Why Minecraft is better than Blues Clues (and school)

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There is substantial disagreement and controversy about video games and childhood. Common criticisms of children’s media use is that it displaces other activities believed to be beneficial such as outdoor play; homework and leisure reading. Video games are subjected to claims made about television such as they lower academic achievement, to which scholars have plausibly argued academically challenged children are drawn to television and as a leisure time activity in the first place. In addition the correlation between TV and achievement has also been shown to include another significant variable - household income. Lower income households tend to watch more TV and also score lower of tests compared to higher income counter-parts.

Media has been used to address this before and it works. I’ll use the example of Blue Clues as most parents will recognise it. The creators’ and producers’ goals were to “empower, challenge, and build the self-esteem of preschoolers”. Admittedly Minecraft didn’t set out to do this, or even be played by pre-schoolers — but I’d argue it is achieving exactly the same goal though it’s enthusiastic media-based community. At the same time, there are more paths to follow than the MinecraftEdu one (not that it’s a bad path). I’m amazed that Mojang hasn’t called me, but hey I totally get why. They stand in a unique position to do some serious social good here, as well as make even more money. Call me fellas, seriously.

Video games are routinely associated with television as though these devices are comparable because of ‘time spent’ in front of the screen. I’m arguing that time-spent with screens promoting learning and improving childrens’ creativity and computational thinking is never a waste of time or resources. It just dry minds that consider fun and entertainment as separate from learning and school. Parents don’t — that has been shown over and over into research about parent belief towards what is ‘good for kids’ – Blue Clues certainly — and Minecraft … well maybe … if parents understand how to regulate it and put it to work and not use it to babysit. Using Minecraft to babysit is a really BAD idea by the way — and not bad addictive bad, bad because it creates high levels of the stuff Blues Clues aims for in a matter of weeks.

Minecraft discussions cannot overlook that many kids from lower-income families are using it instead of television — and if we are to maintain that TV and Games are the two big uses of screen time, then like watching Blues Clues has shown these pre-schoolers may well have higher levels of school readiness than those who do not — and those who only watch Blue Clues or other TV material. Are you with me here Mr Robertson?

When TV when is being used to deliberately to teach though fun and entertainment has positive effects on kids. It been shown that this positive effect is MOST beneficial to kids from lower-income backgrounds. Access to TV has been seen as a cheap and effective way to ‘educate’ those who are at most disadvantage.

When pre-schoolers are playing Minecraft and not watching Blues Clues, Dora or other TV-edu-material — do you think it is making them less or more ready for school? And what about our own ABC? What are they doing in the Minecraft (or other commercial game) space … well aside from Good Game Spawn Point MC maps — not a lot which is shame, all be it a temporary one I hope.

Now here’s the kicker Mr Robertson. Those kids arriving in school at the age of 5, from low income and media poor families can get an accelerant from Minecraft that they wont get from Blues Clues or other edu-watch-me media. They don’t need to have the cognitive and kinaesthetic skills needed to operate network (I can’t log in! Where’s the start-menu! I cant read the letters!) computers Just put an Xbox in the room and a set of well thought out activities and suddenly those kids are capable of rising to the levels of literacy, design and computational thinking that we’d normally attribute (though the literature) to high quality educational programs enjoyed by the better off in society. Not developing Xbox (or other) programs for kids (especially poor kids is brain-missing. Tapping into cultural literacy which is fun, entertaining and cheap makes a cubic world of sense.

The problem is that school culture continue sto connect media-research with gaming effectively and buy-into over simplistic (and unproven) rhetoric around ‘app culture’. The price of one fly-in-fly out powerpoint jockey to tell us about blah blah apps would seed some serious funding for development and research. Oh yes we want video games in schools … because so far the other option hasn’t worked for those kids who are at most risk.

Yes I’ll move to Dundee.

Write for free, it’s good for you!

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This headline is a lie. There are people working day jobs who now believe when a producer or editor comes up with this week’s theme, that they have every right to crowd-source the writing from the suckers online. This is actually a job now — tapping into people someone in the office knows and offering them the chance to write for the big-league as though at some point there would be even the slightest pay back.

Ethical practice or part of the network culture?

I don’t believe it’s ethical to do this, nor is it part of network culture. It’s part of media-culture to get as much for free as possible. The exception here being The Conversation, which I have to say was a great online publication to write for. The difference between blogging and writing is a fee when it comes to ‘proper publishing’.

