Open Badge Chat

Another interesting evening discussing Open Badges, and I’ve come to find myself thinking in quite different ways when it comes to what I think they are useful for. There’s a lot of talk about how they can be used to credential all sorts of skills and achievement, and most of the time this is connected to the discussions of how do “we” get employers to recognise them.

Im interested in tokens, symbols, rules and values – and to me, Open Badges is a sort of ‘bit-coin’ connected to cultural production and reproduction. For example: In a game, if I hold a badge for an achievement, someone could ask me to help them earn theirs and I could co-op with them, or simply tell them how to go about it. But games are synthetic worlds, and not subject to the same economic, political and social forces of ‘real life’. In ‘real life’ you can’t easily walk up to experts in the expectation that will a) notice b) help and c) help for free. The idea of “open” badges to me signifies “open social systems” which are based on an input and output market relationship. Even the term ‘earn’ a badge, provides a strong clue about how many people socially construct what they are and in term what they mean.

I see the Open Badge system as a way to re-create some simple ‘game-like’ methods within ‘structuralist’ domains such as Moodle or Drupal. They might, if well designed, allow some application of ‘critical gaming’ such that we provide alternative ways for students to learn about a topic. For example: if we’re teaching about gender, we can create a critical game to immerse the player in a series of events in which they use a range of skills, cognitions and emotions to make sense of — the real world. I am not at all convinced that “open badges” are not conceived as yet another way to create winners and losers though education, especially when institutions are already trying to standardise (real monopolise though narrow consensus and exclusive trade) their implementation.

If open badges are part of a more poststructuralist approach to learning, then as trade-tokens and symbols, these things seem better placed inside closed communities — and indeed when you look at social systems such as Steam, you see that there already exist — in less declarative forms. If they are just another reform to marks and grades, then I seriously doubt they will attain much currency in a system which has already decided who is a winner and loser. That to me isn’t the value of “open badges”, or at least I didn’t think it was.

Neoevolution baby.

Neofactory workers

One of the sociological benefits of games is their ability to create temporal spaces for play. They benefit from the confluence of game media and culture which swirls around the metaverse and unleashed once the game loads and “you’re in”. No other media can provide a corporeal and hyper real immersion like this. No only are you immersed in a synthetic world, but you are liberated from the mental neofactories created by Google and other monolithic advertising and retail messages which proliferate the textual world of the Internet.

Kids should not learn to become the labour of Google as a result of unproven educator belief that typing on the cloud is better than holding a pen or pencil. The mass adoption of Google by schools in particular is deeply concerning given Googles unique position to information filter and service political and industrial data collection agendas. They are unaccountable to anyone except themselves already.

Games are many things, but predominantly post structuralist in their ideological design, playing by their own rules and filled with values we once associated with community and cultural literature. As a parent I refuse to allow my children to believe learning and using Google/Apple products are connected in ways other than retail. I’d rather they had zero access to technology in school if this is all that is on offer. Kids either have a media education or they don’t. I’d rather they learned to build an argument than a google (anything). They seem to have no issue navigating the metaverse, and I see no reason to try and regulate it though brand values.

While schools insist on narrow application of media (brands) towards the same structuralist goals, games provide a useful cognitive disruption to the consumer, mass messaging of a few industrialists. Ten years on, public education has an information filter which is intended to create inequality, yet those inside the fence have accepted it. Welcome to District 12.

I’m not a fan on the neoliberal ideology when it comes to education. The winners and losers agenda is morally bankrupt, yet also accepted. At no point do I support the use of neofactories of child labour, presented as digital learning. This is simply a move towards market-driven reproduction — and at best ignorant and worst, deliberate. There seems to be very little critical analysis of corporate agendas in education, but then again, if functionalism and structuralism in your meal ticket, then the this might appear to build a better learning machine for the existing paradigm and negate the need to consider the brandification of education is yet another form of class war where most kids are born to lose.

What schools need to get their head around is that there are some great models for Critical Games, and that these are built around the things that schools are supposed to offer. Until then, let them play. Let games disrupt their mental models of how the world could be. Let them learn.

