Digital PBL – Still light on delivery?

There seems to be no lack of information around ‘Project Based Learning these days. This is good, but also a problem in that information spans several decades. The more recent incarnations, popularised by companies such as New Technology Foundation never really capitalised on Learning Management Systems. The result is a vast amount of graphic organisers, KWL charts and expert-advice, and very little actual ‘projects’ which could be ported from one context to the next.

The advent of better LMS systems promotes using learning analytics as well as a range of tools which can act as project manager, organiser, communicator and most recently, provide learning pathways based on both academic progress and student choice. We are then living at a point in time where no one project suffices: as it’s entirely possible to provide students with several pathways, gamification and tracking.

The LMS can provide both negotiable and non-negotiable learning experiences; wherein protocol based lesson activities can be leveraged into the enquiry, challenge and problem-solving. But where are they? In the case of Canvas’s Learning Commons, it’s a mixed bag of material content – and very little in the way of learning design.

It also takes time to design a project in this way. There is a vast difference between ‘using ICT’ and being able to create a ‘learning design’. Far too many teachers (from what I can see in terms of projects) are handing out a binder of ‘resources’ for students – aka worksheets – and materials. To be honest, this could all be done in an eBook or stuffed on a Flash Drive. The worst designs are simply a scroll of non-wonder where students start at task 1 and end at task Yawn.

Surely we can design learning so that it looks enticing? Surely we can present materials using tools like Canva to at least make it look ‘modern’. I mean, since when did kids see a YouTube video that didn’t have some kind of ‘graphic’ intro. And that leads me to the use of video in PBL courses. Very few examples because it either takes way to long to ‘find’ a video to use or too long to make a video in the zero spare time many teachers have.

So here I am, a decade or more into PBL wondering where the projects are – not just the information about projects. Links and tips welcome!


Super Teachers: Nope.

I know what a super streamer is. Take my go to game, Overwatch. A super streamer is someone who’s pulling half a million views an hour. I also know that the average YouTube subscriber number is about 240, whereas top YouTubers have over 50 million and billions of views. This helps give a context for so-called super teachers with videos that have been accessed 10 million times. What is this metric? Why is it used?

I’d argue a super teacher is a small media player. Khan Academy – the first YouTube super teacher today only pulls about 1.5k views on average, but inspired the trend to create video-content and supply it as a ‘service’ these days – the idea being that ready-made video-content can be streamed to students on a per-user subscription basis.

I am somewhat confused by this.  If all we are seeing is a lecture or spot-content, then why is this considered ‘super teaching’? I for one have spent a decade arguing that ‘content pushing’ might work for ‘remembering’ tests, but in terms of what we can do with ICT today, video lectures are hardly ‘super’ at all.

Using some educational ‘super teacher’ statistics, a content video with 225k views that’s 5 years old – is far from remarkable. A_Seagul will outrun this in 5 minutes of streaming! But then live-streaming and can-o-content are very different beasts. To me, the idea that super teachers are now media hot property with photo-ops for politicians isn’t good for anyone else.

After decades of media innovation, I am really feeling uneasy about the term ‘super teacher’ measured in YouTube views which presents us with video-lectures of essentially one-way content.

This isn’t inspiring me, nor does it reach more than the bottom rung of SAMR and other educational-media theories. It’s not interactive, it’s just stuff. Stuff filmed in HD with a decent low f-stop lens is still just stuff.

I’m clearly not a super teacher. To be honest, I don’t have the time or inclination to make content videos very often and rarely crack 1000 views after a few years. In my defence, I teach art and design, both of which have billions of video’s online, which I can <iframe> into an LMS in seconds. I’m not making content, but shamelessly embed good content from quality sources inside course which I hope do the trick for students.

There are some super-teachers out there. From those who create new schools and new ways to learn, to those who connect with kids every day in unseen and un-celebrated ways – and not measured in views or subscribers.

So I’m not going to swoon if the NSW Premier tells me I’m about to get lucky and meet a super-teacher who’s going to tell me how to ‘flip a classroom’ to get 1.5k views and ascend to the higher ranks.