It isn’t okay to even try to tap-me-up for a freebie on the basis you may know someone who I know. It’s even less exciting if that person hasn’t bothered to ask how I am in a year or so. I realise there are plenty of people who believe network culture is about sharing, crowd sourcing everything and giving every idea and insight away for ‘the love of it’. The reward seems to be presented through the opportunity to ‘tweet your association’ as though this has some lasting credibility or increases your social or financial status. It doesn’t, but it’s a great way of getting free work. I have no time for people who seek to profit from others using this disingenuous form of ‘collaboration’. Screw that, why would I want to devalue my work by increasing the value of yours?

If I choose to post to my blog — it’s because I want to. If you’re tapping me up for free because you’re boss told you too — don’t be shocked if I’m offended. I value the work I’ve done in relation to kids, games and families. Why would I want to give that away simply to fill someone else’s agenda?

It’s shallow for online media properties to ‘crowd source’ when they also like to complain about copyright, journalistic erosion and budget cuts. I’m happy to be taken seriously, and happy to work with editors, copy-editors and publishers around video games and families. I welcome writing pieces for organisations which I believe are promoting awareness for social-good. However, please don’t  ask for freebies in order to fill your space — I value my work, and so should you.

Parenting Gamer Kids

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As part of writing my thesis and working with families around the “Negotiations of Play”, I’ve decided to run a parallel project to write a modest eBook relating to some of the work I’m doing. Not all of my thesis would be interesting to parents, but to me the point of doing it is to have some practical value on raising gamer kids.

I’ve decided to start to compile the book in a way which will see sections released FREE and online via a subscription. Ultimately when the thing is done, I’ll put it into a service such as BookBaby where it can be downloaded as a finished thing. I’m interested therefore in getting YOU to subscribe to this — and to give me feedback on your parenting experiences along the way. This might sound odd, giving away my ideas, but to me it makes sense — and this is what I’ve chosen to do.

The first installment will be open soon, and I hope you subscribe. It will be looking at “Parental Belief and Child Rearing Practices” and will appear in parts over the next 3 months. I won’t be ‘blogging’ about it, but you are welcome to subscribe to the FREE updates online — but it will be mostly limited to the effects of parent belief on children’s behaviours, academic achievement, social and cognitive development. The final eBook will contain information about ways parents can mediate and help their children use video games as a positive media-source and use of screen-time. I’ll be putting this out in three parts and hopefully the final book will be completed by 2017.

I’ve chosen to do it this way because it seems to make the most sense. I don’t need an agent or publishing deal — just an audience of parents and teachers who are interested in the topic “Negotiations of Play”. I will however be using a copy-editor and editor for the final eBooks as I’ll have enough on my plate with the thesis itself.

I’m kinda excited to do this — and to be making some life-changes to make it happen. I’ll be posting information about how to get all this soon. Thanks for reading!

Writing tools for imaginative minds

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Writing in Word sucks for anyone using imagination towards creative expression. I have no doubt that those who love to write in linear forms, obsess over grammar and follow templates love using Word, but for millions of the rest of us, it doesn’t inspire and Banksy seems to get by without it. I often wonder if people become habitual Word users eventually, more interested in the oxford comma than a new idea.

Ideas were never meant to be put into Word, they are to be drawn, torn up, scribbed on, re-arranged and debated. Word almost certainly means ‘critique’ and ‘literal interpretation’. Hands up who wanted to work in a typing pool when they were young, and who wanted to be in Hanoi Rocks until Razzle died.

Many people, especially creative people are all about being difference engines. The easiest way I know to explain it is to cast your mind back to childhood (tempted to sing “up and around the bend). The kids who loved to ‘read’ comics didn’t finish them in moments, but pondered them for weeks. What was going on between the frames was just as important as visual text. They processed it, imagined what was going on and what wasn’t — and most of them wrote and drew their own comics. Comics were not academic when I was a kid. A sure sign of a vague, wandering mind — the smart kids read books and the diligent kids studied grammar. I liked books and writing too, but liked comic books and was obsessive over the fluidity of handwriting and the formation of letters into words. I grew up to study illustration and typography. I was probably in my mid-20s before I was forced to use Word.

There is an alternative. Scrivener2 is a great non-linear writing tool. I don’t have the inclination to explain it all here — suffice to say, if you like to work in pieces and figure out how the pieces come together, you’ll like it. Then there is the other tool Literature and Latte make – Scapple. It’s a mind map gizmo. It lets you think in organised pictures — move pieces around, and then drag that drawing into Scrivener as the basis of a document. You can also use MindNode too, but I’ve moved to Scapple because I just find it faster to use.

