Media Blind

As a parent of a start-up teen, I’m painfully aware of the media’s influence over his view of the world. I’m also in one of those psychological revolving doors where I can see the potential advantages of massive access to information, people, experiences made possible by convergence in the media, but at the same time I have to remind myself that he, like others of his ilk, are media blind.

Children see, hear and interact with media constantly, it’s all around them — and they can’t imagine life away from it. But life does function beyond media — we have towels to hang up, dishes to put away — so when he fails to live up to the demands and routines of our household’s schedules, or protests over things that only teenager could possible appreciate matter and parents ‘ruin’ — pulling the pin on the world of interactive entertainment and human-computer-human mediated communication doesn’t improve the situation. But the pin is more often than not pulled for a while at least in an attempt to reset teen-startup.

While schools have either used ‘scare and filter’ or ‘embrace and hope’ strategies — deeply connected to power-belief among a narrow set of individuals, neither has been useful in preparing tweens and teens for today’s media cultures and stratified media communication. As a parent, it seems non-productive to talk about “Peter and Jane” values in a world and arrogant to think I am shaping his media diet in a world of mega-corporations and  ‘everything is awesome’ digitally salivating teachers. Yes I do think media is useful, yes I do work with media, but I can’t even see how today’s media landscape can be compared with the same one two years ago … yet the mass-theatre of conferences and homogonised #edchat seems as media blind as teen-startup.

With no ‘media education’ discipline in the Australian curriculum and therefore no externally valid assessment (read: exam) there is no corresponding ‘key words scheme’ so popular in 70s and 80s literacy methods.

As frustrating as it is to me as a parent, I have to concede my kids are not experiencing any form of planned or well researched information literacy life cycle.

Ignorance and personal growth co-habit the media creating an illusion of what society can and can’t do with technology. The fact a tween can re-create Blenheim Palace in Minecraft tells us almost nothing about missed opportunities, compounding media problems and poor leadership in the rest of society — and maybe that this point.

I was thinking, very early this morning, that “things we like” would be a fantastic title for every educational conference I ever went to for years. There are some good reasons use technology, but there are many more reasons actively create a media literacy program in schools if self-growth, actualisation and empowerment are to be channeled into positive, functional outcomes for kids. Who knows, maybe my teen will eventually realise the ambiguity of a life through glass … or put a towel away from time to time without it having to be a quest-for-loot-deal. Maybe I should just get on board with the ed-tech juggernaut — confusing morning.

Are you a progressive teacher?

One argument I’m running against the ongoing consumerist classroom concerns why it has become extremely difficult for a teacher to be recognized by in-groups without holding up a device or subscribing to the brands values endorsed by market driven innovation and supply.

In addition, progression in education seems inherently weighted along gender lines. While women are clearly a significant part of educational research, innovation and scholarship, there is something about the market culture which elevates more men on the international ‘educational technology is cool’ circuit. Its a truism to say men and women who don’t agree with the ‘everything is awesome culture’ also work within the cultural boundaries of education – and therefore equally important and significant.

To me, progressive teaching means acting on changes in society and culture, which I grant you is often deeply resigned to consumerism and techno-wonderment. While outwardly sympathetic to the plight of billions in poverty, or even ‘poor’ schools nearby, this culture generally views education though the latest glass, as though western science has annexed the issues of mankind via an app or two. What does this signal to children who are forming views of how the world works?

One concern that I and many others share is how easy it is to mistake marketing communications from reality. It addition, the phrase “other people’s children” sould be painted in every classroom. Our children are not yours to media-manipulate. Please ask before immersing into synthetic markets.

There is no evidence to suggest children need technology to thrive or that basing the “21st century need” on market-lead, narrow, branded, educationally parochial views of ‘good’ technology has a positive effect on learning or society. Many assertions about ‘future schools’ are based on brand commodification of childhood and they techno-cultural interests of individual and loosely associative teachers. To me, there is a clear problem with online communication (and the ripples it makes into society) which over estimates its correctness and under estimates the alternatives.

Schools have used commercially supplied products for decades, but at no point did teachers feel a need to represent themselves as “Ladybird Book Teachers” or attend the “Derwent Pencil Academy” in order to feel, be or be seen as progressive. This brandification is grotesquesuperfluous and confusing when trying to identify progressive teaching. Think about those teachers and kids who seeing all this emerge but also feel their needs, ideas and preferences are now less important — does that matter to Chitter or Voodle?.

