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.

Values in play: A discussion

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It’s been said that media is always arbitrary, it comes loaded with values. I like to look at games as having embedded values, co constructed by the player and the designer. These are now so complex no one experiences a game in the same way. Game values, and often reflect social and cultural understandings shared between people and groups. For example, fairness, where opposing players expect the other to abide by the rules.

What I’d like to invite you to do, is to contribute a game title and the values that you believe it encompasses. They might even appear contradictory as you list them. My goal is to develop a list of values that you see in games you play.

I’ll kick off with Team Fortress 2: competition, comradeship, humour, ambition, compassion.

Does Minecraft cure helicopter parenting?

This post is for parents, who are worried about Minecraft. More than that, it’s about the worry intentionally created by media reports which use Minecraft as a vehicle to their own ends. In short, this piece is why you should be highly suspicious of popular news media reports about Minecraft.

To illustrate this, I’ll use this recent report and discuss it in some detail to illustrate my point. The article poses the complex problem question “Are parents to blame for the popularity of Minecraft?”.

This is a nonsense question, suggesting parents are once again failing children and childhood. Its the same rhetoric which has been hurled at film, music and television — and roundly de-bunked as junk by numerous studies and scholars in several disciplines for decades. In short, media does not cause parents to fail at anything, let alone being a parent. Next we are introduced to a philosophical complex problem in an effort reinforce the media-panic. A better question would be “What makes media popular among children?” because Mincraft is a media text situated among digital-games which are a substantial part of cultural literacy. This is nothing unique about literature being popular in our society.

While a lot of research has been done towards film, TV and music, there is very little which looks at digital games, and none which looks specifically at Minecraft and therefore why Minecraft might be extra-ordinarily popular in comparison to the other media. One thing emerging from most current research is that children multi-layer they media interests. For example, playing Minecraft, making videos about it, drawing pictures, writing, role-playing as well as reading books (Minecraft was the number one purchase in school-book buying schemes in 2013 in Australia). Is Minecraft therefore a ‘cure’ for a complete failure of parents to mediate in the face of media panics and volaorization of technological commodities such as games, mobile phones and tablets as the headline suggests?

It seems highly unlikely, but on the surface, it appeals to the natural fears of parents about the role of technology in the lives of their loved ones. No parents in their right mind would use technology or media in a way which hurts children — unless they are stupid, which is what is being implied by ‘helicopter’ parents.

At the end of this post, I’ve linked to a good discussion of Minecraft’s potential impact on media in the future, for a generation building rather than responding to action games. Again, while really interesting, there are no studies I’m aware of attempting to track or understand this potential. The field of study that is games, media and society is in fact relatively small. The only agreement is that like film and TV, games reflect society. One question we know little about is about how children’s play is altered by an audience. This matters because parents are being positioned here an audience, either supportive or in opposition to conceptions of both video games and parenting. Evidence from sociologists and educators suggests that children who use media with a supportive audience do better in academics and social situations. There’s no reason to think that supportive parenting towards gaming is now a sign of a poor parenting or a cure to bad parenting.

We’re also not sure which parents the writer is talking about, what type of family context is this — and what age are the children. The reason Minecraft is popular, is because of many things, parenting I’d argue plays a very small cultural role, but probably an economic one, given Minecraft is commercially purchased. The title of the piece is therefore misleading in order to be ‘seen’ by meta-search and sensational enough to be amplified by parents and friends of parents whom have previously encountered a deficit debate about parenting and digital games — and have purchased Minecraft. It’s a headline which explores the un-answerable topic of the “death of childhood” which has also been shown to be a myth and de-bunked in the literature.

As if the headline isn’t loaded enough, the article goes on to attempt to connect adult choices towards media (regulation, mediation) to consequential choices they made for their children. From the outset the parent is assumed to be dumb and over-obsessed with supervision, and for a child ‘growing up digital’ this in invasive and harmful. “Growing up digital” (Tapscott) is an argument that has been criticised. Among media scholars, there are counter arguments for this type of technological deterministic view of childhood.  In particular, it assumes there a pre-existing demand by children for Minecraft, and therefore parents are generationally in-capable of being effective parents. The term ‘helicopter‘ parenting is another contested concept, yet laid on here in order to further claim that modern parents are unable to mediate personally or on behalf of their children (saving children from the media is a recurring theme in parental criticism). Clearly many parents grew up with video games and the Internet, the old verse new user lens is seen increasingly as simplistic among scholars, but remains popular in news media such as this.

