The unGamed Classroom

I will freely admit that I have no time for SocMediaEdu types anymore. It’s like watching a weird cabaret featuring the neo-Von Trapp singers. I wince at the ego driven need to be at the ‘cool’ conference, simply to churn our a  cover of someone else’s song. ix years on from Minecraft’s initial steps into

Six years on from Minecraft’s initial steps into game-culture, some teachers  are now using it to advance their acclaimed innovator persona, who can ‘show’ other teachers how to integrate it into the syllabus in their classroom. Of course, you can. Who am I to argue?

Well actually I will argue against this because on the scale of what is needed – what can be done – and what IS being done, it’s feckless. What we students need, especially as they start high school, are teachers who can provide an evidenced based media-education in Stage 3, which expands in Stage 4 and 5 with an obvious and deliberate articulation into their studies and work practices in Stage 6. I think Jenny Luca has been working on this for over a decade – so there are good examples, but Jenny never rode the wagon to do this and has had to fight tooth and nail for it. You can see this in her blog which goes back numerous years. Lasting,

Evidence-based improvement isn’t built off a pithy or snarky Twitter account, nor playing the most popular game in children’s entertainment (oh the irony).

Schools need to start their functional ‘digital’ skills development in Kinder with a well set out program that is well communicated the whole learning community. That means keyboard skills, discussions about the fundamentals of interactive media – including entertainment media. Schools need teachers who can create, chart and support a progressive program of ‘apps’ which develop communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking — and not ones which attempt to ‘simplify’ the teaching process or swap paper and books for digital text and screens.

I have time for novelty. Games are unique and any fool claiming they are integrating Minecraft has missed the entire point. Even worse, there are those claiming to do PBL who are then ‘gamifying’ it with technology. Take Class Craft for example: loots MMORPG culture and delivers a faux-behaviour system. Doesn’t take into account the mindset of middle schoolers and is passed off as a tool for teachers. It’s another creepy tree house, another deadly sin of the forced education system.

I’m talking here about kids, mostly between 10 and 14, who learn best through interaction, play and being allowed explore in ways that allow them to learn about the social and physical world around them. Kids who are not broken or disadvantaged and those for which school and society so far, has not failed them or their parents and community. Part of their daily choices could well be to use a game like Minecraft to express themselves and their understanding of the syllabus demands. It does not signify a post-modern education nor that the teacher is a rebel who’s shredding the cultural-norms and prepared to fly the bird to the establishment. In fact, I’d argue there are numerous principals and executives who use these rebels as part of their own frustrated identity as a counter-culture school leader – with an eye on higher office. Bollocks, the rules for accreditation, for maintaining school records and other modernist paraphernalia have not changed – and Minecraft

Bollox, the rules for accreditation, for maintaining school records and other modernist paraphernalia have not changed – and Minecraft won’t change it either.

My beef is that there are precious few hours in school to allow ‘play and exploration’ and these must compete with much more mundane foundational skills – typing, logging on, remembering your email, resetting passwords and other boring system-driven literacies which are part of the technological society. This is the job of teachers at the baseline of primary school – and most do it very well. Then we have libraries who have always been the vanguard. You only have to attend a library teacher event to see that they are +2 years in front of the twitterari and have been since 42 things was put online a decade ago.

Libraries are great places to play. Librarians can synthesise play – they understand education and information theory wth the skills and resources to make a trip to the library amazing . In the last decade, and around the world, it’s libraries which have done the best work in educational gaming.

My point is that games are part of the broader interactive entertainment industry, and few games have successfully been converted or shovelled into educational settings. The educational world doesn’t have a sufficient supply of Peggy Sheehy and Lucas Gillispie types, but it does have numerous cover-acts these days. Again, Peggy and Lucas have neen doing this for over a decade and didn’t stand on anyone’s shoulders to do it. There is a constant need to find ‘new’ games, and ‘new’ ideas and sadly this is getting harder to see as the stream is overflowing with cover-bands.

Today’s 10-14 year olds know games. Over 70% of kids play them on a daily basis in Australia. Prescribing ‘game play’ such as ‘use Minecraft to” type teacher-crap has no effect on their attainment (happy to see evidence) whereas providing time for ‘media education’ does. And by that, I don’t mean ‘cyber safety’ and ‘risk’ which is learning  about ‘the internet’ and ‘cyber weirdo/haters’ with fear, loathing and drudgery.

If you want kids to play Minecraft, just put it on their iPad or computer and let them connect. Don’t ask why and don’t prescribe what to do. If you are any good at teaching, then the kids will by choosing their own expression and building their own agency. They will choose or not choose to select Minecraft and will be able to defend their choice. Anytime I see kids using the same app at the same time – I know that the essential voice and choice – a founding principle of enquiry – has been sold-out for teacher driven hubris. I’ll put money on the fact they are tweeting about it and will be using those kids to boost their ego at some conference too.

The unGamed classroom uses game techniques at times where the teacher sees contextual opportunities – because they have studied and played games most of their lives – like Lucas. It’s not something they need to think about, it’s something they can just do because they have the knowledge, insight and skill to do it. On the other hand, there are those who Tweet their ass off about how cool they are … and they are part of the problem.

We have a screen-time problem. Teachers are un-regulated and un-accountable for the time they insist kids spend using them. They claim they ‘have a balance’, but few schools or departments actively keep records and consider the most recent research findings and recommendations. Kids love games like Minecraft – but not all kids, and not all kids find them relaxing or fun. Some become anxious because their parents are anxious — and the home is already a place where arguments about game-time is a common event.

I can’t say this enough right now – schools need a media-education strategy, not a technology policy – and were all just at the BEGINNING of figuring out that that is. Or at least we should be. Over in the corner, some teachers are messing about with games and tweeting about it, and that is disruptive — but not because they are cool-punk neo-leaders, but because they are wasting kids time.



2 thoughts on “The unGamed Classroom

  1. Here’s the thing though… If what we need is a media education focus, and you concede that we’re just at the beginning of figuring out how to do that, why all the raging here about how people are doing it wrong? Whenever we’re at the beginning of something like this, there’s lots of trial and error. If you really believe that ‘doing things in Minecraft’ is just repeating old teacher-led pedagogy and interfering with curriculum coverage… well, don’t you think it needed to happen in order to provide a case for critique?

    I think a little more critical friendship and a little less ‘us and them’ is in order when after all, we’re all on the same team here i.e. the ‘please don’t need scared of technology, look what it can do!’ team. Without a certain level of excitement, change will happen that much more slowly.

    • I am not raging Kelly, aside from this culture that seems to believe commercialism requires scrutiny later. There are plenty of established discussions around the issues of developing a well rounded media education – David Buckingam being the most obvious person. We have been here for over a decade … all that appears to happen is a relative few make money – money which could be applied to something else.

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