Testing Teachers

I have only watched part of the SBS documentary Testing Teachers. A young teacher was trying to teach year 8 science class with a baseball hat-wearing swear bear – while also trying to sort out an on-going social-war between a group of students. Most interestingly, the solution (monitor modelling and role playing) was based around the experience of an other teacher. The incidents on camera were both based on the students’ use of media and devices.

The is a clearly a big problem with students at this age using devices as extensions of their social exploration of the world around them – and the boundaries of behaviour and cultural acceptance. It is utterly naive for any parent to believe that once they have enabled a teen with Instagram, Messenger, Yellow app etc., are not at significant risk of being part of toxic image sharing, group trash talk etc.,

Children are not users of phones. They are active agents in cultural reproduction of media – some of which is not simply negative, but a proving ground for the adult-toxic content and behavior online – and in the work place.

Some are obviously creators of this, some are invited in (and don’t feel like they should declines) and there are more that are more than willing to find this negative and insulting culture amusing. The issue is that the bystanders are also enablers and influencers. They believe as they don’t post, that they are not as responsible as the person who did.

We know that social media is a medium of cultural reproduction. There is also plenty of evidence to suggest that young people have poor judgement when it comes to isolating entertainment fiction from reality. So a child who’s involved is not behaving in isolation from real life. Children who present defiant and challenging behaviors in class – happy to defy instructions, socialise rather than try their best appear (to me) to also be invested in their personal phone. While I’m sure the parents provide it for communications home – they cannot escape the fact that poor phone behaviour and poor classroom behaviour are more than co-incidental.  Of course some kids will directly challenge teachers anyway – but this show’s director UN-intentally showed the link between phones, apps, behaviour and the amount of time schools now invest in dealing with this problem – directly – and the indirect behaviours that result from so called private conversations that spur on behavior, create in-group belief about taste and decency etc.,

I can imagine that the outraged and helicopter parents would instantly say “that teacher needs to control the class”. No, sweetie – control your own behavior. Then walk a mile in the teachers shoes.

 

The problem with Minecraft Edu thinking

The addition of the new Microsoft Coins and Marketplace to Minecraft (public) will soon be something parents will come to hear about. That assumes their child has discovered the game, and already and has figured out how to access the numerous server communities.

It’s usual to ‘donate’ to servers and in return buy ranks (privileges) for often tiny amounts. Eventually, kids get tired of the ‘free spaces’ which tend to be less than stable or come with restrictions, griefers, and officious moderators. Many kids, according to my field work, find online communities which are far more socially-bound – and often provide an environment based on on-going faction based wars and territorial raids on rivals.

Many kids, according to my field work, find online communities which are far more socially-bound – and often provide an environment based on on-going faction based wars and territorial raids on rivals. The level of agency and literacy to participate in these environments is no less complex than any big MMO such as Warcraft. Building skills are needed, but the community space is far from a sandbox.

I seriously doubt Minecraft Teachers using the Educational Edition take this into account. From what I ‘see’, they are happy in their cut-down, teacher empowered solution which removes 90% of what is possible in the actual Minecraft community. However, my concern is not this – but that when a teacher enables their school game, they induct kids into a broad new culture – and take no responsibility for it. Sure, many kids play Minecraft, but there is an ethical dilemma here – you are showing kids a vast online culture, with media (not intended for children) – and leaving them and their parents to mediate and navigate it. When I’ve raised this online, people reply  – MCEdu is the school only world or that they are teaching ‘digital citizenship’. This might be true – but two issues arise – first, there is no research to suggest this is true – as the concept of ‘digital citizenship’ in as vague as ‘digital literacy/ and second, that they fail to address (or even discuss) the teachers role in adequately preparing what I’ll call – inducted players – into not just a game, but a massive online community which comes with both good and bad elements – with no responsibility. Furthermore, we are rapidly finding in research

Furthermore, we are rapidly finding in research, parents have little information on how to mediate games in general, let alone Minecraft. They also don’t make connections between the game culture and readily available game media on sites such as YouTube. Like teachers, the block world, devoid of blood and other anti-social content – seems safe. The fact that public servers are heavily invested in role-playing and imagined situations, from kidnapping to bank robbery isn’t observable.

