Games are on the horizon (again).

Even the broadest reading about games, from the field of education, shows that games are good for learning and learners. Educational research isn’t interested in the kind of experimental science methods used by psychology. It’s not that education dispels concerns about video games, but more that it never really looks into it. The result is that games (and gamification) has become educationally-trendy, just like learning analyics. Except, games are unique and even though I’m an ‘educator’ I wouldn’t attempt to talk about games from this perspective alone.

The Horizon report has been listing games for a while now. It used to list virtual worlds like Second Life. In addition, the rise in consumer sales of devices is often used to attempt to suggest that popularity of games and growth of devices is going to finally make the Horizon Report true. This won’t happen. The Horizon Report is by it’s nature a product of technological determinism which ignores the day to day practice of rank and file educators, broader shifts in media culture, global political markets and the employment trends of teachers.

So yes, games teach many things, but this is not representative of an imminent shift in the way education delivers it’s product into the marketplace. Among educators, the largest group are the “Second Lifers” who have working with virtual worlds for over a decade — and this is a tiny group, most of whom are not interested in video games and game culture. If they make a serious game (simulation) then it’s not going to carry any of the characteristics which power today’s games such as Destiny, Dragon Age, Halo or even Minecraft.

Games are complicated and while taking about them gets a few people excited, the funding which has been given to games in the last ten years in schools and higher education is pennies in comparison to millions spent on tools like IWB, LMS etc., Ultimately, if people want to know or learn about games, they would have downloaded one from Steam or bought a console by now.

My thesis is that what makes games exiting to educators is the discussion itself. Over time, discussions move and merge as they become simplified though language and right now games are being discussed at levels which educational culture can engage with, but anyone who’s playing a next-gen game or followed a series such as Mass Effect will know … the terms ‘games’ is like saying ‘car’ when one is talking about a 1972 Datsun Sunny and the other is driving an Audi RS8.

Sleept through it all.

One of the reasons video games have been represented as bad for kids is that for the most part the stories being told about them remind people of cultural themes that the establishment tries to remove from social memory. Ironically, they exist because media is used to shape social behavior. Kids are fed certain media memories … And these increasingly pander to the power a small minority have over the majority. Games are punks, and kids listen to metal core. Its the age old struggle.

The idea, especially in school, is that cultural amnesia is a desirable state for citizens to be immersed in. We need to foget the disruptives and counter views and memorise the facts. The problem is we have new media memories and stopped remembering the facts a decade ago. For example: games make kids violent is a media message that has been driven into the public psyche. The message that violent games will desensitize kids is a deliberate attempt to airbrush the notion that humans are incredibly violent and descructive where the biggest acts of mass violence are authorized by the authorities. Were supposed to forget that, were supposed to think zombie killing is in some way worse for us than being informed about what atrocities our rational and human government chooses to inflict on others.

This is what the fuss is about … Video games tend to not hold the typical properties we see in TV or movies. The player can do as they wish with the screen-patriot at their command in open world games such as GTAV or FarCry4. They get to laugh about being assassins in group streaming of Unity … Games reverse the effect of cultural amnesia that traditional media has been so useful for. That’s really why people get their hate on about games … It reminds them who that our society is violent, is addicted to media and content to watch reality TV rather than ask why reality is based on stereotypes, tropes and bitchy competition over consumer goods.

Great games for under ten bucks?

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In an effort to start collecting the use of games in the classroom, I’ve make a really short Google Form here in which I’m asking people to recommend a game for the classroom, which costs under ten dollars. The results of what people put into this are shared on this response form. We know people are using Minecraft, Portal etc., but for many schools free or cheap is an essential criteria for choosing a game.

I’m asking for simple information: the game name, a link if you have it and to choose what platform and game type best describes it from a list (or add your own). Finally, just let people know why you recommend it.

The aim is simply to start to collect what games are being used in a spreadsheet of data that you can use for your own purposes. No names or personal information please … this is anonymous crowd sourcing. Open to anyone, teachers, students and parents!