I argue that retreating from the marketplace is just as progressive and that shielding kids from manipulative media is progressive. Some ‘time-out’ from the brand juggernaut isn’t anti-progress. 

It’s therefore interesting to consider how the cultural construction of ‘progressive teaching’ impacts the careers of teacher. It will probably affect them differently, for example those who are new or perhaps old or sobering up from a decade of technology. Perhaps a progressive teacher is far more moderate than those who have been the loudest in the last decade. I’m pretty sure I want technologically competent teachers in front of my kids, but ultimately I want them to create media-savvy critics who spot product placement a mile away.

What does education want with games?

For some odd-cultural reason, education seemingly cannot engage with media-texts or information processes that are not self-evident of being a part of ‘life’ in the consumer society. Perhaps it is a need to feel apart from ordinary folk who are not teachers ordained by politicians and blessed with public money that does it. I don’t have a plausible explanation other than ‘EdTech’ has come to symbolise market driven education, and in persuit of that both corporate brands and the new neo-citizen brands that prowl social media. They both find it useful to pander to this separatist culture and establish that all important ‘niche’ from which they communicate their dangerously technological deterministic message.

I managed to fire off a burry-eyed Tweet this morning, commenting that another “EdTech” conference, which has called itself “TechEd” to be super-cool and different is on again today in Australia. Images of people in lines, with brands boasting about how ‘the cool people’ are willing to line up to attend what is basically another consumer electronics show. Watch out for the word “cool” in association with these messages because they signify “the uncool”. Games have of course been ‘un-cool’ in education for years. So what do these people want with thier “gamification” hashtags?

I argue that they want what they always want, more customers, more attention and more sales. Education does not move with the times and lives in 2008. It isn’t allowed to move on as the marketplace panders to adult literacies which barely reach that datum point — most are still struggling to use a computer that isn’t set up by technical support. As those are few and far between, the Internet has become the “sales assistants” for basic media-literacies. Games are amazingly complex. They would be mind-boggling to someone who still believes 50hours professional development ever five years is a ‘task’. Educational technology therefore creates “gamification” so that it can maximise the return and minimise the investment towards developing or even studying games that might help kids learn better than their blogs, wikis and podcast exercises.

Education wants game to be simple(r) to a point they can be backed into the existing dogmatic methods that was the genius-revolution of Web2.0 in schools. The issue is that while there are some great technologies on offer to schools, they are immediately labelled “pilot” or “experimental”, despite the fact virtually none of the ‘tools’ that are forced on kids have gone though any empirical process to work out if they have any benefit (sort term exam culture prevails) or in the long term. Games don’t have anything to prove in this regard. They are not by any stretch of the imagination ‘new’. Gamification is a product of mass-consumer culture and in essence, a bundle of tools for measuring and rewarding progess. Perhaps education hopes this new market will last long enough to make some more fly-in-fly-out cash, maybe they think it pumps oxygen into the dying mantra of Web2.0? Who knows what education wants — but I’m pretty sure it’s only a slim (tame-able) slither of what players want from a game.

What’s wrong with just putting games in classrooms and then figuring out what kids can do, what to do — and call it what it is – playing videogames, because it’s a great way to build one’s own technological and media literacy without a lesson plan.

Negotiations of Play


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I’m pleased to say that I’ve posted my project website for my thesis, called Negotiations of Play. This is designed to support parents and to capture the experiences of Australian parents and caregivers of children aged 4-12. Right now you can leave your email address if you want to notified of then the study commences. I expect that this will take about 12 months to collect.

Overall, there is no research into what parents and children think about online games or how parents mediate them in Australia. Much of the reports in mass media tend to discuss statistical data which they use to inductively to tell parents what they should or should not be doing. The dominant literature which voices concern focuses on, and extends the long running negative ‘media effects’ debate by experimental psychology. The positive often focuses on theories of ‘flow’ and the design of games and player behaviours, especially fun, motivation and enjoyment.

