MMOCCCs

I’d already invented and Tweeted “the flipped library” before breakfast today. By the time I stepped off the 7:42 Gosford to Central train, I’d scribbled down”Massive Multi-user Online Consumer Culture Communities (MMOCCC)” as a way of more accurately discussing XBox Live, Steam, Facebook and Twitter, thus inventing the mother of all MOOCS, the Internet itself. I was pretty happy with that effort.

What she makes is Minecraft is your life.

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The majority of positive debate about games is assimilationist. It attempts to explain what players are and what they do within the game-studies canon and is often autobiographical in nature. This focus on differences in the nature of reality isn’t particularly useful or informative if you’re a parent, or instructional if you’re a teacher.

For parents, talking about their children’s obsession with Minecraft is the reality. This belief is key, and is a product of irrationally constructing this belief (from the multiple meanings possible) — as media consumers. Their own construction of a safe-useful-productive ‘technologically mediated’ lifestyle is as consumers. Having been subjected to media-messages their whole lives, they focus on the individual child’s actions, responding emotionally to a conflicting array of images and messages which informs them of what successful, healthy parenting looks like. The behavioral response solicited from the media is choose this and reject all others. It’s annoying when children don’t reject it and when you find out why they reject it, it becomes alarming.

We know that product symbolism is an increasingly important strategy in marketing and that it targets families. Using Belk’s (1988) consumer theory of the “extended self” rather than the more common “the second self” from media theory, I suggest that seeing her as a player, where she creates and uses a game character (avatar) to interact with the biome is incorrect. She is using the game as an extended self to reproduce what she knows and is curious about. She has little fascination with the representation (character), but deeply interested in what it can (do) as a result of her interactions and ideas. Put simple, it’s a way of playing “families”.

The power and significance of saying “I’m a Minecraft player” is symbolically important. Parents might say “she plays Minecraft too much” because they are trying rationalize and predict her consumption as an  individual. This has a calming effect, as it glosses over the all important factor of her being part of the consumer community which parents introduce children to as a natural part of contemporary life. This means that she is using Minecraft to reproduce what she sees around her as real life and test it’s plausibility and believability. She is not playing because she is extraordinarily gifted, frustrated with school, or trying to escape reality (which is not broken). She’s playing because it’s a way to reproduce her life through play (naturalistic) and understand the complex media communications between adults and adults and computers as they go about their own lives.

She’s playing Minecraft as an extended self,  which she has more power and control over the inputs and outputs of the synthetic world than she does outside the game. The consumer society is weird to kids, with helicopter parenting, bluetooth cupholders and endless Facebooking of food. None of that feels as normal as parents assume it should.

If she’s playing too much then this is likely to be somewhat of a mirror to the overall family consumption (or avoidance) of media and technology, not because she’s addicted or trying to escape reality. Let me pick up on that. Reality is not broken as McGonigal claims. McGonigal focus on the individual as being “not good at life” which is fundamentally misleading as it treats game players as a minority discourse from the outset. Reality for children are parents hooked on consumer culture communities such as Facebook and Twitter and as such see themselves as part of a global culture which seems to combine corporeal and synthetic communications — and that is something that kids then feel they need to learn (to be a good kid) which frustrates parents rather than pleases them — as kids tend to be allowed games.

I argue that Minecraft in schools is more about the teachers own relationships with consumer culture communities as it is about learning. She’s not playing Minecraft to learn in school, she’s playing to reproduce what she believes is the reality adults create or want, and therefore Minecraft is creates further pluralistic confusion. Teachers of course follow the assimilation canon, claiming that Mincraft is “good learning” and that it should be “part of learning” by which they mean, their preferred lifestyle. No one is wondering how this affects kids already confused by the technologically mediated consumer society.

My hypothesis is that parents who complain their kids are hooked on Minecraft have themselves been assimilated deeply into consumer culture though buying and using products such as the iPhone and iPad — that they don’t see the significance of their child’s play. She’s playing Minecraft as a way to make sense of the most important things in the world — her parents — and is confused about why parents choose one media over another, which is bad, which is good and so on. To get her off Minecraft means getting off Facebook and Instagram, putting the phone down, turning off the TV and co-playing consistently over a long period of time. Minecraft is a mirror of our lives, and we don’t always grow old gracefully do we?