Thanks for your input

Playing at it vs playing in it

Video games and their players are a sociocultural phenomenon, embedded in a technological (hardware and software) cycle, built upon commercial markets. What makes games very popular is that information situated in game ecosystems freely moves around the Internet though social communications. This is what makes games based learning (potentially) transformative – the value of an individual’s knowledge, skill and influence is essentially ‘crowd sourced’ from communications about, to and from game networks.

In games, people seek external backing and information about learning the game. For example, in the game World of Warcraft: players need to learn to complete group mission and need the backing of other players to enact this event regardless of whether they succeed or fail. Learning in a game means being intimately involved with both the ecosystem of the game and the meta-culture.

Playing games immediately immerses players in a credentialing system that matters to the ecosystem. This is problem with many ‘badge projects’, they are trying to dock a perceived set of and social-technological problems inside education with theories and ideas emerging from games which suffer none of them. Of course the central dilemma for anyone looking at badge systems as an alternative way of recognising learning. Seeking to find the right media or message that motivates learners fails to recognise the true meaning people are seeking though their use of media.

My central argument for games (and other media) pleasure is that it is the negotiations of media itself which motivates and interests us. This is no more prolific than in the largest cultural sites of this era – networked games. To me, it seems unlikely that institutions will create ‘killer credentialing’ or ‘gamification’ unless they understand the ecosystem that is driving the games industry.

A digital badge which is nothing more than a collection of meta-data aligned to curriculum outcomes seems to resemble the objectivism associated with competency based training. The challenge of badges is that they are often being visioned as a subjective method of crediting ‘other’ skills and efforts in learning. Unlike the ecosystems around games, culture is the API, it’s a people interface that can quickly discover, represent and identify people’s skills and achievements. In badges, there are ongoing frustration with data being distributed across social networks. See the issues with BadgeKit or Google’s Course Builder for examples of integration dilemmas.

My point here is that from the work I’m doing around games, this is not a time to wait for educational technology to deliver a viable, workable solution. Among the ideas are numerous innovators and start-ups competing to deliver a commercially solution. And this really is the problem for the future of educational technology: commercial shaping and competition between organisations and companies. This is not how most people want to learn. There is not an assumption that to learn well, people need to buy certain products which are nearly always focused on traditional constructions of how learning happens and the instruments to be purchased.

Games are all about ‘on-demand’ judgement and assessment. Joining a game, being able to participate or adapt are immediate and continual demands on game players and their ecosystems. Endorsement is between people and groups, where the machine maintains a record of their activity in both objective and subjective domains. There is no paper-proxy equivalent in games that many educators seem to want to create or preference. The thing about game players is that they know what badges and achievements matter and what they mean. It’s this experience which brings understanding about what reputation means inside game ecosystems and sadly, very few appear to have ever stepped into this space but rather assume they are the gatekeepers who might (eventually) allow game based learning into proper education.

Game ecosystems are not outwardly observable in the way “open systems” which the Internet has largely been constructed (technically) to be. To me, I maintain that successful game ecosystems are closed systems. Therefore it is essential to work inside these communities, not gaze or judge them.

Mahouts

“Yes, you need to get into moon design computational systematic thinking, in fact I’m giving a keynote at mega-trope-con next month if you can afford to come”.

… no thanks, I have to actually teach and it’s getting harder because I have to also feed this elephant someone keeps putting in my room.

Every time some leader puts on a show which is a series of opinion driven lectures based on little more than tropes, self-interest and valorizing markets, a classroom teacher get’s less time and less money. A student gets less feedback, less opportunities. When will we stop funding these mythic circuses, revert the casualisation of staff and actually realise that EdTech continues to siphon off millions to the pockets of people who care more about their next hotel and frequent flyer points than they do about remembering your name or actually doing their own research.

