Gaming the online classroom

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There is a ton of information being produced about attempting to turn online learning into a more game-like experience. What we’re saying is that despite the rush of enthusiasm for technology based teaching, the profound effect on society by the interactive entertainment industry renders so much of ‘must attend’ education well outside this zone of engagement.

Consider however that ‘school’ is particular social construct and comes with certain cultural expectations and baggage. For example, school has been a daily experience of the dis-affected fifteen year old with poor attendance and a dislike of school methods. Offering her badges or points is hardly going encourage her to revisit her experiences before time expires and she leaves to make her way in the world. For the exceptional kids who chew through learning, the introduction of a game might well send their parents into a tail spin about how to play-school — a game they’ve probably been winning for years at.

The point I’m making here is that games, game-layers and game-mechanics being developed for the interactive entertainment of society cannot easily be subsumed into educational contexts. By easy, I mean time, investment and executive trust in taking a few risks and resisting the temptation to declare success after a week.

I’ve seen numerous game-systems which are little more than grade-book management and behaviour control. They might meet the power-relations of the teacher and the grade-compliance needs of the system, but I don’t think they should be called a game. Dressing up and talking like a pirate would be just as motivating to students who know game culture like the back of their hand. Let me put down the top three things which have little ‘game-basis’ at all, but never the less have been cited as game-based-learning.

3 elements which are un-proven

  1. Using points to sanction personal behaviour (ie, late to class, no homework, calling out).
  2. Assigning random events. The teacher should know exactly what events need to be triggered to move the student’s experience from A to B and B to C. This has more to do with the Zone of Proximal Development than the roll of a dice. Games do not issue ‘work’ randomly, they do it because the player is ready for it.
  3. Machine-automation should be used lightly. The best games I’ve seen played with students treat the Internet as a medium or layer to transmit important information — such as how the player is going, what they need to do next and so on. Machine programming which orientates to grading students is fluckery and should be avoided.

Why do schools find it hard to develop effective game based learning programmes.

The biggest challenge for schools is they are not used to employing project-managers and/or educational developers to design a game. They tend to hope teachers will pick this stuff up in the way they picked up how to use Edmondo. Games are complex cultural objects. For example: a game should be a re-useable resource which anyone can play. It should be well designed, documented and platform agnostic. It might require the development of illustrations, narratives and other objects … all of which is really hard to do alone or as a side-role when teaching. If the game is being played online, then it will need a community manager to help interpret the goals of the teacher into an experience online that is interesting.

I am not saying avoid games, or consider GBL to be too hard, but to think more carefully about requirements of education verses interactive media entertainment. Ultimately, the game is an experience which impacts how we see the world — if you missed it, check out the PBL Game for the Hunger Games which ran a few years ago. Start not with what we did that made it such a success — but why it didn’t pick up any interest at ISTE 13. The challenge for games is simple: They need at least the same status and investment that is routinely applied to things such as Google Apps … only then will robust, re-useable designs become available.

Article: Min / Max Note Taking for Conferences

Although this is for conferences, it would equally work in lectures and classrooms. There’s an assumption championed by tech-believers that listening is boring. This methods seems worth considering, not least if your using a rotatational approach to Blended Learning.

Min / Max Note Taking for Conferences

http://scottberkun.com/2014/min-max-note-taking/

The new ton-up boys.

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In the 1950s the post-war youth discovered motorcycles while their parents were getting into cars. Hire Purchase allowed young-people to emulate The Wild Ones, get into a leather jacket and race between cafes — pulling the legendary ¨ton up¨. Kids had mobility, kids had a sub-culture and kids railed against the society that had put them in the saddle.

Mobility these days isn’t about cars or motorbikes. Recent figures show kids are not buying them for all sorts of reasons — and the kind of youth-clubs created such as the 59 club are nostalgic cultural history. Today’s ton up boys have gadgets. Its a sort of middle aged crisis — where youthful ambitions and sub-culture affinities can be revisited from the tethered fantasy of the home or office. Anyone can get on social media and do a ton-up. They can impress others (if others know little about EdTech culture) as they flash past making noise. Ultimately, this sub-culture online is a choice. I know its got all sorts of names which sound clever, but a lot of what happens is purely about entertainment, showing off and increasing your own credibility — which also means making others invisible.

Sure you can Tweet your way to the ton-up and become a recognised name in the cafe-scene, but this doesn’t represent any measurable impact in the bigger challenge itself — shifting culture and helping people teach and learn better. Most people don’t go to these cafes online, nor their manifested events in the real world. Most people are working to help others and not do a ton-up and ride over the dumb saps on the side of their road. Success in EdTech means creating meaningful work-packages for people who want to do a great job. It seems that people are more being acknowledged for doing a ton-up down the information super highway than they are for struggling though the reality of current culture and demands.

