Media Literacy: 5 key concepts to teach this year

Down this post a bit, you’ll find five ‘media literacy’ elements I think are essential and to be taught directly. In my case, I do this in ‘technology’ time – as no school has a ‘media’ subject: just maths, english, drama, PDHPE etc. Every wondered why we don’t teach ‘media’ given its BIGGER than anything else in the lives of kids?

Recently, I wrestled with a couple of posts about the so called ‘release’ of Minecraft: Education Edition. I wasn’t very positive about this product which perhaps flows on from my skepticism about why teachers needed MinecraftEdu in the first place. I have a huge distrust of the increasing use of ‘brands’ in education which leads to increasing competition between the ‘haves’ and further disadvantage among the ‘have nots’.

I am painfully aware that some people have made and enjoy a lifestyle choice around games in education. It’s fun to talk about, but actually hard to learn.

Minecraft has become the poster-game for game-based-learning crowd. It’s being leveraged into sales of other Microsoft products as perfect-complimentary learning tools through sales promotion education conferences, which hype show this game (and other products associated with the brand) are good for learning. They have received significant social-media ‘vocal’ support from numerous researchers people who are studying interested the game. That’s the tragedy of edtech – unchecked media invasion and product sales – while research and training is eroded to prevent teachers making critical choices about media. So yeah, you can use Minecraft … no ones going to ‘prove’ it’s either good or bad – because being ‘fun’ has always been a great educational-sale message.

I have never promoted MinecraftEdu and in fact, my own small efforts towards Minecraft and kids were deliberately ‘out of school’ in 2011. At the time 99.9% of schools filter-banned all games and virtual worlds. In essence, my interest was partly driven by counter-edutech-culture, railing against the dogma of technological determinism in education – which swirled around Web2.0 and Digital Natives – we struggled to see MUVEs and GAMES get any serious consideration – despite 30 years of research vs brand-hype and sales messages. Despite it’s success at the time, our project-community was always doomed – as we refused to ‘brand it’ Edu and therefore had no ready-market. We were never Minecraft Teachers, but that’s what it takes to be the face-of-anything these days — you gotta have a hat. Media Education has always been a difficult thing … if you want to encompass the whole thing – not just things that are easy/safe etc.,

Schools – particularly NSW Education bought Microsoft and Adobe products almost exclusively. Edublogs, wikis and other ‘tools’ were banned and since then, no one at the Department has explained why they we’re wrong to ban TEACHERS and students for years – and now, since the cash ran out – it’s all BYOD and anything goes.

Systems didn’t have an effective understanding of media then, and they still don’t in all but a few cases. There is no ‘media education’ in schools – just shifting ideas and competition about brands and funding. Brands see schools as a market – and now they sell us games because they have an established sale-track.

I see value in Minecraft as an expressive, collaborative virtual world for children to explore the medium of games far more than I do making lego houses to meet Math’s outcome 2.7 etc.,, I think games of all typed have a massive place in non-existent media education. I don’t think that games developers will help do this – so far the avoid education and research, they produce almost no data and notoriously vague about their methods and user demographics. I think they are MORE likely to build ‘good’ educational products if they are encouraged to invest in ‘real research’ before their games are pushed into schools. Right now, Microsoft has an easy-in – based on press release and buying a product which itself promoted the worst aspects of educational virtual worlds (if you read up on such things).

I am yet to see Microsoft or MinecraftEdu act in a way other than marketing and brand-building (ie scholarly). Of course their fans will say “they are working towards it” or “someone has to start it”. This isn’t true, and in the history of educating children, no other media has enjoyed an un-evaluated ‘walk in’.

Whether Minecraft EE is amazing or just more brandware is less important than what the effect kind of public media representation has on what kids get to do in the classroom. It’s not just games — it’s every ‘product’ that is now pushed onto kids as a new and essential ‘digital literacy’ which isn’t the same as Media Literacy or Fluency. Media Literacy underpins our modern culture — just look around at how people behave and what new traditions are being created around our media use.

