9th Birthday

It’s so easy to get caught up in our own dramas, and those created by people who are, as Ingrid described in a blog post as jerks and assholes in their own domain — and forget what is really happening in the world which contains and is also shaped by all domains colliding.

As my kid hit nine today, I’m acutely aware that they world he will have to live in and with contains people who at some point take it on themselves to be jerks and assholes. To me there are no right and wrong sides of asshole-ness and never any justification to set out to be unkind out of an inner belief that “I am more important” and therefore get to behave badly. Today the world seems to have taken this to a level I can’t remember before — both internationally and locally.

This plea is very powerful and a timely reminder of the importance of kindness everywhere and what happens when we forget that anger and being an asshole is never acceptable.

Thumping trees with teach you math.

New media is usually considered to mean non-print media in modern society. Then we have the broad notion of literacy, which people have attempted to broaden beyond its application to the written form. In educational cultures, literacy is now a broad and vague synonym for competence and skill — in the things that schools preference. The upshot of that is that for many students, the use of technology simply doesn’t resonate with them because it doesn’t characterise the kinds of multi-modal texts they use as a result of convergence.

So why bother with games and not just stick to making Google Docs? – The answer lies in the fact that games should not be seen as a resource. What makes a game different to Google’s apps? Well besides, writing, games function in two ways that Google’s tools don’t from a linguistic stance.

1. They show kids the world (indicative mood)

2. Taking action upon world (imperative mood).

If as a teacher you’re consciously using a multiliteracies approach to teaching (good idea), then games are a rich way of critically framing the topic under-discussion. Why does this matter? — Because it enables students to distance themselves from what they have learned — to take into account its social and cultural aspects allowing them to reflect, critique and expand on what they are learning.

If as a parent you want to know why Minecraft is so interesting to kids — it’s because kids learn very well when immersed in multiliteracies, because to them, being literate means being creative.

The key to remember is that kids combine social and symbolic approaches to how they learn. They use media to make meaning and well as consume things which (apparently) have meaning in them why are supposed to agree or comply with.

Games have social process and social processes which make them a much more powerful ‘literacy’ than Google docs, but they don’t as easily tick the ‘has learned to’ boxes that schools insist is a hallmark of learning.

So in summary, if you want to use new media, then you will also want to use a multiliteracies approach and frame the use of that in a social and cultural context that kids recognise. In other words, playing Mincraft will help kids learn maths in and out of the game, because good teaching with media (beyond writing and print) is multimodal.

Cultural Jet Lag and Phoning it in

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These are two problems I see facing me as classroom teacher. I am living among nice people who suffer cultural jet lag and attempting to teach students who are often just phoning it in.

As much as I, or anyone in education likes the idea of using media and technology is pursuit of allotted tasks driven by system orientated education, I can only subscribe to the idea that in all sectors of education, students will have virtual and actual contact which range in quality, experiences and culture. Most will have has exposure to a hit and miss experience of media and technology as a classroom resource and a few will have encountered learning about media and technology itself. I’d guess that the latter would be down to an on-the-ball library and/or librarian in the majority of those instances.

The one inescapable fact is that media and technology socialises society. Our society is made up of people who are unique, yet share cultures among other things. Inside an era of profound social change, the ‘masses’ are increasingly seeing themselves as important enough to take on (and maintain) individual identities online. A decade ago, the Internet was really only about institutions, governments and brands. Today we’re each engrossed in our devices and connections which makes the Internet so big, it carries vast amounts of information though its layers at such a pace, we no longer wait to sit at a desk or even stop in the street to ‘check in’.

Even if children have access to digital media and technology in school — and the teacher knows how has time to blend it into the allotted tasks demanded by the curriculum. The vastness of the Internet and the mediums it supports: news; video; radio; videogames; photography; art; automated-systems and so on has separated us emotionally from the natural world. Imagine delivering the same new’s to three hundred people in row – and half have heard it moments before from someone else. The more we reproduce information and predicable behaviours in response, the less invested and interested we become. I’d argue that in classrooms, plenty of kids are suffering from cultural jet lag — and often simply ‘phoning it in‘ when it comes for formal education. I’m not at all anti-technology or media, but I am against the kind of blind assumptions made by people who claim kids are simply “growing up digital” as though there is not a pre-existing demand by children to live with parents who can’t leave their phone on a table for five-minutes without tapping it.

This resource is something I’ve used to provoke group-discussion among students in an effort to provoke and gauge their critical understanding of media (as a literacy) and it’s socialising effects on them.

