Living below the tech poverty line

11738047_10152969268283053_5325047692073970609_nI saw this photo from a teacher in the USA who was learning about using a new ‘laser’ cutter. Another teacher commented how cool they are, as they have one too. It seems I’m living below the tech poverty line these days with no Augmented Reality Goggles, 3D Printer, Robot Laptop Trolleys and certainly no laser cutter.

This made me wonder … given just about all the kids I now teach have smart-phones (mostly entry level, but smartphones none the less) and each kid has an iPad mini, this seems to be ‘entry level’ technology now. We don’t have a computer lab (yet) or laptops and by virtue of the campus location, the uplink to the internet is below the basic NBN tier (and not scheduled to be on the faux ‘fast net’ for some time).

Where I work, we do have the low-tech luxury of working with kids at a ratio of 1:20 (ish) in a PBL modality (but I don’t subscribe to the BIE model with much loyalty these days). So on one hand, when I see the raft of technologies in which some schools appear to have … I’m below the tech poverty line, but on the other I barely use technology as I once did. This is me the consumer talking of course. The one that used to believe that keeping up with the latest and greatest, lobbying for more was important. I used to pay way too much attention to people who make a living by peddling the ‘tech poverty line myth’.

I don’t doubt that some schools still have nothing, that some kids have nothing. After all, MOST of the kids on this planet right now don’t go to school or get any form of prescriptive education. So I wonder how relevant the ‘digital divide’ dogma is today among educators who seem relatively un-interested in the have-have-not-education and more interested in the have-have-not machines.

Pacing

The Australian media networks may have influenced the monopoly political parties to force ISPs to block ‘file sharing’ sites. Here’s a discussion about how this will work if you missed it. No one is shocked by this, as those who have had the luxury of power like decide what ‘freedom of information’ and ‘freedom of speech’ is in our democracy.

As a teacher, I really wonder about the literacy that is being promoted through the curriculum. Some western governments like to control societies moral compass by setting it in a spin. Video games are bad, the Internet is bad, ‘chat-rooms’ are bad and the youth are either part of the problem of unsuspecting victims. At the same time the Chitter-lobby are increasingly living in factions – GAFE, Apple, Laptops, iPads etc., and obsessed with ‘collaboration’ and ‘features’ rather than noticing how utterly vapid ‘media education’ has become. Media education is not about ‘how to use’ tools to share documents or how to ‘curate’ things found online towards a school room project. Media education is about what the media has, can and might do for or to you. While the politicians and media producers decide what you can and can’t do online, children are increasingly being reduced to user-consumers.

Households (ruled by Gen Y) are increasingly able to “Google” what they want to know or find. The Internet’s front door for almost all households is “Google”. As we know, you can miss-spell, have half an idea and with a few clicks and re-tries you can find a list of answers. But Google isn’t very good at indexing the Internet anymore. It’s become good at indexing things most people Google. It isn’t focused on education (GAFE is merely a consumer-education strategy) nor being the index of the Internet. I am not sure how exactly Google became validated by education as the keeper of information or services, but it is clear that the 9% of people on Twitter and the small percentage of teacher-users seem to believe they are pioneering a ‘digital literacy’ agenda which enables children to thrive in the face of this media landscape.

Sonia Livingstone says that discussion about children’s media literacy and use often contain“disconnected questions about the impacts of particular media on particular groups of children, often framed in terms of moral panics, and with a predominant focus on American children as the implicit prototype for children everywhere.”

This really is a problem. The low level of literacy needed to ‘find’ information dominates children’s ritual behaviors around technology. Bored or lost children settle to tap and swipe, just as bored tiger paces around the enclosure. These apps don’t create new understanding but increasingly pretend to offer quick, easy and fast solutions for users.

Children, when  given some problem often ‘pace’ until someone in the room offers a simpler problem. Simple terms are more likely to be Googled than complex sentences. The ‘net’ result, interesting to parents perhaps, is that children enjoy seek and find activities, but no improvement in critical analysis or synthesizing occurs. The most obvious behaviour is to ‘copy and paste’ changing a few words or to claim that the task is too hard or too complex … which justifies a return to pacing. As teachers are motivated by and required to cover lots of content and collecting work samples for dot-point proof, there simply isn’t much room for new approaches to media education. What I think happens are modified approaches to media use, which suit the networks. We are training a generation of users who actively ‘pace’ when classroom activities attempt to move past Blooms low-order (Google-able) tasks. I reject the simplistic graphics which claim they can align some ‘app’ with one of Blooms levels (assuming Bloom is relevant in media-enabled learning).