Media Literacy Essentials

There are FIVE things that kids need to know about and apply.

  1. All media messages are constructed.
  2. Media messages are constructed using a creative language with its own rules.
  3. Different people experience the same media message differently.
  4. Media have embedded values, opinions, and points of view.
  5. Most media messages are organized to gain profit and/or power.

To learn this, kids need to be removed from the kind of dubious activity that ‘brands’ are doing to children with the willing co-operation of teachers. Point 5 – The message that goes with the device you place in the child’s hand was not created, designed or sold to make them more literate – and yet, we call it ‘digital literacy’ to mask the obvious effect of forcing one brand over another into kids education.

How is Minecraft going to help kids develop thier ‘media literacy’ perhaps isn’t the point-of-use for many teachers. However, whether you want to build resiliance, critical thinking skills, make a fort or whatever — Minecraft is owned by a massive corporation which essentially trades in media messages in order to fuel cultural reproduction – in teachers and students. If a class uses these 5 points to look at Microsoft’s press releases about Minecraft EE, it’s pretty easy to see the thin veneer of educational evidence they are presenting.

I don’t go to conferences and ‘fan-meets’ anymore. I am painfully aware of the harm they cause in pursuit of ‘potential good’. While I still believe Minecraft can be used perfectly well in schools to do a range of things – I see EE as a deliberate attempt to plunge teachers and students into the ‘brand’ trap. You can use Minecraft in lots of ways – and on lots of platforms. This idea that Minecraft EE is amazing, firstly assumes that MinecraftEdu had any educational benefit – by which I mean – appeasing cultural bias and negativity, increasing teacher power over kids – was a fundamentally BAD idea which was “sold” to teachers using the same media illusory methods that can be overcome with media literacy.

Kids who question teachers about ‘why’ they are bringing these products into the classroom, and why being compliant with certain brand media messages is good for them — with be the ones who survive. The Twitterverse is full of teacher’s sharing and promoting products – when they should (as teachers) be the very TANKs that demand these brands produce evidence and directly fund classrooms — because they if they want to be in a classroom – they need to demonstrate they are not targeting kids as consumers and grooming them for a life of consumerism.

So if I don’t like the idea of Minecraft EE – it’s not because I don’t like games at all – but I have a professional and ethical responsibility to consider the potential harm this kind of ‘media strategy’ has, when people ‘sell out’ kids media literacy …

The fall out from this – and I think teachers are unconsciously implicated for the most part – is that families and organisations that support families are drowning in media issues – which are amplified by ‘teacher enthusiasm’ regardless of the teacher’s own ‘critical thinking’ about the effects of ‘going Google’ etc., Just because Tapscott and friends invented the media message “growing up digital” does not mean it’s true, without gaps and errors – or the responsibility of teachers to wade into on a ‘like or don’t like’ basis.

Ask anyone in family services and psychology what is happening OUTSIDE your wonderful digital classroom – how are teacher not directly implicated? My arguement is simple: teach media education and be aware of the issues that pushing brands continues to create. Most of all – whenever a brand attempts to port-popular culture devices and software into classrooms – they are not doing it for the love of education – but to further saturate the lives of kids with their products.

Tune out in Feb

Emerging from the wide spread assumption that outside of parents, teachers hold the most important sway on a childhood — that the ‘digital’ teacher is the most important ‘digital influence’. To this end, schools place an emphasis on ‘cyber-safety’ and the softer edition – ‘citizenship’ such that childhood isn’t corrupted by ‘bad things’.

Police routinely visit schools and tell children of the dangers of online strangers and use terms like ‘sexting’ to put the frighteners of kids, despite thin evidence to suggest this creates a kinder, safer and more empathetic society so far. In fact, no one’s looked at what effect the figure of a policeman/woman has on kids whom, up to that point, might have no idea of ‘sexting’ or ‘trolling’. Perhaps their parents had done a previously great-job and regulating and explaining the role of media in their lives, or that they simply don’t have access to the Internet in the first place. Nope, It’s Tuesday afternoon and the police are giving a PowerPoint.