The problem with low level grinding

As much as I like playing video games, but I really tire of win-one-lose-one grinding that seems ever more pervasive. I get that developers want players to spend time (and money) in their game and not leave – or choose another game. But this seems to have limited appeal in a world where greener-grass is on offer.

Games which grind through fetch quests for days on end to obtain basic resources for hours in the hope that eventually you’ll level up remain popular … but personally, I’m over them.

We all did this in Warcraft, just to get a mount. But times change, they give you one almost immediately these days – and that sucks. The grind seems to offer diminishing returns for old hands when shortcuts are increasingly on offer

We live at a time where we have alternative options to many things in life. In theory, we don’t need to grind through life in the hope that we’ll find something more fun, more rewarding and more meaningful. But life doesn’t have to abide by rules, and people are both logical and illogical – and yet people escape into virtual reality constantly.

In Overwatch, the grind is tiresome. Win a game, lose a game, deal with players quitting, refusing to play other than their favourite hero … which ultimately means those who are flexible, more willing to roll with it – end up losing more often – and don’t have the means to escape the core mechanic.

I wonder if gamification has adopted grinding as it’s core mechanic. What makes something fun and meaningful vs what feels like an endless wheel with terrible loot.

Mr Rudd was wrong about laptops

The role of the teacher has changed since the advent of 1:1 devices and pervasive social media distractions. We used to be worried that students would be a passive audience for online content, then we worried a lack interactive media would render this generation without the skills needed for the real world. We drank the Rudd cordial about every child having a laptop in order to take part in the Digital Revolution.

As a teacher, I often look out at the audience of laptop covers, the flip sides of which were engaged in organising playlists, watching Fornite videos or responding to social-media obligations. The Internet is the backbone of the Instructional Classroom – flipped planning, challenges, rich media and other Woosims have been a feature of lessons for a decade … and yet, the audience seems more distracted than ever.

I am not sure Mr Rudd talked about this when he announced the revolution, and it seems with media articles about the decline of outcomes/results, he might send a few staffers over help monitor the revolution.

Sea of Thieves for Education?


Sea of Thieves is the years surprise success multiplayer. I’d pull up short of calling it a MMO, it is more an action adventure than MMO, with maps (I think limited to 99 players).

It’s fair to call this a multiplayer sandbox adventure and very worthy of being used with 11-16-year-olds in school – who perhaps don’t like stacking block in Minecraft. In many ways, this game fills a much-needed gap in gamer-teacher brain-space as we move away from digital lego and start to think about games as texts.

The game is very new, but with over 300,000 players in closed beta, the game certainly attracted a big crowd. There are some good easons it’s okay for kids is that it’s Teen/PG, with no more violence than Minecraft and less of an emotional rollercoaster than Fortnite. The other reason is when you die and lose nothing – perhaps what you have on your last voyage, but nothing so terrible that you’ll spend your days managing screaming rage all day over ‘items’. The other useful thing to tame the emotional investment is the relatively low effort needed to gather resources – bananas for heath, wood to fix your ship and cannonballs to do what cannonballs do. Aside from a short wait to respawn, there’s not ‘death tax’ in terms of resource or coin loss.

In the game, the open map is fantastic to look at and listen too. The game does take time to play, as the world is (at firsts) a big place to navigate. Saling with a small crew means working together, and for the most part, it’s easy to get a handle of what ‘jobs’ need doing in different situations. The gameplay is simple enough that you don’t need to mic-up with randoms – and of course, you can get one to three friends to crew with you, which to me makes a great ‘breakout-classroom group.

Going on voyages for gold, magic and materials is fun. Handing in loot is all very old school MMO like. No gun upgrades or better ships – just cosmetic upgrades keeps game play fair. No one has the ‘uber’ gun that destroys everything in its path. So its pretty easy to drop in and out of without investing hundreds of hours. All the loot money can be spent on cosmetic changes. This reward tree won’t appeal to those players who lust after to ‘big guns’ to increase damage or the mega-banana health pack – but Rare say that is the point.

That said, there is little sense of sense of ownership and progress in the game. Yes, you can level up and brag about yourself, but it doesn’t mean much as death has little consequence. The game can feel a bit empty at times, but that’s okay, as you sail around and visit islands looking for treasure. As a PC/Xbox crossover, the game does have glitches, despite the first 9gig patch. There is plenty of talk online about possible environmental upgrades: forts, fog, whirlpools, ten man ships … but it’s far too new to predict. The game has taken off, and the developer (and servers) are playing catch-up.

