My Learning Exchange

My Moodle Course site – for my high school students is here.

My WordPress Blog Network – for my high school students studying DS106

Negotiations of Play – If you are an Australian family with kids under 13, you can add to my research! and find out more about parenting kids who play video games.

My personal blog – started in 2006ish is a decade of me talking about technology and education is still online here.

Find me on Twitter @Type217

Stuff you should know about this blog (and me)

This blog, it’s contents and ideas might not agree with your own. In such a case, I suggest you skip it. This work has no connection to my employers (past and present). My interest is in imagination, creativity, video games, parenting and using technology to creating imaginative, enquiry based learning.

Big thanks for Jim and Tim at Reclaim Hosting for helping me out after disastrous experiences recently with previous provider. Reclaim specialist in educational hosting, so give them a try..

The perils of using levels

I hear teachers talking a lot about using the idea of levelling from games in their classrooms. The basic idea being that students complete a set of activities sufficiently to ‘level up’ to presumably harder work or for a reward. This is like designing a learning activity on the idea that a Rom-Com usually has a happy ending.

I don’t want to overly gamesplain this .. but simply to offer  two ways of thinking about how levels can work. Both work, but the SOLO Taxonomy is probably better known – and has Blooms-like verbs to help guide the sequence.

triarchic-theory

solo-taxonomy-with-verbs

If you are going to have students set out on an enquiry, the trick is to set each level up so that students can work through several activities which operate at these levels. The more able will quickly run over the lower levels, and those less able will have sufficient foundations to try relational and extended abstract. So levels are really about setting up learning such that whatever they are finding out moves from fuzzy and isolated to concrete and abstract – to a new situation – even if its visual arts!

Why I’m quitting Facebook

I joined Facebook a very long time ago. I think it was about 2005. I remember I was on teaching prac at Kingswood High School. I joined and didn’t see the point and  left it alone for many years. I didn’t really need it – and now, over a decade later, I really don’t need it.

Stephen Downes recently ditched Facebook, I think it was because he’s sick of the advertising and selecting display algorithm, but I was too busy scrolling to pay attention. I find myself posting images of cars to random groups with people who reward me with a thumbs-up. What am I doing? I’ve lost my mind. I’m reading people’s questions about cars and rarely are they answered, other than people who scold them or hijack the post to talk about themselves.

Perhaps a better term for Facebook is “The books of social judgement” as I’m even finding people I am close to – and talk to IRL – adding snark or being confused about what or why I’m posting. I think I’m posting because I’m bored and in my late 40s. No seriously, I think it’s a thing. Secondly, on many corners of the Internet—comment sections, forums, even Tumblr and Twitter to some degree—interactions take place mostly with strangers.

I don’t like strangers as rule, it’s just something that I’ve never been interested in IRL. I like to meet people – I’m not a shut-in, but there’s a difference between meeting a new human and a Facebook stranger. I think that many people I ‘know’ – ie have actually met and had a fun time with are on Facebook. Most of them don’t seem to post anything. On that basis, I’m an oversharer then. I seriously wonder – who the f**k cares – about whether my kids doing this or that? and why am I posting it? It makes no sense.

Then there is the relentless ‘sponsored’ crap that shows up – stuff my ‘friends’ apparently like. So far, research hasn’t established why people use websites like Facebook in ways that promote or harm interpersonal relationships – so no one knows what it’s doing to us.

At school, I’m so over Facebook social dramas. I think most of the kids are being hammered all day by messages from people they know and ‘friends’ online. The ‘fear of missing out’ compels many to pay Facebook that kind of attention most humans would welcome – and we can’t pay each other attention if we’re paying Facebook. Literally, we are paying is so many ways — and I for one have just grown tired of it. It is like a needy, yet pompous neighbour that just can’t keep off your lawn. Facebook is not cool – it’s as cringe-worthy as David Brent – and I don’t need that.

I can look up car shows. I can visit car forums and I can go visit humans I know. It’s nice to know people I used to know are alive – but I don’t need to know what they are doing, or the dramas and crap they are going through – between some marketing campaign slogan. So I’m out of it. Anyone who would like to come over for a beer or a drive … give me call. I’m not alone in quitting Facebook – there are plenty of reasons to drop it – all I had to do was look away.

Facebook is a timewaster. What I want to get out of this choice is to use the same time and energy into simply being myself, or a better version of me – the one with a PhD and spending weekends at the track.