Serious Play Conference

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If you’re interested in serious games, serious play and so forth, there is a conference on right now using #seriousplay which is throwing up some interesting ideas, research and resources. My good friend Bron Stuckey is presenting on Gamification along with Peggy Sheehey and Knowclue Kid, I only wish I could have tagged along.

The website for the conference is here. For a mere $50 a year, you can become part of the Serious Games Association too (here).

For an example of the kind of work being done in this field, have a look at this ‘social clues‘ game for children with autism. I don’t think lacking social clues or empathy towards others is necessarily limited to autism — perhaps playing this game might help the ‘normal’ people to be more inclusive and empathetic — not least in the workplace later in life.

Another great resource is called Preloaded. This to me is where the future is — people who understand media-games-education working with libraries, museums, and broadcasters to bring great games into learning though methods other than the belief of the current local educational czar who may or may not be interested. Preloaded is well worth spending time exploring.

Valiant Hearts for History Class

Valiant Hearts is rated PG (rated Teen in the US), despite taking on some of the darkest facts and scenarios from the Great War. At $20 or less its a well produced, narrative driven adventure puzzler which smacks of the kind of French cartooning style of the nineteen sixties.

The players switches around four characters which are not at all typical action heroes. It manages to describe the great war without resorting to the kind of graphic violence that would raise media-fearing eyebrows. Most of the time you’ll be solving puzzles and over coming obstacles. The hint system is pretty slick too, making you wait for the next one on a count-down. The effect is that you know a hint is going to arrive, so most of the time, my kids went back to trying to solve it rather than wait for the clock to tick down.

Watch the trailer or read the Wikipedia entry for more details. The game is well paced, with save points and plenty of puzzles to solve which could easily be mediated into a study of to the great war. My 8 year old was more than able to play it, but skipped all of the ‘historical’ fact cards which offer up information as game play progresses. In school, you could make a lot of these cards, building activities and discussion around them as students progress. The game is on PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, XBONE and PC. With a decent metacritic score of 80% on all platforms, my pick would be the XBONE edition for class and small group work on an IWB.

It represents the growing interest game developers have in remediation of historical narratives without resorting to smash and bash or puzzles which rely on visual inspection and decoding with limited effort to allow game-play to tell its own story. It also debunks the myth that gamers have limited taste in games or that they are not willing to try text types which are unfamiliar.

 

Smile and Wave

Teaching is a complex, individual craft which is learned and re-learned among other teachers. While its also a social-economic act of the state to provide formal education — it’s foolish to think that eventually the teaching act will be handled by the state though some robotic process based on media and apps. Learning is about hands, not flippers.

But teaching as a profession is under cultural attack. Teaching is not an add-on role to an entirely different job that someone does part time. One does not teach in order to be allowed to pursue some greater personal-interest. It is not a task performed to offset the economic cost of becoming something else later. The worst version for me are those who ‘teach’ in order to satisfy their own inner-weird need to feel important — and act out that importance. Teaching is important work, but it doesn’t make anyone more important than anyone else. A great teacher knows this and doesn’t waste time on self-adoration exercises.

Teaching people how to teach is an even more complex social task. It is not something one picks up easily, nor can it be reduced to a series of topics to work-through.

Teaching with technology is another layer of professional practice. The role technology plays in the classroom emerges from cultural production is response to what is essentially valorisation. It therefore takes a teacher’s skill to mediate this process on behalf of students. This is always achieved through the socialisation of technology and the individual labour of the teacher. Whether teachers are aware or not, this field of ‘educational development’ — putting technology to work in deliberate, unique learning designs is also a professional field. For decades higher education has used educational development as a form of cultural production with the goal of learning how best to blend technology and media into learning and teaching. It would be stunningly ignorant to see this is a ‘service’ to academia and not an inseparable component of it. Sadly today, the financial and cultural value placed in educational development is in serious decline. Designing meaningful learning experiences is getting more complex, yet increasingly were seeing it represented as a simple add-on on that most ‘smart’ people can pick up, and therefore the boundaries of what can be done are being laid out increasingly by people who are neither teachers, designers or technologists.

I place a great deal of worth in being a qualified teacher who teaches and a designer who values creation over copying and aggregation. What I, and those like me do, is complicated and doesn’t happen without deep connections to networks of people who do the same — who neither keep score or fear that their colleagues have insights, ideas and skills which might usurp their own.