Is the digital dream over?

The Australian financial review this week posted an article in its education supplement about the government axing of digital education. It framed this new dilemma as an attack on computer science, school funding and the political economy. Leading with President Obama’s recent plea to American youth to ‘learn to code’ and computer science by presenting the Abbott government as out of step with the world.

Yes folks, don’t let anyone tell you that science isn’t more important than the arts. Go make something your country can sell. The article called upon numerous I.T people to comment on how damaging this is for children’s future prospects and where Australia will fall behind other nations such as Estonia.

From left: Charlotte Russell, Sarah Newman and Elizabeth Gordon from Tara Anglican School for Girls check out some new technology. Photo: Louise Kennerley

Children were represented only by a staged image of three private school girls holding laptops outside an exclusive Sydney girls private school.

Seymour Papert says, “The scandal of education is that every time you teach something, you deprive a child of the pleasure and benefit of discovery”

What was glossed over in this article is a foundation problem with the social construction digital education rhetoric and the three billion dollars of tax payer money that has gone into it since 2007. Computer science is not digital education or digital basics. In the last decade, computer science has suffered from a stagnant and increasingly irrelevant content-approach, which has seen girls especially show little interest in year 9 onward. My local high school still advertises”logo” as it’s programming language to prospective students and plenty more use visual basic in the HSC. This is a signpost for when ‘time stood still’ in the computer science lab, and the ‘digital revolution’ hit them with such a back-draft, most are now running machines and equipment that are slightly above landfill in public schools. However, some schools have cutting edge everything — if you can afford it. Children are not able to discover computer science outside of consumer culture these days. Computers are so common, few people find them interesting.

This has been the impact of technological determinism on computer science in public education. It was driven by a  new approach to growing up digital was to subscribe to the ‘here comes everyone‘ rhetoric of issuing everyone with a computer, regardless of their history or interest — or academic eyebrow raising.  Sure a few teachers in public education use media and technology well, but the system neither rewards them nor can spot an amazing applicant from a cookie-cutter Office user. The key to getting job in public school is being in the system and presenting yourself as a perfect copy of the system ideal. The criteria for advancing technology based education is not the skill or experience one has, but how well your resume matches the boiler plate. So why is the discontinuance of on-going funding for a model that works for a minority and favours more flexible private schools such a terrible idea?

The revolution didn’t bring the equality it was supposed to — despite the efforts of public system staff who rolled out a massive program into schools. It created a commercial windfall for commercial brands and consultants at the expense of computer science.  It also created new competition between teachers and the illusion that corporate social responsibility strategies are in actual fact a form of philanthropic generosity. Computer science has been reduced to a collection of apps and ‘stuff we like’ conferences, attended to by self-styled futurists. The result has been a bonanza for marketing and groupthink, and no significant difference in education, if one is to look at the declining adult literacy levels in Australia and a stagnant high school culture filled with gender bias and urban advantage.

Lets get a few things straight. Most parents are not freaking out over media use and there is a massive gap between higher and lower income families for static and mobile technology use. Parents are less likely to turn to media or technology as an educational tool for their children over other activities and “joint media engagement” drops off from the age of about six. As the views of parents are rarely included in online teacher groupthink dialogues, research like this (ie, beyond Horizon and Pew) clearly shows how delusional much of the edtech rhetoric has become in order to support commercial agendas.

Do not feel sorry for the death of digital education,  be alarmed that schools have steadfastly refused to adopt or even support media studies curriculum proposals by international scholars such as David Buckingham for decades. The I.T. approach wrongly hands the power to English and Computing teachers on the assumption that slugs and snails make puppy dog tails.

Children who are deliberately targeted by the media have a civic right to know what the media message is, not just which brand to buy. Encouraging them to create code is simply politics as the real ideology inside the message is to consume it. A media literate society will be less malleable, a trained one makes money for the few. I’m pretty sure the current government culture does not promote an expansion of media voices or empowering choice. It barely acknowledges to the woeful connectivity and high costs of internet access, leaving little evidence of a desire for global online anything, let alone a workforce of computational teleworkers and entrepreneurs.