My approach is somewhat different in that I am interested in the broad negotiations between the media and families and inter-family conceptions of the role video games play in family life as media markets, which to me plays a key role in developing both adult and childrens literacy. The market benefits though reproductive process helping expand what games can do. Evidence of this can been seen in the rise of new forms of games which negates much of the ‘violence in games’ claims these days. I see what games do as establishing what I’m calling a neo leisure class. People in constant negotiation with game designers and media producers through the cultural production of their avatars and game-identities. In particular, I’m interested in network mediated culture which I think is largely ignored or overlooked in game-studies, yet as every Steam or Xboxer knows is an essential site for identity, socialising and play.

I have many people to thank for getting me to this point: Not least: My wife and kids and our household’s game characters – Vormamim, Vorsaken and LollykingOMG each of whom have played an important role in developing my interest in the issues and controversies of parenting the gamer generation. Then there are those whom I know in-game by gamer-tag (anonymously represented here). Next, those whom have contributed significantly to what I now call ‘work’ – the ones who I ‘talk to’ on Twitter, but also those who have been working on using games for over a decade in Australia: Judy O’Connell, Bron Stuckey, Jo Kay, Kerrie Johnson, Westley Field and countless others in Australia and overseas such as Derek Robinson and Peggy Sheehy, two people I see as key critical thinkers in what games can do to improve kids lives, especially those kids who are increasingly being marginalised by educational technology’s neoliberal-elitism.

Finally, and not least my PhD supers Professor Catharine Lumby and Dr. Kate Highfield who have been amazing in the last year of my life and lit the darkest of days when I’ve needed it most. A few more essentials, Dr. David Saltmarsh who has really expanded my thinking and coffee drinking and Mal Booth at UTS Library who shares a love of ink-pens, Alfas and innovation.

Born to buy #1

Moving the discussion of the role of brandification in education along … I must thank @dandonahoo for bring this article to my attention. Clay “Here comes everybody” Shirkey has banned devices and media in his classes. For the freshman, this in really important news. Shirky was quoted, re-quoted and used to justify the “shift” debate around 2007/8. This might be too early Twitter for some, but essentially, his stories and discussion about read/write and social connections was hugely influential on the vanguard of edtech. I won’t name names, suffice to day Shirky was considered a seminal figure in the movement to reform classrooms and numerous correlations drawn between “the crowd” and the emerging social-media communications of teachers who found credibility in the whole “web2.0″ debate.

This is what makes this story BIG news. Shirky’s idea (and book) is a cornerstone of the binary new media vs old media debate and without question has been the shoulders that the ISTE/ACEC famous held up as having ‘the future vision for education’. Shirky is a central cultural figure to the ‘early crowd’ interested in connecting ‘school’ and ‘media’ into ‘classroom visions’. In their eyes, consumer culture and mass communications could be tamed and held to account in educational uses/settings. It wasn’t just Shirky who had a had a “laissez-faire attitude towards technology use in the classroom”, schools have not fully appreciated the changes in media either. Reseach is increasingly critical of ‘screen time’ and exposing students to it whom have little ‘media education’ history and highly managed school and home time. [see link in the article].

And now, he has set up set up a pile of rules to be a media/tech filter himself, as his students are “distracted” and unable to manage time effectively [in his view].

I think the issue here is not that the principles of consumption/production have shifted, nor has the ideology of mass schooling. Teachers simply identified with Shirky’s observations and for a short time, the idea of connecting classrooms and using electronic communications was a) manageable b) limited to few software/services and c) relatively under exploited by mega-brands such as Apple, Google and Pearson.

Five years later, the explosion of media, devices and granularity of media subjects and modalities has resulted in as Shriky says “Those gains never materialize; instead, efficiency is degraded”.

In all sectors of education, students have been encouraged to bring in devices. While this is clearly politico-economic, another neoliberal step away from centralised provision and responsibility — we are experiencing elevated consumerism being presented as “more freedom”. This seems to be the central concern Shirky has with technology in his classroom — and wrestling with his other arguements that freedom can be assisted though technology (esp, regime change and information production).

The approach to technology in education so far has been seen/measured in terms of ‘adoption’, where students (with devices) are being counted and often used to justify educational rationales about what EdTech is, and why “we” should be doing X (usually X = things small groups like, benefit or control).