Being a good learning designer and teacher is not about proving what you do is good or bad to administrators, enthusiasts or people whom have little interest in teaching beyond it being a temporal add-on to their next destination. Teaching with technology is about where that act takes place inside the social negotiations of cultural products. I’ve come to the view that the best learning-designers I know are moving house — away from the decline and out of so called meritocracies.They are moving to, and creating, new places to operate from which stand well outside the rhetoric relating to the ‘rise of the amatuer’ are where reading Super Ape magazine is a way to appear to know something of teaching, technology and creativity.

I would argue that increasing numbers of good teachers (with technology) are listening to the ‘community calls’ which share a real vision for education and that increasingly, they are meeting educational developers interesting in creating better cultural products. There will be those who race-to-the-bottom as there were with creatives who failed to transition from pre-digital to post-digital world of media and its distribution. I guess the test is: If you’re a teacher using technology — where to you go to learn and from whom do you need permission to learn it and re-teach it.

After Minecraft comes … Project Spark

When I discovered Minecraft circa 2010 when it was a little known ‘beta’ game. It immediately struck me has having archetypes which could be put to work in education (institutional and self-directed). I enjoyed and learned so much in the next couple of years as part of what was then the largest indie-educational game community I co-founded. The time was made all the more enjoyable as I was playing along side my kids at home to conduct some “deschooling activities”. I maintain the things we achieved (such as presenting our framework and methods at Games for Change and Dundee University) would have never have happened though current institutional practices and culture. But time moves on and though Minecraft has become huge in education, next-gen technology is bringing even more opportunities.

So where next? what (if anything) comes after Minecraft which could promote similar opportunities? I think it’s called Project Spark, and I’ve been busy with the beta for a while, and I’m even more pleased to say had access to Microsoft to look at how to take this into ‘educational’ realms. In short PS gives you the tools to create your own game, and build entire interactive worlds full of heroes and monsters. The game has been in beta for 10 months — and some of the early versions did suck. Microsoft listened and has come out with what I think is the next ‘big’ game for schools, especially post-middle school — but of course those interested in finding out about game-based-learning, not just ‘using’ PS to make games.

The full game is due out in October on Win 8.1 and XBONE. The first DLC will be a sci-fi tool pack called “Galaxies: First Contact” and there will also be great campaign adventure called “Champions Quest” Void Storm”.

I highly prefer the XBONE arrangement and would advocate for schools to seriously consider buying a console over a computer to run PS. The game itself is (will be) free, but expect there to be ‘paid’ content available. I don’t see this as an issue as people now buy content and DLC all the time.

You’ll be seeing me doing a lot of work around Project Spark in the future … because it’s EPIC.

Games as deschooling

I’ve just written an article for a US publication about why schools should take games more seriously than they do. I argue the incumbent ideology and culture of institutionalized education can no longer ignore their influence on learning. In many ways there are associations with much of the de-schooling critical discourses of the 1970s by people such as John Holt and Ivan Illich. As my research into family negotiations of play continues, it’s quite clear to me at least that play is not the opposite of work and therefore schools are not avoiding play because it is frivolous and un-productive.

In the 70s, Illich argued, self-directed education, supported by strong-ties in social relations IN fluid social informal arrangements de-institutionalises society and empowers all who want to share what they know, find those who want to learn it from resources anyone can access.

Now consider who has fabricated MOOCs — institutions. With great bravado they have set about constructing a rhetorical framework around what is already essentially a public reference service, skills exchange based on peers, curiosity and interests. That is called a Learning Network in my view.

It’s little wonder that games must be tamed … as we start to look deeper into their culture, we see just how radical and dangerous they have become. With 98% of people playing them, and half of those playing networked games, they become an entirely new educational funnel — and perhaps for many adults, they reverse much of the social shaping that institutionalised education imposed.

Where do you start with GBL?

I get this question all the time. Now editors have stopped attacking games because games now pay their wages … people who used to ignore games are warming up to the idea. Yay for games.

First I say that games will not, and do not want to be integrated into your classroom the way people have climbed on the Apple and Google product ladder. Games come with culture — and require a lot of rethinking. I’d argue that GBL is a higher level of practice than PBL, so I don’t imagine I’ll be run over with requests for school training for a while.

So … the first step starts with you and how you choose to represent yourself and games.

Games are unique in they challenge our cultural understanding of the value of play itself. To use games, educators have so firmly believe (and publicly declare) play is not the opposite of work and will also enrich, not diminish schooling. This requires not only proof, but also first hand experience and courage in the part of schools, administrators and teachers.

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