My computer is a cat.

I have a cat. It’s semi-friendly most of the time but has a tendency to make demands while appearing to be friendly. It likes to bite when it doesn’t get what it wants – which is hard to know as has cat-communication issues. I still feed it, look after it as best I can and take the occasional happy-rub with the random swipes and bites. The cat doesn’t seem to do this in a pre-meditated manner and if I read it correctly, the follow-up rub is a sign of remorse. The cat reserves this for those who live here, it generally ignores visitors as the cat knows, they won’t feed it. I find myself studying the cat too much, trying to figure out if there is a pattern here, or what triggers it. Overall, I think the cat just likes to do it on impulse as it’s a solitary creature pre-wired to knock things off tables because it can or dissapear for few days on whatever adventure it’s on.

The cat is somewhat predictable. It’s general attention seeking mode kicks in about 10pm when our pack of hounds have found a child’s bed to curl up in and the ground is far safer to walk on. It’s not a big cat and our gun-dogs are more than happy to scoop it up and carry it around until they get bored. Of course, the cat is a fascination to them as it has superpowers. It can leap on any surface and unlike them, is allowed to sit in places they’d be kicked out the house for. It can also vanish into thin air or ambush them from dark corners. I pretty sure the hounds don’t study the cat the way I do, but they too have a weird relationship with it – except the cat’s wise enough not to bite the dog and to high tail it when caught in the open ground.

Most of all, the cat doesn’t care. It care’s about stomach-o’clock, getting the odd pat and being on the high ground – preferably in a food-coma. It doesn’t provide much in the way of service from its lofty existence. We had a rat in the kitchen who ate plastic pipes – the cat didn’t care. There’s no cat-brain connection between other animals and it’s bowl. The humans will fill the bowl on demand. The shallow cat rationale seems to be –  I am a cat and I am here. To the cat, the rest of us are there for one reason – to feed it. It shows up when we unpack the weekly shopping.  I can see it judging us, as it sifts through the bags with disappointment. I’m sure it doesn’t know what it thinks we should bring home or care – but it just likes to maintain a sense of under-whelming gratitude.

I’ve come to think that technology if it were an animal, that it would be a cat. Perhaps in a different time, factories were also cat-empires that we – the working cogs – serve. The difference between the adults of the 1950s and today is that we have a much more demanding, smarter and punitive feline to deal with. I also think that the instant-nature of technology promotes cat-like behaviour in some people. The obvious one being the keyboard warrior – which I am sure is something my cat will evolve to do at some point when it feels the need to mess with people at a distance or we run out of objects for it to knock off shelves or benches.

As I say, I’ve been watching the cat and I’m onto it. I’m also increasingly trying to observe my technological-cat and not be on call to feed it or feel like I have to respond positively when it bites me or decides to be a jerk. I can’t control what people actually do with technology – when they use it; how they use it or what their intent is. It’s a waste of time, other than to accept thinks amazingly appear before me – which the techno-cat would like me to attend to – now. It might genuinely be hungry, but it’s just as likely to be messing with me for its own amusement.

I think our relationships with our inbox is a lot more like having a cat and far removed from our relationships with other humans. It’s hard for us not to pay attention to it – and it doesn’t care about what we think about its demands. The inbox is there to make demands of us, whenever someone feels like it. I’m sure I’m not alone in experiencings a ‘ding’ of an email notice and then minutes later someone says “did you get my email”. Then there are those mass-emails, where dozens of people are saying “did you read THE email” … as though we all get just one a day. Most of my time in my kitty-litter box is trying to get rid of turds to be honest – endless spam that I try to ‘unsubscribe to’. Yes Twitter I’m looking at you.

I’m going to tame the cat-inbox to create a calm inbox. I’m going to give Inbox Pause a go and see if it has any effect on me and others. I am aware that I am also guilty of being a techno-kitty pressing SEND at the end of every technological interaction. So I want to send less in order get less. I have over 30,000 un-read messages. I actually paid $25 to add more storage to Gmail today – which the point I thought – you are an idiot – the cat is running your life.

I’m not so important that I have tons of important email anyway, most are junk as I said, but as a human, I really think that other humans can call me or visit me when things are super-attention worthy. If I convince myself that 90% of inbox messages to various systems I’ve stupidly learned to use – and see as important – are the work of cats – it might just help.