Teachers are told, by the ‘gatekeepers’ resident on Twitter about what constitutes ‘proper’ digital citizenship and whom among the online milieu of voices is influential and important. I argue that this is a problem that cannot be explained away with romantic depictions of ‘online staff rooms’ and ‘networks’. To access ‘the best resources’ and cultural practices, new arrivals must honour the gate-keepers and petit Napoleons whom follow and unfollow with the maturity of a toddler. This market –

To access ‘the best resources’ and cultural practices, new arrivals must honour the gate-keepers and the petit Napoleon whom follow and unfollow with the maturity of a toddler. This market – let’s call it what it is – lacks empirical merit and is almost entirely based on popularity and rhetoric with a thin veneer of educational theory and the odd French philosopher. But lets call it ‘grass roots’.

The ‘digital immigration’ desk of Twitter is fiercely guarded by a collective of people for whom a carefully crafted telepresence fulfils some inner conflict or desire. Perhaps they are part of the down-the-line establishment equipment that reinforces Naplan tests and text-book learning and somehow want to feel exonerated.

The issue remains, that new teachers have no real way of telling who is offering some useful evidence and who is just shooting the popular breeze, flying high on their follower-love. Being critical or even skeptical is dismissed as ‘negative’, but the reality is that few new arrivals ask for evidence as they pass through the digital arrival lounge.

There are lots of people online who do engage in research and have – for a long time – been working all forms of technology in both the theoretical and practical sense – people such as Gary Stager who don’t put up with nonsense.

School returns in a few days. For some kids this means getting thier own device. For parents, my advice is simple … do not assume all their teachers have a media literacy above that of their child, or that the Twitteristi with Minecraft, 3D Printers and other gadgets are providing a ‘better’ education or that they have any idea about what your child needs in terms of media literacy. Don’t assume anything – ask.

Make sure you talk about ‘media health’ with your kids – that they are not spending entire evenings online or worried about being able to do ‘homework’. Many teachers will be trying to use technology for the first time ever … and they may feel under some tele-pressure to follow the crowd and for them, I’d suggest that they log off from social media for the first half of the term — and get to know students instead. The resident ‘experts’ online never quit and the ‘fear of not being online’ is as real as ‘fear of missing out’. Go on, cut the rope with the online hashtags and digital gurus. If you can’t do that, create a new account and follow new people. Take a breath, experience a new media realm — because that’s exactly what thousands of kids will be doing. To be important to students, to be that influence — getting to know them at the start of term has not been replaced by any digital alternative.

The resident ‘experts’ online never quit and the ‘fear of not being online’ is as real as ‘fear of missing out’. Go on, cut the rope with the online hashtags and digital gurus. If you can’t do that, create a new account and follow new people. Take a breath, experience a new media realm — because that’s exactly what thousands of kids will be doing. To be important to students, to be that influence — getting to know them at the start of term has not been replaced by any digital-agenda or urgency.

Teachers can be influential outside of parents, but if parents will thank you and be your best supporter in ways the Twitteristi won’t. What do you have to lose?



Apple and Google don’t really care about game content.

This week, a mobile video game has received a lot of media attention. The game has now been removed from Apple and Google’s online stores after a social media based campaign  highlighted the outrageous material, which deliberately named and represented in game characters ‘aboriginal’ and required the player, at some point in the game, to ‘kill’ them. You can read about this, and what Google and Apple did here.

This is a failure of governance. Apple and Google are under no obligation to ‘review’ any game against the Australian Classification board associated with film, television, consoles and computer games. Secondly, the material content in this game plays out in numerous other mediums such as film and television quite differently. Numerous TV drama’s have shown people from different cultural and social groups beaten and killed for entertainment. For the cowboy to save the day, there have to be ‘bad guys’ to shoot and we watch the hero put down ‘bad guys’ from first person angles constantly.

The outrage against this game is of itself part of the interactive entertainment discourse in which interactive entertainment has been represented as MORE dangerous than other media.

