Does information literacy matter?

One recurring problem around the digital is a fundamental omission. Information Literacy (IL) concerns the global shift from Industrial to Knowledge Economies. It is not how well you can use a computer, whether or not children have done a ‘cyber-safety’ class to use Insta or how well they can knock out a PowerPoint about some topic.

Schools have often adopted computers and the Internet at the expense of libraries, lowering costs and re-using space for other activities. Information is often widely available at marginal cost, but Information needs to be updated continuously and quality can deteriorate rapidly online. I’ve often seen teachers ‘searching’ for that nugget-resource to give students, but don’t appear to teach them to find their own.

IL is therefore about a shift in school thinking about ‘durability’. In the Industrial Economy, materials are usually stable and do not deteriorate over time. Schools tend to see IL as less durable than physical books, photocopiers, chairs and tables.

Aside from the skills needed to operate devices (not just phones and laptops) are two critical personal-traits: Do students recognise their information needs (how do they articulate them, what domains do they identify as most/ least important and how do they;  locate and evaluate the quality of information. Given young people are often immersed in information-cultures (another variable) – it’s very difficult to try and draw a line between what information literacies school subject require (often basic) and what they are going to need in the rest of their life. At the heart of this is not whether a teacher as ‘done the training’ but their understanding (and action) of knowledge.

Loveless and Longman (1998) have argued ‘that information literacy for teachers is more than competence and capability in information retrieval and presentation, but requires awareness of the ideological, cultural, epistemological and pedagogical practices in which these capabilities are developed.’ While this is some 20 years ago, it still rings true. Where students are engaged with teachers who demonstrate effective IL practices, they model the knowledge economy. Where their students are primarily filling out worksheets or making yet another poster or cardboard box model, they remain locked into the Industrial Economy.  This isn’t about belief about IL, it’s about twenty years of research which continues to argue the vast majority of teachers make little use of information sources and rely primarily on their senior managers and on informal exchanges of ideas with peers to ‘put’ ICT into the classroom and don’t see IL as a continuum of skills and knowledge to actively teach. Instead we see binary debates about banning phones, whether games are good, or which buy-in product will give a half decent assessment of literacy etc..,

So yes, I think digital matters – but Mario’s probably searching the wrong castle.

 

Loveless, A. and Longman, D (1998) Information Literacy: Innuendo or insight? Education and Information Technologies 3 (1) 27 – 40.

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Clocking up the hours

A recent research report argues teens spend 1200 hours a year on social media (Facebook, YouTube and other social media channels). This, of course, does not include the time they spend gaming or streaming TV. The study claims the constant connection to social media was also linked to bullying, trolling and lower self-esteem.

In addition to this, the study did not account for time they potentially spend online at school, either at the direction of the teacher or covertly checking in. It would seem plausible that such a deep and compelling behaviour to pick up the phone while watching TV, eating dinner, walking around etc., isn’t somehow set aside during their six hours a day at school.

The problem is very real. Young people/students increasingly live in separate worlds, do not understand each other’s perspective, or are even unaware of it, which is paradoxical given their access to information.

Empty Pockets

I felt sad today when I had to tell someone I could not afford to go on what I believe would be an amazing trip next year. I only wish I could, and to be honest, it was all a bit weird watching other people try and come up with ways I could swing it, then trying to downplay missing out to make me feel okay. Some of them I didn’t know that well, so it was a bit difficult having to own up as being less-wealthy than perhaps they thought.

A natural decline.

I read an article which suggested that Minecraft Edu was out of new ideas with declining sales. Initially, as I was around at the time, this application was simply a series of mods The actual game was modded in such a way that main power was given to teacher along with tool which made it easier for them to regulate children and giving them Prêt-àPorter content and designs. Most of the videos posted about this educational version saw a teacher as the locus of control and the students as actors in the scene created.

I totally understand the potential business model here, and of course, with the buyout by Microsoft, the Edu Edition became a well rounded, promoted and supported product (as long as you also had Windows 10). Now, it is apparently stalled. There is no obvious replacement game to be modded and no new ideas in the Edu game it seems.

I never saw any value in the Edu edition, but plenty of people did. When Edu conferences talk about games, 99% of that is Minecraft Ed. So it’s been a rousing success for the developers so far. At the same time, games have expanded rapidly in children’s culture – yet classrooms remain barren. E-Sports, which is well regarded as a fast-growing, multi-billion dollar industry remains ignored by education as a valid pathway for learning or as a career, despite numerous traditional sports being over-saturated with potential players (those with a probable pathway to a career) and other sports which have no real career pathway due to a lack of national and international take-up. Yet children are still presented with these things as being more valid than E-Sports in their early teens. I’m sure if you love a particular sport, you don’t care if it’s a minority sport that won’t allow you to do it full time later in life. In many ways, established sports are, like Minecraft Edu, out of ideas when it comes to attracting children to take them up over the long term, but there’s often no alternative that appeals to schools.