 

 

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Teacher currently afk

One enduring problem with online solutions is that they have to actually be used by teachers for the benefit of students. For example, if an LMS is just a grand-flash-drive in the sky, where a teacher periodically places a few activities, students will have no motivation to engage with it. The result will be learning analytics that show the student has low-participation. This is not the student’s fault. Why would you visit a dead-space to see if a teacher has uploaded another task? This is also true for games – why visit a world where nothing much happens?

If the system is used poorly: no feedback at the point of learning; unmarked work, incomplete grading etc.,- the student is hardly going to value it.

If the teacher relies on the machine to grade the work and set the agenda (endless quizzes) then the machine is the teacher and the teacher just the operator. Where the course is poorly designed, resourced and rarely used by the teacher –  it’s easy to see why the student wouldn’t value it – and find something else to do with their laptop.

There are 5 aver-arching rules for working with any online system

  1. Make a great first impression
  2. Create a course that’s easy to navigate
  3. Make it easy for students to find everything
  4. Let students know what to expect
  5. Keep students informed and engaged

The benefits are also super simple

  • Ease of use of the tool saves time and cognitive energy when locating and using course materials
  • Facilitates student-centered learning

Feedback given as part of formative assessment enables learners to consolidate their strengths, identify their weaknesses  and guides them about the necessary actions in order to achieve the learning outcomes.

Again, using a system doesn’t mean, sticking your practice on auto-pilot and leaving the machine’s algorithms to give students feedback.

Feedback, throughout the course, should be electronic and verbal. It should be:

  • timely: feedback is more effective if it is provided timely since students can still recall how they addressed each assessed task. Timely feedback timeframe is clearly communicated to the students.
  • motivational: feedback may have a positive or negative effect on student motivation and self-esteem. It affects students’ personal feelings which, in turn, affect their engagement in the learning process.  As a result, formative feedback should be empowering and constructive.
  • individual/personal: each student has unique strengths and weaknesses. As a result, in order to be effective and enable students to improve their competences, formative feedback must fit each student’s achievements.
  • manageable: feedback should certainly be detailed enough to ensure that students understand their strengths and weaknesses.

So while we have some very powerful tools, ranging from free to the institutional LMS, they all demand teacher-engagement – not just with the design of the course, but in communication with each student – especially where there are large numbers of students. Systems which shovel ‘work’ and variably issue ‘grades’ but no feedback not only de-motivate and dis-engage students from using the system, but also impact how the students see the class or institution — all of which is well researched.

The bottom line is that all digital tools we are using in pursuit of student productivity, organisation and assessment need to be able to do the above – because the teacher is present in the space.  – so any ‘ghost town’ experience – teacher afk – is something to be avoided at all cost. Students soon work out who is present in online spaces and act accordingly.

Digital PBL – Still light on delivery?

There seems to be no lack of information around ‘Project Based Learning these days. This is good, but also a problem in that information spans several decades. The more recent incarnations, popularised by companies such as New Technology Foundation never really capitalised on Learning Management Systems. The result is a vast amount of graphic organisers, KWL charts and expert-advice, and very little actual ‘projects’ which could be ported from one context to the next.

The advent of better LMS systems promotes using learning analytics as well as a range of tools which can act as project manager, organiser, communicator and most recently, provide learning pathways based on both academic progress and student choice. We are then living at a point in time where no one project suffices: as it’s entirely possible to provide students with several pathways, gamification and tracking.

The LMS can provide both negotiable and non-negotiable learning experiences; wherein protocol based lesson activities can be leveraged into the enquiry, challenge and problem-solving. But where are they? In the case of Canvas’s Learning Commons, it’s a mixed bag of material content – and very little in the way of learning design.

It also takes time to design a project in this way. There is a vast difference between ‘using ICT’ and being able to create a ‘learning design’. Far too many teachers (from what I can see in terms of projects) are handing out a binder of ‘resources’ for students – aka worksheets – and materials. To be honest, this could all be done in an eBook or stuffed on a Flash Drive. The worst designs are simply a scroll of non-wonder where students start at task 1 and end at task Yawn.