Good learning involves time travel

For a while now, people have been re-working commercial games to access the educational market. There is a blurring of the lines between educational games and commercial games which now represent themselves a educationally altered complaint beneficial safe. It appears through the media at least, successful commercial video games, popular in society are making new inroads into the classroom. The implication is one of schools softening their protests in light of the work of scholars such as Gee, Jenkins and Juul. Now almost everyone in our (Australian) society plays games, the rhetoric of new media has moved from ‘games are bad’ to ‘screen time is bad’ in light of games advertising providing them with much needed revenue and failing to the attain much in the way of moral-panic in their dwindling audience.

However it may appear to the observer, games in school and out of it remain as different as oil and water, despite the outwardly observable aesthetic and ludic similarity. For example, Minecraft in school is fundamentally being rendered in opposition to how it is used out of school. This isn’t a lack of teacher skill or ignorance, it’s because these spaces are incompatible. The fact children like it (or recognise it), therefore we should use it, was never successful argument for watching commercial TV in classrooms in the 1970s, nor for allowing classrooms to have a bank of arcade machines to learn by playing Joust, Defender. Games have emerged as a new cultural literacy from domains other than school. The fact Minecraft is a sandbox game does not somehow emancipate it (or learning).

Schools didn’t see any value in classic adventure games then, and they don’t now. You won’t see them buying Child of Light, Brothers or Dark Bounty. They don’t buy consoles, they buy iPads and drool over Google’s next effort to recruit them.

Schools are an essential part of the patriarchy. We know this, it’s a reality we have to accept. Schools have a place in society (as it stands) and so far a patchy history of using any technology in a way which demonstrates better ‘outputs’ for students. RIP the Digital Education Revolution, it was dead before it hit the beach. They are strongly structuralist in nature and subscribe to allopoietic processes and social systems of input and output. They might allow Minecraft in, but it still appears threatening. There of exceptions — as there always have and will be — but the idea of kids playing either a temporal game or persistent game (which can be accessed and used beyond the campus) will only be realised in exceptional circumstances, and I’ll argue with exceptional teachers.

These teachers (and schools) might be part of the patriarchy in terms of civic position. However, they are likely to have sufficient will inside the school culture to attempt post-structuralist approaches to schooling. Therefore, when you see Minecraft used exceptionally well, it will appear within a school which values autopoietic processes and social systems.

This is important, because at home, kids are engaged in games which are geared towards post-structuralism and yet by their nature, governed by rules and values created by the developer. The developer didn’t make the game in a vacuum, and clearly we can see numerous tropes in games which point to other literature — often that which rails against structuralism and liberal politics. Games such as Skyrim, Assassins Creed and Time Machine,  all involve some aspect of alternative futures. It’s a theme which has been reproduced for decades in game-cultures.

Porting-commercial games into what is a structuralist regime which sees technology (of all kinds) as another way to create market reform, sell product and self-promote individual status … but there’s no evidence to show that these things are done in a way which prevents cognitive dissonance and confusion in the children being forced to play inside the patriarchy and output things which adults see as ‘valuable learning’. What is needed here is better approach to using media across schools — which seems highly unlikely while ever the commodisation of childhood is something that can be sold to schools as ‘learning’.

There are many good reasons to employ games in the education of young people. There’s no reason to think schools are the place to do it currently, or that what kids are doing at home is the opposite of ‘good learning’. I think they can use games to great effect, once they learn to align themselves with things kids actually value.

Reality was never broken.

One of the central claims made by Jane McGonigal in her popular TED Talk, and subsequent book and media career – is that Reality is Broken, and for many people (particularly youth), video games are a way to feel ‘good at life’. There’s little doubt that this has been well received online and in the media, which as we know are not reality. However, for the most part, her arguments are highly moralistic and difficult to prove. They are a form of media violence insofar as they once again depict a youth in crisis, who choose media use over civic engagement. There’s also little travel to be made in showing most of society is playing games, or that pervasive networked games are more complex and chronologically advanced than ‘videogames’. These are logical and easily observable though the media, and became the loci of attention by those who became interested in games and culture, circa 2000-2010. Overwhelmingly, this new field of reseach railed against the psychological claims being made though experiments about violence and addiction, which has been the traditional axe brought upon all forms of emerging media, though videogames are a simple target — and a ready market for the associated ‘therapies’ that families can pay for.

