Recruiting College Students by Using Video Game Culture

A community college, battling downward enrollment in northern Virginia, has taken an interesting approach in trying to retain students. By bringing the excitement of video games on campus, administrators are hoping to keep students on campus longer, to create cohesion among students and to get them interested in IT classes offered on campus.

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The TED Conference or the Greatest Gathering on Earth

By Bakari Akil II, Ph.D.

This past summer, my brother who is a computer programmer, excitedly informed me of a website. He stated that it was replete with presentations from the “greatest thinkers” and people of action on the planet. As I never heard of this type of website or gathering of such influential people I became excited too.

This assembly of people is known as the TED Conference and can be found online at Each year, the TED Conference assembles leaders in the fields of science, technology, entertainment, business, culture, social and global issues, architecture, the environment and much more. When I say leaders I am not just talking about people who are doing well in their field, I am referring to the biggest names on the planet that are at the top of their field or profession. Al Gore, Jeff Bezos of, Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google, Malcolm Gladwell of Blink and Tipping Point fame, Tony Robbins and Dean Kamen, the inventor of Segway and other unique products, are just a few of the numerous intellectual, cultural and iconic giants who have provided presentations at this conference.

When I found out about TED I was waiting to begin my new appointment as an assistant professor so I had plenty of time on my hands. I immediately begin to investigate the website. The TED Conference has been a yearly occurrence since 1984 and they have been posting to the Internet for a few years now. Their website has phrasing such as: “TED: Ideas Worth Spreading” and “Inspired talks by the world’s greatest thinkers and doers.” Each presenter is limited to 18 minutes and is asked to present something outstanding.

The value of the website hit me almost immediately. In what other circumstance would I be able to hear the heads of the biggest companies in the world give a 20 minute talk on something they would like to discuss and talk about subjects not covered in a standard TV or magazine interview? Some of the other speakers I listened to and enjoyed are:

Seth Godin: Sliced Bread and Other Marketing Delights

Jeff Skoll: Movies that Make Change

Jeff Hawkins: Brain Science is about to Fundamentally Change Computing

Richard St. John: 8 Secrets of Success

David Deustch: On Our Place in the Cosmos; and

Nicholas Negroponte: One Laptop per Child

There are also a lot of lesser known names who also have very interesting and awe inspiring presentations:

Sir Ken Robinson: Schools Kill Creativity

Patrick Awahu: On Educating Leaders

Juan Enriquez: Genomics and Our Future

Erin Mckean: Redefines the Dictionary

Dan Dennett: On Dangerous Memes

Dan Gilbert: Why are we Happy? and

Jeff Han: Demonstrates his Breakthrough Touch-screen

As a person who is always interested in increasing my level of knowledge, awareness and my ability to contribute to our world, the TED conference serves as a tool to keep making this ongoing aspiration a reality.  It is a constant reminder that there are many people doing exciting and fascinating things and positively influencing the way we live at the same time. For people who want to know what the next great ‘thing’ will be; how they can contribute to our world and who have ambitions of helping others, the TED conference is a great example for those seeking to model human excellence.

How an Apple iPod Changed my Life and the Knowledge Gap Hypothesis

How an Apple iPod Changed my Life and the Knowledge Gap Hypothesis

By Bakari Akil II, Ph.D.

In the first installment of this series I described how a simple mp3 player changed my life. In this article, I will discuss how Apple’s video iPod and mp3 player altered the way that I function on a day to day basis as well and my personal argument that the knowledge gap hypothesis has severe implications not just for the ‘have nots’ but also for the ‘haves.’

In the first article I listed the following benefits of an mp3:

  1. No more CDs
  2. Listening to more music (old and new)
  3. Getting use out of  previously bought music
  4. Increased chance for learning and relieving my eyes from reading so much (Audiobooks)
  5. Spending money on “must have” accessories; and
  6. Increasing effort while exercising and exercising more

Well, the first benefit, no more CDs, remains true. The iTunes music store has eliminated my trips to Best Buy, Circuit City or Music Warehouse to buy new music and comedy CDs. Further, having the ability to buy only the songs that interest me saves me the feeling of being cheated.  In my estimation, the new selectivity afforded consumers has forced artists to create more complete products. Not only can I buy music and CDs but the extra storage space the iPod possesses and video features allows me to download TV shows, movies, audiobooks and my favorite podcasts.