Surely we can design learning so that it looks enticing? Surely we can present materials using tools like Canva to at least make it look ‘modern’. I mean, since when did kids see a YouTube video that didn’t have some kind of ‘graphic’ intro. And that leads me to the use of video in PBL courses. Very few examples because it either takes way to long to ‘find’ a video to use or too long to make a video in the zero spare time many teachers have.

So here I am, a decade or more into PBL wondering where the projects are – not just the information about projects. Links and tips welcome!

Super Teachers: Nope.

I know what a super streamer is. Take my go to game, Overwatch. A super streamer is someone who’s pulling half a million views an hour. I also know that the average YouTube subscriber number is about 240, whereas top YouTubers have over 50 million and billions of views. This helps give a context for so-called super teachers with videos that have been accessed 10 million times. What is this metric? Why is it used?

I’d argue a super teacher is a small media player. Khan Academy – the first YouTube super teacher today only pulls about 1.5k views on average, but inspired the trend to create video-content and supply it as a ‘service’ these days – the idea being that ready-made video-content can be streamed to students on a per-user subscription basis.

I am somewhat confused by this.  If all we are seeing is a lecture or spot-content, then why is this considered ‘super teaching’? I for one have spent a decade arguing that ‘content pushing’ might work for ‘remembering’ tests, but in terms of what we can do with ICT today, video lectures are hardly ‘super’ at all.

Using some educational ‘super teacher’ statistics, a content video with 225k views that’s 5 years old – is far from remarkable. A_Seagul will outrun this in 5 minutes of streaming! But then live-streaming and can-o-content are very different beasts. To me, the idea that super teachers are now media hot property with photo-ops for politicians isn’t good for anyone else.

After decades of media innovation, I am really feeling uneasy about the term ‘super teacher’ measured in YouTube views which presents us with video-lectures of essentially one-way content.

This isn’t inspiring me, nor does it reach more than the bottom rung of SAMR and other educational-media theories. It’s not interactive, it’s just stuff. Stuff filmed in HD with a decent low f-stop lens is still just stuff.

I’m clearly not a super teacher. To be honest, I don’t have the time or inclination to make content videos very often and rarely crack 1000 views after a few years. In my defence, I teach art and design, both of which have billions of video’s online, which I can <iframe> into an LMS in seconds. I’m not making content, but shamelessly embed good content from quality sources inside course which I hope do the trick for students.

There are some super-teachers out there. From those who create new schools and new ways to learn, to those who connect with kids every day in unseen and un-celebrated ways – and not measured in views or subscribers.

So I’m not going to swoon if the NSW Premier tells me I’m about to get lucky and meet a super-teacher who’s going to tell me how to ‘flip a classroom’ to get 1.5k views and ascend to the higher ranks.

The problem with low level grinding

As much as I like playing video games, but I really tire of win-one-lose-one grinding that seems ever more pervasive. I get that developers want players to spend time (and money) in their game and not leave – or choose another game. But this seems to have limited appeal in a world where greener-grass is on offer.

Games which grind through fetch quests for days on end to obtain basic resources for hours in the hope that eventually you’ll level up remain popular … but personally, I’m over them.

We all did this in Warcraft, just to get a mount. But times change, they give you one almost immediately these days – and that sucks. The grind seems to offer diminishing returns for old hands when shortcuts are increasingly on offer

We live at a time where we have alternative options to many things in life. In theory, we don’t need to grind through life in the hope that we’ll find something more fun, more rewarding and more meaningful. But life doesn’t have to abide by rules, and people are both logical and illogical – and yet people escape into virtual reality constantly.

In Overwatch, the grind is tiresome. Win a game, lose a game, deal with players quitting, refusing to play other than their favourite hero … which ultimately means those who are flexible, more willing to roll with it – end up losing more often – and don’t have the means to escape the core mechanic.

I wonder if gamification has adopted grinding as it’s core mechanic. What makes something fun and meaningful vs what feels like an endless wheel with terrible loot.

Mr Rudd was wrong about laptops

The role of the teacher has changed since the advent of 1:1 devices and pervasive social media distractions. We used to be worried that students would be a passive audience for online content, then we worried a lack interactive media would render this generation without the skills needed for the real world. We drank the Rudd cordial about every child having a laptop in order to take part in the Digital Revolution.