The FIVE bits of software that every undergrad needs to know about

This post is advice for undergrads about to start Uni. Two things, get a computer that gets the job done, not a piece of marketing. Two, get a simple workflow happening before you start. It will make your first two months easier. It’s exciting getting into Uni and the first few weeks will fly past as you meet new people, avoid others, get lost, work out the best coffee lines … before you know it, the first essay is looming large and the mind-demons are saying “just knock it over on the weekend”. For staff, the first few weeks are hectic, especially as many tutors (like me) are casual and have limited face to face time, and a stack of things to bring into your line of vision. As much as everyone might like, the reality is that many students don’t have the digital-kit they need and often don’t find the supports on campus extend to things like digital work flows, configuring your digital back-packs, but instead hand out reading lists and statements such as “that’s in the library”. It might be, but libraries are not essay-whisperers.

The biggest thing to remember, the statement I repeat all the time to students:

If you don’t have a digital workflow, then you will spend much more time on every aspect of your study until you do.

Hardware

My pick right now for Uni-undergradlings would be a secondhand Samsung Slate PC at under $500, with a Microsoft PL2 Wedge Mobile Keyboard. A proper computer in tablet form running Win 8.1 Pro. Avoid Surface 1 and 2 and why buy 3 when it’s three times the price? If you want to spend $1000+ you can get a decent i5 machine with lots of RAM. Do not waste money on a $400-$800 piece of out-going junk.

Software

Universities run on two things in your first semester. One, MS Word and two, referencing, grammar and spelling. No first year is expected to set the academic world on fire … just master Word and get a workflow happening and you’ll do better and feel less stressed. You need to connect writing to referencing and store it effectively. It’s not hard, but it can feel hard with so much on offer out there.

  1. Get Word, buy Word 2013. Uni’s run on Word, don’t bother fighting it.
  2. Get Firefox for one massive reason — it will run Zotero add on and you want that so much.
  3. Get Zotero. Like Word, it’s essential to starting University study. Zotero talks to Uni databases (and more). You find the references you need and save them to Zotero and even share that with your friends (group reference folders). You can browse the Uni databases in Firefox, pull references into Zotero from the URL locator (save) and also make notes, tag and organise all inside Firefox. A super simple an easy workflow.
  4. Get Evernote, it’s amazing for everything else you’ll have to make notes about. You can also share those notes and organise them.
  5. Get OneDrive, it’s like Dropbox. You want this because you can dump and sync Word documents to OneDrive without lifting a finger. Store all your Word documents on OneDrive, never ever store them on a Flash Drive and don’t even ask about a shared-drive.

Power Ups

Get an external phone battery. One that top up your phone when it dies. There’s nothing more useless than a phone you can’t use during class (assuming the teacher has noticed the Internet is everywhere). Use your phone to PHOTOGRAPH your notes and upload those to Evernote as regularly as you check F4ceBook.

Connect Word to OneDrive so that you’re always saving your work to the cloud. Once a week, get that work FROM the cloud and store it on your computer. If you’re paranoid, back that up to Dropbox or Evernote too. Having a SINGLE STORAGE plan (especially a LOCAL STORAGE plan) is on reason student lose their work at critical times.

Brain Training

Go to a Zotero Class if they offer them in the library. If not, go to and EndNote class, it’s the same idea, but Zotero is better on the web, so start there … not EndNote — don’t listen to them if they question your amazing fortitude.  Go to a referencing class in the library. This is as important as going to your first tutorial if you want to blast past the “p’s get degrees” zombies.

Now I know some people are going to say Google Docs and EndNote. To them I ask, have you taught 200 students who just arrived at Uni and have to pull an essay out their hat in three weeks with zero XP?. No, then back off. Other stuff later.

Digital Gaffer (Duct)Tape

I am sure that you’ve come across the idea of ‘impostor syndrome‘ which this article describes as “Having to live with a nagging fear of being  “found out” as not being as smart or talented or deserving or experienced or (fill-in-the-blank) as people think is a common phenomenon”. I think that this exists inside EdTech, having met numerous people who use digital gaffer tape to hold together a limited objective knowledge or skill set towards computers, media and devices. When you can’t actually do something, or are not actually facing the problem personally then tactfully, rip off some gaffer tape and stick it over the issue. I meet people who say then know about media, but have never made any and can’t tell an f-stop from bus stop. They’ll judge me because I play games, despite being unable to sign up for Steam let alone chalk up a decent kill-streak.