I am still listening to more music and getting much more out of previously bought music but markedly less than before. Once the excitement wore off about being able to carry music around everywhere I went; after hearing old songs a few times my music consumption dropped again.

As far as spending money on must have accessories, I must admit that I was caught by the ‘bug’ and began to buy even more devices for the Apple Ipod. The first purchase was a device that allowed me to play all of my videos, TV shows or movies through the television. My wife bought me a wireless transmitter for it shortly after. Let’s not forget the casing to protect the iPod and a couple of sets of speakers because I wanted to find one with just the right sound.

In reference to using an Ipod while exercising and increasing exercise activity; I found holding the video iPod cumbersome while exercising so it didn’t help in that regard. In addition, I stopped using the Samsung audio mP3 shortly after I bought the iPod so I no longer use either for exercising. They both canceled out the other to the detriment of my health.

However, point four is where the majority of my usage of the ipod occurs and is the real focus of this article. The chance for increased knowledge with the use of the ipod is astounding. Further, as Marshall McLuhan wrote in “Understanding Media,” information has become a commodity (1964). As an academic, who lives and breathes the university and collegiate environment, I am always reading a book and I exchange information as a way of ‘making a living.’ I have always have been a ‘bookworm,’ even before becoming an academic. However, as job responsibilities increase and I find myself spending more time in my car; attending to ‘must do’ hands-on activities in my home; and at times I am too tired too read; the iPod has become an invaluable source for listening to audiobooks and especially podcasts. The iTunes store is an amazing resource as I have had the opportunity to find more information on certain topics than I will ever be able to consume.

There is a ‘theory,’ the knowledge gap hypothesis, put forth by Tichenor, Donohue and Olien, concerning how information, especially through the media, is diffused through our society; who has and doesn’t have acess to this information and how this is affected by their socio-political and economic status. This hypothesis asserts that those who have have higher levels of economic resources, education and social status will receive and process information much quicker than those who do not have the aforementioned resources (Bryant & Thompson, 2002).

I have been familiar with this assertion for a number of years and could theoretically see how well this hypothesis could apply to a number of situations; but it became glaring once I purchased the Apple iPod. As I perused the number of free podcasts and audiobooks available in the Itunes store I realized that I had been doing myself a disservice. My self-imposed ban on buying an mp3 player had made me lose out on a wealth of knowledge. I then thought about all of the people who could not afford mp3s, broadband or DSL service and all of the tools necessary to take advantage of all of the “free” downloads available online.

I loaded my Ipod with podcasts concerning telecommunication issues, journalism and educational issues. I even stopped listening to my XM radio in the car because I could further control what I was listening to. One of my hobbies is learning physics (beginner), so I was blown away when I discovered the lectures of physics professors from UC Berkeley and other universities on Itunes. I was even able to handpick sports podcasts that interested me. I understand that I could never listen to all of the media available on iTunes or available through other websites, not even in my own field of interest. Yet, I did realize that using these resources would allow me to exponentially increase my knowledge about a certain field or interest than older mediums would allow. The sheer amount of resources and availability that the iPod has granted me outpaces many of the other mediums I use. It’s portability also plays an important role.

My minor epiphany about the usage of the Apple iPod enlightened me to the idea that having access to newer technologies such as mp3 players is not just fun but also vital. Not only is it entertaining, but it enhances my knowledge about subjects in ways that are not possible through television, radio, newspapers, books and through reading Internet websites. The knowledge that I gain from listening to these sources has made me a better professional, increases my conversational ability in social circles and connects me to a vast network of information, people and ideas. For example, in an interview with a dean of a college that offered me a job, but I did not accept, I used knowledge gained from listening to educational podcasts in our one on one talk. I know firsthand how valuable this material is.

It is my fault that I didn’t start using the technology sooner because my ban on mp3s was self imposed, but for those who would like access to this type of technology but aren’t able to; what are they missing and how does this lack of access affect their life?


Bryant, J., & Thompson, S. (2002). Fundamentals of Media Effects.
New York, NY: McGraw Hill-Higher Education.

McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.
New York, NY: Mentor.

