The HSC of the future?

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As I am currently travelling between edu-realms, working and teaching in Higher Ed and K12, it is impossible not to notice how the role communications now plays in widening the gap between “winners” and “losers” though the ongoing marketisation of education in this wide brown land. Today, as I walked out of Central Station, a dozen ‘promotional girls’ in gym pants and t-shirts were passing out leaflets in front of motor scooters hauling mobile bill boards. None seemed to pick up the leaflets disinterested punters dropped as they crossed the road.

They were promoting a ‘school’ called Talent 100, founded by some guy with a perfect ATAR result who will, for a fee, share his secrets of success as you enroll on a course, from year 9 onwards. All over the site are slick promotions which reduce learning to a systematic process of getting the highest grades by working ‘smarter’ not ‘harder’.

I tried to find any reference to scholarship in the website and failed. I did find a page listing the schools and the students who scored highly, which is yet more commodification of children. Glance down the list and you’ll soon notice that not only are these students “enrolled” here, but they are also enrolled at many of Sydney’s elite private schools too. Are we at that point where even the rich schools who are speeding away with funding, resources and staff now also need additional coaching services to reach that magic ATAR and get into the increasingly expensive Universities?

Just how wide is the gap between public and private and neoprivate ‘results orientated’ education. Should students be disqualified from sitting the HSC as they are clearly ‘cheating’ the vast majority of society out of the Australian “fair-go”.

In over a decade of being “online” it remains painfully obvious that despite the advocacy and brow beating, EdTech clearly favours those with money, while the public system is hamstrung by antiquated human-resource policies, staffing arrangements and dwindling pool of technological resources and staff (many who leave to join private schools or align with brands).

At what point could this service become an ‘open’ and staffed by teachers who simply want success for our society? Is this what the young chap who’s founded this wants? — is results driving his passion, or just eyeing off a market-place of parents whom value drill and skill learning, memorising and model answers? Are these students going to take society forward? … well the research into Higher Education success says no, but the marketing says yes.

I once thought that “online” would be a place teachers settled and created learning spaces for kids whom don’t have the kind of life advantages of neoprivate education — but it seems unlikely now, there are powerful factions, groups and alliances which present little in the way of ‘open education’ values of possibilities. Even ACEC (the IT Teachers annual convention is some $800) and needs imported speakers to flog tickets, which is another example of the barriers being created by the market-driven reforms of the last 20 years.

It makes me wonder if I should just buy-into this BS, like I buy a car which I’ll ditch in a few years. Take the financial hit and comply for each of my kids. Buying an education seems no different to buying an iPhone 6 when you have an iPhone 4 these days. Where do you think this will head in the next decade?

What is gamification?

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I can go back and forth on this one, but I’ll go along with the idea of it being a deliberate exploitation of human nature (play). There are, as this video discusses, plenty of points of view. It’s just 10 minutes and run’s at a fair pace, but does manage to use some in-game footage and overlays to explain how it relates to the real world.

Goodbye Minecraft, hello Microjang.

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During one scene in the documentary “The Story of Mojang” the team gather on a lounge to await the launch of Minecraft Xbox Edition. They celebrate as Scottish developer 4JStudios port what was at the time — a very buggy game — to the Xbox Arcade and the rest becomes history as Mojang is bought for $2.5billion dollars. [the link has some interesting Notch comments to Microsoft via Twitter].

What is therefore interesting is that the success of Minecraft is clearly down to a range of people who are involved in its internal and external development as well as a cultural explosion of media at the time. As of last year, 50 million copies have been sold, and it’s clearly popular with parents who largely base their mediation of games by what they perceive than first hand experience.

Minecraft is seen, especially among parents of under 10s as ‘educational’ to some degree. Having said that, this group of parents tend to value games at this age anyway. Combine that with the legos aesthetic and distant childhood pleasures of making spaceships from plastic bricks … and Minecraft was an easy one time purchase.

Minecraft was never owned by the community anymore than Herobrine hid in the mines. The social construction of Mojang, its Twittering-creator and the vast modding community creating remarkable objects owes much of it’s success to the phenomenal communications explosion at the time (2010-2013) which saw the emergence of highly lucrative and prolific media ‘shows’ on YouTube. Minecraft gave YouTubers something new to talk about — and most importantly — to a new (younger) audience.

That audience is now mashed up with numerous other games. In fact kids often enjoy the comedic theatricals of super-stars such as PewDiePie  or StampyLongHead as much as the reviews of the games on display. It remains to be seen how Microsoft attempt to engage with this form of cultural production and Mojang seem to have given little or no consideration to ‘the community’ which, like the company, is highly profitable. Will they love the game enough to keep producing? Will they produce when, inevitably, Minecraft is surpassed?. $2.5bn is a lot of money to recoup, so we are left to assume that lawyers and licencing will be a major feature of Microjang in the future …

Perhaps Mojang will move on to improve the game — or perhaps it will become yet another skinner box of DLC (Activision style) or lock-in user IP (Linden style). The recent history of MUVEs is one of dramatic issues in scale and sustainability — especially when the creativity of the user-base is diminished over policy and profit.

Minecraft has done one significant thing. It has trained players to expect to build, and this means games in the future will include building as part of their game-play. This isn’t something Microsoft can own or claim legal dominion over. For me, this is the lasting contribution of Mojang (RIP), it taught the world that players are creative agents that respond to toolsets that allow them to do so. It simplified the ‘sandbox’ and made it platform agnostic. Whether it will continue to focus on the creative expression of the end-user remains to be seen.