Social media – and the public sphere is now in a constant state of outrage. Most people in Australia have watched a TV show and seen a movie where anti-social behavior is amplified to a point where they find it repugnant and vile. Of course TV and film have avenues of complaint, but will push the moral and social boundaries in pursuit of their art. For example, the BBC seem to relish drama which boarders on the horrific and sick, shot in moody half-tones, where animals and humans are tortured and abused. Robson Green is an actor who appears time an again in this ultra-violent dramas – but no one’s running a petition to ban Robson Green or have him reform his thinking. Apple and Google similarly claim they are ‘actors’ and not the producers.

At no point am I suggesting that this game has any merit at all. But this outrage should be applied to ALL games which Apple and Google publish, circumventing scrutiny and responsibly with what I’ll call the “Robson Green clause”.

While I think the correct decision was to remove this game (which is not a BAN in the sense that it has broken any law) the issue remains that media violence in other media is pervasive and remains the biggest concern of parents when it comes to allowing children to watch TV or see movies. In fact parents are far less worried about video games than film or TV – a point the media often gloss over in pursuit of an easy panic-piece.

The evening news offers thin warnings before launching into highly graphic images in order to ignite particular fears and responses, just a TV drama casts the audience as passive observers or all manner of horrific acts — as part of leisure time ‘fun’.

Last week I watched a panel presenter on  entertainment show #theprojecttv ask a woman (who filmed her now deceased baby, coughing with whooping cough). In the live cross, he asked the woman – what it was like to watch her baby in that condition?  — clearly inferring, – watching your baby die?. The director had already cut to the woman to capture her emotional response. Why did he ask this and not some other question at this time? Because it’s high drama to see the poor woman’s eyes well up when re-visiting a traumatic and devastating moment. This is entertainment, with a superimposed #theprojecttv hashtag silently asking for responses – but for what useful purpose?

I found it at best ignorant and at worse – violent. The premise of the bit-piece was that a “woman released a video of her baby with whooping cough to raise awareness” – the Robson Green clause again.

To me, the biggest question here is why Google and Apple are not subject media regulation in their ‘apps’? After all, they want to be part of society and cannot simply expect to profit from it without being held accountable – like the rest of us.

Apple and Google avoid it, because ‘video games’ are simply ‘software’ and stand outside legislation. Banning the game is simply a response to both companies expending social capital in the backlash — and so seek to reduce it and of course, avoid any comment. In fact, neither company report statistics on ‘game sales’ at all. They don’t have to, so while you read about the market-size of video games — these figures don’t include anything more than a guess or a a tidbit of data dropped by some marketing guy.

The CTIA – The Wireless Association, an industry trade group, collaborated with the ESRB to largely apply ESRB’s rating system to mobile devices. It was launched in 2011, with Apple and Google being notable abstentions from subscribing companies.

The question now becomes: why are these media giants avoiding their corporate responsibility towards mobile games – at the whole of market level – and what can the public sphere do to make them provide transparent vetting of games?

Don’t be fooled, this is not an oversight. Both companies make (but are not reporting) a lot of money from mobile games. Both companies have created their own ‘rating’ guide and refuse to participate in any third-party regulatory body. Therefore, the content of any game (which children and adults can access) goes though no useful ‘vetting’ as the ‘spokesman’ puts it. — And I’m talking here about the MATERIAL — whereas there are clearly some games which promote alarming behavior in players – such as habitual use, paid leveling and in-game purchase regimes.

It would be great to see ‘journalists’ try and put this debate to these corporations — and not to take the easy story about material content, which no doubt they picked up on from the re-share rate on Facebook and Twitter.

The mobile game market is a huge problem and needs far more scrutiny than it’s getting.




It’s new, all new …

Related: Are you parenting kid’s under 13 who play computer, video or mobile games? – Please add your experience to my research here.