How then, are children going to know what information is actually available online if they are being trained as low-end-users? In particular, I see ‘rich’ schools parading their access to the latest devices, importing ‘expert’ speakers for private sessions and great spaces to learn with great furniture, super fast and reliable wifi etc.,

Culture is winning out. While the masses are content to Google, the network owners: political, social, religious and economic are allowed to advantage of their control of information. Media education still has a long way to go … and right now teacher-technicians seem content to eat conference muffins and re-Tweet in agreement about ‘what needs to be done’ … also pacing like so many of their students when faced with the real challenge today – the media is more powerful than ever.

What to expect on day one of a school Minecraft Server

I’ve been around Minecraft Servers with kids for a few years, founding the successful vanguard project “Massively Minecraft” a few years ago. Now I’m ‘back’ so to speak, in a school and have had a couple of terms under my belt, I’ve decided to create two new servers – a PC/Mac server and a Minecraft PE server. In school we don’t really have accessible computers, but every child has an iPad Mini. We’ve already got Minecraft PE on the iPads, so it won’t be too hard to build on that platform.

So yesterday, I “/opt” a few kids to see what happens. Of course I carefully selected the kid I thought would make the best First Op and explained the basics of what is expected etc., That kid then invites other kids who then nag No.1 Op for similar /Op power. Ten minutes later they are playing PvP in their new arena. An hour later, other kids have joined and the number climbs past that magic number seven. At this point … and this is the salient part, the power play between /Op vs Non-Op inevitably results in a few /kicks followed by a /ban.

Why does this happen? Well it’s complicated, but suffice to say that Minecraft is far more tribal than most teachers using it would like to admit. Minecraft doesn’t appear in a classroom as a neutral space where bygones are bygones. The nature of the game-space shifts the power-balance – both actually or perceptually. Another reason is that it provokes a much needed discussion about what makes this server a learning based server rather than a mini-game server (where most kids spend most of their time these days). While the server is booted with essentials, permissions, core-protect, world-guard etc.,  the key move is to make sure you have a resilient and trusted First Op who can manage and report on events that transpire — good and bad.

I am sure that some kids would love /Op power in the classroom to /kick or /ban negative behaviours, but sadly mass education insists no one leaves until they are of an age. I am also sure that no talk about cyber-bullying ever considers children in a situation now where social space is in constant negotiation and power-play. On day one of a school server, it’s not really about whether the kids make something pretty, or whether the levers and ‘teacher powers’ of the Edu version perform the crowd-control which teachers often demand from unfamiliar technological tools in ‘their classroom’. Day one is about understanding the dynamics of your kids — in this space — and how you can then plan for Day 2, where those dynamics play a critical role in the design of the game-space. For example: are you going to have factions? are you going to rank players and give them ranked powers … how are they going to move from map to map etc.,

This is one of the things I recall was important to Wes when he was conceptually designing Skoolaborate (Second Life Based Teen Global Project). Wes often talked about making worlds where kids could explore heuriscs. A heuristic is a mental shortcut that allows people to solve problems and make judgments quickly and efficiently. These rule-of-thumb strategies shorten decision-making time and allow people to function without constantly stopping to think about their next course of action. They can of course lead to bais and habitual behaviours … but really what is important on Day One is to be actively thinking about the heuristics that will be going on (promoted and demoted) in the behaviour of players towards their learning. This comes to a large extent through the design of the space – what’s in the game and what mediation/monitoring is going on outside of it. No teacher can afford to be ‘in-game’ all the time — and it’s a good idea to shut the server at a reasonable time, so kids still get that important sleep and spend time with their family. But … Day One should be a massive learning experience that produces some interesting data from the server log. Going over that data will paint a clear picture of the ‘world’ that exploded into life — and from that you should be able to sit down the First Op and peers to negotiate.

Tap, Swipe … but not for long.

Hat tip to Mark Smithers for spotting this report about the preferences and habits of screen-users. If you are an educator who’s audience are using tablets, you might have perhaps noticed this. I know I’ve already figured out with my middle schoolers that tablets result in a kind of ‘pacing’ behaviour. After 10-15 minutes of working (usually tapping, searching, opening, writing), students stop and do something else. Unlike having a laptop with real keys, they compete with the device’s in-built AI which wants to zoom, auto-correct and often highlight anything but the thing they want. It seems from this report, that cultural use, media design and content online is no longer being designed or received as much more than short-burst snaking.