How an MP3 player changed my life, Pt. 1

How an MP3 player changed my life, Pt. 1

By Bakari Akil II

(Posted Sep. 2007) November 28, 2006


After all the hype and excitement over the last few years over mp3s and more specifically ipods, I finally did it. I purchased an mp3. I had vowed not to buy one because I simply could not see a use for it in my life. I’m not a humbug, I truly enjoy new technological gadgets, but I hadn’t seen any major use for it; until I purchased one.


After pricing mp3s at Wal-mart and deciding to pass on them because I had a lot of questions and discovered that no staff could help me other than opening the glass case and handing me the goods, I decided to check out my local Best Buy. I ended up buying a lightweight SAMSUNG P-U2J Digital Audio Player for $59.99. It was white, slim and about half the size of the first ipod shuffles. What I really liked about it was that you could plug it directly into your USB port to recharge or download music or recordings without having to use a cable. It even has a recorder on it, which allows me to record random thoughts, record a memorable quote or passage or record a conversation secretly (just joking).


The first thing I did was grab the latest two CDs that I had purchased and downloaded the tracks I liked to my computer so I could transfer them to the mp3. In the process, I had an epiphany. The two CDs I am referring to were CDs that I really looked forward to buying because of singles that had been played all over MTV, BET and XM’s 20 on 20. However, I was really disappointed with the remainder of the CDs because the rest of the albums did not match the singles. I suddenly realized that I could go online and purchase songs that I really liked and not waste money on CDs that often disappoint. In addition, I could just go to which lets you preview entire albums to help you decide if you want to purchase them.


1.No more CDs

Next, I dragged out all of my favorite CDs or CDs that I had listened to only once but now suddenly had importance and began the tedious process of loading them onto my laptop, labeling them and transferring them to the mp3. (I wish that CDs could somehow pass the labeling info to the laptop. If this already exists, someone please let me know.)


Music suddenly became important to me again. In the next few days, I listened to more music willingly than I did in the last three months. The first night I went to bed early and listened to music into the wee hours of the night. It was like having your own private concert in your ears. The sound quality was great and couldn’t be heard by another soul, which for some reason gave me pleasure.


2. Listening to more music old and new.

3.Getting use out of music bought previously.

My next brilliant idea for my mp3 involved transferring some of my Spanish vocabulary CDs to my laptop and then downloading it onto the mp3. I always wanted to devote more time to listening to these CDs but didn’t like lugging around the 12 CD case from the house to the car and back again. I also decided that I would go ahead and look up some of the podcasts that are available online and look into downloading audio-books since I love to read. I have been thinking about audio-books for a while since I read so much and have been wanting to give my eyes a rest. Being able to listen to audio-books on a transportable mp3 makes me want to download the audio-books even more.


4. Increased chance for learning and relieving my eyes from reading so much.

My next foray into ownership of an mp3 was accessories. The first was an mp3 for my wife. After seeing me enjoying mine, she had to have one. So I purchased one for her. Next, I bought a device that allowed us to play the mp3s in the car. My wife followed that up by buying mp3 speakers for me. I also discovered that I could plug my extra set of computer speakers into them as well. I soon became aware of the numerous “must have’ products that have been created for mp3s and more specifically the ipods. When we first started to seriously consider mp3s, we were at a SAM’s and a guy came up to my wife and I and stated that when he bought an ipod for his daughter, he didn’t know that he would spend the next year spending hundreds of dollars for accessories; such as a protective case, a speaker system, etc. I now truly understand. 

5. Spending money on “must have” accessories.

Finally, a certain indirect health benefit has occurred. When I used to work out religiously, I used to carry my walkman to the gym or listen to the stereo while working out at home. So, I decided to carry my mp3 on one of my workouts. It reminded me of old times.  When I heard certain songs, I exercised harder, forgot that I was exercising and can honestly say I had a better exercise session.  I even worked out a few times more than usual in that week because the mp3 helps to reduce the monotony.


6. Increasing effort while exercising and exercising more.

Overall, the mp3 has enriched my already abundant media rich life. I truly feel that it has provided me many new options and has made me a little more technologically savvy. In my next installment, I will discuss how Apple’s video ipod revolutionized my life…


Until next time….