I read some recent research on children’s digital life. It argued that children routinely break the suggested 2-hour use rule that is claimed to be the healthy limit. It also said that adults are aware of the rule, but don’t insist on applying it to children. In teenage years, there’s a split in what children choose to do with their media-time. Girls are four times more likely to be engaged in social media (esp Instagram) than boys, who by the age of 12 are well and truly more interesting in gaming – across multiple devices and platforms. It also suggested that boys were far more likely to be communicating in-game than girls and dominate the voice-channel – which stacks up in my experience.

So the question right now is not which games are good for children (and learning) as Gee said a decade ago, but at what point in children’s development do we acknowledge their preferences and create avenues for them to explore in a meaningful way – accounting for the growing research which argues gender differences play a massive role in screen-time choices and how they then activate that screen time experience into something that provides a positive, useful and meaningful pathway through the teenage years.

I don’t believe the ‘waiting for Superman’ behaviour is healthy. There is not going to be a new edu-game that appeals equally to girls and boys – and placates teacher belief or understanding of games and game cultures. Historically, all edu-games have been short-lived and commercial failures. Perhaps Minecraft Edu has simply ridden the ‘game wave’ at the right time — but is now failing to attract new teachers as the adoption curve predicts.

Why not engage kids based on their interests. If you have a few kids who are actually good at a game, then encourage it – as you do with a kid who’s half decent at cricket or rugby. For those who just like to play the game, well, there’s plenty of reasons (evidence) to suggest that games foster the core-values most people want – such as sportsmanship, communication, critical thinking and teamwork. What makes the material output of the game more important than that?

History shows that single-ideas decay in the face of new ideas and competition. Unique propositions are fraught with problems if they cannot re-invent themselves or alienate their first-adopter audiences. It’s also very hard to retreat to the ‘glory days’ if the audience and consumers have moved on. Right now, this is Minecraft Edu’s core problem – children have moved on in terms of what they are interested in, what parents allow and how family systems work. Teens are not playing Minecraft because parents allowed that, but banned something else. Teens are playing Fornite, Overwatch, COD, GTA, LOL, CSGO and are tuned into Twitch. This cultural shift presents Minecraft Edu with the age-old problem in gaming — how to remain relevant in shifting media landscape.

Why are schools still playing Minecraft Edu – because that is the extent of their investment and belief about games and E-Sports. It’s often the sole game allowed – which is perhaps better than nothing to a bored-teenager. Like many minor sports, Minecraft Edu has no obvious pathway – and yet the belief is that it’s good for children, whereas Fornite is bad. It will be interesting to see how Minecraft Edu overcomes the reported decline … and whether or not schools start to think about something more.

Inspired vs tired edu-talks

Over the last decade or so, I’ve been at many education gatherings where people have talked about what makes learning better and what changes should be made to achieve that end. Without a doubt, there are three underlying principles the speaker uses in motivating and inspiring the audience. This is in contrast to those who rarely speak or simply mirror the discourse by responding to what they think the hierarchy wants to hear. Whether at a teach-meet or some grand affair, we all remember those speakers who inspire action because they frame their discussion as a genuine scholarly interaction in which they demonstrate respect for others as fellow professionals.

First, they speak about trust. As all teachers are at least under-graduates and have chosen a difficult and challenging profession, they recognise the responsibility teachers should be carrying as part of their professional code. By responsibility, I mean the teacher’s ability what they can do or are willing to learn to make the lived experience better for everyone in the community and what their response is when provoked to take up the new challenge, idea or method. They know a good teacher’s response will the to activate their ability because they trust the organisational logic and they are trusted in return. It becomes immediately apparent which speakers can activate this through their story-telling, seeking to elicit ideas and insights from other teachers in the room which they can readily relate to and infuse into the discussion – giving a sense of context rather than speculation.

Secondly, they avoid speculation and bar-stool theories. They use technical language and theories to underpin their arguments and give examples of in-situ applications that don’t rely on the audience’s imagination and representations. They might start with a thesis question to explain how came to know this; what it means for them once they became aware and how they have applied this into situations to which the audience can immediately relate, careful not talk ‘at’ the audience in a manner that appears to be a set of demands (disarming and dominating) or to establish themselves as more powerful. The kind of ‘do this because if you don’t then X is going to happen’. This element allows them to converge their ideas and work with that of the audiences – no matter where the audience is on a timeline of awareness or adoption.

Third, they do more than skim Twitter or TED talks for the big ideas. Most educators know all theories have a canon of work, a history of ideas and actions. They can tell the difference between speculation and demands from theories and methods. They are obviously not just talking, but are reading close material to develop their ideas and are critically aware that no one or two people own the idea, but stand on the shoulders of others, filling in the gaps or adding some new insight. There’s nothing wrong with being an n+1 thinker but everything wrong with chasing butterflies or echoing social-media bandwagons.