VVVrrrrrrooooomm,.

Why create playlists for Flipping The Classroom

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Playlists are awesome. If you are planning on flipping the classroom (FTC) then they are essential. My view of FTC is that using media to support learning is a good idea. The patterns and schemas used by everyone to access media to support their goals is substantially altered from traditional classroom delivery of information (chalk and talk and so on).

At the same time, the idea of  additional production time needed amid the increasing ‘do more with less’ environments of today’s educational agendas seems daunting.

Thus playlists become important to those who want to enrich learning and have limited spare time. Playlists are not bound to the kind of linear explanations of Khan nor the high production efforts of Extra Credits. Playlists provide a rich thematic landscape for students which can be endlessly tuned and tinkered with.

For example, if I want to talk about ‘gamification’, I can create a playlist which is based on some simple Blooms taxonomy. For example, videos that list examples, that explain what it is, those which demonstrate it in action etc., I don’t necessarily want to order this using the ‘feed me’ methods where we trot though each topic and idea in sequence. Best of all, I don’t need to make anything at all to FTC and give students something to move around in.

However, I do need to know something about how to find media, organise it and then string pathways though it. I want to make my classroom ‘playable’. This post isn’t going to cover that, but I will set out two key ideas.

  • Playable playlists turn work into play, where play is joyful means of production. My class time therefore becomes a place of synthesis, justification, organisation and design thinking. The output might simply be a better playlist or the removal of dodgy items I stuck in there because students could make a decent argument to delete it.
  • Non-playble playlists are also useful, but they are not a means of production for the student. For example, a collection of how-to videos which scaffold learning. They might give tips on software or help people figure out workflows. These are things we just ‘need’ as bricks to get the playable stuff done. They too are background and I might need to make some or more likely edit things other people have made. In this case I need to start using something like Jing or Snagit — but essentially I’m remixing rather than making it end to end.

Finally — the teaching stuff.

This is all about balance. Sometimes it’s new things I want people to try or things I want them to avoid or rethink. Most of the time I think Jing is great because it limits you to 5 mins and suits mass broadcast and you wont go on and on too much. Ultimately the course design still adheres to good principles in Blended Learning, but you are now flipping out new ways to use media beyond the idea of pre-recording tomorrows PowerPoint. You are organising learning in new ways which get ever further from the linear origin.

To get started all you need to do is start making your own playlists. I suggest YouTube is a simple place to begin. For the more adventurous you might use Pinterest or Diigo … because you are going to need more than videos. In the end your flipped course uses playlists so much that students can use them like a cargo net to get up and over just about anything.

Flipped, Blended with a side of confusion

I’m not going to try and define ‘flipped classrooms’ or attempt to distinguish them from ‘blended learning’. I don’t promote myself in this area, and to me using media well is just a good idea. It’s only when this stuff is backgrounded by the functional literacy culture that educators have used for decades that ‘rich media’ becomes some sort of new whizbang thing.

By now, most coursework in contemporary education should be taking advantage of the deep feature set that is “the web” and software that runs though the Internet layers and applications. For example, don’t upload a .doc or add it as an attachment when students can use gmail+drive+kaizena to author a draft, share it when they want to whom they want — and then that person gives them audio and text feedback inline with the document. The teacher and student are flipping and blending the feedback loop in new ways, using a free tool and one free extension. There’s nothing confusing about this, it’s just better design.

Rich media is any medium between the parties that creates meaning. It does not mean HD video or fancy production. What really matters is how well one person can show another person how to optimise their work flows — without feeling like they broke some unspoken rule. Students and teachers benefit most from better workflows — which is not to be confused with system needs or commercial needs. Remember kids, EdTech’s just like K-Mart with less signs and an infinite isle of products.

Brands vs Scholars

Im just wondering if recent changes to how Universities offer courses (and what courses) will start to see them use the kind of promotion seen in MOOCs. For example, to get people into a game MOOC, grab yourself someone who’s popular in both pubic reading and discussion and also academic realms. That way you get the exposure and the scholarship. I can totally see why having a big, popular name in a MOOC would assist it’s enrolment if not the participation of students and drop-out rates.