 

For Omran

 

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Omran Daqneesh

 

It is so easy to get caught up in the luxury of our own lives and forget that most of us live at a level of privilege and assurance that is denied so many fellow humans. I’m not overly wedded to political or religious ideology for the simple reason that power is easily abused.

This is probably one of the most powerful images of the year. Omran Daqneesh sitting alone after being woken up by Syrian/Russian airstrikes. Read his story here. He’s still lucky … over 250,000 people have died in the five years of ‘war’.

It so easy for us (the Australian) living in a country which is regularly cited as one of the best places to live with cities that are usually top ten in the liveability rankings that some privileged bureaucrats got paid to dream up. It’s easy for me, as a teacher to stick to the narrative and blindly focus on the dot-points and not make children aware of what power-enabled adults are capable of – and are doing. Sure kids want what they want and will have a moan if they don’t get it, but it’s well worth reminding ourselves that the number one thing we adults have to teach children is that power is dangerous, it is constantly used to devastating effect on people with no power – at the very moment we are complaining about our iPhones being low on battery or not being able to sit with our friends.

So I put this on my classroom wall, and just left it – I hope that Omran survives and is able to enjoy a life as luxurious as mine. As to the people who did this in the name of politics, religion or nationalism. Be ashamed.

McPokemon

As posted previously – where Pokemon Go is an exploratory shopping and rewards app – not an actual game in the minds of it’s owners – I am hereby actively predicting that you’ll be spinning for burgers in a certain white faced clown’s ‘family restaurant’.

Hashtag – buy them all.

Games are not stable: Is this a problem for teachers?

Following on from my post on Pokemon Go! which contained a few plus and minus points for school use, I thought its worth also raising the issue of ‘versioning’.

Commercial games react to numerous factors in their design. The portability and ease of distribution via online ‘update’ technologies allows them to significantly change features of the game – or delete them entirely with little or no notice to players. For example, Go! removed the ‘tracker’ all together in it’s first update – because it didn’t work. This feature was supposed to let players know how far away the creatures are. There was a backlash from players on Twitter, but never the less, the update removed it. Some players reported being reset to level 1 with no recovery options and the radar of interaction was dropped by some 30 meters.

Decent teachers don’t make up lessons overnight, but develop units of work which are released over a year or more. For those using games, the selection of ‘which game’ should therefore be based on a set of core-archetypes (collecting, organising, sharing etc.) and not designate “features” of the game, as they are likely to change.

I think Go! is a fun game, but also over-rewards players for time-spent rather than any critical thinking. As a game, it doesn’t require high-order thinking. Players are rarely punished, other than being forced to wait or walk. The taxonomy of collecting is simple to learn too, but so far has little hint of inter-player trading or battles away from portals gyms with other players. I hope we get there, but right now, it’s not.

The ‘fun’ factor is important, but so too is the depth of reasoning and critical thinking that is required in a constellation of other titles, many of which require the player to develop the ability to create and organise information and materials in a taxonomy – or battle other players. In many ways, Go! is an oddity in the genre of a casual-game, in that it uses GPRS and looted the Ingress geo-location database, rather than come up with a system in which players could collect and become ‘portal’ makers themselves. Given the volume of players in comparison to Ingress – there doesn’t appear to be a reason not to do allow this in terms of ‘fun’ or ‘leveling’, but rather an experiment in getting players to move to a particular space for a particular time.

The updates do make the game harder, in the sense that less information is available to the player, which means they are likely to spend more time and ‘browse’ the area more than last week. If this was a shopping-reward app, then it’s not hard to see why this would be useful and why allowing players to make ‘portals’ would be far less attractive.

So while many teachers (inc me) have explored the game in class with students, we still have a responsibility to children – over and above fun. Right now, there is very little being said by Nintendo or their partners about the road map and that’s a problem for programming quality learning episodes. Unlike Minecraft, Go! has a much smaller ‘core’ to work with – and zero community involvement (remember Minecraft was built on user-mods and Ingress on user created geo-location portals, using a taxonomy of tools (power-ups, attack and defend, charge and re-charge, with an global ‘chat’ system and a two-faction ‘war. It even allowed ‘missions’ to be created by players for players.

Go! has none of this – but is clearly very popular, and already the Edu Hashtaggers are having outdoor-meet ups (with other teachers) about it- but is that really enough for it to be chosen over other games in the limited time teachers have available for ‘play’ so far?