There’s no doubt youth are complex and that some people over-use media among the many options they have when they ‘don’t feel good at life’. However, suggesting videogames can resolve this is ambitious, and I think misguided. We are moving past a time where it was sufficient to consider what games are and who plays them. We are in a culture where identity is formed through communication. What is being missed entirely in the media-rendering of digital games and society in the ‘reality is broken’ arguement is that it fails to explain the fundamental differences between closed and open social systems. McGonigal is clearly an instrument of the open system, and have valorised this idea though various means.

However, that girl in her bedroom playing Minecraft, or the son who’s playing way too many hours in Team Fortress are choosing a very different “half-real” way to spend their time, and there’s no evidence to suggest this is to rebel against the commercial interests of adult-run politics and industry.

Social systems use communications as their particular mode of autopoietic reproduction. Their elements are communications which are recursively produced and reproduced by a network of communications and which cannot exist outside of such a network (Luhmann 1986, p.174).

It’s would be nice to believe that if we can only extract the ‘best parts’ of videogames, that we could use them to heal the shallowing of society, poverty and improve healthcare simply by designing a game and getting ‘the crowd’ to play it. Sadly games comprise of three elements as systems: a biological (you and me); a social system and a psychic system. In fact those kids who are immersed in online multiplayer worlds — such as Minecraft — are building their identity and finding meaning about ‘reality’ in almost the opposite way those kids who are hooked on Facebook, Instagram and so forth. They, are part of open systems which exist – in reality – simply to valorise products using the same societal systems that established factories, so it’s no great shock that kids are now working inside Facebook, Twitter, Google and Apple factories too.

Reality is not at all broken, it is exactly how each of us perceives it. The world looks very different to a cat, who I might point out is also a type of popular media phenomenon.

Got dumb students? Gamify their dumbness.

I have a love-hate relationship with ‘gamification’. One reason is that it’s used as a slogan to promote a select group of people’s businesses. Secondly, it appears aimed not at game-designers, media-scholars or sociologists but at one subset of education — instructional designers. Lastly, teachers are not taught about becoming a designer in their under-graduate studies, unless of course they already are or are planning to teach ‘technology and applied studies’ – which includes graphics, wood, metal, plastics, product and food.

The state of school curriculum dictates what teachers learn in their under-graduate program. As most teachers will never teach a ‘design’ subject, they only get a few weeks of lecture/tutorial discussion about design in their whole program. They get even less exposure to media studies and yet the overwhelming dogmatic signals emerging from the PR department of schooling ‘awesomeness’ is of teachers as designers and media savvy experts. Now we have ‘gamification’ added to the vocabulary as though you pick out a bunch of ‘game features’ and apply that to your grade book or LMS. I won’t dwell on how utterly false this is, or how divisive it is towards demanding teachers act like designers or media and knowledge systems experts simply as a byproduct of the Internet being invented.

The worst variants of gamification emerge from an assumption that students are in a deficit position when it comes to study. Some group of people, probably via design thinking, chart a path of problems and possible solutions using ‘game like approaches’. The output from instructional designers and educators will of course have a locus around their own existing skills, beliefs and preferences. This is why so many ‘gamification’ projects are simply WordPress with BadgeStack or BadgeStack in Moodle. Quelle surprise as they say. One example I’ve seen recently in the UK, attempts to solve the ‘library problem’ where students can’t research a database to save their lives. (oh, game idea!). The end result is of course a hat-tip to game-studies followed by badges as a reward for action; which is apparently friendly, fun competition.

No, the point of approaching student development IN THEIR FIELD, is to immerse them in a serious, honest system which treats them seriously. No Dora the Explorer icons of books with eyeballs for goodness sake. Through their efforts, the player (student) must have choice and must be able to recognize their progress to becoming a successful, viable ‘expert’ in that field — at their level. Making it ‘fun’ to find a book has nothing to do with this, unless you are aged 5.

