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.

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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.

Re-booting

I’d write a blog post about education. But instead, I’ll spend my time getting back to re-connecting the numerous parts of my PhD because education isn’t about to adopt media education and increasingly loves to hate on media. I deeply regret setting this aside for so long.

Choice made.

12 years of worksheets – game over

Today is Mr17’s last day of school. There’s one thing which is obvious. The pile of worksheets issued for this HSC. It’s a big pile of dog-eared content which irrefutably shows he was given the material.

This was predicted. Will Richardson told a similar tale well over a decade ago for his son. I’m sure he’ll be pleased to know just how stable education is.

Will also said “We no longer have to be present to participate” meaning that learning is everywhere, that learning is mobile, digital and can engage us is a multiplicity of ways.

Being given a worksheet is not an invitation to participate, but a demand for compliance. Compliance keeps school inspectors happy, so worksheets prevail. They are easy to buy, easy to replicate and easy to measure. If everyone’s doing it– it’s culturally safe – unlike the digital.

The opposite of what Will wrote is also true – “We no longer have to participate when present”.

Recent media calls to ban smartphones in schools – due to their distraction suggests that students are not participating. If a quick audit of practice shows the dominant pedagogy is based on worksheets; paper, digital then there’s a fundamental problem. I don’t believe teachers exclude digital communication in their lives outside school – and yet the last decade, they claim to be working towards being competent in school; and that they need the training to do it – despite educational technology being embedded in all undergraduate programs for over a decade.

TPACK emerged in 2006. It’s probably the best-known model which acknowledges the role of the digital in learning and teaching. The point of TPACK was to engage students in a digital conversation and experience, reflecting a world in which paper communication has been removed; and the digital is a two-way conversation.

The multiple-person digital conversation is everywhere in kids lives. Unlike schools, kids won’t compose one-way announcement emails, but use technology to genuinely engage each other in conversations – often geared towards learning something — and to overcome the limitation of proximity. For example, kids get a worksheet, kids get online in group-chats to help each other do it, combining insights and knowledge to do it. The worksheet is so easily defeated and really only represents a tick on the ‘done that’ timeline. Is this cheating? Is the worksheet supposed to be individual learning? or is it used to homogenise a group of kids in order to find the average in a convenient manner?

What seems to matter is that the worksheet is handed out and comes back. What doesn’t seem to matter is the conversation which could have taken place when the student is present – and being physically present is no assurance they are invested in learning.

So why are teachers still working on basic e-learning skills and understanding yet have no problem learning how to use technology in their car, at home or to book a holiday? After 12 years, Mr17 didn’t get anything more than worksheets — but at home has managed stand at the front door of pro-gaming.

It’s a bittersweet moment: but a reminder of what might have been and what is.

What do you really know about MOBA players?

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Amongst the recent media frenzy around the ill-effects of Fornite on young people, I’m still baffled by many of the claims parents are making. I’m not a massive Fornite player, but I see the interest young people have, through their discussions at school. I don’t claim to be across every conversation, however, those I have overheard relate to the changes in game-play, load-outs and skins. I’m yet to hear students freaking out about another player behaviour or skipping school to play it.

I do play a fair amount of Overwatch. I must confess that I’m a late night player, avoiding the young-folk chatter. However, it’s clear that very young kids play it and use mics. I would argue that poor player behaviour (language, trolling and provocation) is quite uncommon and less disgusting that of social media comments I see on Twitter etc.,

Super-irritants for me – those who motor-mouth their own brilliance and slag off others are easily muted. In the vast majority of games, adults are super respectful – and young kids mirror that. It’s almost the opposite experience being claimed by ‘the media’. Young children are almost always polite and respectful, with adults calming them down if things don’t go so well – as winning the game means not getting freaked out. At the same time, many kids don’t use voice in the game at all – just like adults.

As many young people simply don’t put in the time needed to be high-level players, they tend to play in the bottom three ranks. I’d argue that the higher ranks do contain a far more critical dialogue, with each game being higher stakes. In traditional sports, the competitive nature of the game, the anxiety and stress of being both a good player and good teammate is more often resolved in a harsh spray when things are not going well. However, players know that frustration expressed as foul language and slagging people off – does not improve the chances of a win. I’d also argue that when younger players find themselves the brunt of this – they quit. As the game does not substitute a new player when this happens – it’s rare the team would win. There’s no real incentive to troll or behave badly — but that isn’t to say it doesn’t happen in the 12 million or so player base.