It seems that the decades of research into games isn’t getting to the teacher-audience at the professional level it needs to and in many ways (to me) Go! is backward move towards the tragedy of EdTech – homogeneity and casualising complex things rather than having — a robust media/technology — evidence based approach to games and muves. But Go! get’s attention and is fun, so for now – it’s worth watching, but personally, it doesn’t warrant 10 hours of my precious class time, because the taxonomy of games-in-learning simply doesn’t support un-cooked and unstable commercial offerings – even if they are popular. Go! has to be part of bigger agenda if it is to be more than the new Google Wave.

 

Pokemon Go re-ignites ‘addiction’ debate – and it’s wrong.

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Saying Pokemon Go is fun – is like saying jogging uses energy. Most people, including me, are pro-fun and play. In this post, I want to look at why you shouldn’t re-subscribe to the ‘addiction’ debate about video games, simply because this game has become VERY popular in a few weeks – and I’ll set out my reasons why parents and kids are enjoying it.

Games rise and games fall. Pokemon Go is no exception to this reality. Nintendo’s current success spells the final-death-nail for toy-games such as Disney’s Infinity. While not connected, the rise of Pokemon Go enphasises changes in consumer reception to digital games. The  once massive toy game market in which parents bought physical plastic Skylanders, LEGO Dimensions and Infinity has paved the way for games like Go!.

I’m injecting this here – because my argument is that Pokemon Go is an evolved version of ‘collecting’ which appeals to a huge numbers of ‘latent’ playing adults and has made a connection between parents-children that other games (toy games, Minecraft etc.,) have achieved – but to a much higher level. As I’ll explain, games which allow children and adults to have a shared taxonomy are seen (by parents) as media worth having and playing.

Nearly all games are designed to be fun and play cannot be separated from  human behavior. Pokemon, like all games, requires the player to engage with a set of  rules which require particular human behavior to be applied to it. Let’s take a simple Pokemon ‘goal’ to be in a Pokemon Gym. Within hours of playing (and talking about) the game, players become attuned to the idea that these locations are split into factional ownership and there are player-elites which have more power than you – right now. In order to become elite requires hours and hours of what MMO players would call ‘grinding’. Repeating simple behaviors – the most significant ones being – spend many hours engaged with it and move to specific locations to for more reward that you might currently be receiving.

Pokestops are not ‘owned’ in the way they were owned in Ingress (the geo-location database created by players 2013-2016 used as the basis of where Pokestops and Gyms are located). Pokestops don’t require any ‘work’ other than to get there are wait around. They don’t defend themselves from new arrivals and your clutch of creatures are not damanged when trying to attain more ‘balls’.  There is not downside to going to a Pokestop and there’s no reason to leave one … because in a few minutes, it will let you have more Pokeballs. So when a parent takes a kid to a Pokestop and kids get what they want – more balls- everyone is happy. Imagine if they didn’t – but the Pokestop killed their best Pokemon or damaged it … less fun right? – Nintendo are not stupid – they are not selling to the same market that plays Ingress – but carefully re-shaping behavior and experience.

Media commentators have become to use the term ‘addiction’ in response. No shock here, as no game recently has managed to generate the level of ‘changed human behaviour’ that Pokemon Go has. Ingress didn’t as it was largely a ‘geek’ game (and still is). The perception, especially among TV new-anchors is that Nintendo have come up with a ‘new phenomenon’ which has magical powers (addition) – by way of them attempting to discuss behaviour which they don’t understand (meaning: haven’t much experience or knowledge of). Let the nodding begin – Pokemon Go is a new opportunity to revisit themes of ‘decaying childhood’, ‘the simple society’ etc., but no one’s interested in a full on media panic – as mobile phone games are largely seen as permissible in society these days.

The original game had just over 150 to collect, which expanded to over 700. There’s no reason to think that Nintendo will not add more – if the game remains popular in this form. The have told us that the current game is about 10% of the final thing (we want to believe it don’t we).

3 Reasons why is it ‘fun’

  1. The games involves taxonomy — the process of naming and classifying things into groups – and that is something humans find enjoyable, so yes kids soon get a handle on this.
  2. Collecting is a rewarding pass time. I am totally guilty of this – I have more cars than I need and obsessively collect parts for them at every opportunity. I don’t drive most of them, I just like to ‘own’ them. It’s irrational to most people, but not to thousands who were in Valla this week for the bi-annual Volkswagen gathering.
  3. The fun is not just in collecting and working to develop knowledge of the taxonomy. Like all successful games in recent times, the fun works around the social-graph of comparing and discussing your collection with others.

