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.

What does Google mean?

The social meaning of an object can be lost, taken out of context or taken in a new context. This places teachers in a position of enormous personal, ethical responsibility today. Objects often refer to their own history in an effort to validate new versions, and teaching is no exception when attitudes favour a more technological approach to practices.

We shape our tools towards what we are being actively persuaded to be better practice and in turn those tools shape us and students. Its easy to get lost in a cycle of cultural reproduction based on little more than media rhetoric and forget to ask for evidence.

It is, to me at least, crucial to be aware that many objects are manipulated “producers” who seek only to further their own profits and notability through this process. If they really made a difference, they would produce evidence, not more media.Attempting to shape children through the use of brandification and social reproduction is immoral, but increasingly done the name of professional development. What bullshit. These producers are developing revenue, not new theories of learning.

I would be interested to read any study which shows otherwise. As a parent, I refuse to let my children participate in the Google classroom or any other brand derived environment … as subscribing to that ideal is ignorant of what childhood is and how children learn best.

Casual Crisis

The are numerous inequities in education. One of the most important has emerged partly from neo-liberal politics which increasingly aims to put educators in competition with each other and therein disingenuously represent what the attributes of a ‘good teacher’ are. Firstly, Australia is devaluing teaching though increasing reliance on casual teachers to fill occasional gaps in permanent staffing. Secondly, permanent staffing policy is subject to highly insular methods and policies which actively serve to prevent ‘new blood’ entering the system. Any any talk about ‘professional standards’ is a joke, as more than half the permanent body in Australia will not be subjected to the scrutiny (based on modernist ideals) that new scheme teachers are forced to agree with — despite a body of research which suggests this is a terrible method to build an agile workforce. In addition casual staff stand well outside the loop when it comes to even attempting to engage with this employment culture. Education is not like Insurance, it’s a pillar of society and should therefore strive for equity, not roll over and say “that’s how it is mate”. It’s little wonder so many qualified teachers end up working in Insurance as a result.

The lot of a casual teacher is as a non-descript body of labour devoid of professional goals and ambition. If you’ve done much casual teaching you’ll know its a fickle and shambolic way to educate children seriously. No only are they under-employed and subject to few of the work-place benefits of full time staff, they fund their own on-going professional development, excluded from the collegiate though insular email-lists and group discussions which consider them to be little more than gap-filler. Few graduates will escape the reality of casual teaching, especially if they would like to work in regions where teachers occupy their chairs for decades — often repeating the same modules year in an out without much in the way of scrutiny.

While I might just sit here an moan about this in-equality, I’m increasingly of a mind that casual-teachers should form their own networks, dealing with issues which I’m sure the permanent staffer has little interest or concern. More than that, I think that casual-teachers should be able access courses and information which is ‘badged’ in some way. I’m sure they don’t have the kind of income assurity needed to pay for ‘big conferences’ — which are increasingly driven by Sir Lunchalot’s astronomical (think new Porsche) fees. However, if they are going to give up their time, then they need help in getting into full time work … and I’m yet to see any TeachMeet or other which attempts that — and why this inequality which delivers a surplus of labour is simply bad for education and society.

Like other industries — if this is to be market driven, then those occupying chairs safe in the knowledge its now ‘a job for life’ really should not be in front of kids for whom that kind of life assurance is a dream. 

Post 2008: The game changed

Video games are things which we played before 2001. Most commonly, these were called computer and video games. This period has seen extensive work undertaken into it. However, let’s say that in discussing ‘current’ games that we might put into classrooms, the period 1975-2001 should be seen as the formative years of gaming, and though we need to acknowledge their awesome contributions, there isn’t a whole lot in there that could be ported into classrooms today – as is. Their major contribution is to be the foundation-media that game designers took as their inspiration and influence when games began to explode in the home between 2001 and 2008.

For those interested in games, culture and education, the publishing rate of media about games (what they are, what they do) explodes in this period, as does the emergence of clinical psychologist protests and claims ‘videogames’ are akin to gambling addiction. It’s worth considering then that in 2001-2008, much of what was written was based on the formative era, and as you’ll notice if you read enough — often hints, predicts and waves a finger at ‘the future’ and ‘the implications’ or ‘potential’ of DIGITAL GAMES.

What makes 2008 such a big deal then? – It’s the point at which producers enter the market. Massive, instant distribution of content via Internet catalogues such as iTunes. From 2008, games exploded again – but this time set about commodizing ‘values’ such as friendship in order to aggregate and mitigate the risk of having to back a few games to make money. Now thousands could be on offer to a whole new audience which didn’t buy or invest time in AAA titles.