In Japan (sort of)

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Project Based Learning (PBL) is not founded upon educational theories of play. Over the years I’ve been exploring it, I’ve come to realise that the idea of a (singular) driving question, which is open ended and not easily answered does not readily lead to an end-product that all kids care about, or take pride in. PBL is still a lot more useful than most modernist approaches to cognitive apprenticeships and rote learning however, but it often has to work with the same boundaries. The biggest reason I jumped at the chance to work at the International Football School is that underneath everything it does is play and invention.

My point is that for many kids, PBL does not feel authentic nor is it a universally compelling simulation for the real world. One of the tragedies of the global economy and transmedia childhoods is that culture becomes intentionally invisible to kids, replaced by faux online culture and sub cultures — and not all of them positive.

Take Twitter for example: It’s almost a given that you have to hate on something or someone these days, just as the Big Bang Theory has turned insulting people into hilarious comedy. I am not convinced that Google mediated websites, videos and tropes shine any authentic cultural light on other cultures for young people, and that many depictions of ‘digital literacy’ fall far short of the mark when it comes to solving this. Authentic (to me) means getting as close to the primary source as possible though the media available, rather than letting the media available become the primary source (which is the entire reason Google exists today). Yet, kids are given iPads and told to look things up as routinely as they get a packed lunch.

I do like a good sim, especially if it allows kids to do things in school which would normally be impossible, dangerous or unlikely. Back in 2007, I enjoyed working with global educators in Skoolaborate – not least Kyoto Gardens school in Japan. Even then we had an open, exploratory approach to inter-cultural learning — here’s the PDF of one of those early cross-school events. Remember, this is 2007 and I had kids in a global immersive world project, which now, looking back made Skoolaborate an important part of the ‘game’. Like Second Life, it was perhaps too early, perhaps misunderstood, but never the less achieved a level of cross-cultural immersion that few other projects have achieved since.

My point is that learning is increasingly about cross-cultural experiences, learning about other cultures and traditions because media communications makes us globally connected.

I could not help think about this today when my middle-schoolers spent the day at the Japan Foundation learning about manga and anime. We designed a workshop with them for Japanese Studies and Visual Arts and even had a small grant to develop it. The kid’s really enjoyed being taught by the centre’s staff and it was great to see the pride Suzie took in their ability to interact in Japanese after all her hard work in the last few terms. On all counts, being able to go to a space like the Japan Foundation to celebrate and honour all that work feels really important — far more so that speaking at some edu-muffin event and getting a retweet. Our school might not have a computer lab, but we do have a bus, and access to amazing places like this. Rather than going to see, or looking around, I think that collaborating with organisations to develop cross cultural and cross disciplinary experiences for kids in stage 3 and stage 4 is more important than freaking out and endlessly debating their ‘digital literacies’.

Conversely, JF staff were thrilled to hear kids talk about Sailor Moon, RWBY, Summer Wars and other art we’ve been throwing into their visual arts classes. Even so, I could not really shake the memories from 2007 when kids logged in, dressed up and met Japanese students in a virtual Japanese simulation. I reminded me once again, that being able to connect with other cultures, in their own age group plays an important role in creating authentic learning (the mantra of PBL).

I am sure that we could now use Minecraft for this as it’s cheap and easy to set up, but we’re always going to deal with the time-zone barrier. Its the same with FIFA 15. I’ve thought many times about how I can use this inside the school, but time barriers always emerge around an organised competition. It might work as prelude to a Japan Football Tour … maybe, but at the end of the day, games are timeless and nationless when it comes to play. I think that kids don’t see other cultures though their Google-filtered screens any more than latch-key kids did in the 70s before the Internet and globalisation.

I think that places like the Japan Foundation play an increasing role in education to schools like ours whom want to extend more cultural and personal development experiences for kids — who potentially will be involved in international sport — and are already well aware of the global nature of sport. Anyway, I had a great time today and always love it when I see kids dressing up, trying out things that are beyond their current ability and most of all, finding the cultural relevance to the work back in class.

Lots to think about from today … *thanks to Suzie and Bec for a great day … and I highly recommend the Japan Foundation to anyone else interested in Japanese Culture.

Football and more football

Two terms in, working at the International Football School (IFS) and I’m just beginning to ‘get it’. During this time plenty of people have commented about how they think the school’s project based learning model works and some of that opinion feels fuelled by some weird competition than any actual understanding of what this little school is doing. So here is an example of how re-thinking what these kids need powers the ethos of the school.