The social-graph, who is top and bottom in class, is used in very different ways at school and in society, so Pokemon Go is very much counter-school-culture. No surprise to see those teachers who are fustrated by the generalised-school-image have been quick to show they are using it – in class. You rebels! But imagine if a child’s learning was built around collecting and comparing, not timetables, silos and tests. Now that would be rebellious.

The thrill of the chase is not a sign of addiction

Pokemon turns the thrill of finding rare car-parts Pokemons into a chase. That chase is a personal story – and we love that. Take a look at educator stories in the last two weeks – a high energy story where each teachers sets about ‘showing’ how their class is into Pokemon and how thrilling it is – this is also part of the educator ‘taxonomy’ of collecting EdTech things.

People are not ‘addicted’ in the scientific sense, but in the self-expressive “spending too much time sense” usually shared around a social-graph. So many people tell my wife that I am ‘addicted’ to buying old cars and that I don’t need them (waste of time and money). They generally don’t tell me this directly, but my taxonomy isn’t one they value.

To talk about Pokemon Go as a game, in the way we might discuss Ingress or Tomb Raider isn’t possible, because the leap from screen to augmented reality changes the user-perception of collecting, comparing and competing. Educators needs to ‘see’ the game against the broader context. Think about a friend who collects Disney memorabilia or Hot Wheels cars – this is what is going on, except that the ‘rules’ on how occurs isn’t constructed socially as you’d see at a collectors-meet, but by a corporation (with an agenda) and an immediate connection to the collector/player.

Of course, in extreme cases, collectors put their interest ahead of other things – buying an object and not paying a bill or spending too much time at a meet-up they forget to pick up the kids from swimming – but these are likely to be extreme cases – and so attempts to get a head of steam about Pokemon Go addiction are already tiresome and ignorant.

Parents need to set limits on screen time and take some responsibility for the ‘quality’ of that time. Games (screens) are not digital-childminders – they are portals to media experiences and not all of them are going to meet the expectations or moral standards of parents (and their friends). In school, Pokemon Go will manifest itself though the interaction and cultural production of the children.

Of itself, this game (like any other) needs to be articulated into the curriculum – to address defined purposes. Anyone can ‘tweet’ about how EduPunk they are — rebelling against the stereotyped modernism of the establishment. Big deal, why this game? What is it’s pedagogical imperative which other games don’t have? – aside from popularity, media attention etc.? For example: what other games are use a collecting/taxonomy which can be used around a social graph? – more specifically – which EDUCATIONAL GAMES.

Minecraft managed to achieve much of this, what blocks can you find, what is your best build, can we work together – how close or different are our interests etc., and yet Minecraft Pocket (mobile) hasn’t received much in the way of teacher interest. For example, why not take MCPE mobile and allow kids to ‘build’ while IRL. For example, go to the park – imagine how you could re-design it?

I think the BIG thing, the really BIG thing about Pokemon Go is that it’s taken the idea of ‘collecting’ into a digital form, in the real world at a time where society no longer cares if every single person on a train stares at their screen and disconnects with reality – working on ‘their story’. The question become how much time are people investing in this, and the extent to which ‘sharing’ their story makes them feel happy and more connected to each others – and who is going to miss-out or feel alienated by it.

Here are three ‘concerns’ I have … which to be fair, are true of most commercial games being used towards ‘educational’ time (I’d say purposes, but I don’t think we’ve earned sufficient CP to claim that yet).

  1. We know digital-media is used variously to create internalized constructions of the self. Being ‘digitally popular’ is important to many people. The effort they perceive to be needed or valid is translated into hours-spent as a form of work. We’ve seen issues with this in other social spaces, especially in teens.
  2. So far, research suggests children have variable levels of success in self-regulation of digital media. This game is designed to promote repetitive behaviour and provides consistent rewards for this. Aside from time-spent, the depth of the game remains relatively shallow, focusing on time-spent and simple actions. Given the Google DNA of the game, it’s reasonable to suggest that user-behaviour is ideally suited to rewarding sales-promotion and shopping behaviours, such as coffee-discounts, being in a store for a length of time, or winning a new limited edition creature.
  3. In schools, there are vast differences in location. We know rural schools are at a disadvantage for all sorts of reasons, and the Ingress DNA of user-created portals favours the city – where more portals we’re created over rural ones. So, city educators have more opportunity to use this game than more rural schools. There are limited choices for rural school to engage in this form of commercial game which presents further equity issues.

I’d be interested to hearing your experience and views!