Today, game players values and game designers values are impacted by these producers. This is evident in the industry issues relating to developing AAA games and game systems in a market which contains a seemingly incalculable number of digital games offered by producer catalogues. While ‘gamers’ were once tagged by their choice of Xbox, PC or PS game-purchases and preferences — it’s impossible to compare this to the games which are pushed online to play-sites or downloaded as apps. This is because THE INTERNET IS MASSIVE and so are the catalogues of games — and the people who play them. To try and measure today’s gaming might as well be measured by lithium battery sales and in terms of player behaviour, well that might as well be compared to people who like to go for a bit of a walk.

Post 2008, games became somewhat of a mutant when it comes to trying to talk about them using the work of scholars in the pre-2008 period — which is kind of scary and exciting I guess.

Commodify friendship

On the surface, the theory of a personal learning network involves community, generosity, good will, trust, gender and social equity. It’s hard to see anyone prepared to query that as rational.

The problem is that there are people and businesses seeking to exploit these values and often negates these values.

The question of the week for me is how can teachers balance or at least negate negative values (profiteering, rhetorical fallacies, excluding) which undermine the traditional values of teaching …

What happens if brands and brand-sycophants are ejected from personal learning networks, how will we re evaluate and re value learning?

I like the tool. I just don’t want to build and live in creepy temples which currently are turning friendship into another commodity.

Use the Google, be the brand.

The twentieth century media scholar Marshall McLuhan said “the medium is the message” and argues that all media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values. We live in a rampaging consumer-capitalist society, which has been conditioned for decades to respond to media representations and demands. The challenge for media companies such as Google, is how to present the kind of values that most people see as holding merit in the kind of society we think we live in. Google, while making some decent enough software, is not a philanthropic organisation. It seeks to valorize its products and services. Essentially, every time you cross into it’s territory by using it, Google and it’s affiliates make money. It’s an astronomical amount of money too.

Google does not, for example, donate hardware to schools who use it’s free software, nor do they donate money to a school each time a child uses it. Google is not part of the local community, but does seek to influence it by finding influencers willing to act as producers in what is essentially an economic transaction in drag.

We know that students benefit when teachers are trained and supported in using software which has some pedagogical imperative. Research is consistent on what happens if ‘training’ is not carried out in this way — students get patchy experiences and in-consistent values are embedded in the process. There is no evidence to suggest creating competition among teachers to get training has any social or scholarly merit — and yet this is Google’s model when it comes to promoting it’s brand (and values) through the use of accredited teachers. This is allowed mostly in my view because weaknesses in how software is evaluated at the institutional level. Again, Google is perceived as “free”, which is attractive to cash-strapped education systems. It’s also being promoted by social-media based, educational influencers so carries additional cultural capital. It is fairly easy to see how Google’s software spreads though schools, but the price of this is that society accepts Google’s values, which are ultimately decided by a small group of powerful people.

I’m not suggesting GTA teachers are not passionate, savvy or less than great teachers who inspire others. My reservation is about the inherent ethical dilemmas this creates in society. Schools are not in free-fall and plenty of alternative technologies exist to Google’s. By saying “I’m a Google teacher” means to express a set of values which are inherited from Google itself. The next layer up “I’m a Google organiser” is simply economic-slipstreaming and brand-association. Ultimately, there is little evidence (if any) to suggest that Google’s efforts to conscript influencer teachers has any benefit to student attainment — and more importantly, if Google’s model disadvantages sections of society. As Google is clearly a very capable company which does almost nothing towards funding education in comparison to its wealth. It has a vested interest in presenting values and perceptions of the world to society — and who is the most trusted source when it comes to information and knowledge — teachers. But not any teachers, just those who can afford it, and are willing to endorse it.

This has some serious issues — namely gender, social-class and ethnicity. I’m not saying avoid Google (which is almost impossible); but be very clear to parents and students that you are endorsing a brand, and explain the values of that brand before launching it the assumption its good for everyone — it isn’t. Be aware that people aspiring to become bigger-influences will be attracted to Google, because association with them further builds their profits and advances their goals — which are almost never as socially inclusive as other solutions, which require no brand-loyalty.

Convenience (easy to get, easy to us, cheap) is an artificial perception. To accommodate Google in the classroom creates a ripple effect in society. Conscientious learning design means thinking about the values of the designer (teacher), the tools manufacturer (device, software) and the learner. Google seeks to impose it’s values on all those it sees as ‘users’, and this to me isn’t what education (or learning) is supposed to facilitate.


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