The core is there: so for kids (and schools) this is a great adventure game which allows time for socialising. There’s no ‘home city’ and no ‘faction’ arrangements, so ‘be more pirate’ is perhaps a fitting slogan. Ownership of items hasn’t been turned into a transferable auction house – which is often fraught with issues and I think this has deterred the ‘ganking class’ of player for whom this low-loss adventure style doesn’t tap into their ‘killer’ behaviour. At times there are foul-mouthed muppets, so its not a game you want kids to play with a mic – unsupervised.

I’d say the game is well suited as a ‘text’ for school. There are so many stories to tell about your adventure, despite the seemingly limited content in the game so far – but it does a solid job at recording reputation and achievements. Like Minecraft, I suspect only a few will wade into the water here for a while – as educators seem to want both a critical mass and an “Education Editon” before adopting much of anything. But if you are a teacher who’s willing to do more than follow the crowd – then SoT is definitely a sandbox for you. If you’re a parent with Fornite and PubG fatigue or want to make that connection with gameplay yourself – this might just be the game that makes that happen.

May your chests be filled with treasure and your barrels full of bananas.

Flipped Classroom again? Sorry, no.


I read with concern, an article in the SMH promoting Eddie Woo as the ‘Flipped Classroom”. In 1993, Alison King published “From Sage on the Stage to Guide on the Side which really puts this ‘new idea’ into context – and from that, I’m going to look at the issues this kind of media article is creating.

The article is old news being repurposed.  Aside from a media image of Woo (the one that shows up in Twitter and searches), Woo is used to positioning the article, nothing more and part of the current ‘media currency’ used to attract clicks. We could have seen an image of King, Kohn or any number of academics who have argued for a ‘different approach’ to teaching. So why choose Woo, given the article is constructed from academic media grabs.

The article meanders through the idea of a flipped classroom and attempts to suggest Macquarie University is new-innovative by including this in its pre-teacher training “as a trial” and that this will then take seed in the ‘real world’ as a result.

First of all, the flipped classroom is not new by any reckoning. It’s not even new to Macquarie. I personally know of several education lecturers who have been doing that at Macquarie for many years.

Secondly, Mr Woo is constantly being media-touted as the poster-boy for DEC innovation. Somehow Woo is the embodiment of the neo-DEC ‘quality teacher’. He’s probably a great bloke – but that’s not the point – the point is that DEC has arrived at a point where certain people can enjoy using media because of the work of others who have fought for media, in systems railing against policymakers who have worked very hard to stop it. The construction of Woo is problematic – not least as he’s said some less than accurate or useful things about ‘teachers’ and ‘schools’ on the ABC’s Drum and other sites … so the idea that Woo is a ‘super teacher’ is problematic for us all, including him.

DEC banned YouTube and social media for students and teachers for well over a decade – the decade in which Khan and others used video to flip the classroom. This idea that a ‘super teacher’ has overcome this is fantasy. DEC teachers were routinely sanctioned for using ‘un-approved’ media and spend vast amounts of time and money ‘banning’ media.

The fact they now have a ‘super teacher’ for media promotion is a somewhat late and disingenuous attempt to deny decades of out of step policy and belief. It is also highly ignorant of those teachers who have given their I.P and time to working with new media (without pay/reward/promotion) for over a decade.

Plenty of teachers were flipping their classroom a decade ago and indeed DEC worked with other sectors (under the Education Revolution Funding) to create PLANE – a project to bring exactly this kind of media use to rank and file teachers. Despite PLANEs success – it was disbanded and all it’s IP lost as the various media stores and stories were simply DELETED.