So while I read so much about how awesome (for teachers) Minecraft Edu is – my challenge to those teachers is that you are being at best nieve and possibly negligent when you induct kids into the Microsoft Marketplace and Coin-grab – and unethical when attempting to ignore or annexe the ‘real game’ culture from that you establish in class. So far, I see no Minecraft Teachers addressing this – because it’s no something they want to deal with – and worse, not presenting any evidence that kids are developing any new skills or understanding – possibly as they have not read enough literature, and far too many tweets.

Inducting kids into Minecraft, means bringing them into the total Minecraft culture (good and bad) – and unlike using Word, writing a blog or some Canvas poster – Minecraft is a MMO/MUVE which comes with the same issues and dilemmas associated with previous spaces – such as Second Life, Ultima etc., Just because it looks like Lego and you can get it running inside a school biome — doesn’t make it okay … but then I’m also are that the echo-chamber of EdTech doesn’t have to take any responsibility for what it pushes onto kids – YET. But as a professional – I argue teachers have an ethical responsibulity to ensure parents and children are adequately prepared for using Minecraft – not just comply with the rules the teacher sets in class.

That’s the spirit

A Tweet from artist Banksy today “Sometimes, we just have to deal with the fact that life doesn’t always go our way, you just have to remain positive.”. Just what I needed after opening yet another depressing email. Here’s a handy motif. I began the week with a Tweet “may the week be pleasant and those in it, kind”.

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Separating this from that.

I’d just like to take a moment to promote my ‘other’ blog called Negotiations of Play. That site really is only about my PhD thesis into family communications around games and closely related media.

I met with a colleague at Macquarie University last week, and part of the conversation was about how difficult it is an educator to separate the current discourses about school and technology, from the PhD interest in games, parent mediation, consumerism.

Part of this plays out here I guess. An on-going frustration with slogans, products, people not reading research – yet having insights into solutions – the end results manifesting in the facts and figures pointing to declining interest in school, falling digital and traditional literacies, increased entertainment time, online bullying etc.,

So I’m going to make the move to push game and parenting posts to Negotiations of Play and maintain this blog in it’s current opposition to what I see as agenda-driven consumeristic classroom culture. While I have always believed digital media technologies can improve learning, I don’t believe in the junk culture and EduCeleb paradox.

I choose to live with the free folk, beyond the glass walls of EdTech. And as this blog has always said – opinions are my own and you’re free to skip this – if you’re a parent or interested in kids, parenting and gaming – head over to Negotiations of Play and subscribe to the free feed.

Why you must get out my workshop and can’t borrow a brush.

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There is a lot of public media attention around #stem (science, technology, engineering, maths). Politicians have been keen to use this to promote the ‘innovative nation’ conception, even announcing the building of ONE school to do it – but evading questions about why aged or burnt down schools are not been addressed. Don’t be fooled, there is a gap between rich and poor, and these days, even private schools have their own gap – some barely cover costs and others charge astronomical fees.

We then have on-going rhetoric about National Curriculum, better teachers and the decline of literacy. Forget that technology has been taught holistically in schools for decades. I mean, no one who ever made anything in workshop encountered electronics, product design, materials, maths, engineering or science … the idiotic view is that #stem is new and going to change the world of education.

Wait, the Technology curriculum still isn’t finished, the Arts curriculum isn’t finished and the Media curriculum doesn’t exist except in the un-appointed and un-verified world of EduCelebs (Yes, it’s a thing that people identify with) – of which 99.9% are not qualified to teach media, art or technology. Ironically, Computing Science was part of Maths and Science, then moved to TAS and since Rudd got all excited about owning his very own laptops, has  handed over to any one who can swipe an iPad. So let’s think … why is there a decline in #stem – because STEM isn’t an innovation in response to contemporary technology, it’s an outcome of bad decisions.