So I don’t hate gamification, because I think it will replace current forms of educational development, which increasingly irrelevant in an era of massive convergence, domestication of technology itself and emerging theories around cognitive media (which includes games). I hate it because people latch onto it as though its some ‘fun’ mod for Moodle which can turn something boring (without personal meaning or recognizable value) into something ‘funner’. It misses not only the point, but diverts funding into un-sustainable garbage.

Media Literacy: Out of bounds.

The overwhelming assumption made towards media literacy in the digital age is that its locus of need is not an individual, but towards commerce, schools, media industries and so on.

On the whole, the work being done is not concerned with how the mind works in relation to media exposure and communication characteristics – [think] – why are people glued to their screens in public and private spaces? – but towards artificial construction of meaning from those messages. For example the self-referential need to ‘selfie’ or ‘like’ a media image, not to ‘troll’ other people and to abide by socially constructed norms, based on commercial policies and economic drivers.

The needs of the individual are increasingly secondary to the need build central cognition of the media as it represents itself and the world. Children especially need to develop deeper understanding of media-forces, not merely ‘being aware’ or ‘using it responsibly.’ Children, even young ones, are not passive receivers of so called ‘media effects’, but active in social construction and reconstruction of media. This is why banning or allowing games is peripheral to the central problem of parochialism.

We don’t know enough about how the mind works during media exposures, and media evolves at a pace current research can’t match. This leaves anyone reporting “kids must learn to …” followed by a list of ‘digital skills’ is at best guessing – but welcome to add to the research as well as the rhetoric. I acknowledge also that education futures is a form of mass entertainment, tuned to a very willing and responsive group in our society – teachers. It is this which I find most offensive and unhelpful these days, the individuals greatest contribution is being part of a paying (but unknown) audience.

Media literacy is a way to empower individuals and includes understanding the motives of media industries, potential positive and negative effects which accumulate as byproducts of daily (some say continual) behaviour because media companies (Facebook, Google, Twitter etc.,) are not subject to ‘strong’ public policy and often refuse to respond to public criticism. They do however coerce individuals to act as agents though offering some vague promise of increased personal status or wealth in exchange for loyalty and labour. One conclusion which can be drawn is that if the individual (the student) is prime, then current assumptions and calls for media-literacy are both down-stream and conditioned by automatic routines of  media itself (check status, like, add a follower, take a selfie).

The media are conditioning the way people ‘see’ the world through stories and routines — and sadly, teachers are implicated in this. For example, some media reports have claimed that teachers are the most active group on Twitter. Without better ‘media education,’ information processing, meaning making and matching is at best being ‘filtered’ by educators as well as their institutions. The so called ‘flipped classroom’ is a good example of knowing more about the media than about the mind of the individual who is required to watch it as part of their learning. The challenge is not to know how to ‘get’ or ‘curate’ information but how the individual mind can be protected from the flood of messages until such a time cognitive media theory can be applied to both curriculum and methods.

This all points to a growing and corrupt market for media messages towards educational experiences. It’s central to my belief why digital games are ‘out of bounds’ too. Media literacy is concerned with what children will provide (cultural production) to the ‘structure’ of society, rather than the ‘agency’ of the individual. Game-playing has not been seen as particularly useful by schools. In the home, digital games are effective tools to sell phones, computers and home entertainment. Schools do almost nothing to address this through their structures — so can’t complain when games-networks take on the community task of deschooling children from the media-norms that  hailed as the vanguard of emerging classroom methods — aka “Web2.0.”

Without building a ‘media literacy’ curriculum around the needs of the individual’s cognitive mind, we’re left to build it around brands, money and the aspirations of a small group of teachers who inhabit media itself. In addition, schools cannot escape responsibility for unwanted social side effects (stuck on Facebook, driving while texting, etc.) as there’s no evidence that what is being done now (a patchy mix of trial, error and personal belief) produces any lasting changes on the individuals media literacy. How does the structure differentiate ‘bad’ media messages from the individuals own ‘good beliefs’? On the basis of evidence so far, playing Last of Us or Titanfall is just as valid as making children write a blog or use Google Drive. But surely … logic and reason is that the individual is too feeble minded to know what is good for them.