When you’re done — compile your masterpiece for Word, PDF, ePub, Kindle, iBooks and even share it via Amazon.

 

Using Duck Duck Go for more private search

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I know there are many search engines which offer alternatives to Google. I also know that Google has become a verb and that most people gravitate to it without too much concern about why Google is showing you this particular information (and ads) and how much of what you do is shared with it’s vast network. With Google search embedded into corporate websites for search too — it seems that even if you go direct to a site, chances are your search, location and history is shared for future commercial interests.

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 12.35.20 PMWhy am I showing you Duck Duck Go then? Well first up, it’s a Google friendly search layer, which says it doesn’t share your information with Google. I use a VPN a lot of the time, and Google hates it. One reason to use Duck Duck Go seems to be less whining from Google about “we can’t tell who you are”. Next up, it integrates into Chrome with ease. Lastly, it’s fast and has some user-friendly options to help filter your experience. I’ve started to notice, ironically via Google Analytics that Duck Duck Go appears more and more often as an organic search origin. Admittedly my traffic is very small, but never the less people do seem to be using it. A recent article in the Guardian broadens out their business model if you’re interested.

For parents and educators, the choice about where to go to find information as well as the tools used to do is not limited to Apple, Google or Microsoft. While I recognised the marketing mission to see these things installed in schools as firmly as bells and stackable chairs — Duck Duck Go as a default browser will disrupt commercial agendas — and the results of the search are far less media-laden.

Notice what it calls BANGS. These are things you can toggle on an off as sources for the search itself. There are hundreds to choose from, including those we know people use most often. One thing which is really useful is “Show Meanings”.

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 12.35.45 PMWe know from research that first-page results has a huge influence on people’s perceptions of information-importance. It’s also the central mechanism Google use to eek out money from advertisers. To get on the first page (CPC) search requires money. You’d be amazed how much, even for obscure terms. The lucky highest bidder will be surrounded by secondary advertising too, so ultimately even if you rank first, you’re never alone. For students, it’s very distracting at best.

Simply displaying information differently — like this — will cause students to wonder why it’s not the same as Google, and that is an opportunity. One way to expand this important realisation is to talk about “The bubble” which Google puts people inside. A great way to do that is to look at the “Don’t Bubble Us” site, which has some great (simple) example graphics to talk about.

I wish I’d had more of this kind of technology several years ago. Tools such as Duck Duck Go would have been in my SOE because ethically there are HUGH issues with the commercialisation of children though technology (and information). The idea that information — what you can and can’t see should be based on your current circumstances, location and available history is as dark as any dystopian novel has eluded to. I am not saying avoid commercial tools — but do come up with an argument as to why not positively considering alternatives to Google Search is “good practice” and not just “yes, I told them”.

A-W of Useful PBL Words

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PBL is known for its open ended questions which can’t be easily answered. Cynically, some will say that PBL can’t be assessed “properly” because of it. Not true. In fact, one reason to become a PBL teacher is because you want to ask questions which demand focused and specific responses. Here is a quick start list of words to build questions and measurable tasks.

Useful objective words for PBL

adjust, alter, analyse, amend, answer, approve, assemble, assess, audit, build, calculate, call, carry out, categorise, check, cross, close, complete, decide, describe, develop, diagnose, divide, draft, draw, eliminate, explain, estimate, extract, file, find, fit, generate, hire, hold, identify, implement, inform, interview, justify, label, lift, list, locate, lower, make, mark, map, monitor, name, negotiate, obtain, operate, perform, pitch, prepare, place, plan, prove, question, read, recommend, remove, report, research, review, schedule, select, sell, solve, spend, state, supervise, spell, test, train, translate, turn, update, use, verify, weigh, write.

“Autism “Awareness” – Ten Things You Should Know” on YouTube

Its autism awareness month. This video should be watched by everyone. People with ASD do not come with ID badges. There is no normal, simply a-typical. People without ASD meet difficult, rude and kind people all the time. There is no reason to assume these people should be labeled either.

This video highlights why some people process information differently. In particular the value of meaning what you say (normal people often disguise their actual meaning) and the value of details.

Most important is the message – different but not less. You might be amazed to Google how many successful, influential and famous people in history haven’t been normal.

If all that seems too much – remember this — ASD doesn’t mean broken nor is it an excuse to behave unkindly.

Aside

Minecraft digs deeper into learning.

