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.

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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.

Two paths: 2019 Tech syllabus

So I’ve been working on the solution to 2019 Tech syllabus.

When I say working, I mean trying to wrestle with the wicked problem around what it means by ‘quality solutions’. I guess it means, a different kind of quality solution from the current one – which is long past its use-by date. Aside from that, I figure there are two paths.

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One path leads to using out of the box software solutions which will spew out content and come up with some algorithmic determination: probably a score, number or another icon to represent the student’s understanding. This is seductive as I could block code, pump it into Minecraft and say how well I’ve met the new benchmark.

We know kids love Minecraft (unless you offer them an alternative, which most schools are not about to do). In my standardised biome with my standardised test, I’m gonna tick all those boxes for sure. The downside is that kids arrive at high school from iseveral dimensions: lack of teacher effort; no teacher interest; basic skills, limited resources, little time for this;  through to celebrities and minted budgets where they’ve been using tech at a high level for a long time.

There is no single solution for each student’s context – but the assumption is – higher levels of coding and applied technology is not needed than ever before. Gee, that’s what it’s called Technology and Applied Studies – not STEM. All this is going to mean lots of back-filling of missed skills, concepts and knowledge they will need to tackle something like Unity … or simply settle for code-hour and block programming. The problem with this is that we’re dealing with complex ideas which Scratch etc., goes someway to introduce … it’s still hard for a wide range of reasons including the fact that it’s not entirely the TAS teacher’s responsibility – just like other literacies are not the sole domain of the English Department.

On the other hand … I could take more responsibility for my own learning and address the increasingly problematic ‘user only’ culture that has been pushed onto kids at school and at home. I could settle for “they have gaps” and dumb it down for everyone – or not. But is this going to be authentic, or me just buying software and running online tests?

Not being seduced by the commercial (and popular) easy track means even more work. More time and resources are also needed in differentiation (which I can’t buy or be gifted) as well as trying to encourage students to follow their own interests (should they go beyond Fornite and Rainbow Six) – which I’m up for – always have been.

TAS generally is facing a much bigger elephant in the room than ever before – what is the new level of ‘quality’ and is home-made-stuff better (or perceived to be worse) than the commercial stuff. This helps explain the mad rush to try and work out how this now fits into the super competitive world of STEM –  by TAS world, which has often chosen to sit out the digital debate entirely. The old mentality was “I do wood, she does metal and they do Hospo. You’re in the wrong staff room”. But this new syllabus puts TAS into everyone’s staffroom. It will be a head-spin – as people jostle for position, try to ignore or enthusiastically race off into their own world of ‘cool’. It’s going to be even harder for school leaders who have to find a sustainable and relevant path in all this.

On one hand, the STEM trend clouds what TAS has supposed to have done for decades in technology, but in recent years, I suspect some TAS departments have hid behind the band-saw and avoided digital technology – leaving it to ‘the computing teacher’ in their department. That’s about the change radically. As 50 hours at least lead to digital technologies.

In the last ten years, the technological boundaries kept expanding, but the social and cultural decreased – resulting in lazy-ICT, post-truth denial, media panics about screen-time and the quest to further commercialise children’s learning. Easer, faster, more reliable? … sure, if you think weighing a pig will help you know how happy it is.

So no, I choose not to do block programming, I choose not to accept that everything beyond Office and Google Docs is too hard, or that I can find a software provider to do my job for me.

What does that look like – Hello World, making mistakes … all that stuff that we used to do. It still works.

Digital classrooms and the quest for core-knowledge – but I can’t read it.

Children, or adolescents at least are routinely given text to de-code in order to ‘learn’. Off the shelf material is generally written to a targeted reading level, and therefore those using it are assumed to have attained that level in order to access the content.