By insisting the current version (popular, but guesswork) “media literacy” is ‘good’ – is simply a byproduct and subset of the ongoing commoditising of the individual. Education appears to create a demand, rather than provide effective defences from it. It seems very odd that in all the market reforms to education, media education remains ‘off limits’ when it comes to curriculum and teacher training. Now why is that?

Open Badges: The game approach

I am so tempted to rail against the idea that “open badges” should be a standardised, inter-changeable set of didactic skill-based competencies run by and for the people who currently credential society. So I will.

It amazes me how fast people jump onto things they barely understand by immediately excluding alternative discussions and approaches other than their own.

There are some high level ‘goals’ being reported as “emerging pathways.”

“Coordinate partners and formalize learning pathways.”

“Create coalitions or strategic councils to champion the endorsement/acceptance/value of badges.”

“Build national frameworks of badges that are based on common criteria, but offer flexibility in local implementation. For example, statewide afterschool networks all have program improvement processes that are similar, but utilize different tools.”

APA: Summit | Reconnect Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved from

My intake of breath here is that these things are fully intended to replicate existing systems, and likely to take decades and never reach a consensus. Open Badges to me are potentially useful in using game and media theory towards re-imagining how learning takes place – but no one wants to be a fool in a kings court. Maybe the “Open Badges” movement has plotted its course already, and another supertanker has headed out to sea. It seems a weakness to omit discussion of how people learn, but focus on what they should learn and with what tools, and part of the ongoing dogma with deeply established roots in instructional design and modernism. On this basis, Open Badges will be as inequitable as the current system.

The idea that the existing power vested inside the current social system must endlessly increase its grip on society using new technologies seem dubious to me. After all, this is OPEN badges, right? not Pearson or UCLA Badges. What evidence is there that when everything becomes standardised, then it also becomes equitable? The answer is none, because so far no one agrees on what these standards are, and the lure of competition and valorization of cultural production is never distant. There are many kinds of alliances, and all of them seek the same thing – power.

Take the case of “digital literacy.” OPen badges are likely to be the focus of educational technologists once more and a new attractive way to extend current practice and status. I’d arguable we’re in this ‘place’ now because students still do not receive a quality media education across all sectors from the age of 5. We, therefore, have an ongoing organisational problem which Open Badges won’t solve, especially by being subsumed by it.

If you’ve played any pervasive game, you’ll know how badge systems work with game-mechanics and social structures created . As a result. Why not use this to conceptualise your open badge system? If you don’t then you’ll probably get a badge for attending an EndNote class real soon and never be asked to work on your talent tree.

Why games are still violent, but we’ve moved on

One of the sites I subscribe to is The Brainy Gamer. The latest post talks about Xbox’s E3 presentation in terms of what what said and shown. It’s almost impossible to get information like this from the traditional ‘halls’ of Nordic and American game-scholars and I urge you to take a look.

What is interesting (to me: my blog: my interest) is how difficult the games-industry finds the process of dissemination when the audience are masters of social-reproduction. The audience are all experts, and worse, they share a depth of knowledge which they share instantly in response to almost every announcement and gaff. As much as the culture wants XBONE and Next Gen to be amazing, they hold everyone to the highest possible account. A post such as this is a great example of just how much gamers undertake critical analysis at every opportunity — and surely a skills every classroom says it wants to attain.

More interestingly is that over half of XBONE’s presentation was violent. In over fifty years and five thousand studies about media violence, there still in no clear connection between smashing Orcs in a game and actual violent behavior as a result of — smashing Orcs. In the work people are doing about games and society, the post-Nordic school still encounters ‘media violence’ arguments from the small number of psychologists who actively believe it to be true – the conversation is no longer about what media (games) do to use, and more about how we use media (games) in everyday life.

The point here is that ‘media violence’ is old hat. Games are often violent but this no longer occupies the spot light about moral and media panics. Even the psychologists have subsumed games into broader claims about screen time and the Internet more broadly. We know the primary socialisation of children is NOT from video games at all, and correspondingly, mediated violence in games is generally seen as peripheral, and less worrying that that which is seen on the TV or in movies.