What the whining in this article is about is that the feed trough of free public money to pursue the ‘things we like’ fetishistic consumerism of edtech which cannot point to strong evidence that three billion dollars has moved society forward or harmed children. The ‘but were trying, stop being negative’ is part of the problem. A disorgansed and confused body of social activism benefits the institution. At the center of this problem is not bad teaching, it’s neoliberal policy and marketing being presented to teachers as scholarship and reform.

Media education is essential if children are too understand the media and learn to self mediate their use towards their own future and not one created by marketing departments and the tiny number of industrialists who hold power in Austrslia. Given the modernist ideology anchoring schools combined with neoliberalism, most children are likely to attain the same results at the end of school with our without the instrumental, brand and tool market commonly called educational technology.

To introduce media studies  means removing power from those who have it, and creating a critical syllabus which trains teachers about media as well as how to use it. If media isn’t important enough to study in its own right then what does it say about the millions of hours and dollars being wasted each week on methods which are unproven and fail to deliver on the populist’s rhetoric?.

More interesting is how this attempt at moral panic to ‘save our children from ignorant futures’ is now relegated to what is traditionally the marketing of private education in the Australian Financial Review. Itis a far cry from Rudd’s digital revolution headlines. There’s little in this article to suggest ‘they’ are interesting in saving everyone, just hoping to continue getting public money for what is essentially damaging to the vast majority of kids.

*tapped on a phone (as usual).

Remembering: Learnscope 2007

10509578_10152786154099919_6876373854089139555_nA long time ago, then I was gainfully employed by the Catholic Education Office I was part of what was called eLearning 2007 – or Learnscope. This is also pre Wordle so this t-shirt was perhaps a poignant example of the foresight of the group of people involved.

Learnscope 2007 was promptly killed off the year after, due to lack of money and vision. Back then, there was no theatre of self-proclaiming expert protagonists, farming Twitter and building speaking careers — there were just people exploring new media technologies, creating projects with kids and connecting. It was pre-commodification and I’m damn lucky to have been in the right place at the right time I guess.

I have to thank Robyn Jay for posting this to Facebook this week as it sparked an interesting conversion about how homogonised and ‘groupthink’ the current generation of exploration appears to be, given these things are not almost a decade old. It’s also interesting here that Second Life is mentioned, as it had a huge influence on what media might be — regardless of whether or not you ‘liked’ it. Back in 2007, there were many seminal projects being developed in mobile learning (which pre-dated the iPhone) as well as the clear vision of convergence and on-line communities.

Now a decade later, people are asking me about games or whether or not a ‘flipped classroom’ is new. The problem has always been quite simple: the system funds, then kills. We go around and around until we simply get sick of the ride and leave. I still connect with the Learnscopers — and can only guess at the impact they made to pave the way for … well pretty much the same. So what will does the t-shirt of 2014 look like?

Media Blind

As a parent of a start-up teen, I’m painfully aware of the media’s influence over his view of the world. I’m also in one of those psychological revolving doors where I can see the potential advantages of massive access to information, people, experiences made possible by convergence in the media, but at the same time I have to remind myself that he, like others of his ilk, are media blind.

Children see, hear and interact with media constantly, it’s all around them — and they can’t imagine life away from it. But life does function beyond media — we have towels to hang up, dishes to put away — so when he fails to live up to the demands and routines of our household’s schedules, or protests over things that only teenager could possible appreciate matter and parents ‘ruin’ — pulling the pin on the world of interactive entertainment and human-computer-human mediated communication doesn’t improve the situation. But the pin is more often than not pulled for a while at least in an attempt to reset teen-startup.

While schools have either used ‘scare and filter’ or ‘embrace and hope’ strategies — deeply connected to power-belief among a narrow set of individuals, neither has been useful in preparing tweens and teens for today’s media cultures and stratified media communication. As a parent, it seems non-productive to talk about “Peter and Jane” values in a world and arrogant to think I am shaping his media diet in a world of mega-corporations and  ‘everything is awesome’ digitally salivating teachers. Yes I do think media is useful, yes I do work with media, but I can’t even see how today’s media landscape can be compared with the same one two years ago … yet the mass-theatre of conferences and homogonised #edchat seems as media blind as teen-startup.

With no ‘media education’ discipline in the Australian curriculum and therefore no externally valid assessment (read: exam) there is no corresponding ‘key words scheme’ so popular in 70s and 80s literacy methods.

