That’s the spirit

A Tweet from artist Banksy today “Sometimes, we just have to deal with the fact that life doesn’t always go our way, you just have to remain positive.”. Just what I needed after opening yet another depressing email. Here’s a handy motif. I began the week with a Tweet “may the week be pleasant and those in it, kind”.

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Separating this from that.

I’d just like to take a moment to promote my ‘other’ blog called Negotiations of Play. That site really is only about my PhD thesis into family communications around games and closely related media.

I met with a colleague at Macquarie University last week, and part of the conversation was about how difficult it is an educator to separate the current discourses about school and technology, from the PhD interest in games, parent mediation, consumerism.

Part of this plays out here I guess. An on-going frustration with slogans, products, people not reading research – yet having insights into solutions – the end results manifesting in the facts and figures pointing to declining interest in school, falling digital and traditional literacies, increased entertainment time, online bullying etc.,

So I’m going to make the move to push game and parenting posts to Negotiations of Play and maintain this blog in it’s current opposition to what I see as agenda-driven consumeristic classroom culture. While I have always believed digital media technologies can improve learning, I don’t believe in the junk culture and EduCeleb paradox.

I choose to live with the free folk, beyond the glass walls of EdTech. And as this blog has always said – opinions are my own and you’re free to skip this – if you’re a parent or interested in kids, parenting and gaming – head over to Negotiations of Play and subscribe to the free feed.

Why you must get out my workshop and can’t borrow a brush.

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There is a lot of public media attention around #stem (science, technology, engineering, maths). Politicians have been keen to use this to promote the ‘innovative nation’ conception, even announcing the building of ONE school to do it – but evading questions about why aged or burnt down schools are not been addressed. Don’t be fooled, there is a gap between rich and poor, and these days, even private schools have their own gap – some barely cover costs and others charge astronomical fees.

We then have on-going rhetoric about National Curriculum, better teachers and the decline of literacy. Forget that technology has been taught holistically in schools for decades. I mean, no one who ever made anything in workshop encountered electronics, product design, materials, maths, engineering or science … the idiotic view is that #stem is new and going to change the world of education.

Wait, the Technology curriculum still isn’t finished, the Arts curriculum isn’t finished and the Media curriculum doesn’t exist except in the un-appointed and un-verified world of EduCelebs (Yes, it’s a thing that people identify with) – of which 99.9% are not qualified to teach media, art or technology. Ironically, Computing Science was part of Maths and Science, then moved to TAS and since Rudd got all excited about owning his very own laptops, has  handed over to any one who can swipe an iPad. So let’s think … why is there a decline in #stem – because STEM isn’t an innovation in response to contemporary technology, it’s an outcome of bad decisions.

So digital literacy is in decline, media literacy ignores games and 95% of what kids do online (which isn’t stable of the same as 5 years ago) in order to support the factional views of the EduCelebs who love their 3D printers and Geek-brands and the hater/agnostics who either see EdTech for what it has become, or just can’t be arsed to do more than dot-points, hand out photocopies of text books or go to conferences which tell them to step up.

Here’s some news –  art teachers produce 99.9% of all their own resources and technology teachers are filling their car’s with stuff at Bunnings, using their own tools and wondering WTF is going on … why do administrators believe that we’re somehow doing LESS work or have ‘old’ skills and experience? Perhaps we’re all assumed to be irrelevant now, LESS valuable at a time where junk-culture rules – and we genuinely do ‘that face’ then another expert tells us that a ‘cool’ project is to 3D print a foot for a landmine victim. Hang on, we’re just sweeping up these wood shavings, sorry to be so ancient.

Yes we need to teach computing, yes we need equipment – but we also need good equipment, sustainable funding and the agency to do it. This isn’t new. Administrators used to have ‘computer labs’ – places where we had robotics and stuff. That was pulled down to create some crappy-recyled-tinyhouse-loving maker-space. What TAS, Media/Art Teachers are getting pissed off about (experience daily) — is that they remain underfunded and not even part of the new National Agenda … but then we just finger paint and build wooden pencil cases while driving our Utes with peace stickers on the back. Nothing cool about that. No go to the store, see how much tools and art materials cost and ask, why is this not being funded? – Same reason as ever – were raising consumers not craftsmen.