There is a whole raft of people whom add “paradigms”, “shifts”, “sociotechnics” and other meaningless duct tape over the fact their personal skill and experience is at such a distance, that they can’t see the problem closely enough to solve it. So if you want to prevent kids getting bored, buy some [insert brand name] Duct Tape. It blows my mind how so many experts have never written a blog, created a wiki with students, made a film, played a game … but they’ve seen plenty who have … and that seems more important than it should.

Generation Z

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Everything is media and anything synthetic can be made real by it. This is essentially the belief system of a generation immersed in media centric cultural production. Take one thing, adapt it, change it, repurpose it, disguard it. Repeat. Working on my Blake today …  Gotta love infinate instruments and bloody evolution.

What does gamification want with you?

One of the questions people ask me is “Why would I use gamification?”. The simple answer is because you don’t want to use a game, but are trying to extract something from students, rather than give them something. Here are some of the ‘tricks’ that brands are pulling on consumers (which includes kids). I would suggest that not doing these things is a good idea, but a better one is to explain to kids what is going on.

To illustrate this point, the main reasons corporations are into gamification is to solicit some very material-focused behaviors from the masses.

  • Fan growth
  • Fan engagement
  • Viral growth
  • Revenue generation
  • Coupon or sales promotion
  • Sign-ups
  • Campaign component (part of broader campaign)

Unlike game designers (and the rules applied to game content), there are no right or wrong ways to go about gamification at all. There are some common traits in all these games.

  • The invitation to play should be clear.
  • It should be easy to get started.
  • Rules and instructions should be kept to a minimum.
  • The game must be visually appealing.
  • Audio should delight rather than annoy.
  • Incentives should be used to get people to play

Notice that gamification often relies on external rewards to get people playing. The polite clap of your friends as you take down a mini-boss isn’t rewarding to gamification because it’s hard for them to measure, and thereby act upon.

Within the game itself you will find the brand-values clothed in numerous symbolic outfits. It’s all about brand recognition, loyalty and calls to action. These are consumer systems in the form of games, so expect a lot (a lot) of brand messages.

  • Fun facts
  • Retail calls-to-action
  • Added-value elements such as coupons, sweepstakes, and giveaways
  • Event tracking

Gamification is about adapt social gaming strategies to brands and overall marketing strategies, whether trying to get employees to hand out great ideas or getting customers to buy more Cheezos. These are then pushed into existing social streams, where they are most likely to be seen and shared.

But then there are examples which don’t suck. For example Proof allows you to set and share 7 day challenges with friends on all sorts of pre-made and user-made topics, which would be great for homework, student interest projects and more. It’s not all dire, but like any media, gamification is dripping with marketing sweat and can stink.

Not alone, ever.

The most significant change in the use of media in schools was not the read/write web. This idea was the foundation trope of the push to get more technology into the classroom, and to weed out teachers who didn’t agree with the associated groupthink. There is little evidence to suggest media went from read-only to read-write or that ‘collaborative’ is a better way to learn or pass exams. The literacy rates speak for themselves and backed up by statistics on youth unemployment and under-employment and the consumer society.

The message was profound. If you want to be able to choose what you like and what you don’t like, then you need to be media-savvy and active in media-cultures to ensure that the ‘good guys’ succeed, thus improving all of childhood (not just schooling).

No child or teacher is ever alone online these days. The read/write web was a dream, or perhaps a clever marketing message. Today as you click a link, read a page or make any choice online, you are immediately accompanied by dozens of companies who profit from sharing the ‘history of the now’ with unseen others for purposes unknown.

Of course the irony is that some believe that “humanistic marketing” is actually a brand engaging in mass-civic-good and that kids need to learn better with these (not those) technologies (signs, symbols, tools, values) as soon as they walk into school.

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