As frustrating as it is to me as a parent, I have to concede my kids are not experiencing any form of planned or well researched information literacy life cycle.

Ignorance and personal growth co-habit the media creating an illusion of what society can and can’t do with technology. The fact a tween can re-create Blenheim Palace in Minecraft tells us almost nothing about missed opportunities, compounding media problems and poor leadership in the rest of society — and maybe that this point.

I was thinking, very early this morning, that “things we like” would be a fantastic title for every educational conference I ever went to for years. There are some good reasons use technology, but there are many more reasons actively create a media literacy program in schools if self-growth, actualisation and empowerment are to be channeled into positive, functional outcomes for kids. Who knows, maybe my teen will eventually realise the ambiguity of a life through glass … or put a towel away from time to time without it having to be a quest-for-loot-deal. Maybe I should just get on board with the ed-tech juggernaut — confusing morning.

Are you a progressive teacher?

One argument I’m running against the ongoing consumerist classroom concerns why it has become extremely difficult for a teacher to be recognized by in-groups without holding up a device or subscribing to the brands values endorsed by market driven innovation and supply.

In addition, progression in education seems inherently weighted along gender lines. While women are clearly a significant part of educational research, innovation and scholarship, there is something about the market culture which elevates more men on the international ‘educational technology is cool’ circuit. Its a truism to say men and women who don’t agree with the ‘everything is awesome culture’ also work within the cultural boundaries of education – and therefore equally important and significant.

To me, progressive teaching means acting on changes in society and culture, which I grant you is often deeply resigned to consumerism and techno-wonderment. While outwardly sympathetic to the plight of billions in poverty, or even ‘poor’ schools nearby, this culture generally views education though the latest glass, as though western science has annexed the issues of mankind via an app or two. What does this signal to children who are forming views of how the world works?

One concern that I and many others share is how easy it is to mistake marketing communications from reality. It addition, the phrase “other people’s children” sould be painted in every classroom. Our children are not yours to media-manipulate. Please ask before immersing into synthetic markets.

There is no evidence to suggest children need technology to thrive or that basing the “21st century need” on market-lead, narrow, branded, educationally parochial views of ‘good’ technology has a positive effect on learning or society. Many assertions about ‘future schools’ are based on brand commodification of childhood and they techno-cultural interests of individual and loosely associative teachers. To me, there is a clear problem with online communication (and the ripples it makes into society) which over estimates its correctness and under estimates the alternatives.

Schools have used commercially supplied products for decades, but at no point did teachers feel a need to represent themselves as “Ladybird Book Teachers” or attend the “Derwent Pencil Academy” in order to feel, be or be seen as progressive. This brandification is grotesquesuperfluous and confusing when trying to identify progressive teaching. Think about those teachers and kids who seeing all this emerge but also feel their needs, ideas and preferences are now less important — does that matter to Chitter or Voodle?.

I argue that retreating from the marketplace is just as progressive and that shielding kids from manipulative media is progressive. Some ‘time-out’ from the brand juggernaut isn’t anti-progress. 

It’s therefore interesting to consider how the cultural construction of ‘progressive teaching’ impacts the careers of teacher. It will probably affect them differently, for example those who are new or perhaps old or sobering up from a decade of technology. Perhaps a progressive teacher is far more moderate than those who have been the loudest in the last decade. I’m pretty sure I want technologically competent teachers in front of my kids, but ultimately I want them to create media-savvy critics who spot product placement a mile away.

What does education want with games?

For some odd-cultural reason, education seemingly cannot engage with media-texts or information processes that are not self-evident of being a part of ‘life’ in the consumer society. Perhaps it is a need to feel apart from ordinary folk who are not teachers ordained by politicians and blessed with public money that does it. I don’t have a plausible explanation other than ‘EdTech’ has come to symbolise market driven education, and in persuit of that both corporate brands and the new neo-citizen brands that prowl social media. They both find it useful to pander to this separatist culture and establish that all important ‘niche’ from which they communicate their dangerously technological deterministic message.

I managed to fire off a burry-eyed Tweet this morning, commenting that another “EdTech” conference, which has called itself “TechEd” to be super-cool and different is on again today in Australia. Images of people in lines, with brands boasting about how ‘the cool people’ are willing to line up to attend what is basically another consumer electronics show. Watch out for the word “cool” in association with these messages because they signify “the uncool”. Games have of course been ‘un-cool’ in education for years. So what do these people want with thier “gamification” hashtags?