How to rid your teens bedroom of games

I’ve been asked to give a talk to local parents of primary aged students a talk about games. In Australia, parents see games as mostly positive in primary aged years and are more worried about television (if we’re focused on content). When in high-school, parent’s switch this around and often rage against games. The reality is, by the time they hit high school, parents have created a domain in which using ipads and mobile phones to play games is completely normal. As children get to high school age, the ‘tethering distance’ between parent and child expands. Kids used to go off and hang out, but now they can’t – so they ‘geek out’ playing multiplayer games from about year 3 onwards.

There are two factors that drive this. Massive increases in organized sport and after school activities in the last decade (community and commercially driven) combined with longer work hours and soul-sapping commutes to and from for parents. The consumer driven culture works hand in hand with neoliberal political economies. The result is that high school kids, tend to spend more time in their own space – on devices – playing both casual games and hardcore games (I hate those terms) and streaming entertainment to their devices on demand.

Parents say they ‘hate’ games, but have limited experience of them, when they really mean they feel trapped by inexplicable changes in culture and life generally, which doesn’t appear to match the ‘ideal’ being presented by the media, or the selective halo-posts on social media of their friends illusory more fun, more connected, more real relationships.

In the 1980s, video arcades were seen as complementary to television watching. Research at the time disproved media panics about these places being dens of evil-doers, or that games were addictive. In reality, games were driven into the home because arcades competed with retail – movies and shopping in the high street. By 1981, arcade income was over $9billion in the USA alone. It’s not surprising that local business and big business sought to create media panic and create all manner of ‘licenses’ and civic ordinances to drive arcade owners out of business.  Games entered the home as refugees.

Today, games are not going away. They make so much money in the home that 98% of homes play them on a very regular basis. To change the teenage use of games – in which they play with friends and see it as socializing – is to accept be critical of our own involvement in sustaining the economic and social conditions which keep them there. Part of that is the fact teachers act as sales agents for brands – even if they are game-narrow-minded still.

The question is always, how are you going to minimalise and re-adjust family life? Most kids do want to have unstructured play time with family members, they do like camping and hanging out – but the junk-culture we live in is saturated in the ambitions of retail and commerce, not quality time.

It’s hard to dispel almost fifty years of research which shows games are good for learning, but even more difficult to show that Bill Gates (worth $86 billion) has public interest at heart – let alone the rest of the 1%. That might seem far away from your teens bedroom, but the Internet, school and pervasive media make it no more than a click.

5 pillars that games give kids, and schools don’t.

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Warning: Some/all of this may conflict with your belief about games and human affairs. You might want to skip this post if your idea of a good time is a hashtag chat.

Let’s start with a little known fact: in 2009, Australia had eight separate models of school curriculum.

Let me put forward a list of ways to kill learning using Gary Stager: grades, scores, ability groups, homework, reward, punishment. All of which occurred within 8 different models in Australia – and now a new National Curriculum, which isn’t National *yet or complete – and is a daily experience for teachers and students in the majority (not all) schools. But its the majority of school which provide us with a society – not one special STEM school being built at the expense of St.Clair High School which burned down a few years ago.

So for almost ten years, Australia’s educational system -the processes and methods have been in flux, where teachers have been left to interpret it’s intentions and demands in a pervasive political culture of do more with less. This week, the number of media reports attacking schools, parents and students was quite alarming – and cannot avoid being seen as a well-funded political mess by those in the classroom. It points to the core ideology that is still driving Outcomes Based Education (OBE) and growing disadvantage.

We can also go back over the last fifty years and see why the dominant ‘operant conditioning’ ideology of school systems from the Cultural left has made it difficult to adopt cognitive and constructionist theories at more than a cursory level.

I’m researching human-affairs the 1970s and 1980s video arcades and games right now. Going back to the literature of the 1970s and 80s, it’ss easy to see why this would have been seen as a youth-apocalypse.

But today, why are we stuck using Minecraft and not just also playing amazing games such as Overwatch, Warcraft or Zelda? Why does it have to be a) Minecraft of b) some edu-game about civics and how bad the world is – without creating opportunities to fix it. Games do that – bad things happen and you get to fix it – on the spot. No mull over it and feel powerless and disconnected. Do we still fear the youth apocalypse despite 40 years of research saying it’s rubbish? Is it simply that teachers don’t read academic research, and prefer pithy Tweets because they are acrtually more useful and informative. I’d sat you can more easily describe EduTwitter as two-part social behaviorism of the 1960s than what happening in the rest of the online world – including video games.