The claim “more than a quarter of players are under the age of 15″ is meaningless. Where does this figure come from? What platforms? Is this active players or licence sales? Let me give you are more interesting figure — 98% of all humans in America, Australia and the UK play digital games. In 2012, In America, 21% of people were under the age of 15, which would make Minecraft’s player base nothing extraordinary at all. In addition, this figure is used to bolster the claim that Minecraft’s “endless nature” is key to this astonishing unremarkable player-base.

This leads into a complex arrangement of types-of-play. Minecraft does have limits, there are technological rules and processes which dictate what play can be. The biggest reason ‘endless play’ should be considered false, is that just about all animals (inc humans) go it, and they do it their entire lives. Play is, by it’s nature an endless human quality, unless some medical issue prevents it.

Perhaps the most spurious element is that this ‘endless play’ is seen as opposite to the current arrangement parents have to allow play to go on, which he calls “one more level”. Minecraft does actually have levels in the game, there are numerous subtle ways to measure advancement. There are many other games which allow auto-didactic exploration of ‘open worlds’. Mincraft’s is a sandbox game, and by it’s nature, allows players to create and manipulate it. To be even more simplistic, Lego is a sandbox game, but the resources are far more limited to the player. As Lego is a toy parents provide children in greater quantity to Minecraft licences, then the so-called arrangement (in terms of play-management) doesn’t break any arrangement. Furthermore, it may be that Minecraft is the only game a parent provides, and this ‘nul’ argument is worth exploring before making such a claim. The arrangements (to use the term) parents make with children over the use of media are very complicated and so far, little research has been done towards this. Even less has looked at children under the age of 15. In fact most game-research has focused on adolescents using lab experiments. Birmingham did some work in the UK with children and families several years ago, but this was limited and focuses on ‘educational games’. It did show something relevant here — the conceptions parents and children have about what constitutes ‘constructive play’ vary between families. It’s hard therefore to ask “Do parents …”  without much further clarification of who is being talked about.

Finally there is a visual aesthetic to the piece, the introductory text is high on claims and low on facts. The invitation made (using the grinning face) is to watch the video-discussion. This video is not made for parents, it’s made for game-audiences and to build further audiences. This tactic is well used by news media to increase circulation and not worry about evidence at all. Children are concerned (the research shows) what their parents think about media in general. Depending on the age of the child, those concerns vary. Given the mode of the presentation, this isn’t aimed at young children. The language is complex and hard to process for young children. Rather than present much in the way of facts, the video resorts to pop-camera work, fast cut-away moments of random footage and of course, slap-stick comedy. By the second minute, it’s pretty obvious this is simply ‘entertainment’.

I don’t have any-problem with pop-culture, but as this appeared on my timeline, it probably has been picked up by one if not more teacher-parents whom I’m connected to in someway. It’s indicative of the kind of cultural-media-leaks which occur when game culture attempts to expand it’s audience, and is interesting to me because of that. As a parent, the video is a roller coaster of unproven claims about parenting and society which should not be taken too seriously, despite the headline. There are many great video’s which talk broadly about digital games (even Minecraft) which talk about the benefits (and problems) of games in our society. As a rule, those which attempt to connect parenting failure to games are hardly worth your time, because there is so little we actually know about relationships between children and adults are being shaped by digital games. One thing we do know, is that up to now, attempts to connect ‘bad parenting’ with other media has been proven to be almost always rubbish.

I recommend you watch Extra Credits for a bit of debate and entertainment on the topic.

Event: Epic Learning! Games in Edu Day, 26th August, Sydney.

Having left the UNSW and what was the management of my third LMS migration, there are a number of things I’m finally getting to do, and most importantly with people I respect, admire and love to work with. I don’t generally talk about that — but I will talk about “Teachers In Front” which is a venture I’ve started with Dr Bron Stuckey. It’s something both of have wanted to do for a few years, but circumstances never really allowed. Now it does.

In somewhat of a rescue mission, we’re pleased to announce a first public games and media event on the 26th August in Sydney. Held at the MAC ICT Center (to whom we’re really grateful), it will be a great day SHOWING how games have been implemented and sharing concrete ways to do it yourself. The aim of “Teachers In Front” is not talk about what people could do, but to build on existing success and scholarship. While it would be simple to add to the rhetoric, we’re only interested in helping people grow their own agendas and finding ways to demonstrate and own that success in their own right. So this event is what that looks like … where all the talks, demos and discussion are orientated to the attendees questions and ideas. Thinking on your feet kind of thing.