School’s have adopted new technologies over the last decade. Unfortunately, this has been a highly politically charged effort which has resulted in further disadvantage and disparities in comparison to many private schools. I believe that teachers and schools have focused on adoption issues and what software to use to better teach (and compete) and have failed to acknowledge and find synergy with societies increasing media-consumption. I short, whether at public or private, schools technology is constructively aligned with political views, economic competition and long-held teacher attitudes. School is not teaching children to use technology or media in any systematic way. Schools are systems, they are based on scarcity – where teachers provide information, knowledge and skills, which can only be had – at school. I am not saying school doesn’t provide children with useful skills and information – simply that there’s no evidence so far to suggest it does that better with it’s current ideology, approach and belief about what technology is or what it’s used for.

Sociological research into parenting and the media illuminates numerous issue with schools assuming the lead (most correct) position to teach children about technology and media. Firstly, most children in Australia are growing up in media-rich homes. Secondly, schools dismantled ‘computing science’ decades ago, convinced that on-going domestication of computers reduced the need for specialist mathematical, logical and engineering in favor of laptops being diffused into every classroom – despite active and passive resistance of staff. By 2007, the computer science lab was a relic and largely unfunded and dismantled in favour of the ‘digital revolution’. Today, the ‘digital revolution’ is unfunded and largely forgotten along side computer science laboratories. Some schools are trying to resurrect them in the face of indifferent parent responses to the BYOD (bring your own device) — which itself is purely a result of un-funding the ‘revolution’. Dear parents, schools have a short and terrible history of bungling technological initiatives, jumping on brand-wagons and failing to recognize what is needed. Games, social media, mobiles, streaming video have all been banned and outlawed in the last decade. Labs closed and libraries unfunded and at time’s gutted. There is little to suggest schools are leading experts in technology – or media.

Today, innovation is the buzz-world. Girl-Code-Camps are letting girls (yes girls) learn to program. How revolutionary! Science and Computing are getting federal money to promote them as STEM Labs (which had previously been removed) and the funky vanguard of social-media edupunks are now part of the establishment paraphernalia which continues to ensure ‘smart kids’ are separated from the rest, maintaining the disadvantage. Nope, in the last decade, I can’t see that schools have learned very much at all – and continue to practice self-isolation from media cultures.

Children at home are not organised by age, nor are their interests isolated and indulged in fixed, regulated time periods. For parents, regulating media is a never ending negotiation with no obvious end in sight. No longer can they allow TV watching at certain times because their children are developing their media consumption skills at such a rate, that the TV is just one element of leisure and remains the one parent’s distrust and are skeptical about the most. This media development age seems un-recognised by schools. While a teacher bangs on about how cool they are using Edmodo, a 12 year old finishes Tomb Raider in 8 hours and another completes Fallout 4 without killing anyone. Children have a developing media consumer profile which schools ignore. I think, from my observations, that using Edmodo to power an equity would require a media development age of 9, maybe 12 at best – if we were to compare that to what children are learning and going in homes.

And that’s the issue for me, school failure to recognize broader social changes in which media is used as cultural vehicles for disbursing knowledge and skills and a profession which effectively set aside computer science for a decade and now believes the pop-culture use of code-hour and 3D printers is what we should all be doing.

What is school for? if has a history of bungling media choices and u-turns on technological infrastructure so far … at what point does it acknowledge it has mis-managed and mis-judged the medium and then look beyond it’s own horizons.


