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.

Video Games are part of the connected presence

In the last decade, recreational video games have been a special interest topic for media discussion for both their material content and their influence on families. It wasn’t until the advent of smart-phones and the commercial marketplaces of iTunes and Google Play that video-games established themselves as the most popular way to spend leisure time with technology.

The media have been forced to rethink their editorial attitude to a lengthy and sustained attack on video games due to their immense social popularity and billion dollar revenues. It wasn’t hackers or teenagers downloading music and television that has re-defined new media business models, it is video games. Video games occupy so much of people’s time and money that they are increasingly being positively reported. The editor might still hate them, but has learned that game coverage and advertising adds much needed buoyancy to their sinking ships. It no long pays to slag off video games — or video gamers. The much claimed causality between addiction and violence has never been established unlike the flow of income from video-games.

The concerns parents hold are valid — the quality of interpersonal relationships, the time children want to spend playing games created a profoundly new domesticity with everyone in the house owning at least one device and willing to challenge generational attitudes and boundaries. The question of whether video games are good or bad is facile in light of the fact 98% of people play video games at some level on a computer, phone, tablet or console. Many humans do appear to struggle to self-mediate new media. Whether you’re a user or an abstainer, no one can miss the uncertainty and concerns people have for a society fixated on screens. Having said that, the ambition and greed of technology developers and media networks shows no sign of slowing — or being regulated. Add to that an ongoing refusal of educators to adopt ‘media studies’ in schooling and un-restrained enthusiasm of some that “everything is awesome” when it comes to technology and media and any worries about Grand Theft Auto pale into the distance.

The connected presence: family and friends; game-communities and personal social media tribes impacts the quality of interpersonal relationships. To me, it’s strange that so much media (and teacher media chat) is applied to working out what is good or bad, as though there is some human action at the civic level which could now separate them. If you’re building a personal learning network — then you are doing so because video-games have succeeded and not because some social elites have finally decided communication is useful.

Whether you identify as a gamer or not — the connected presence that exists in society today – Facebook, Twitter, Tinder, SnapChat, Instagram and so on is there because video-games have provided substantial models, ideas and revenue. So stop thinking that you’re in the 2% that don’t play games … it’s highly unlikely.

Classroom motivation

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Okay, this only works if students actually have or are allowed to use a device, but it doesn’t mean the teacher needs to be using technology in the lesson. I use the Pomodoro Method a fair bit personally. My brain like to have too many tabs open, and it helps me stay focused and motivated on a task — even if it’s boring. I happen to like the 20mins on, 10 mins off routine and in the case of learning with technology in the classroom, I’d also recommend alternating between 20mins using device and 10mins off AS WELL AS 20mins off and 10mins on. I think it allows for better workflows because you can set a ‘peak’ of activity as well as have some really clear deadlines and conclusions.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDHtLDzHSII

Pomodorium is a gamification variation with some nifty software that COULD help those students who seem to lack the ability to stay on task or focus. I grant you that if they are given some dull worksheet to complete they won’t begin to love science or geography, but I really think some kids — especially by mid-year in Year 8 are beginning to massively tune-out and simply idle the fifty minutes away.

 

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