So why are gamers still hung up on it? Well, one reason might be that games have moved past ‘action’ games and are exploring deeper narrative based games, where the story (including animation, sound, dialogue, script, acting etc.,) is of increasing importance culturally. Games like The Last of Us and Mass Effect have had such an impact that the game must not have a greater variety of pace, experiences and storylines — not just better mechanics, talent trees and guns. It’s one reason people are showing so much interest in game-design and game-experiences right now — because they are demanding games move even further into cinematic, interactive storytelling.

Anyway, go check out The Brainy Gamer — always find myself thinking about what get’s posted there.

Gaming Networks – Closed to outsiders

There’s much written about social systems and in the face of rising interest and participation in networked digital games such as Team Fortress 2 and Minecraft, it’s fair to say that many adults see game-networks as a adding little and disrupting a lot. But what if games are more than fun and more than the material they contain. What if games are self-producing social systems which, get this “the parts act in a way that generate the emergent properties of the whole but, at the same time, the configuration of the whole shapes the behaviour of the parts” (Mingers, 1995).

So why is this new? Well it’s not. It’s just that the majority of game studies has focused on play, what games are and so on — and we’re still flapping about how one day, classrooms might feel like digital games. Well I don’t think they ever will unless the metadomain itself ‘the big S of SCHOOL’ starts to rethink many things aside from Play,  Rules, Motivation and Flow etc., the essential rhetoric of TED Talks so far.

Games have a SPECIFICITY about them. This is the “what” of digital games: what are you doing; what is the point; what is it called; what happens if and so forth. They also have a CONSTITUTION, which is the where: where is this play being provided — for example, Steam or Xbox Live. That constitution matters because the social reproduction that occurs in it is unique and though it can be CONSENSUAL with other constitutions. There reason to believe two constitutions are are composed of the same rules, values or language, even though to the outsider they look the same. For example: Minecraft XBOX360 and Minecraft PC. Games also have ORDER. This is the WHEN they are played.

Perhaps the biggest reason to stop trying to port games into classrooms as commonly attempted is because sophisticated networked games are social systems with their own cultures. They are what some communications theorists and social theorists have called CLOSED systems. The structure and organisation of these social systems is the opposite of what many are attempting to do with them in classrooms currently. As much as I like the idea of using games, I’m conscious that they die like Eric Northman in the sun when decoupled from their social-structures.

For example, the point of a closed social system of this type (not getting too deep into this here) is essentially self-referencing in that they work to reproduce themselves. This is unlike the an open system where there is some INPUT followed by a process and finally an OUTPUT. Think about a baker, they are an open system is that they make bread from several raw materials. It’s not at all proven that playing a game will OUTPUT something that school administrators would see as useful products — and guess what, as they have little experience of CLOSED systems, they will probably resist the idea. For the most part, administrators know exactly when technology goes bad, and this is self-evident. As technology develops old practices die out, simply because they no longer occur and are therefore not reproduced. Everyone lost their mind over blogging, then iPads and now Googletopia. It is guaranteed that schools will continue to spend millions of dollars on OPEN systems because they have never attempted anything else.

Organisational closure occurs when processes within a system become circularly linked to each other thus generating an entity that has a degree of autonomy in defining its own boundary. The point here is that if schools become genuinely student centric, they would have no power to command students to do anything as the students would know exactly what to do. Now think about how fast it is to get into a closed game-system — only games can make new games to borrow from Suber (1990) – because they create players who are self-amending inside their environments. Gamers learn very quickly, not because they are gamers, but because their are part of effective social systems. Even stand-alone, single player games are in some unity with the biggest massive multiplayer systems.

The reason kids are doing amazing amounts of learning in game networks is because they are in an ideal social system with recurrent interactions that are structurally coupled and can be distinguished by players as distinct from the background. Let me explain. A gamer doesn’t compare the narrative, dialogue and action in a game with cinema, but though a lived experience. They are not interested or motivated to reproduce that which is IN society (in the classical notion of sociological theory of reproduction). Gamer actions are TOKENS and SYMBOLS for others in the domain and through consensual actions maintain the own identity and that of the organising structure (I’m a WoW player, COD player etc.,)

Gamers walk away when changes to the structure occur that fail to maintain the structure. In order to reproduce, players must be a UNITY when it comes to ‘being in’ a cognitive domain and and consensual domain. I have some reservations about the claim that kids playing games ‘get in the flow’ because, if it is true, it relates to individuals and not composite groups, who I happen to think are enjoying the experience of being in a closed social system that are effective and geared towards maintaining that closed system in which the main aim is to reproduce themselves. Think about David Beckham when he played football, what kind of system did he develop his skills? now think about what the local under 10’s soccer team does at training … see it’s all connected to social reproduction and efficacy.