But what if Universities now start to bring in popular media stars into course too. For example, “Secondary Educational Methods” featuring “Greg Whitby” or “Educational Leadership” featuring “Darcy Moore”. At what point do peoples relative efforts in intentional or unintentional self-branding become valuable as a marketing tool. We’ve seen corporations try this before such as McDonalds, only to meet criticism. At the same time, many who use personal-branding as leverage for their corporate brands. For example Will Richardson’s Powerful Learning Practice … which goes well beyond Will of course. I think many people do have a vision and want to create ‘entities’ which I also think are mostly effective in meeting selective gaps and needs. But I wonder, why would a large institution want to cross-brand with what are ultimately very small businesses.

Student Evaluation: The day one method

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tumblr_mluyz16Nk01qzi5bfo1_1280This post is for teachers, especially new PBL teachers. Its about getting student evaluations of your practice. If you’re new to PBL or new to teaching there’s a natural concern about how well you are teaching for understanding not just to be interesting, fun or charismatic.

Inspired by a lengthy explanation of how to go about “student evaluations” (related to higher education) I’ve found over several years, there is often an assumption that this is an end-of-course diagnostic. I won’t go back over the issues students have with evaluation of courses — and teaching, there is a ton of literature about that — yet we’re still seeing lots of discussion about the most effective ‘survey’ which is related to what kind of survey tool to use. Again, not interested in that debate either.

What Project Based Learning taught me, though observation, experience and theory is that all PBL course designs begin with the end in mind. So how can you create an effective student evaluation at the beginning, if in actual fact you’re not too sure how each session will go during the project? In higher education, courses are often required to submit exams in say week 5 of a 16 week course, meaning that teachers are often locked into things they can’t easily change. In schools, the hallowed “scope and sequence” is a compliance document and often only certain people can change it, and many teachers see it as bondage. Do not move off the path!

Of course PBL is all about reducing the distance you can see down the path. You know where the end is, you have plan of how to get there and the kind of resources to take on the trip … but can you really design an effective ‘student evaluation’ at the outset?

Yes. It’s remarkably simple if you’re using technology. Just create a blank Google Document and share the link with your students. That document is something you get to comment on, but they get to author. Personally, I like to have students create ‘anon’ gmail accounts from day one too. but I understand some people will have some regulation which might prevent this method. For you, just share a OneNote or a bank document via Dropbox, some internal drive and so on. There is a way you can do this I assure you. Also, share this document with your colleagues … because they too can give you advice and tips just at the time you might be struggling or unsure.

It’s a critical document because it creates trust between you and them — and shows that throughout the coursework/project you are actively thinking about teaching, and what it means to be an effective teacher. As you change, your students change and society changes around you — this approach lets you revisit your values, technologies and what is important to you and your students THIS time not everytime.

In short, the most important document you can share with a student is a blank one.

Now who’s too busy to do that?

Axing the Interactive Games Fund

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Among the raft of cuts made by the Australian government, which it’s leader describes as ‘grown ups’ in a rather patronising manner — is the axing of the Interactive Games Fund to the tune of $10million. This was set up by Labour of course and administrated — very well on most accounts — by Screen Australia. Screen Australia are in turn doing some really important work around ‘screen time’ too, and in fact one of the few bodies to be doing so. The Australian game industry is reportedly worth $1.45 billion dollars in 2012.

Why would you invest in games development? Simple. Games are the multi-billion dollar growth industry which can start in your bedroom and take the world by storm. Australia is (unless your are media hermit) known for being great at games. Go and look up some of the most influential games in the last five years … Australian’s are massive. Then consider that many in games also work in social media, marketing, advertising, film and television — so it’s not ONE company or a few grants which government killed off, but a valuable pathway which also includes education and life long learning. It’s hard to dismiss the culturally conservative undertones which focus almost entirely on game content and ignorant of game-play. The embargo-banning of games such as Saints Row is a typical example of not understanding the medium itself. For example, game-play is vital to the experience of a good or bad game, not content which is background (James Gee). Game-play would therefore be critical to medical and military simulations and so on. It will be important to training and education … but the fact that games have zombies and Murdoch hates them is sufficient it seems.

Compare this to the $248 million allocated indoctrination of children by un-trained and deeply culturally filtered people who freely wander into schools, where as media education is still waiting outside. I know massive spending and massive cuts make more sensational headlines, but for Australian gaming, this fund barely got up before it was pwnd.

I am clearly not a fan of neo-liberalism, and as a free minded citizen amazed at any ideology which believes it can legislate, starve or in any way prevent the continued rise of the interactive media entertainment industry globally — and bemusement at the simplistic ‘leaders’ who believe it prudent to dismiss Australia’s contribution so far or the value of this industry into the years set out in their ‘return to surplus’ as though that has any meaning in today’s society.

 

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