So digital literacy is in decline, media literacy ignores games and 95% of what kids do online (which isn’t stable of the same as 5 years ago) in order to support the factional views of the EduCelebs who love their 3D printers and Geek-brands and the hater/agnostics who either see EdTech for what it has become, or just can’t be arsed to do more than dot-points, hand out photocopies of text books or go to conferences which tell them to step up.

Here’s some news –  art teachers produce 99.9% of all their own resources and technology teachers are filling their car’s with stuff at Bunnings, using their own tools and wondering WTF is going on … why do administrators believe that we’re somehow doing LESS work or have ‘old’ skills and experience? Perhaps we’re all assumed to be irrelevant now, LESS valuable at a time where junk-culture rules – and we genuinely do ‘that face’ then another expert tells us that a ‘cool’ project is to 3D print a foot for a landmine victim. Hang on, we’re just sweeping up these wood shavings, sorry to be so ancient.

Yes we need to teach computing, yes we need equipment – but we also need good equipment, sustainable funding and the agency to do it. This isn’t new. Administrators used to have ‘computer labs’ – places where we had robotics and stuff. That was pulled down to create some crappy-recyled-tinyhouse-loving maker-space. What TAS, Media/Art Teachers are getting pissed off about (experience daily) — is that they remain underfunded and not even part of the new National Agenda … but then we just finger paint and build wooden pencil cases while driving our Utes with peace stickers on the back. Nothing cool about that. No go to the store, see how much tools and art materials cost and ask, why is this not being funded? – Same reason as ever – were raising consumers not craftsmen.

How to rid your teens bedroom of games

I’ve been asked to give a talk to local parents of primary aged students a talk about games. In Australia, parents see games as mostly positive in primary aged years and are more worried about television (if we’re focused on content). When in high-school, parent’s switch this around and often rage against games. The reality is, by the time they hit high school, parents have created a domain in which using ipads and mobile phones to play games is completely normal. As children get to high school age, the ‘tethering distance’ between parent and child expands. Kids used to go off and hang out, but now they can’t – so they ‘geek out’ playing multiplayer games from about year 3 onwards.

There are two factors that drive this. Massive increases in organized sport and after school activities in the last decade (community and commercially driven) combined with longer work hours and soul-sapping commutes to and from for parents. The consumer driven culture works hand in hand with neoliberal political economies. The result is that high school kids, tend to spend more time in their own space – on devices – playing both casual games and hardcore games (I hate those terms) and streaming entertainment to their devices on demand.

Parents say they ‘hate’ games, but have limited experience of them, when they really mean they feel trapped by inexplicable changes in culture and life generally, which doesn’t appear to match the ‘ideal’ being presented by the media, or the selective halo-posts on social media of their friends illusory more fun, more connected, more real relationships.

In the 1980s, video arcades were seen as complementary to television watching. Research at the time disproved media panics about these places being dens of evil-doers, or that games were addictive. In reality, games were driven into the home because arcades competed with retail – movies and shopping in the high street. By 1981, arcade income was over $9billion in the USA alone. It’s not surprising that local business and big business sought to create media panic and create all manner of ‘licenses’ and civic ordinances to drive arcade owners out of business.  Games entered the home as refugees.

Today, games are not going away. They make so much money in the home that 98% of homes play them on a very regular basis. To change the teenage use of games – in which they play with friends and see it as socializing – is to accept be critical of our own involvement in sustaining the economic and social conditions which keep them there. Part of that is the fact teachers act as sales agents for brands – even if they are game-narrow-minded still.

The question is always, how are you going to minimalise and re-adjust family life? Most kids do want to have unstructured play time with family members, they do like camping and hanging out – but the junk-culture we live in is saturated in the ambitions of retail and commerce, not quality time.

It’s hard to dispel almost fifty years of research which shows games are good for learning, but even more difficult to show that Bill Gates (worth $86 billion) has public interest at heart – let alone the rest of the 1%. That might seem far away from your teens bedroom, but the Internet, school and pervasive media make it no more than a click.