet economics.

Elizabeth LaPenséeElizabeth LaPensée is jointly appointed in the Department of Media and Information and the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures (WRAC). She expresses herself through writing, design, and art in games, transmedia, comics, and animation. She is Anishinaabe, Métis, and Irish, living near the Great Lakes. She designed and created art for Honour Water (2016), an Anishinaabe singing game for healing the water. She also designed and programmed Invaders (2015), a remix of the arcade classic Space Invaders inspired by art from Steven Paul Judd.

In addition, several professors of practice have joined our creative faculty in film and media production as well as games and interactive media:

Jeremy Gibson BondJeremy Gibson Bond will be teaching game design and development at Michigan State University. Since 2013, he has served the IndieCade independent game festival and conference as the Chair of Education and Advancement, where he co-chairs the IndieXchange summit each year. Jeremy is the founder of ExNinja Interactive and the author of Introduction to Game Design, Prototyping, and Development: From Concept to Playable Game in Unity and C#. Prior to joining the MSU Games faculty, he taught as a lecturer in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor and the Interactive Media and Games Division of the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts.

Ricardo GuimaraesRicardo Guimaraes is a concept artist and illustrator with extended work experience for the entertainment industry. He joins our faculty from Rio di Janeiro, Brazil. Ricardo’s illustrations have been showcased at ImagineFX Magazine and Ballistic Publishing's EXOTIQUE, among many others. His clients include Blizzard Entertainment, Square Enix, Ghost VFX, and many others. Joining MSU as a professor of practice, he will teach, among others, courses on concept design for students in the film and games focus areas and 3D graphic design. He will also contribute to the work of the Games for Learning and Entertainment (GEL) Lab.

Carleen Ling-An HsuCarleen Ling-An Hsu graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts where she studied film and television and from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Her films for HBO, PBS, the Learning Channel, BBC, and Channel 4 (in the UK) cover a wide range of subjects from the obesity epidemic in America to gender identity in Thailand to faith healing in Africa. She joins MSU as a Professor of Practice in our department jointly with the Film Studies Program in the Department of English. Carleen’s documentaries have been recognized for their exceptional storytelling and original content with a Royal Television Society Award, a Genesis Award, a Foreign Press Association Award for Best Documentary, a nomination for a national News and Documentary Emmy, and two prestigious George Foster Peabody Awards.

John J. ValadezJohn J. Valadez is a Peabody Award winning filmmaker who has written, directed and produced many nationally broadcast documentary films. His films address such diverse subjects as the false imprisonment of a leader of the Black Panther Party, Latino poets in New York City, gang kids in Chicago, the history of affirmative action, segregation in America’s schools, Latinos in World War II, the evolution of Chicano music, Latino civil rights, and the genocide of Native Americans in the Southwest. John grew up in Seattle, taught photography in India, and studied filmmaking at New York University. He will be joining our department as a Professor of Practice with a joint appointment in the Department of English and at WKAR.

This fantastic team arrives just in time for the launch of our new undergraduate degree. The innovative modular design prepares students for a digital media age in which convergence has blurred traditional boundaries among media sectors. Transmedia knowledge is increasingly an asset. In our program, you can specialize in one of several focus areas (film and media production, games and interactive media, graphics and animation, creating human-centered technology, media and information management, and society policy and research) or you can combine knowledge from two or more areas to broader your future employment opportunities.

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MSU Graduate Certificate in Serious Games: Now with Badges!

Posted on: October 13, 2015

Serious Game Certificate Badges

by Carrie Heeter, Professor

The MSU Graduate Certificate Program in Serious Games now comes with badges. You earn one badge for each of the three courses, as soon as you successfully complete the course. And you earn a composite badge when you complete all three courses and earn the certificate.

You can post the badges you earn directly on your personal web site and your linked page, with a link to this web page describing the badges and criteria. We also award the badges through Mozilla’s Backpack badge system.

Instructions on how to obtain the digital badge will be provided upon successful completion of each course. If you already completed a course or the certificate but did not receive instructions on how to claim your badges, contact Carrie (

In fall 2012, MSU launched our fully online graduate certificate program in serious game design and research. We were experienced online teachers and we were clear about what courses to offer and key concepts, skills, and theories that would provide a great foundation for serious game design.