As a teacher, I often look out at the audience of laptop covers, the flip sides of which were engaged in organising playlists, watching Fornite videos or responding to social-media obligations. The Internet is the backbone of the Instructional Classroom – flipped planning, challenges, rich media and other Woosims have been a feature of lessons for a decade … and yet, the audience seems more distracted than ever.

I am not sure Mr Rudd talked about this when he announced the revolution, and it seems with media articles about the decline of outcomes/results, he might send a few staffers over help monitor the revolution.

Sea of Thieves for Education?

sea-of-thieves-closed-beta-impressions

Sea of Thieves is the years surprise success multiplayer. I’d pull up short of calling it a MMO, it is more an action adventure than MMO, with maps (I think limited to 99 players).

It’s fair to call this a multiplayer sandbox adventure and very worthy of being used with 11-16-year-olds in school – who perhaps don’t like stacking block in Minecraft. In many ways, this game fills a much-needed gap in gamer-teacher brain-space as we move away from digital lego and start to think about games as texts.

The game is very new, but with over 300,000 players in closed beta, the game certainly attracted a big crowd. There are some good easons it’s okay for kids is that it’s Teen/PG, with no more violence than Minecraft and less of an emotional rollercoaster than Fortnite. The other reason is when you die and lose nothing – perhaps what you have on your last voyage, but nothing so terrible that you’ll spend your days managing screaming rage all day over ‘items’. The other useful thing to tame the emotional investment is the relatively low effort needed to gather resources – bananas for heath, wood to fix your ship and cannonballs to do what cannonballs do. Aside from a short wait to respawn, there’s not ‘death tax’ in terms of resource or coin loss.

In the game, the open map is fantastic to look at and listen too. The game does take time to play, as the world is (at firsts) a big place to navigate. Saling with a small crew means working together, and for the most part, it’s easy to get a handle of what ‘jobs’ need doing in different situations. The gameplay is simple enough that you don’t need to mic-up with randoms – and of course, you can get one to three friends to crew with you, which to me makes a great ‘breakout-classroom group.

Going on voyages for gold, magic and materials is fun. Handing in loot is all very old school MMO like. No gun upgrades or better ships – just cosmetic upgrades keeps game play fair. No one has the ‘uber’ gun that destroys everything in its path. So its pretty easy to drop in and out of without investing hundreds of hours. All the loot money can be spent on cosmetic changes. This reward tree won’t appeal to those players who lust after to ‘big guns’ to increase damage or the mega-banana health pack – but Rare say that is the point.

That said, there is little sense of sense of ownership and progress in the game. Yes, you can level up and brag about yourself, but it doesn’t mean much as death has little consequence. The game can feel a bit empty at times, but that’s okay, as you sail around and visit islands looking for treasure. As a PC/Xbox crossover, the game does have glitches, despite the first 9gig patch. There is plenty of talk online about possible environmental upgrades: forts, fog, whirlpools, ten man ships … but it’s far too new to predict. The game has taken off, and the developer (and servers) are playing catch-up.

The core is there: so for kids (and schools) this is a great adventure game which allows time for socialising. There’s no ‘home city’ and no ‘faction’ arrangements, so ‘be more pirate’ is perhaps a fitting slogan. Ownership of items hasn’t been turned into a transferable auction house – which is often fraught with issues and I think this has deterred the ‘ganking class’ of player for whom this low-loss adventure style doesn’t tap into their ‘killer’ behaviour. At times there are foul-mouthed muppets, so its not a game you want kids to play with a mic – unsupervised.

I’d say the game is well suited as a ‘text’ for school. There are so many stories to tell about your adventure, despite the seemingly limited content in the game so far – but it does a solid job at recording reputation and achievements. Like Minecraft, I suspect only a few will wade into the water here for a while – as educators seem to want both a critical mass and an “Education Editon” before adopting much of anything. But if you are a teacher who’s willing to do more than follow the crowd – then SoT is definitely a sandbox for you. If you’re a parent with Fornite and PubG fatigue or want to make that connection with gameplay yourself – this might just be the game that makes that happen.

May your chests be filled with treasure and your barrels full of bananas.