To me, it is almost impossible to imagine how to port a digital game (popular with kids in society) into the micro-practices of school curriculum — unless that game was deliberately designed to do so. On the other hand, a pervasive global game of this type does exist, it’s called Quest Atlantis, but as I’ll also discuss later, it’s a step in the right direction, but has trade-offs to appease the politics of education itself. It’s also the only one which has lasted for any length of time. But what about commercial games like Minecraft? Can’t we just tap into their popularity and harvest the rewards? No. In my efforts some years ago, Massively Minecraft was imagined as a closed system. We never made any effort to bolt on a curriculum. We were interested in social reproduction and consensual coordination of actions and so never attempted to port it into ordinary schools – yet it thrived as a model in extra-ordinary ones.

The edu-crippling of commercial games is ignorant and futile as it fundamentally changes the what; where and when, essential to contemporary gaming culture – and can be a red-herring when it comes to trial-and-error based pedagogy. Not least because almost no schools are designed the way game-networks are — as that isn’t actually their purpose or intent.

This isn’t to say games can’t be developed, or existing games used. The closest I’ve encountered is Warcraft in Schools  but even then, there is a trade-off going on, however it’s still the best example I’ve seen attempted so far because it accepts that social reproduction inside closed systems can have a positive impact on individuals because of it’s metadomain — game culture. Yes, it’s been compromised to get some approvals, but it is still a remarkable trade-off none the less.

There’s a whole lot more in this — but games are here as both a media and medium, as a result of communications theory and social theory meeting at a point in time where technology can support many forms of social-systems. Yes, humans like to play, this is not interesting to teachers — we know play is great way to learn, but is it a the best way to learn (what you have to learn) in school? I guess the test would be … if schools closed, would kids re-open them and if they did, what changes would they make to the what, where and when of learning.

This is also why parents in particular, report in the media that they find it hard to fathom the attraction (some say addiction) to contemporary digital games. It isn’t the material content that is appealing to children, it’s the nature of the social-systems that they get to be part of. They are almost the opposite of their contemporary childhood experience — and almost optimal when it comes the kinds of organisations and structures which kids find attractive. The idea that you can port this into schools, like putting a rabbit in box, or downloading software is likely to cause more harm to children’s development than as they will struggle to couple school-play with home-play, which of course is really just about power.

More Reading:

Mingers, J. (1995). Self-Producing Systems: Implications and Applications of Autopoiesis, New York.: Plenum Press.

Suber, P. (1990). Paradox of Self-Amendment, New York: P. Lang Publishers.

Synnott, A. (1993). The Body Social: Symbolism, Self and Society, London: Routledge.

Gamers want to learn how gamers learn.

This week, my merry band of students are tackling the tricky topic of ‘mass education’ and in particular, pulling apart a piece of writing which rails against the neoliberalism which is arguably at the root of on-going inequality in schools. It’s one sub-text related to the idea that Australia is an equitable society devoid of the class-system associated with the UK and other European invaders influences. It’s quite confronting to have to come up with a critical analysis for many whose most recent experience might have been the HSC. Then, there is all this talk about modernism, post-modernism, structuralism and poststructuralism with a dash of Hobbes, Marx, Nietzsche and Foucault connected to discourses of power, gender, socio-economic-status and race.

Knowing about this stuff is important. When pre-teachers go for that all important ID number, someone will ask them about their philosophy of teaching, or at least about how they see the scholarship of teaching in contemporary schools. This is really at the heart of the unit, getting pre-teachers to think about how they see and act ultimately permeates the fabric and practices of everyday life. I don’t hold the opinion that naming brands and products is either impressive or useful. In fact anyone who waves corporate identities at me could benefit from reading more widely.