I didn’t realize how amazing it would be to get to teach passionate, diverse, incredibly expert “students” from across the US and around the world.

  • Many are K-12 teachers or university professors.
  • Some are doctoral students.
  • They teach or study computer science or english or history or art or math or  education or HCI…
  • Some work in the game industry.
  • Some are corporate trainers.
  • Some work in Fortune 500 companies.
  • One designs exhibits for a science museum.
  • Another creates visitors experiences for fisheries and wildlife centers.

As the program enters its third year, we’ve learned a lot.

  • We’ve been fine tuning ways to encourage each learner to approach class assignments to optimize their personal learning goals.
  • We’ve been refining ways to connect classmates with each other so they benefit from each other’s ideas and experience.
  • We’ve refined assignments and approaches to ensure that our courses, along with being full of content and projects, are sensitive to busy professional’s lives.

Wizard CarrieSo, if you’re passionate and awesome and interested in learning more about designing and studying game to change the world, apply to our program. Find more information here. If you have questions, email me, Professor Carrie Heeter,

The deadline to apply for admission for Spring 2016 is November 15!

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Net Neutrality, the Open Internet and the Need for Relevant Research

Posted on: February 26, 2015

On February 26, 2015, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued its latest attempt to secure an open Internet by establishing net neutrality rules. The latest Order, whose full text will be released to the public after the Commission vote, reclassifies Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as Comcast, Verizon, Earthlink, and ACD Net as telecommunications service providers (common carriers). Under these rules, ISPs will be subjected to non-discrimination obligations and may not offer paid prioritization to content providers. Common carrier services, addressed in Title II of U.S. communications law, are potentially subject to detailed regulation, although the FCC elected to forbear from the vast majority of rules that had historically applied to public utilities, promising that no price regulation, universal service fees, and taxes would be imposed.

Title II obliges service providers to provide their services on a non-discriminatory basis to all who have a reasonable request. This is the legal framework under which fixed and mobile telephone companies and their broadband services operated until 2005, when they were reclassified as nearly unregulated information services. Cable companies were never subject to such non-discrimination obligations. Non-discriminatory access and an obligation to serve everybody are key tenets of everybody interested in an open Internet, a debate that had been unfolding over the past decade under the heading of “net neutrality”.

There is unanimous agreement that an open Internet is desirable but there are wide differences as to how it could be safeguarded and particularly concern among stakeholders about the chosen approach. Interestingly, the positions of business and users are divided within these groups. Wireline ISPs are vehemently opposed to the new rules, several mobile service providers (including T-Mobile and Sprint) have signaled that they are indifferent, and many high-tech players such as Google as well as numerous high-tech entrepreneurs support such regulatory intervention. Many players in the business community and some cyber libertarians believe that ISPs voluntarily will keep the Internet open and that today’s rules are a historical step backwards, subjecting the Internet to unprecedented and undesirable government intervention.

So what are the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed approach? The biggest advantage of the chosen approach is that is puts FCC authority on a solid legal footing. The other alternative, creating the ability to monitor and safeguard an open Internet within the information services framework is more difficult to construct legally and two prior attempts were overturned by the appeals courts. In that sense, the FCC chose a robust framework. The biggest risk is regulatory creep. Even though the agency promises to apply only light-handed regulation, there is a high risk that stakeholders will gradually (ab)use the regulatory process to tweak Internet policy in their own favor, leading to gradual regulatory expansion that would undermine the dynamic Internet. The most effective, yet most elusive way forward would have been for Congress to endow the FCC with solid legal foundations to safeguard an open Internet. In that sense, the FCC chose a feasible, but third-best solution to support a desirable policy goal.

It remains to be seen whether any of the dire forecasts and enthusiastic predictions will materialize. It is unlikely that the new Order will improve access speeds, increase investment, and accelerate the rollout of Internet access to rural and unserved users as supporters of the Order claim. It is also unlikely that the fears project by opponents, including higher broadband prices, slower access speeds, lower investment, higher broadband taxes, and slower innovation will result. The Order seems to have a beneficial effect in that it will safeguard free speech and access for small entrepreneurs to the web. Most likely, the Internet as a dynamic place and the many players participating in it will adapt to these rules and muddle through on a going-forward basis.

