Peer Assisted Learning and SackBoy

I have strayed from the path – and this post I returns to the games and – professional development of teachers. Yey!

In this post I want to look at why teaching Twitter is problematic. I also want to talk a little about why using games in learning grabs the attention of learners (adults included). Hopefully, you might be able to use some of the thinking in your own PD sessions.

Peer Assisted Learning

Much is written about the value of Twitter as a personal learning network — aka PLN.

For those presenting in workshops, one of the hardest concepts to explain is how a mass public access social network fits into education.

Many previous encounters of the digital kind have been designed for educational environments. Attendees have never needed to adapt any commercial offering to an edu-instance before. It has been provided at the institutional level – WebCT, MyClasses, Blackboard, Moodle and the all powerful Portal. Your audience is not motivated, but questioning – as you churn through your slide-deck of choice.

Your audience will be confused by notions of ‘networked learning’ – where learning happens formally between participants, inside a walled-garden, and have been told to value privacy and security.  As their conflicted minds and folded arms try to reconcile the impact (to them) of adopting and adapting your ad-hock, public communication — they are in fact deciding critically whether you are are a genius or a lunatic – challenging their belief.

It is advantageous to align Twitter academic ideas around peer assisted learning (PALS) which is widely accepted as a sound learning strategy. PALS develops a trust network … and your audience has absolutely no need for what you are offering them, unless you have created that value proposition for them.

Ideas need selling, not just explaining.

Twitter is an example of a peer assisted learning platform, that connects people with similar interests and goals. It offers ad-hoc communication entirely at the users discretion.  Participation requires us to send and receive information presented by trusted peers. Success requires on-going and meaningful discussions with global peers on key issues in practice”.

If you ping the Twitterverse live – it looks impressive, but so would pulling IWB out your ear. It says that you have a magical power they don’t.  You can bling up your powerpoints all you like – but don’t miss the under pinning reagent needed to get the change in behaviour you are after.

Why kids use PALs to play games.

Think about games and MMOs – they run on peer assisted learning. PALS is at the heart of the motivation that game designers understand so well. The initial stages of play are semi-autonomous with the game provides guided instruction. Very quickly, players gain the basics and start to work together to solve their first problem – with little ‘in game help’ … very soon, they rely on each other to help them overcome new challenges – that are un-predicted. (Isnt’ that how we use Twitter? – Part learn, part belonging and part fun)

Pre-school, primary and secondary learners have a constant exposure to PALS with technology.

Watch 4 and 5 year olds with their NintendoDS, they immediately look to co-opt. It’s a human instinct to find collaboration and belonging. Strength in numbers or a friend in need. Ever wondered why a 4 year old is happy to watch an 8 year old play a Wii for 3 hours – they are learning and supporting the player — their turn will come. Mobile phones provide the same function – but at a more sophisticated level. This is why 4th graders can reach Level 80 in Warcraft, or nail a new console game in a weekend – peer assisted learning is central to today’s digital-learner.

Using Sackboy to explain PALS

If you want adults to ‘get’ PALs, let them level for an hour using Sony’s Little Big Planet. Teachers don’t engage in collaborative learning with technology – so it is no shock they don’t do it in class. If you play a game that required them to use PALS then you they are actively re-thinking their belief. Little Big Planet is great for this on PS3, but you can do it with Nintendo DS and a cheap quiz game too. Let them figure out what to do, how it works, how to hook 4 players into session … after 20 minutes they will be able to reflect on it – even more so if you record them playing and highlight teachable moments.

Once they accept that PALs is a viable teaching strategy – then you have a meta-cognitive basis upon which you can now start to explain Ning, Elgg, Twitter – or anything else.

Thanks SackBoy.