Many players choose to play with friends. They stack with people they know are reliable and respectful, avoiding ego-warriors. They play regularly and as social groups, each has its own culture. Players also move between groups – and between ranks because it offers a different gaming experience. I like to play lower ranked games – it’s less stress and more fun in many ways. I’m also carefully managing my higher ranked accounts because I want to play in a more strategic way with players who are far more disciplined as to who to play, where to stand and how to counter.

My point here is that overall, I don’t find multiplayer games toxic or negative – quite the opposite. It’s also that games have different meanings for different people – and allow players to flex across social groups, motivations, and skill levels. Headlines which attempt to homogenise games or players are incredibly misleading for parents. As many have said, parents can’t understand multiplayer games without getting to know both the game and the players that their children are spending time with. It’s also important to notice HOW they choose to play – solo, stacks or co-ops as this is a good indicator of the social preferences children have – and from that, which mode of play they enjoy and which they find difficult.

It makes sense when you think about it. Children’s social development changes with age, culture and context. Perhaps games make this more visible, but they certainly don’t shape (or misshape it) to the degree editors are claiming.

Long term vs short term change.

Leaders who can come in and develop a longterm vision are going to be the most successful all over the world. Key is creating a longterm vision based on the conditions on the ground. Copying and pasting a recipe for transformation doesn’t work unless the underlying causes of each issue are taken into account, and that can only be done by bringing everyone to the table early on.

This quote comes from an extensive research project into 411 schools in the UK. The focus was on the effects of short term and long term impact of leadership on student achievement.  The flip side of this is that those who hold long term values and beliefs, often based on decades of scholarship are the least appreciated in the current churn-school-culture.

“Philosophers,” meanwhile, are champions of teaching and discuss best practices a lot but don’t make fundamental changes, while “architects” are unsung heroes who redesign schools with a holistic focus on setting up the structures to support longterm change — but while they foster lasting improvement, architects rarely get the credit, with praise falling instead on the short-term successes of surgeons or public popularity of philosophers.

The rise of the philosopher, often powered by their need to hold court in social media enclaves, is remarkable. There is, as the research suggests a pervasive discussion of best practice which is often connected to cut-and-paste fixes though off the shelf solutions such as apps and subscription content. These all seem to come and go these days, replaced by the next marketing message or solve-all-application.

Interesting huh.

Life beyond the photocopier.

Where are we at with teaching ICT skills and knowledge – by which I don’t mean using ICT to generally teach the material or using it to skim the internet to then print off worksheets. How many staff are gathered around the photocopier each morning vs how many are showing colleagues new ICT skills and methods as they head into the playground?

It seems that while the last decade has seen technology rise, the integrated skills teachers have developed to effectively use ICT have improved marginally.

In the heady days of Web2.0, we saw plenty of established teachers simply ignore (and block) the shift to read/write/social ICTs. They never tried and were never required to do more than read email and knock out Word Docs. Graduates may have dabbled – but many of their tutors and lecturers were not interested – but usually had to shove in some “ICT” product to keep the powers happy.

Many new teachers also quit in their first five years, so perhaps those who last have been too busy with Quango Accreditation and learning who’s boss in the workplace to buildd up their ICT skills.

Some teachers have moved well beyond Word and the Photocopier (if they didn’t leave to go work at Google or MicroShop) … and others remained trapped,  because their Head is skill too ‘old school’ and so far hasn’t bothered to invest their own time – or anyone else’s in it.

For students, their level of ICT general knowledge – about computers, about the digital, about the Internet as technologies has been masked by the user experience and apps.

It’s no joke that ‘there’s an app for anything’ but this also means that anything can be thrown in an app if it is wrapped in sufficient ideological and on-trend buzzwords. Around all of this is a renewed attack on children’s use of digital media and computers.

Thanks to the post-truth culture created by Trump’s machine — it seems that simply making claims about what technology does to children is sufficient for 60 minutes to put out a film-noir about games and parenting to follow up from the morning show’s latest attack on teachers.

The bottom line is – ask.

Ask what ICT skills your child is learning and what is the evidence that they are using it well. Are they getting feedback online? are they able to manage their workload online? – or just uploading Docs to a deadline.

Ask to see the course that their teacher has put online in whatever form – get interested in it. Could you learn from that? Is what you’re seeing engaging – or just digital worksheets.

At the same time.

Start piling up the photocopied worksheets they bring home and see for yourself just how big the pile gets, and how often Jimmy goes and looks at them.