The article then moved to Visual Arts in an attempt to compare it to STEM. STEM is not a subject. It can’t be studied for the HSC, however the attempt to link it is made. Visual Arts in the HSC cannot be compared to STEM in any useful way, nor can it be shown that Visual Art HSC students are dropping the subject to study STEM. It’s also worth pointing out that the ‘new’ National Curriculum for Visual Arts is yet to be ratified. Furthermore, the current ‘digital’ technology subjects – IPT, SDD have seen students leave them in droves for years. IPT is out of date and irrelevant to today’s media world and SDD is basically for those few students willing to take on Visual Basic or some other old programming language their teacher uses in the computer room – which for the last decade has also been in decline as schools fail to invest in computer technology and instead fumble about with cheap laptops, 3D printers and simple robots.

This ticks me off obviously. Firstly, there is a persistent culture of ignoring what is actually needed, what could be done – and who can do it. Instead, selected ‘Edu Celebrities” and “consultants” are left to re-write history and present us with a vision of schools being ‘on the edge’ of attaining some new position – where they have been for decades. It’s a perfect position, whereby nothing has to be done and everything that has been done can be ignored. DEC is no nearer implementing media-education today than it was a decade ago, where it banned media wholesale, refused to allow BYOD and ignored the impact of media-cultures and mobile devices.

Teachers are left to deal with this on a daily basis – and no amount of Eddie Woo is going to reform this culture, nor is having 1% of a University pre-teacher program dabble in media going to compensate for increasing disadvantage in schools – which has been deliberately enacted though policy.

We have no ‘media’ subject in the HSC and perhaps some elements might appear in the new Visual Arts syllabus. However, media and media cultures are a worthy subject in their own right – and academics have been arguing for their inclusion in schools for decades. Having a media-savvy public is perhaps not in the best interests of government or policymakers.

It’s worth also pointing out we have had programming, robots, micro-controllers, engineering and design in TAS for years – and yet we are constantly being told – in  media articles such as this, where constructed images are presented to the public, schools  are a) on the cusp of change b)  this change will remove disadvantage and improve schools and c) that teachers remain individually inept and require poster-boys to inspire them.

Give me a break. Plenty of ‘us’ have been screaming for media education: social media, digital diet, gaming; virtual worlds, media-labs etc for decades. Today, the image of future schools is placed in the hands of media-articles, consultants who bang on about Minecraft and a line of commercial experts selling solutions.

The reality is that schools are already responsible for well over 50% of children’s daily use of media. Schools rely on the Internet so much, and kids spend four to six hours a day using technology.

Sadly, this is all to often to shovel content and ‘tasks’ to them in basic levels of SAMR. There are lots of reasons for that – training, opportunity, location, culture, socio-economic etc., and so ‘flipping the classroom’ is about as useful as saying “wear novelty socks”.

Kids are already immersed in their own media cultures – and bring that into class every day – yet expected to somehow switch off from their own Oasis. The idea that there are some ‘experts’ with YouTube channels that can swap classwork for homework (as if homework is useful) – that STEM is on the rise because Visual Arts are now un-interesting etc., is utter rubbish.

I’m amazed at how easily this is not placed on line as truth.


Der innovation trap


Volkswagen engineers in the 80s were allowed to fiddle with the Golf. They came up with the Golf GTi and therein changed the perception of small-car and sports cars. No longer a three-box saloon or drop-top two seater, the Golf GTi set a new standard. Volkswagen not only made money, but created a new department withing the company – some 50 years after it was making Beetles. Those engineers created something new – and – something that has a legacy and sustained impact on the company – and the driver.

Volkswagen needed to keep with innovation at Peugeot. Peugeot were outselling them and people were buying less Volkswagens. Heinz Kreller, a clever engineer suggested to VW that they produce a new version of the Golf, one which was based on many of the components of the new Golf (VW had finally killed of it’s archaic Beetle design from the 1930s). Kreller said he could improve performance without breaking the bank and they’d sell more cars and open a new market. The management appointed Kreller as the “Head of GTi Engineering”. Intead of building the GTi, Kreller leaned over the course of the next year, he was allowed to make the odd comment at senior engineering meetings, and despite positive feedback, his dream of a GTi never materialised. A few of his ideas were taken on-board (The Golf GT, the Passat GT and Polo GT). Kreller didn’t make the GTI, he just hung around talking about his GTi idea to anyone who’d listen – it didn’t take too long for people to avoid him, not least because they had new jobs such as “Head of Golf R Engineering” and didn’t want him to feel bad about their own rise to success.