What is needed, and seems to be absent from the Order, is a systematic monitoring of the effects of the Order as it is implemented so that these conflicting claims can be evaluated and, if necessary, mitigating policies can be adopted. Faculty in the Department of Media and Information has a long tradition of generating relevant research. Several of our researchers have studied the issue of net neutrality. Johannes M. Bauer and Jonathan A. Obar published a paper in The Information Society that clearly identified the benefits of an open Internet, the potential risks if all safeguards are eliminated, but it also warned from a simplistic approach that would favor one set of goals over others. The present model is a far cry from such a nuanced approach.

In this tradition of relevant research, the Quello Center for Media and Information Policy under the leadership of its Director William H. Dutton, is launching a Network Neutrality Impact Study, bringing in a network of MSU researchers from the College of Communication Arts and Sciences (Johannes M. Bauer, Steven S. Wildman), Social Sciences (Jay Pil Choi), and Law (Adam Candeub). The goal is to provide a non-partisan, unbiased assessment of the short-, medium- and long-term implications of this far-reaching Order to inform practitioners in business, government, and the public at large. Our hope is to contribute to preserving the openness, free speech, and the dynamics of the Internet.

Johannes M. Bauer
Professor and Chairperson

Watch Dr. Bauer's net neutrality interview on WLNS TV.

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Trifecta Working to Expand Its Reach and Impact

Posted on: October 24, 2014

Guest Blog by Shelia Cotten, Professor of Media and Information, Director of Trifecta and Interim Director of the MSU-Sparrow Center for Innovation and Research (CFIR)

Shelia Cotten main 2I am honored to have been selected as the first Director of Trifecta (a winning partnership of three innovative colleges) and to be working with the brilliant team of researchers that make up the Trifecta Intellectual Leaders (TIL), the group of faculty members leading this interdisciplinary initiative.

Much work is currently being done to expand the reach and impact of Trifecta, which connects researchers in three MSU colleges - Communication Arts and Sciences, Engineering, and Nursing - with the overarching goal of maximizing research innovation and collaboration to improve health outcomes and health care organization and delivery.

This fall, the TIL is writing a document that will outline the intellectual direction of the initiative, which will help guide us in the months and years to come. It will detail the vision of Trifecta as well as the major areas of research emphasis. Trifecta will become a visible, vibrant intersection of faculty, student and industry partners working collaboratively to develop technology needed to reduce costs and improve health outcomes across diverse communities.

These collaborations will be the basis of research programs aimed at developing technological solutions to major health challenges and testing their effectiveness in targeted communities. Trifecta will be the administrative hub to connect faculty, students and business/industry partners to secure federal and industry funding to advance research on technology and health.

With support an investment from all three colleges, MSU's provost and vice president for research and graduate studies (VPRGS), Trifecta is a launchpad for groundbreaking interdisciplinary projects that will develop cutting-edge computing and communication technologies to improve health care and outcomes and address health disparities.

The College of Communication Arts and Sciences is looking to hire two faculty members that will participate in Trifecta when they begin in August. Those positions, which are currently posted, include a tenure-track Assistant Professor in Big Data and Health in the Department of Media and Information and an Assistant or Associate Professor in Advertising, Public Relations and Health Communication.

trifecta-logoTrifecta held a kickoff event for the 2014-2015 academic year in August that focused on facilitating new research collaboration relationships and recently hosted a talk on working in interdisciplinary teams.

Other upcoming events are planned, including a Trifecta Grant Writing Panel on Tuesday, Nov. 4, from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the School of Engineering Dean's Conference Room 3405. The panel will include Johannes Bauer, Professor and Chair of the Department of Media and Information; Nora Rifon, Professor in the Department of Advertising + Public Relations; Subir Biswas, Professor of Engineering and Associate Chair for Research; and Gwen Wyatt, Professor of Nursing. The panelists have diverse backgrounds in funding and will share information regarding past experiences as well as tips and advice. Beverages and desserts will be provided.