But 2014 isn’t like 2008. Media and devices are saturated with brand interference and consumerism. The distraction levels are alarming, because few students have ever had a media education as media scholars have argued is essential. What will be interesting now is whether or not, EdTech pays attention once again to their founding father … or whether the markting juggernaught of self-gratification resulting in brand/tool obsessive behavior can be tamed.

What if schools still believe what was true of 2004, 2008, 2010, 2012 is still true today? Low tech schooling is alive and well it seems.

Google Academy: Where’s the evidence? What’s the intent?

I dislike Google Teacher Academy (GTA). Not because I dislike the so called “free” products, or believe people should never meet, but because it is consumer public-theatre which in a neoliberal marketplace, deliberately creates winners and losers.

GTA works though behaviorism and follows decades of refinement by advertising and marketing theorists and practitioners. First, it uses a relational strategy (emotional broadcasts) then a transitional strategy (reviews, social media, search, in-group influencers, out-group ignorants) and finally the transactional strategy (direct and indirect sales).

Google Teacher Academy is a further example of the commodification of childhood. Without any empirical evidence, Google sets out to create competition among teachers, to create ‘aspirational value’ in it’s products and obedience with it’s ideology. It personifies this though the “every man” advertising representation. They select in-group personalities (with social influence) to defuse it’s consumer cultural agenda, because ‘every-man’ is someone just like us. Of course there is a pay-off for actors who amplify and fall into line in terms of financial and social capital (the biggest winners) and then there is everyone else — the losers.

Education is a civic institution. It is supposed to be about scholarship and resist commodification, question political-economic rhetoric and be alert to social-manipulation. Google actively attack these principles with GTA. In comparison, those researchers who are working to improve education are burdened with the task of collecting evidence and using human ethics. This doesn’t make them laggards, late adopters or other ‘out-group’ members. It makes them accountable, evidence based and ethical. Any claim that ‘research’ is out of step with culture, must first be very clear about what culture is — and what happens when corporations are not called to account. This is the subject of countless dystopian novels — the corporatisation of habitus, the removal of liberty.

I can’t imagine for a second that Google bothers itself with such things as it sets up it’s consumer theatricals in the name of ‘innovation’ and ‘elite teaching’. This is little more than a consumer-competition, like winning tickets to the circus by collecting tokens and writing a ‘tie-breaker’ limerick.

For me, the toolset isn’t important. Lots of people use Google’s toolset, so what? Its the false representation of behavioural marketing as scholarship that irks me. It does not promote new or better thinking, alternative solutions, but indoctrinates teachers and reduces the basic freedoms children are struggling to maintain

If I am wrong, please feel free to leave me references to studies/journals which show GTA has any benefit and more importantly how it’s design avoids harm. It obviously delivers Google and associates significant financial rewards.

10,000 off foot of distance

Without doubt, educational centres know what modern, connected, blended learning is. They know what is heading south of the wall too. However, calls for bravery have been said often and are ignored. No one listened to John Snow either and Winter is coming.

What prevents engagement are mindsets which are more interested in micro-culture and self importance than what the masses want and can already do. There is a mental separation which creates a misguided sense that the masses are not the elites, therefore need to be told what they want or are simply inconsequential.

You can be the most correct, most published, most viable candidate for job in theory and never engage a community enough for it to want to follow you. On the other hand, you can be someone who creates community because you see the mass as essential to cultural production and fill screens and rooms with you ideas.

How do you know if you’re engaging the community? Count the bums on seats not how brave the rhetoric is.

Minecraft and childrens consumption of media

I find it odd that adults often justify their children’s use of Minecraft as educational. What we know is that children have been targeted as subjects and sites of consumption, and that psychology has a close relationship with advertising. Games have significantly disrupted the political economic model of the ‘consumer society’ and its use of mass media. What challenges psychology is that games such as Minecraft defy their experimental designs and focus on individual behaviour and cognition.

Minecraft demands a focus on ‘the masses’ which psychology believes is detrimental, and is of course neither a politically neutral science or are their negative claims about games proven. Minecraft shifts the cultural focus from consumption to production. That is what freaks out mass media and advertising, and therefore spooks their friends in psychology. This is the worst case scenario of John Watsons followers … that people are not made happy and docile by consumption … they want to produce and change the corporeal and virtual world.

this is not a bad thing for childhood. it is far more significant than whether of not kids are learning about math. this is a battle for freedom.


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