I argue that they want what they always want, more customers, more attention and more sales. Education does not move with the times and lives in 2008. It isn’t allowed to move on as the marketplace panders to adult literacies which barely reach that datum point — most are still struggling to use a computer that isn’t set up by technical support. As those are few and far between, the Internet has become the “sales assistants” for basic media-literacies. Games are amazingly complex. They would be mind-boggling to someone who still believes 50hours professional development ever five years is a ‘task’. Educational technology therefore creates “gamification” so that it can maximise the return and minimise the investment towards developing or even studying games that might help kids learn better than their blogs, wikis and podcast exercises.

Education wants game to be simple(r) to a point they can be backed into the existing dogmatic methods that was the genius-revolution of Web2.0 in schools. The issue is that while there are some great technologies on offer to schools, they are immediately labelled “pilot” or “experimental”, despite the fact virtually none of the ‘tools’ that are forced on kids have gone though any empirical process to work out if they have any benefit (sort term exam culture prevails) or in the long term. Games don’t have anything to prove in this regard. They are not by any stretch of the imagination ‘new’. Gamification is a product of mass-consumer culture and in essence, a bundle of tools for measuring and rewarding progess. Perhaps education hopes this new market will last long enough to make some more fly-in-fly-out cash, maybe they think it pumps oxygen into the dying mantra of Web2.0? Who knows what education wants — but I’m pretty sure it’s only a slim (tame-able) slither of what players want from a game.

What’s wrong with just putting games in classrooms and then figuring out what kids can do, what to do — and call it what it is – playing videogames, because it’s a great way to build one’s own technological and media literacy without a lesson plan.

Negotiations of Play

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negotiations_of_play

I’m pleased to say that I’ve posted my project website for my thesis, called Negotiations of Play. This is designed to support parents and to capture the experiences of Australian parents and caregivers of children aged 4-12. Right now you can leave your email address if you want to notified of then the study commences. I expect that this will take about 12 months to collect.

Overall, there is no research into what parents and children think about online games or how parents mediate them in Australia. Much of the reports in mass media tend to discuss statistical data which they use to inductively to tell parents what they should or should not be doing. The dominant literature which voices concern focuses on, and extends the long running negative ‘media effects’ debate by experimental psychology. The positive often focuses on theories of ‘flow’ and the design of games and player behaviours, especially fun, motivation and enjoyment.

My approach is somewhat different in that I am interested in the broad negotiations between the media and families and inter-family conceptions of the role video games play in family life as media markets, which to me plays a key role in developing both adult and childrens literacy. The market benefits though reproductive process helping expand what games can do. Evidence of this can been seen in the rise of new forms of games which negates much of the ‘violence in games’ claims these days. I see what games do as establishing what I’m calling a neo leisure class. People in constant negotiation with game designers and media producers through the cultural production of their avatars and game-identities. In particular, I’m interested in network mediated culture which I think is largely ignored or overlooked in game-studies, yet as every Steam or Xboxer knows is an essential site for identity, socialising and play.

I have many people to thank for getting me to this point: Not least: My wife and kids and our household’s game characters – Vormamim, Vorsaken and LollykingOMG each of whom have played an important role in developing my interest in the issues and controversies of parenting the gamer generation. Then there are those whom I know in-game by gamer-tag (anonymously represented here). Next, those whom have contributed significantly to what I now call ‘work’ – the ones who I ‘talk to’ on Twitter, but also those who have been working on using games for over a decade in Australia: Judy O’Connell, Bron Stuckey, Jo Kay, Kerrie Johnson, Westley Field and countless others in Australia and overseas such as Derek Robinson and Peggy Sheehy, two people I see as key critical thinkers in what games can do to improve kids lives, especially those kids who are increasingly being marginalised by educational technology’s neoliberal-elitism.

Finally, and not least my PhD supers Professor Catharine Lumby and Dr. Kate Highfield who have been amazing in the last year of my life and lit the darkest of days when I’ve needed it most. A few more essentials, Dr. David Saltmarsh who has really expanded my thinking and coffee drinking and Mal Booth at UTS Library who shares a love of ink-pens, Alfas and innovation.

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