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Minecraft has many potential benefits in education. I believe these are being under-estimated. While some uses seem obvious — building a sustainable house, making a replica of a ancient monument and so on — it’s important for teachers (and parents) to recognise and value the learning processes which are happening. I’m about to argue these processes have widely been considered the domain of adult eLearning — and are skills which go beyond many definitions of “21st Century Learning”. In addition, your children and mine are bringing these skills into school.

Regardless of whether a school allows or sees value in Minecraft, there will be a significant number of children (using sales, age and platform sales) who have these skills and are sharpening them evenings and weekends.

Let me be more specific here. Using John Keller’s ARCS model of motivational design, its possible to show Minecraft is teaching kids skils that get buried underneath ongoing controversies around screen-time.

Keller’s ARCS Model for motivational design

  • Attention – Get the learners interest and curiosity
  • Relevance – Show the importance and usefulness of the content to the learner
  • Confidence – Including challenging, but do-able activities (tasks and sub tasks)
  • Satisfaction – Make the experience worth it (ie Why should I care about this?)

Using computers to assist learning only really works when the learner feels satisfied and commits what they learned to long-term memory. We’ve all been to demo or had training where we walk out and never revisit the lesson.

As a parent, it’s totally frustrating that my children seem to remember a thousand items in their favourite video game inventory — yet can’t remember what todays homework was. Keller’s model is the foundation of many eLearning and classroom activities. What I’m saying is that we can see kids doing this without any adult prompts or motivators. The brilliance of the game design is that it allows humanistic learning.

The major problems of our age deal with human relations; the solutions can be found only in education. Skill in human relations is a skill that must be learned; it is learned in the home, in the school, in the church, on the job, and wherever people gather together in small groups. – Knowles.

Minecraft doesn’t have ‘rules’ on how to accomplish a task other than the machine-rules about the properties of objects in the virtual landscape together with the players ability to interact with those objects. The game itself allows an ‘idle’ state where by the player can do nothing at all if they want. Time passing is marked by the sunrise and sunset. The first task learners perform is how to create a personal space — where they can be safe from harm. The classic hierarchy of needs becomes realised almost immediately. She builds a shelter by analysing her performance constantly to race again time and if successful in that task — starts to think about deeper task analysis.

This is hugely powerful stuff. A four year old is undertaking constant task analysis more often than they are reacting to tasks set. To me this represents a significant alternative view of “flipping the classroom”. Among the questions she’s asking herself (and seeking media information to answer) are:

  • What’s the complexity of the task?
  • How often does it needs to be performed?
  • Is the task critical to the end state (performance) I want?
  • Is this task separate, connected with or linked to other tasks?
  • What does the overall task-relationship look like?
  • What are the risks associated with not being able to complete the task?
  • What background skills to learners need to perform these tasks?

It’s critical to acknowledge that kids playing Minecraft are developing two fundamental skills. They are working towards developing the kind of reflective, critical “self-directed” skills previously associated with adult learning.

This immediately creates new challenges and opportunities. Minecraft allows kids to engage in humanistic informal learning by becoming self-directed learners, maintaining deep motivation towards their own goals. I think Knowles would have liked Minecraft.

This will, to some, clash with many EdTech’s assumptions about what kids can/should do with computers. In particular who benefits most from using them – students, system or teachers. It fly’s in the face of popular opinion and assumptions. When I then hint at the power of connectivism and network culture, I begin to see kids as part of a new and vast network of learners.

I think using this lens, kids are doing things in Minecraft is quite staggering. The objects they make are not the measurement of their achievement, but simply a landmark on their increasing ambition, skill and knowledge. As I said at the beginning of this post — I question the need to create lessons for Minecraft. I see greater value (to them) by simply allowing kids to play for a few hours a week. This has benefits which so far, EdTech has really not achieved despite vast investment and enthusiasm.

Minecraft is not just a game — it’s a sandbox for self-directed learning which is probably one the most significant skills children will need in the years ahead. Obsessing over “digital literacy” seems a particular teacher and system obsession.

(Tapped on a phone, in a train).

5cs of leadership in network cultures.

Today I’m posting this, the 5c’s of leadership in networked societies. If you like, it’s the five things I value most because it’s also the five elements I believe exisit in successful online and offline society.

This is why a kid plays Minecraft and why Minecraft is not Lego for example.

This is what we have learned to be, rather than learn about or learn to do because of networked cultures.

Compassion
Character
Creativity
Curiosity
Connectedness

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