Last Orders: Flipped Classroom and dead pixels.

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The topic of flipped classrooms is one which I swear has followed me around this year like a black dog. I first heard someone say it in 2008, but no doubt someone has claimed credit for inventing it, which I can’t be remotely bothered to find out. Clarkson once said that Jaguar cars impress the neighbours … but only if the neighbours know nothing about cars. That seems to sum up how I feel about 99% of the representations of flipped classrooms.

The simplistic binary of moving media-based information to before class, thus allowing in class to be “more valuable” or “better used” largely assumes a false binary, or perhaps a lack of experience. The phrase is handed around with other buzzwords yet fails to address that many (of us) have been using media well for years. Our only failure was not to take the opportunity to valorize it in pursuit of power or reputation.

The use of lecture or classroom space to ‘deliver’ is not the fundamental challenge in school or university. We know that students have access to media — and we also know they are not (yet) as digitally savvy as the online edu-rhetoric (in flipped classrooms suggests). Flipped is constantly used as a token or signal for innovation and reform based on numerous unproven claims.

This also deliberately denies more broad discussion about casualisation, increased demands on curriculum and so on — which seem much more important than how you take your tea – one lump or two? Flipped classroom places advocates on a socially constructed pedestal and extends the technologically deterministic reform agenda ignoring the reality that amount of media-education students receive is decreasing in real terms – as is the time we spend trying to teach. The erosion of teaching-labour in the face or climbing demands and expectations is unsustainable. Ultimately it’s only those with a) a full time role and b) a full time work load that allows media creation time and learning about media who can do it. It seems that most of those talking about flipped classrooms are unburdened by things like casual-contracts, poor equipment and lack of media development training. So if you’re not getting cut-though on your flipped classroom agenda, then it’s perhaps that the corporeal world most of us live in has quite different pressures and priorities which we didn’t create and do our best to work within. We’re not media ignorant, laggards or late adopters.

Flipped classrooms will get you noticed it seems, like owning a Jag. Provided those clapping think Jags are cool. I’m not discussing ‘flipped classrooms’ anymore, it’s a dead-pixel.

Higher Ed 2024

from a recent Educause depiction of higher education in 2024 …

Library personnel, as well as other campus support staff, meet with students either online or offline. Hands-on learning occurs everywhere, in and out of classrooms. Old-fashioned maker culture and the digital world play off of each other, dialectically. Media classes (e.g., art, computer science, media, literature) combine media production with studies.

I winced at the vision of “other support staff” which maintains the upstairs/downstairs arrangement. This once again diminishes the value of non academic pay cheques. Who else is going to create this vision if not “librarians and other support staff”. Why assume they too would not find alternative arrangements … And be doing something else … Say working online, from home in global courses? This assumption that support staff are little more than a pit pony … Is deeply problematic, given this is a “futurist” expert view.

In a decade? This also seems optimistic given the drum beat of educational development so far. Without radical change in how people are employed and then progress in the meritocracy this vision seems to ignore the increasing casualisation, swing funding and resistencia of academics welded onto narrow technological and recruitment fairways.

Be nice if it happened, keep shuffling, there is a better future I’m sure.

Is PBL the better Flipped Classroom?

Background: I was very fortunate to have been at a school ten years ago where the boss introduced PBL (project based learning) following his sabbatical trip the USA.

Despite head-office skepticism, he pushed the agenda along, finding funds to send a few of us to some heavy-duty training in the USA. They furnished us with a US-Model of PBL, which we then set about adapting towards the AU system. It radically changed the school and the learning. This was one man willing to look at a new idea, but encountering many in the process. History represents this as an Institution system initiative, but that as anyone who was there will tell you — that’s just politiks — it was a smart leader who had a vision. As I’m also a designer and also teach arts and industrial tech … the rhetorical depiction of the ‘traditional classroom’ never lent itself to my experience, so for me PBL was a welcome extension of what I was already doing … and even now game-based learning is a step beyond PBL.

More recently, I’ve heard “Flipped Classrooms” being dragged out as “innovation”. This seems often to be on the basis of a “new-broom leader” trying to impress, rather than assuming all classrooms are chalk and talk. In fact, many of these depictions simply show these people are more adept at memorising and repeating pithy quotes and buzzwords that they are at creating student centered learning. Most teachers are not stuck in the 20th Century mindset, but they are continually depicted this way in order to validate someones assertions and importance.

For PBL teachers, flipped classrooms are absolutely nothing remarkable. For a start PBL is not regulated by modernist binaries of ‘classwork’ and ‘homework’ and uses media to prompt ideas and directions rather than instruct. I tend to assume those whom have delivered ‘expert’ content to novices in ‘traditional’ ways tend to fixed on one method and then set about arguing they have a better method. They don’t do what Brother Patrick did, and take a walk into the unknown with an open mind that what they find might be useful. Being correct and important all the time seems a terrible burden to carry — but useful if you’re a career-tribute I guess.

Can we teach PBL to pre-service teachers, using a PBL classroom? – Absolutely we can (and are). There is no reason to believe that pre-teachers are married to the methods they experienced in school as being the ones they will use. I find students are very adept at offering up better ways to learn, and seem troubled by the idea that they should become ‘like their teachers’. Every student can tell a story about a teacher that didn’t follow the 20th Century method which flipped-types use as a basis for their innovation. So before you blow a fortune on video or run up another playlist — consider that before “Flipped Classrooms” has been a method/model which has proven highly successful for decades, and gets even better if you use media in sympathy with modern times.

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?



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.



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.



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