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.

100 PBL teachers spawned

About three years ago Judy O’Connell reminded me that being interested in change means being in places that can put some weight into it. Ive always pleased to have introduced project based learning to teachers as a member of the online mass. It was rewarding to watch them fly off into the future.

For semester two, I’ve been teaching PBL to about 120 first year students, and despite their natural reservations about teaching in a very unfamiliar manner, they have taken it all in and this week begins a series of presentations. They were asked to look at an issue with education and, media or pop culture, devising their own driving question.

Do that’s 120 new teachers who have an alternative to cookie cutter chalk and talk, boring assessments and technologically simplistic solutions.

Thanks to David Saltmarsh, master mind behind the course.

What does education want with gamification?

I’m doing an online discussion next week about gamification and education. It’s only short, but pleased to say that I’m at least on the bill with the likes of James Portnow [wonders if he’ll use voice-changer]. Actually, I’m also developing a post-graduate course on Game’s Based Learning and looks like writing a book chapter, so I need to get over the ‘imposter syndrome’. Maybe it’s a glimpse of ‘game-cultures’ to come, and is a pleasant distraction from more mundane dilemmas such as “so do you have a job next year or not?” type questions to flow around the habitus.

What does education want with gamification? I have a few ideas. First, games are part of the consumer fascination some teachers have with technology broadly. Now that ‘games’ are less taboo than five years ago, they are being discussed more without that socal-awkwardness related to ongoing negative media representations. More teachers ‘dare’ to play and talk about it. Yey for games. Another idea is that videogames are kicking teacher’s collective ass when it comes to children’s interest in media. Few teachers I meet have watched Twitch TV, know who owns it and why younger kids especially have flocked to it. Gamification allows us to pick ‘things we like’ from ‘groupthink’ and have some ‘fun’ with learning.

Watch the video below to see how gamification is being thrust onto the world though the political economy.

Gamification (for me) is deeply connected to marketing and political-economies, far more so than video games or even play. Gamification uses external rewards and is basically bribery – and often forgets that a reward the player doesn’t see as valuable, isn’t a reward. That to me is the basic problem with educational assessment — and entrenched culture of grades. One people work out, the rewards are digital-gold-stars, then you’re stuffed. Equally, all games get boring when you master them. As schools value regularity, then the irregular nature of games (what makes them interesting) is removed in favour of ‘fetch missions’, where operant conditioning kicks in. This is fine if you’re selling/marketing, but game designers strive to avoid operant conditioning as ‘fun’ (the other thing teachers believe games are) — is an intrinsic reward, and only works on naive players.

The problem here is that playing games is universal in our culture — and we don’t have players who are naive enough to fall for operant methods or gold stars for too long. We also tend to think learning designers can flip over into game design, which is false, and why so many ‘serious games’ have sucked in the past. Gamification is often used when the content isn’t compelling and people don’t actually care about the reward (for long) when it has limited articulation into life. Education seems to want to extract ‘engagement, fun, and flow’ from games, and appears to see ‘gamification’ as a way of doing this. Serious Game + Social dimension doesn’t make learning deeper or more motivating sadly.

Ps Get Degrees

I’ve try to offer pre-service teachers compelling arguments for using media and technology. The main one being that media and technology are part of a cultural biome that children are inducted into through consumer culture — and therefore media and technology matter. This is backed up by some pithy examples of their own media-lives.

My line of argument is that ‘media studies’ is not part of Australian school curriculum and creates disadvantage for many children who receive neither formal instruction or find themselves in deep-media-technology-centric private schools and wealthy homes. Unless everyone takes this on board, and schools have a cohesive approach to tackling it, then we’ll be in infinite loops of commercial-experiments and groupthink that focus on tools and technologies, not media and technology.

I suspect that “it’s no my direct problem” is the over-all response emerging from a “Ps get degrees” attitude — and that this is a belief inherited from observation of their own teachers.  I sympathise that learning about technology is time consuming, requires resilience and connecting to an unknown community, but surly, if ‘graduate attributes’ in teaching right now is not this, then what is?

Moving house

As the year draws towards an end, I’ve decided to focus on my thesis, and so will blog a lot — I mean A LOT less here about education and schools. I’ve come to a point where I believe strongly that consumer culture has flooded much of the useful debate online, deliberately targets new arrivals with a highly agenderised dialectic process. Particularly in Twitter,  this has created a bleak social reality where subscribing to brands and being popular is more important than evidence.

This year I’ve managed to extricate myself from one pocket-kingdom to re-discover what I found meaningful about learning and teaching, thanks to the kindness of three people and the support of many, many more. I’ll therefore be focused more on my work as a researcher, designer and teacher, in a much less public manner than I have in what is almost a decade of blogging. My research work about families, games and the media is at

Thanks for all the comments and fish. Good luck to all who step bravely into the arena of online educational technology ‘debate’.

Labelling units of work, not teachers

In the old days, the rhetoric about technology use in the school classroom was pitched as a binary debate. You were either part of the movement to promote technology or the object of that movements concerns and vitriol. Time has moved on. 90% of today’s online information was created in the last twenty four months. Industry figures show that media is a social reality, and teachers are in the demography targeted by technology and media as consumers.

It therefore make sense to describe a unit of work (not pedagogy) as media centric, media moderate or media light. After all its the work which matters right? From this, schools can appoint staff to classes on a basis of their personal belief, skill, attitude and experience with media centric to media light units of work.

Currently, the teacher has the powers of veto and experimentation with little accountability. As media and technology are not mandated, this approach shifts the focus from what the teacher is willing to do to what the unit of work needs within the context of who will be learning it. It pushes attention from curriculum design to learning design, away from functional knowledge competition (the twitterati) to declarative and more naturalistic practice. If students prefer media centric in a media light class, that’s hard luck. Something’s don’t work as well with technology, and schools should be able to figure that out by now.

It also disempowers the endless marketing online, and accepts that teaching kids is pluralistic, not a binary to get yourself Twitter famous.


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).


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