This is largely based on the belief that students can acquire ‘core knowledge’ in a subject from this text- and powers the ‘learn about’ and ‘learn to’ approach in many schools. Core-knowledge is based upon E D Hirsch’s thesis that, once students have mastered decoding (turning printed letters on the page into imagined sounds), reading comprehension largely depends upon background or general knowledge. Thus, students are often presented with identical printed texts (books and worksheets) while digital text is often ‘tarted up’ to appear more exciting: meaning extraneous words, pictures, and media are not eliminated but added; important information is not highlighted but lost in a soup of digital content, video and images. Who hasn’t been subjected to a Prezi which leaves the viewer dazed and confused? And don’t get me started on Canva hipster text.

There are several problems with the idea that students can acquire core-knowledge in any subject using this approach. Firstly, research has shown it to have zero effect on comprehension. The key issue is that this approach assumes children are largely identical; that the teacher has sufficient personal core-knowledge to teach it – and beyond; and the standardised text is revealing a true picture of the student.

In digital contexts, using the Internet to search for text to apply to an online course, or being able to operate MS Office like word-processors isn’t sufficient. Some understanding of eLearning principles and methods is needed. For example: is the text being given to students too complex to decode.

By the end of middle school the curriculum is expecting students can read:

  • elements that require interpretation, such as complex plots, sophisticated themes and abstract ideas
  • complex layers of meaning, and/or information that is irrelevant to the identified purpose for reading (that is, competing information), requiring students to infer meanings or make judgments
  • non-continuous text structures and mixed text types
  • sentences that vary in length, including long, complex sentences that contain a lot of information
  • adverbial clauses or connectives that require students to make links across the whole text
  • academic and content-specific vocabulary
  • words and phrases with multiple meanings that require students to know and use effective word-solving strategies to retain their focus on meaning
  • metaphor, analogy, and connotative language that is open to interpretation
  • illustrations, photographs, text boxes, diagrams, maps, charts, and graphs, containing main ideas that relate to the text’s content.

Hirsch’s point is that, beyond decoding text, reading comprehension skills are not transferable. So how come children appear to have little difficulty comprehending complex video games – which are largely designed for adults?

Here’s another example of the problem in just using things found online as a class text.

 

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Here’s an example from the ABC’s history website of digital text – pasted into the free Hemmingway app. Yes, it meets a Grade 8 (good readability), but it also shows a number of sentences will be hard to read for some students – yet all students will be given it.

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In a digital book on the website, the above is from the first page of a multi-page digital book. It’s twice as hard to ‘read’. I guess my point is that it’s all too easy to create digital text and place it in front of students as they get older and assumes that the core-knowledge approach has been successful. In contrast, we are constantly being told that children’s reading ability is falling – and an increase in using standardised tests to ‘check’ their reading ability both online and on paper. There are some obvious issues here: digital texts are not the same as printed text, people process digital information differently to print; digital text comes with an array of sensory and accessibility issues and the ease at which we can ‘throw a doc up’ – doesn’t mean the text is easily read by any given set of individuals who happen to be in a room.

The two biggest factors to consider (IMO) when creating digital texts is their modality and how they are segmented. The goal is to allow more able students to read beyond what is being shown, but for the least able to be able to at least de-code the key information, through the use of formatting and layout. We know that better background knowledge causes better reading comprehension. I cannot express enough how much I dislike the practice of ‘providing students with content’.  Piles of text issued on paper (see Will Richardson’s view on paper piles) and digital dumpsters of documents. From this we attempt to determine comprehension through some standardised test. Yes you handed out all the text that applied to the dot point and then gave the kids a test. Well done, but what did they actually read – and what did they comprehend.

Great teachers think carefully about the text they give out. They craft it to be readable and are well prepared to segment it with their own background knowledge. They use the digital to scaffold the modality of the text – with video, graphics and other images. They are conscious of the need for teachers to provide a natural voice in their practice. I think that those who use the digital well (but often unseen by external observers) are also likely to change the physical space to suit their objectives. These teachers are likely to also be the ones who are very interested in classroom design – for the digital age. I do like this infographic from USC on the topic.

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