Occupational Communities eat PLNs for beakfast

I have not been won over by the phrase “PLN” or “Personal Learning Network”. It merely decries the obvious way in which professionals used technology to communicate and doesn’t account for the narcessitic behaviour of some who farm their audience as a form on populist commercial self-gratification (are the estabishment, yet like to present themselves as counter-establishment). Nope, the PLN is at best ‘some teachers communicate using populist media’ and beyond that it holds no proven benefit to ‘teachers’ as a whole or students. However, it will get you into the $1000 plus Innovation Conference for a discount and people will bestow ego-warming praise on your innovative self.
Gamers on the the other hand have a much stronger connection with other players. The are an Occupational Community. As I’m going to set out, this isn’t the same as a PLN. OC’s communicate and reinforce the appropriate, required, and/or expected actions and interactions of group members. In this way, members are deemed to be part of the community through demonstrated behavioural enactment rather than through denotative labelling due to geographical proximity, shared employer, or shared occupational title or skill set (Van Maanen & Barley, 1984, p. 295). Three of the seven characteristics listed by Trice and Beyer (1993) map to the boundaries element: (1) members have esoteric knowledge and expertise; (2) work involves danger, extreme situations, or unusual demands; and (3) members are conscious of insiders and outsiders.
I argue that being in a PLN lacs (2) and probably (1) – however, you can’t play games or be in gaming community if you don’t demonstrate all three. So while some teachers ignorantly still claim Minecraft is Educational, they miss the point of what kids are learning. They are learning that OCs are productive and have shared social identity. They are not in the binary ebb and flow of the PLN (novice/master) and I’d argue that the longer the same people are allowed to shape and control the same media spaces (Twitter Hash) that no innovation is possible.
To me, Twitter is mainstream and part of the communication paraphernalia which promotes consumer-media. Why not encourage children to bathe in iridium – as people once thought that was good for them too. Obviously, on a pure and idyllic level, Twitter is a decent enough short-message platform, but it isn’t pure or idyllic. Its owned and farmed by corporations aided an abetted by some ‘teachers’ who have subscribed all to easily to the PLN fantasy, where in fact, they would benefit from looking into how OC’s function (be that gaming, music or other). No one seems to stop and wonder why Twitter is the ‘teachers choice’ – and that doctors, dentists, engineers, musicians etc., don’t attempt to use it for their OCs. I refer back to Trice and Beyer to suggest why.

Back to the game

I’ve had a really hectic year. It’s been a great-stable year and one in which new challenges have arisen. I started working at Australia’s unique International Football & Tennis School, where all our classrooms are both open learning spaces and use the project based learning approach.

In 12 months, the school has transformed itself several time and this year has been well and truly established itself as a highly successful and innovative place that parents want their kids to be. We took out an innovative schools award along the way and our classrooms are bursting with kids who love the unique opportunity to train and play with professional football and tennis players – the kind who represent their country. It’s a place like no other — and doesn’t have to pretend it’s PBL (while being stuck inside the dogma of public ideology and testing). Not do it’s teachers hold court on Twitter to appear important.

Its amazing how consciously taking a year off from the madding educrowd of Twitter has been positive. I know we all think ‘connected’ is essential, but when some of those you’re connected to are on a loop — it’s actually bad.

This year I got to design and teach a Masters course in Game Based Learning as well as put a lot of time into designing learning spaces, future professional development and a game-based positive behaviour for learning program for middle school. All of these things were important to the students … whereas Twitter seems important to teachers who seem to want to be important. Didn’t really miss it …

Next year will be the same, I’m really going to put most of my spare time into my PhD and get on with it. My research has started at which I invite you to take part in and share if you would extend me that kindness.

I hope everyone has a great 2016 … cya next year.

Return of the DS

Ever keen to find way’s to create ‘shared environments’ I’ve recently revisited the Nintendo DS.(Duel Screen). These were HUGE around 2005ish, and for many kids they were the thing to have BEFORE the launch of the iPhone and iPad — which really changed how we experienced and conceptualised hand-held gaming.

Nintendo DS was educational! – Derek Robinson was at the vanguard of this and in my view set the scene for the rest of us. The Captain Crunch on video gaming in school. Of course some quango of short-sighted suits in Scottish Education failed to recognise this for what it was — the tragedy that many pioneering ‘game’ innovators know too well. If you want to hear this from the man himself – watch this video on YouTube in which he sets out the opportunity and passion which is still waiting to be tapped into.

So back to DS 2015. A group of Year 8’s (13-14) have started playing their DS’s in ‘genius’ hour (and other times as I’m pretty lax on gaming). More and more have joined it, and it’s great to see them stroll down memory lane. They are busy discussing games and much more, sharing social-history. Any time I see ‘connecting’ happening, I encourage it … and no I don’t really know where this is going … but at my school – that’s just fine.