Firstly, the school is fundamentally about play, which fits with my views on the role of play in learning. Whether football or tennis, the coaching and play at the school is outstanding and truly international. This week, I went with the Under 13’s to the Under 14’s Futsal competition on the coast against the best players in local high schools. IFS put out half a dozen teams, which were selected based on what the kid’s need to learn, rather than the ‘best team’ needed to beat the competition. If they had selected a team to win, then it would have hardly been worth going. It was interesting however to see other schools getting overly excited at beating IFS and missing the whole point of the day. Of course they could win just about everything, but their coaches know that winning isn’t learning per se.. While other schools were cheering their ‘win’, IFS kids were way more interested in learning from the coach’s feedback and breaking down the game (win or lose). Winning didn’t feel important, but every game felt like a grand-final.

There’s a mindset at IFS that cannot be explained or aligned with PBL or anything else I’ve seen or experienced … how good is that? Oh, and the next school holidays will be spent at the Kanga Cup, and no teacher at the school would miss it.

Minecraft isn’t about creativity anymore

I’m being provocative. Of course Minecraft can be used in creative mode and allow kids to build amazing things. However, in educational tropes, Minecraft is represented as almost entirely about being ‘creating’ and ‘making’ – the pinnacle of digital games based learning software. Add ‘multi-user’ and the necessary subjective frame to interpret what all some kids are making and another myth is born. Minecraft is a safe, virtual world where kids can make anything. Well I’d like add a new line of discussion. Minecraft is not the nirvana of children focused MUVES (multi-user virtual environments) but that is what is being presented though the lens of educational technology innovation at conferences and online. Minecraft is software that allows cultural reproduction.

Once again, these minorities fail to discuss the broader cultures. In particular, the growing culture of play among Minecraft players. A few years ago, most servers were about building and community, I’m not going to argue otherwise. It was a period where the Minecraft community (early adopters) created the necessary tools and infrastructure to homogenise the game for a broader (now majority) audience. Servers popped up which ran some ‘hunger games’ type arrangements and people shared that code on the forums. Creating a ‘game’ within the sandbox world was primitive, but fun to do in the way that Code.org isn’t.

If you are a parent of a Minecraft kid now, chances are your kids are playing on some very sophisticated servers and watching multi-million dollar Minecraft YouTube channels about those servers, games and mods. It has become a huge media business. Kids perform a form of work in these servers — often paid in gems or some other micro-payment item that allows them to ‘get’ or ‘play’ more later. This is not what the educators talk about, as it’s got some very concerning media-effect by products. Kids log on to game servers, which are vast pre-made, rule based arcades. They line up in lobbies to join games which have been created by some very clever people – in – Minecraft, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is Minecraft as the educators would have you believe. This little more than mini-games (or snack games) which appeal to the decreasing attention span of the emergent snack-gamer. Kids are working by playing, collecting ‘gems’ while sitting on servers simply to rack up time.

Minecraft is now a platform which hosts thousands of competing mini-game servers, which lack just about every characterstic of the game routinely espoused as part and parcel of the game. These kids are having fun, playing online … but so are those kids playing Sky Pirates, Candy Crush or Clash of Clans. In that regard, kids who play Minecraft are not choosing a more creative game which requires the juicy 21st Century skills which get technology salivating teachers going … it’s little more than Habbo Hotel for a new generation, full of the same potential issues. But then most people didn’t play Habbo either.

While schools might well insist on using Minecraft towards educational goals, it has also evolved into a network of game servers which I’d argue have little more value cognitively than any other online snack game arcade. It’s just in 3D (ish). What is more interesting to me is the media which surrounds this phenomenon, the advertising, the merch, posters, books etc,

Often it seems, Minecraft is said to be educational in order to sell more product, as though calling it ‘educational’ somehow stops the broader Minecraft server/media messages having a negative impact on kids. If you’re a parent of a Minecraft player, you will probably agree with me when I say they spend a heap of time watching videos about Minecraft. But do you know what they are watching, or how these videos create breadcrumb trails to these arcade servers? Do you worry that your kid is idling on servers to collect gems and not creating much of anything? Do you even notice?

Then we have teachers, who believe that their Minecraft server is somehow immune and isolated from this media-circus. Oh yes, Minecraft is unlike any other game (for kids) because it has created a network of media consumers in ways no other game has achieved. Its important (I think) for educators to realise that Minecraft exists beyond school and to consider the issues raised in these online arcades and connected media that moves kids from one space to another. That is a literacy that kids are actually building – on of optimal consumption. It’s time to put this out there. As much as I love Minecraft’s potential, there is a BIG culture online that don’t see being discussed by educators … Introducing kids to Minecraft in schools will introduce them to the culture beyond it. Is that being adequately explained? Is that something teachers need to be accountable fot?

Let’s play some Habbo and find out …