“Wiki-Wire” Event Brings Together Literature and Technology

TEMPE, Ariz. – On Thursday, May 28, 2009, at an event dubbed “Wiki-Wire,” science fiction author PJ Haarsma will be on-hand at ASU’s Decision Theater to help local high school students unveil their wiki based on “The Softwire” book series.

A Basha High Student explains Wiki Wire

Basha High Student Explains Wiki-Wire

Sponsored by the Department of English at ASU, the gathering will feature a multimedia presentation of the new wiki, an online informational site which students at Basha High School created to expand on their reading of Haarsma’s science fiction series as well as their playing of the free online video game, “The Rings of Orbis,” which Haarsma created as a supplement to the books.

The wiki contains ongoing discussions, links, and information related to literature, science and science fiction, all of which were generated by the students’ reading.

PJ Haarsma

PJ Haarsma

With actor Nathan Fillion, author Haarsma is co-founder of the non-profit foundation, Kids Need to Read (KNTR). The organization’s primary mission is to send new books (not necessarily Haarsma's) to under-funded schools and libraries nationwide. James Blasingame, ASU Associate Professor of English and 2008 Parents’ Association Professor of the Year, is a KNTR board member and organizer of “Wiki-Wire.”

From quantum physics to character development to literary archetypes, any topics that pique a reader’s interest can and will be addressed on the students’ wiki website.

Candlewick Press, publisher of “The Softwire” series, will make an announcement during the event about printing part of the wiki in its next series release.

Due to the intimate size of the Decision Theater, only invited guests and media may view the unveiling.

Event Information:

Wiki-Wire: YA Lit Meets the Future

Thursday, May 28, 6-7:30 p.m.
GIOS Decision Theater (21 E 6th St, Ste 126A) ASU, Tempe campus

Attendance by special invitation only

Kids Need to Read (KNTR) website: http://www.kidsneedtoread.org

PJ Haarsma’s official website: http://www.pjhaarsma.com

--ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY Press Release, May 22, 2009




Wiki-Wire: Some Background

PJ Haarsma and Jim BlasingameWhat do you do when you absolutely love a book—the characters, the story line, the setting, the action, everything about it—and you come to the end of the book and the end of the story? Does it really have to be over? Science fiction author PJ Haarsma decided it did not, and so he created a free online video game to go with his unrolling science fiction series, The Softwire (Candlewick Press). Aficionados of this series of books about a thirteen year old “softwire” (someone who can control electronic devices, including computers, with nothing more than his or her mind) named Johnny Turnbull, have been thrilled by the opportunity to join Johnny light years away from the planet Earth as he struggles to survive as an indenture servant on the Rings of Orbis, an artificial structure surrounding a black hole on the other side of the universe. Players of the computer video game login and create their own characters (avatars in gaming lingo) complete with alien characteristics and abilities then begin to interact with other players all over the world as the continue to experience the Softwire story but this time as one of the characters in an ongoing storyline that they create.

When English professors at Arizona State University heard about PJ Haarsma, his books, and his game, they knew they needed to learn more about the effect this experience was having on young readers. Would it inspire them to do more reading? Would they understand their reading better if it were coupled with a video game that let them actually go inside the story and become a new character of their own creation? For the past two years, Dr. Peter Goggin, literacy theory specialist, and Dr. James Blasingame, young adult literature specialist, have been working with Haarsma and local schools to find the answers to these questions. Haarsma, who was featured in the New York Times last fall (“Using Video Games as Bait to Hook Readers”) http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/06/books/06games.html proved to be great with students and the three began working together, along with English teachers at two East Valley (AZ) high schools: Kristina Bybee (Desert Ridge High School) and Devon Adams, Kerri Mathew, and Lindsay Palbykin (Basha High School). Goggin, Blasingame and Haarsma presented for the National Council of Teachers of English national convention fall 2008 in San Antonio, and Goggin and Blasingame will be presenting further findings about the intersection of literature, video gaming, and computer literacy at an international conference in Brazil in August.

Basha High Students with PJ Haarsma

PJ Haarsma and Devon Adams w/Basha High Students

Not only have students been reading the first three books in the science fiction series and playing the game (one Desert Ridge High School student has become one of the premier players in the world, rising to become a member of the “Trading Council,” an elite group that monitors players and creates rules for the game), but they have also taken the technology and learning to a much higher level by creating a “wiki,” a resource website to which participants may add information—that is checked for accuracy by the site’s creators to maintain informational integrity.   As new information is reviewed, it may be deleted if it is incorrect, or the wiki officials may ask for citations to prove the accuracy of information about which they are uncertain. The word wiki originally came from Hawaiian for “fast,” but has since been described as standing for “What I Know Is.”   The most famous wiki is Wikipedia.