Jim Dearing, Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication, will present a lecture on "Diffusion of Evidence-Based Innovations in Healthcare Organizations" on Thursday, Dec. 11, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the Sparrow Hospital Auditorium, 1215 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing, Mich. The event is co-sponsored by Trifecta and the MSU-Sparrow Center for Innovation and Research.

I invite you to join us at these events to learn more about Trifecta and the interdisciplinary research being done at MSU that focuses on the use of information and communication technologies for interventions to impact health behaviors, self-care management and health outcomes.

To be added to the Trifecta listserv, please email For more information on Trifecta, please see the Trifecta website or contact me at

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Meaningful Play 2014: Get Ready for Radical Transformation

Posted on: October 14, 2014

MeaningfulPlay-WPGuest Blog by Carrie Heeter, Professor in the Department of Media and Information and Co-Organizer of the International Academic Conference on Meaningful Play

If you're looking for answers to the challenges of racism, sexism and video games, social justice campaigns and the struggle for gamer identity, you'll find those answers embodied in the faculty and game industry presenters and attendees of the International Academic Conference on Meaningful Play.

Meaningful Play 2014 is organized and hosted by faculty in the Department of Media and Information Oct. 16-18. Lisa Nakamura, Gwendolyn Calvert Baker Collegiate Professor of American Cultures and Screen Arts and Cultures at the University of Michigan, begins the dialog with her pre-conference Quello Lecture and discussion Wednesday, Oct. 15, at 7 p.m. in the Big Ten B Room at the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center.

If you're thinking Nakamura's lecture is the only time such issues will be addressed at the conference, think again. Opening keynote Mia Consalvo, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Game Studies and Design at Concordia University in Montreal, will discuss game industry challenges such as marginalization of game studies and an increasingly loud pushback against greater diversity. She'll talk about moving forward and making play increasingly meaningful to all of us.

Megan Gaiser, one of the first female CEO's in the game industry, will share her vision for contagious creativity and leadership.

Drew Davidson, head of the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon, will celebrate the creative chaos that emerges with a wide diversity of content experts.

MeaningfulPlayMonsterconferenceT-shirtAttendees will be treated to panels, papers and roundtable discussions about affection games, empathy games, other people simulators, representing culture, community and identity, gender, inclusive game design, and gaming culture. There will be sessions on diversity, games for the blind, crowdsourcing games, online game fraud, and race/ethnicity/diaspora. And of course, games for learning, games for K-12, university games, games for older adults, and much more.

Talks about meaningful play range from board games to VR to meditation. Attendees will play or hear about games for health, astronaut exergames, mental health games, mosquitoes, microbes, mathland, and surviving the zombie apocalypse, music games, calculus games, hero games, museum games, safe sex games, games to prevent violence against women, recycling games, Jewish culture games, saving money games, and making games.

  • Keynote Erin Hoffman, lead game designer at Glass Lab, will talk about how we can use gaming to critique and intervene in the systems of the world.
  • Keynote Deirdra Kai, indie game designer, will share her experience with breaking the rules of fun.
  • Keynote Colleen Macklin, Director of PETLab (Prototyping Education and Technology Lab) and Associate Professor at Parsons The New School for Design, entices us to engage in the act of making games as a radical practice.
  • Keynote Jan Sircus, Past-President of the Themed Attraction Association, Canada, and Principal of Studio Sircus, explains that "story helps us make sense of our world. It is an organizing tool and a form of interpretation. It is equally important in imaginary worlds as in the real world."
  • Closing keynote Jesse Schell, head of Schell Games and Professor at the Entertainment Technology Center, shares his experiences with building educational games with multiple paths of transformation.

Faculty and students from Media and Information are very involved in creating and studying meaningful play. You might enjoy reviewing the detailed schedule of 56 sessions.

In addition to chairing the conference, Media and Information Assistant Professor Casey O'Donnell will share his work on crafting meaningful play, the brave new world of play and games in educational contexts, and balancing entertainment and education in serious games.