Lastly, anyone wishing to lead teachers to new ideas has an active voice and understands informational cultures. They know that information is not locked in the room, that nothing they say can’t also be discovered through the Internet. They may or may not be active on social media — but they will have a history in creating and curating information about their topic, their passion and what they see as their mission. It goes without saying that they will point the audience to these resources and invite further discussion well after the gathering. They know, as Seth Godin famously said – that people want you to lead them, and that followers and fans are so much more valuable that subordinates and conscripts. I guess it’s easy to tell someone to do something, but much harder to convince them if the landscape around the idea seems empty or a collection of replications.

Teachers are constantly under pressure to comply with the demands of authorities. They live in real world where time is finite and their lives are constrained by very real socio-economics and these two factors alone guide how they think, feel and act towards the concept of ‘responsibility’. There are things they simply can’t do unless they are trusted, given clear scholarly resources and have on-going access to people who have demonstrated they are worth following in pursuit of these goals. Where goals become vague, optional or speculation, the response is either to do nothing new (nod and pretend but with little idea on how to take action) or as a follower and fan of one or more ideas – validate what you’re hearing with those who they already trust. The latter is the new paradigm for organisations – people follow those who inspire and nurture their professionalism authentically. It takes only a moment to ping their network and validate just about anything and anyone.

I take my hat off to great-speakers, they are critically are of both the corporeal and digital hybrid environments we call ‘education’. They cannot fool the audience all the time, or even some of the time because validation is a click away. They have to demonstrate they have a reputation and credibility in the digital-sphere – something that doesn’t happen overnight – and they have to connect their unique ideas and insights to the canon of work in that area, as well as continuing to read, watch and talk about new ideas, projects and people.

The bad ones have nothing new to say. These are the ones who have five powerpoints on rotation or trotting out the same old stories (often utopian and opinion based). I guess there’s still an audience for that, given the number of people who seem to eek a living from it – but I suspect very little of their speculation and word-salad connects with their audience, such that they can inspire such a shift in thinking, a hunger for better, nothing will now stop that person changing what they see as their responsibility to be a better teacher and colleague. Once they enter the personal-digital-connected sphere of digital discourse around their idea … then they too become part of the informational shift.

Sometimes, this speaker only has to say a few sentences to achieve this … I’m glad to have had that experience on many occasions … and hope to keep having them because new ideas won’t come from re-cycled dogma.

Fornite: Parent’s breathe easy.

Recent media focus on Fornite has been successful at re-igniting old tropes about the decline of youth, falling grades and parental frustration that 2018 can’t be like 1988. This narrative has helped editors revisit their own declining content which has resulted from an exodus of readers and failure to attract game company revenue for their essential advertising income.

But Fornite is not doing so well. Firstly, the player base is largely pre-pubescent teens who drop in an out with no commitment and no loss for losing. The conversations are largely about in-game purchases, rather than how in-accurate the guns are. No FPS adult player sticks around for long (unless they really can’t aim) as the gun-play is horrible. Epic then nerf these things making the already bad guns worse which further discourages any kind of long-term skill development. For those who drop in and out, this is okay — as the game mechanics remain horrible and will change next week.

The decline is here in terms of a boom and bust. On console, crossing the $300 million in revenue mark is astonishing and reflects the young player base and their ability to install free-to-play games. In March, the game grew by 77%, in April, 33%, but overall the game’s grown by 7%. The challenge is how to entertain the player base with exponential growth – and the answer seems to be in skins and in-game purchases, rather than improving or fixing the gameplay. Not a bad way to earn $300m. In contrast, the ‘fad’ game Pokemon Go has not died out, and pulling over $100m in earnings still with the highest player base it’s had since 2016.

In terms of player tastes, it’s worth looking at what gamers are watching. As part of the top 10 games viewed on Twitch, Fornite has dropped significantly from its peak in March, dropping 50% by June and that continues. It’s not to say that Fornite isn’t fun for those who enjoy it, but it hasn’t exactly wiped out the competition for players or viewers — and of course COD and BF are about to release new titles which include Battle Royale mechanics.

With 125 million players (active, casual or dropped) the challenge for Epic is immense – competing with PUBG is one thing, but taking on COD, BF, Overwatch and LoL who have all reacted to the challenge — isn’t going to be easy in a game which rose from it’s free-to-play pitch and microtransactions. With parents increasingly reading negative media about the game, statistically dropping interest from its core player base — any ‘new’ Fornite will require access to those parental coffers to bring in the V-Bucks. The competition, especially Activision are grand-masters at this and have escaped media attention for the entire year.

I’m not saying the game is dead. I know people said Pokemon Go is dead – but it’s not. What Fornite has achieved is massive. It’s further opened parental wallets on behalf of young players who don’t seem to mind the game-play is crap unpredictable when there’s loot to be purchased and bragged about in 5th grade classes.

The rest of the year will be very interesting as the big-lads launch new products. It’s great if you’re a gamer, but perhaps not so great if you’re a die-hard Fortnite player.