On disappointment for research is that the larger the corporation, the harder it is to conduct many forms of research. Microsoft is generally interested in ‘academic’ when it means ‘academic sales and training’ rather than investing in some of the contributions Minecraft might make towards better theories of play and games. I’m sure people will research it, but history shows how hard that can be. We might never know why ‘she won’t get of Minecraft’ without some inside access.

So long Minecraft, it was fun. Hello Microjang, where do I insert coin?

Eastern Regional Libraries Con

Listening to some insightful speakers at the Eastern Regional Libraries Conference today. Take aways are simple: Literacy takes you to places you might not otherwise go and that small, community approaches attain better results though cultural reproduction where the purpose is to recreate itself – ie reading to children, co-playing games with children. Romona Koval, ex ABC Radio National shared a career insight into reading and broadcasting.

Very enjoyable day.

Free to be me

I watched yet another “tweet-chat” with some hashtag  about ‘game based learning‘ yesterday, in between playing ‘Child of Light’ with Mr.9. 

There seems a common behaviour in these periodic discussions namely self-affirmation, followed by the general ‘othering’ of teachers who don’t share the view, or hold sufficient cultural capital as ‘the in group’.

I see these online chats as an awkward way to hold any kind of dialogue — socially and technologically, but this one is technically in my backyard, I zoned in an out whilst it took place.

I am interested in games and media studies in schools and how they are represented. Teachers, like parents and kids, are one of the many groups who like to represent themselves online, yet stand alone in their insistence on being highly self-referential and symbolised in doing so.

Despite a the predicable mention of ‘levels’ and ‘badges’ together with how games are ‘fun’ and ‘motivating’, games were once again driven towards “in my classroom” and simplistic debate about gamification and mechanics. No once did anyone talk about games as a media form — and in fact the biggest form of media (sales, use) in popular culture. It was all about sucking out the ‘mechanics’ and gluing them onto existing ideology. No one pointed out how games encourage kids to be fee and to take on all sorts of new identities. No mention of communities which dwarf the size and sophistication of the so called “Personal Learning Network” – which is culturally applicable to teachers.

We have decided as a matter of social policy to measure people’s education, their learning, their competence, and their job-worthiness almost entirely in terms of the amount and the fanciness of schooling that they’ve been able to consume – John Holt (1971)

 What cognitive media theory is at work here? This is the same structuralist patriarchy that rules the classroom and now fancies itself as ruling ‘online’ too. Ultimately if teachers valued digital games they will have no problem in allowing kids to  play them . There are many reasons to let kids play games (within managed reason) and one of the biggest is that they will build far more deeper networks than half-duplex Twitter chats.

 

RWBY Girl Power

In the constant pursuit of pop-culture and more than a passing interest in illustration, I’ve struggled to find characters which my pass my 11 year old daughters “meh” test. You can imagine how utterly deflating it was, when she didn’t see the power of Buffy as a strong female lead in efforts to influence her media diet. RWBY however has hit a huge home run. Mr9 is talking about painting his room with Yang art, and Miss11 has been busy watching the web-series in the lair known as “keep out my bedroom”.

It’s set in an academy, where seemingly already awesome fighters with an array of plausible weapons and auras are put together a students. I really like the art, animation and audio (wear headphones) — and the storyline grows as the add characters. In addition, the production crew put up “notes” on how RWBY is written and created, and of course, the creator Monty Oum harnesses the considerable fan-creativity by allowing artists to submit new characters, clothing and re-create existing ones that make it into the final films.

Buffy, for all her power never really managed this in her hey-day. I can’t help but think that the success of web-series in increasingly connected to the cultural production of fans. And yes, we’ve binged on the series and bought the merch already.

RWBY isn’t alone in this powerful-girl animation of course, we’ve seen it before — but right now, I think it is one of the best all-round web-series on offer, go watch.

Why “Flipping Classrooms” works, to a point.

Jargon abounds in education. It’s part of a tradition of differentiating one idea from another as well deciding who’s in and out of any group or culture. “Flipped Classroom” is one such term which is socially constructed to mean inversing the twin-axes of lectures and tutorials. The basic rationale is that all lectures are boring and no one learns anything anyway. In addition,t the advent of low-rent media production, and the ability of people with no history in media can hack out a video or make a ‘how to’ sitting on a bus. Therefore, we can use lecture time more productively and also class tutorials. So, if I have a rudimentary understanding of computers and media, we can produce another market reform, which will improve learning — because of technology and popular culture’s willingness to buy personal devices. This is all very well — if you have a small class size and the learning orientated around a small number of teachers — or just one. It falls over when you have several teachers and several hundred students. Then, the lecture becomes the essential ‘trunk’ which will allow the roots of tutorials to grow. It’s at best an assumption, mostly made though ‘flipped rhetoric’ that the course doesn’t contain meaning, or that technology isn’t being used outside the classroom and lecture in purposeful ways to support students.

Outside of the jargon, and it’s ability to impress people who don’t know what you’re talking about, or conceive alternative explanations, uses of media or skill of the ‘team’ teaching, the idea which has strong arguments in K12 could do with a lot more research in Higher Education — especially in large class sizes.

 

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.

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