Conference Co-Chair Brian Winn, Associate Professor of Media and Information and Director of the GEL Lab, will exhibit five of the games he has developed (Brain Powered Games - Africa, Cyclotron Game, Saving Magic, Sparks of Eternity, and Train Like An Astronaut). He will deliver a talk about designing a software-generated workout partner to boost motivation in exergaming and moderate a panel about growing the game industry in Michigan.

Robby Ratan, Assistant Professor of Media and Information, will be presenting at eight different sessions, talking about his research on avatars, gender and racial attitudes as well as social identify, competitive gaming, and so on.

Not wanting to be left out, I will be exhibiting Wise Wizards, a "meditation as meaningful play" app I developed, giving a talk about meditation as entertainment: The inverse of serious games, and appearing on a panel about digital games in later life: challenges and opportunities.

Many other Spartans are among the presenters, including faculty members and current and former Media and Information Studies Ph.D. students.

It's not too late to register. Join us for a meaningful, radical, transformative, playful conference.

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Our Technologically Mediated Lives

Posted on: September 8, 2014

by Shelia Cotten

I feel very lucky to do what I do. I study technology use across the life course and the impacts of technology usage on health, social life, and educational outcomes. My research has involved thousands of elementary school children, hundreds of teachers, and thousands of older adults, not to mention a range of age groups across the life course. In some of my research I have worked with colleagues to train older adults who are in assisted and independent living communities to use computers and the Internet to improve their quality of life. Older adults are at higher risk of loneliness, social isolation, and depression than other age groups. Helping them connect to the Internet to communicate with others, find information, and overcome geographical and social boundaries has a range of positive impacts on their quality of life. I hope to extend this work with older adults in high poverty communities and those with specific types of health conditions.

Rather than focusing on older adults, I want to share with you some brief thoughts about technology use by and for others at the other end of the age spectrum. Here, I’m referring to infants, babies, and even the fetus and embryos prior to birth. Before a baby is born in today’s society, the baby’s digital life has already begun. Whether it is from ultrasound pictures, baby bumps, or pregnancy test photos that are stored on computers, mobile phones, or in the cloud, posted on Facebook, pregnancy progression websites, or emailed and forwarded to friends and family members, a myriad of information is conveyed about babies before they are even born. As babies are born, grow into infants, toddlers, pre-schoolers, and continue to progress through the life course, even more information is shared through a variety of technological platforms and applications.

In these early stages, much of the digital information is shared by parents, older siblings, other family members, and friends, with little to no knowledge of this by the child. We know that sharing digital information like this can enhance social support and social integration among social ties. However, we know little about the long-term effects of sharing this type of information on the youth as they progress through the life course. Privacy issues, identity creation and work, online safety and security, and the impacts on future development are only a few of the issues that we know little about in our technologically mediated world.

Given the rapidly changing technological world in which we live, we need more people to study not just what types of individuals are using various technologies or how they are using them, but also to focus on the impacts of technologies in general and as people move through the life course. By gaining an understanding of how different types of technology use affect our lives, hopefully we can begin to design interventions to improve quality of life for varying groups in our society.

Technology is constantly evolving and researchers are only in the infancy stage of understanding the impacts of technology use on individuals, groups, and our society more generally. I encourage others to think about ways to further our understanding of the impacts of our technologically mediated lives and how we can harness the power of technology to enhance health and well-being for everyone.

Examples of some of my research:
Shelia R. Cotten, George Ford, Sherry Ford, and Timothy M. Hale. Internet Use and Depression Among Retired Older Adults in the U.S.: A Longitudinal Analysis. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological and Social Sciences, 69(5): 763-771, 2014. Doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbu018.

Shelia R. Cotten, Daniel Shank, and William Anderson. Gender, Technology Use and Ownership, and Media-Based Multitasking among Middle School Students. Computers in Human Behavior, 35: 99-106, 2014.

Shelia R. Cotten, William Anderson, Brandi McCullough. Impact of Internet Use on Loneliness and Contact with Others Among Older Adults: Cross-Sectional Analysis. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 15(2): e39. Doi: 10.2196/jmir.2306, 2013.

Reynol Junco and Shelia R. Cotten. No A 4 U: The Relationship Between Multitasking and Academic Performance. Computers & Education. 59(2): 505–514, 2012.

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