I mention this because it’s years later that I’ve come to understand why I’ve got a bit cross with mass education and how digital games have spread (using Foucault) like capillaries, where their practices send out messages to the far reaches of society, resulting in both good or bad conceptions and representations. Digital games don’t create docile ‘bodies’ but actively work against the kind of normalised judgement micro-practices such as schools were designed to deliver. This to me means that when talking about education and sociology to a room full of gamers, its useful to think about how gamers break down complex problems and what media habits they use to do it. 97% of Australian’s play games, they are not the minority — and the under 35s play a lot.

I remember sitting in that seat when I was an undergrad holding a bunch of readings which were totally confusing, dense and seemingly important to passing the unit. With that chilling thought in mind, the decision to tap into some of the ABC’s online content (via YouTube) to help lift the fog was easy. This is how gamers deal with problems. It’s the first place they go. The last place are forums (which ironically are often seen as the first social-space in an LMS).

As power and social class are common axes on the ABC, there are plenty of short segments using and editorial set-up about class for example. There’s a rich pool of material often scrounged from the BBC. For example, a BBC report about the UK’s class-debate, then someone in the ABC studio (the expert) answers questions as the anchor tries leads them in a ‘discussion’ about the relevance to “Aussie” values. Even better, these experts are often not that great, and usually offer lots of opinion which goes un-challenged by the anchor. The stop-start nature of YouTube is a great way to play “spot the BS” and within a few minutes, most students are animated and laughing at some of the answers. My favourite is a ‘social researcher’ who explained that class does exist in Australia because in you are in on suburb and move ten kilometers to another — you are in a different suburb.

It isn’t that young people love YouTube that makes using it obvious, it is the statistics which show the rapid death of watching LIVE television, over ‘on-demand’ television. Following on from this, it means that any ‘live’ learning experience (lecture, tutorial, classroom) which isn’t meaningful and shares common values about media use is more likely to be consigned to ‘download it later’ in the mind of students.

Next, we have the shared-media experience of gamers. They love to watch YouTube together. It’s like we used to watch LIVE TV together (no other choice) but now we don’t. I’m not sure that many talking about flipped classroom get this. I am not at all sure that ‘flipping’ a video to before the class and prompting questions about it — to bring to class would be as useful as a shared experience or replace the LIVE experience. Flipping the classroom is of course an educational idea, which is simply another micro-practice under a poststructuralist lens. It ignores the history and life-practices of people — and especially game culture.

I’m not sure if this helps you, but it certainly works for me. I don’t demand students bring technology, but see that if and when they do, it validates how I like to go about teaching. It also means I don’t need technology nor become a slave to it’s micro-demands.

For me at least, showing these young(ish) people video’s which proliferated “edtech” as aspirational visions of technological determinism seems to raise more giggles — as many have passed through the post-Howard years of technology in schools. If I compare that to ‘professional development’ use of media, the messages are received in almost the opposite way — and why not if we follow a poststructuralist view of technology and education – we should expect this, and know that it doesn’t work to change behaviour — because we are not changing the rules and values. Young people simply have a different history, and there’s a lot wrong with trying to argue that following behind the Web2.0 vanguard is the best way to ‘get into using technology’ (and media).

It’s only when we use technology in a meaningful way do they bring technology with them. It made me think, that not having a BYOD policy would be the perfect policy in schools to promote bring a device. It’s only when the student sees a value in the micro-practices of the classroom that they act on it. I don’t waste my time advocating for brands. In fact I purposely switch platforms just to avoid any assumption that one brand somehow offers ‘the best’. As we all know, big brands are interested in profit, not education. They use education as a technology and will, if they so choose, terminate or sell it without consulting teachers – Google Reader RIP and so on.

If people who claim “it’s not the technology, it’s the pedagogy” are genuine, then they would cease advocating for brands (and trying to increase their own social, economic and cultural capital though the act). Technology can work, if there are sufficient shared values — and the biggest one is around what makes a good LIVE experience and what makes that better through a SHARED LIVE experience. It’s not any product — it’s cultural reproduction and why not having a BYOD policy is the best one.


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