I hope you’ll come along if games, gameification and media interest you. Download the Flyer if you want, or you can just head over to the website, read the blurb and sign-up. If you have questions … just ask!

 

The importance of TRADE in playing games.

One aspect of children’s media use can been seem most dramatically in their game play. I’m tired of writing about how games are a literacy and rudely omitted from school thinking, so let me focus on something really important that is happening in their game play out of school.

Parents want kids to do two things simultaneously — stay safe and be successful. Depending on parenting style and belief,  those things will mean something different to everyone. Childhood is supposed to be happy time, but I recognize that there are people and groups who seek to make it a terrible one. I won’t dwell on that, but acknowledge that conceptions of childhood — happy or not, are shaped by many forces external and also internal to the child.

Kids therefore live in a regime which tries to achieve these things consistently, but as we all know few people could ever manage it. We have good days, and not so good days. We favour things we feel are familiar and predictable, and avoid things which are not. Children, as we know, have a very different conception of parenting — and how to react to parents who are though numerous ways trying to raise their children the best way they can. Parents don’t ‘trade’ the way their generation does, and they don’t offer much in the way of fair-trade. No wonder kids protest.

Games and fair-trade

One aspect most parents value is developing a sense of fair-exchange in children. By this I mean that children should need to be mindful of ‘give and take’ when it comes to many things in life. No one hopes their child will be a bully, nor do they want them to be bullied for example. In modern families, where schedules are tight, work hours long and so on, it is actually quite hard for children to develop a sense of how fair-exchange works in the world. In all reality, kids are not free to wander around their suburbs and see how other adults negotiate with a fishmonger, or engage in chit-chat at the grocery store. From a child’s perspective, the world in accessed via two things — a ride in a car and the Internet. In Australia only one third of kids go to school on foot and even less use their feet in non-school time. My argument is that kids receive a value system of fair-exchange in two ways — their parents impost and their in-game experiences of trade.

In-game, kids trade all sorts of things: time; advice; support; information; items; currency and more. To be a good networked game player means learning how to TRADE. Today’s generation see the world of trade in media-terms, not simply economic ones. My kids (who are under 13) seem to have no idea of the ‘real economic’ world they live in, yet seem deeply skilled at the ones they inhabit during gaming sessions.

Information, Assets, Time and Audiences (IATA)

Aside from trading ‘items’ in games and exchanging time to help and be helped, they also combine four important elements. The most important of which are AUDIENCES. Having an audience is perhaps the ‘gold’ of game (or any social media) trade. By combining audiences, smaller fish get to access (and even become) bigger ones. This is exactly how to become a successful YouTuber — learn how to trade information, assets, time and audiences.

I argue that given the time children spend in games, and that game mechanics provide this trade-engine, that kids use that to their advantage elsewhere. They don’t learn it more elsewhere, because we know from research the time kids spend online. It they are using time, then I argue they are also using information, assets and audiences.

These four things are meta-currencies of the post-web2.0-era. They are things that very few teachers poses in abundance, and even those with lots of information or massive audiences fail to trade their time in anything more than MONEY. You know how much the super-start get paid to powerpoint an audience with information — based on time. It just doesn’t work for kids who know that this is rubbish way to trade and get where you want to be.

So outside of games and other media being allowed by parents, it begs the question — how do my children put their considerable TRADE skills to work at school? I’d guess the answer is — they don’t because there is no structure or rewarding frame to do it within — especially when the media they are allowed to use is limited to text and print adaptations of essentially desktop word-processing and flash drive sharing.

 

9th Birthday

It’s so easy to get caught up in our own dramas, and those created by people who are, as Ingrid described in a blog post as jerks and assholes in their own domain — and forget what is really happening in the world which contains and is also shaped by all domains colliding.

As my kid hit nine today, I’m acutely aware that they world he will have to live in and with contains people who at some point take it on themselves to be jerks and assholes. To me there are no right and wrong sides of asshole-ness and never any justification to set out to be unkind out of an inner belief that “I am more important” and therefore get to behave badly. Today the world seems to have taken this to a level I can’t remember before — both internationally and locally.

This plea is very powerful and a timely reminder of the importance of kindness everywhere and what happens when we forget that anger and being an asshole is never acceptable.

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