Book Review: “Everything Bad is Good for You”

Book Review: “Everything Bad is Good for You”


By Bakari Akil II, PhD



            Steven Johnson’s premise is simple. Our current pop culture disseminated through television shows, movies and video games have many redeeming features even though it contains high levels of violence, sexual material or as some put it, mindless entertainment. For the reader unfamiliar with Johnson’s work it is helpful to note that Johnson often uses a macro-level approach when analyzing this issue. This ‘big picture’ approach allows him to analyze the supposed broad effects of mass media; the pop culture it creates and how it affects its users.


Television and Movies


            Johnson argues that television programming has substantially changed over the last 50 years from shows with a few characters and easy to follow plot lines to television shows with multiple plots, multiple characters and never ending stories. In the past, sitcoms and dramas were predictable and could be wrapped up in 30 to 60 minutes. Not now! Shows such as Prison Break, Daybreak, 24, and the Sopranos keeps the audience guessing, don’t spell out everything, if anything, and often leaves the viewer in suspense, sometimes for an entire season.


            This, Johnson argues, forces the viewer to participate on many levels. The viewer can no longer sit and passively watch their favorite television shows, they must pay close attention. The creators of such shows sometimes start from the end or middle and work their way back to the beginning. New characters often enter the storyline with no introduction and the audience is forced to figure out that character’s purpose. Depending upon when the viewer starts to watch a show, they may have a hard time figuring out what the show is all about. New plot lines may emerge out of nowhere and the audience has to quickly figure out why. In addition, these shows such as ABC’s short-lived Daybreak, starring Taye Digs and Moon Bloodgood, often test their audience’s analytical skills and prods them to guess how the shows will end.


            These new types of shows force the audience to use their cognitive skills in ways older television shows have not done in the past. The use of logic, intuition and pure common sense on the part of the audience takes the term armchair quarterback to a new level.  Johnson also asserts that many of these shows exercise the social and emotional intelligence of their viewers as it forces them to look at situations and decide what they would do.       

This most often takes place with reality television shows. MTV’s Real World, Survivor, dating shows like Flavor of Love and the Bachelorette often shows people in vulnerable states and in intimate moments. The power of such shows, Johnson states, is that it catches people’s true emotions, if only for a split second. That attraction is what Johnson argues is behind the success of such shows and is also the reason why he asserts that it helps improve social and emotional intelligence. Viewers often empathize with the characters or at the least think about what they would do if they were faced with similar situations. Constant viewing of these shows provides the audiences with opportunities to broaden and enrich their social skills and explore their own emotional issues as a result. Yes, these shows can be about mindless activities, but many of these shows do explore issues pertaining to gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, violence, politics and everyday ordinary problems. Additionally, Johnson cites that these shows are not just watched and forgotten. Many people watch these shows with others, discuss them at school and work or discuss them in chat rooms or message boards on the Internet, which further increases their analytic skills and at the least provides them with something to talk about.


Video Games


            Video games may also provide benefits. On a social level, the players play their games with other players and develop bonds through shared experiences. It may not be the ideal experience that a parent may want their child to have, but it does occur. Gamers connect with other players on the Internet, in their living rooms and at tournaments. This allows the video players to bring a social aspect to their gaming experience.


Johnson also argues that video games increase the cognitive skills of its players due to the level of commitment and multitasking it requires to succeed. Gone are the days where players can often master a game in one day or a heavy week of playing. Some games are never mastered and require a number of skills of its players. Johnson discusses studies where video game players cite feelings of well being after playing, improved hand and eye coordination, the ability to assess visual patterns much quicker than non-gamers and improved problem solving abilities overall. Although car crashes, shoot outs and anarchy is not something most parents enjoy seeing their kids participating in as a video game, there is some evidence of video games helping to improve the intelligence of its players in certain ways. Besides, not all video games are of that fare.


            In the final analysis, the pop culture that is enjoyed by youths and many adults will always face criticism. In our modern era, sex, senseless violence and entertainment for entertainment sake will always turn certain people and groups off. Yet, the modes that it is being delivered by have allowed the audience to become more than a passive user and engages their cognitive, social and emotional intelligences. In some cases, it makes them think about what would be the best course of action or best way to react. In other cases, it may make them better problem solvers or provide them with opportunities to develop social skills. Either way it’s not mindless, in order to participate, they have to think and isn’t that what we want people to do, think for themselves.