Even today, I’d argue schools use Minecraft because they FAIL to understand (or rather accept) that beneath the 3D printer labs and apps and Microsoft/Apple shrines, the ideology hasn’t changed.

Since the 1980’s, video games have shown hundreds of millions of people that traditional learning model is a terrible experience. Research shows the best theories and practices towards using technology have been set aside in favour of brands, slogans, and compromise which has resulted in NO SIGNIFICANT CHANGE let alone improvement.

The dogmatic civic demand to get a sheet of paper when you’re eighteen or nineteen as a moment of truth, summing up all that you are combined with a legal attendance that perpetuates it and prevents you doing things you are good at … (unless it’s sport). Want to spend the day at home modding a game – no way!

Schools only use Minecraft because they FAIL to understand (or rather accept) that beneath the 3D printer labs and apps and Microsoft/Apple shrines, the ideology hasn’t changed. Those using it are probably proficient in this paradox, but the paradox needs reframing and so far is crippled by fads and easy solutions.From the 1980’s, video games have shown hundreds of millions of people that learning under this model is a terrible experience – and it’s only the dogmatic demand of a sheet of paper when you’re eighteen or nineteen as a moment of truth combined with a legal attendance that perpetuates it.

Since the 1980’s, video games  have showed hundreds of millions of people that learning under this model is a terrible experience for most.

Games demanded they learned in a fundamentally different way to school – and were fun and they could be in control.  In the 1960s and 1970s the social behaviorism paradigm – be that two part, three part etc.,  underpinned schools, yet could not avoid running head on into digital technology and the message the medium now transmitted. In the 80s, building your own computer, programming it to do what you wanted was amazing. In the 90s you could use it access information and services that removed the tyranny of distance.

In 2007, the iPhone arrived. Meanwhile in Australia, the government finally decided there was a technological revolution to be addressed – now it’s 2017.

Once implemented, the policies will lead to a significant shift in how schools operate, including: what is taught and how it is assessed; teacher training, professional development and registration; how schools and teachers are evaluated and rewarded in terms of performance; and how school funding is decided. – Dr Kevin Donnelly (2009)

As a blogger, I’m going to say that this revolution is at best incomplete and as I’ll go on to explain, constgructed inside the same problematic paradoxes

It wasn’t until the 1970s that people, often outside fields of education, started to find artifacts and objects – such as games and computers – that allowed a physical expression of the things theorists such as Piaget had been saying thirty or more years earlier. Where some saw arcades and home video systems as destroying the fabric of society, others pointed out how computers, toys and games liberated society from it’s past. 40 years is a long time to become a revolution – let alone one in which literacy rates are falling (PISA, OECD), as is student behavior (according to Murdoch) and teacher pay is falling behind ‘real’ inflation and the cost of living. To me, it’s never too late to look at the past and all to easy to find voices of reason and vision.

The father of computing in education – Seymour Papert provided us with the seminal Constructionist theory of learning in which people build knowledge most effectively when they are actively engaged in constructing things in the world. Ironically, his work is still not given the respect it deserves [opnion] by major educational technology associations and authorities that get to direct how kids learn in school . They appear pre-occuplied with new consumption machines, rather than using evidence, which is ironic given Outcome Based Education (OBE) only works if the evidence is relevant to the learner and society.

I am no Papert expert, however, every teacher should know he explored how childhood objects have a deep influence on how and what children learn. In “Mindstorms,” Papert explained how he “fell in love with gears” as a child, and how he hoped to “turn computers into instruments flexible enough so that many children can each create for themselves something like what the gears were for me.”.

For me, video games create a foundational learning experience before school. It’s only when school systems actively accept it might be possible, and then build a sustainable structure using evidence-based research, such as Papert – that they evolve – and to do that, reject the current junk-culture that washes through Chitteristic echo-chambers.

 EdTech invests far too much time following false binary propositions based on personality dimensions. Oh how education loves a binary debate. I’m sure there’s a hashtag chat on right now that is exploring one of these themes … because they are easy and require no evidence or implementation at all.
  • self-esteem/self-degradation
  • social deviancy/ social conformity
  • hostility/kindness
  • social withdrawal/gregariousness
  • obsessiveness/compulsiveness
  • achievement/motivation.

The dogmatic demand of summative sheet of paper and score when you’re eighteen or nineteen as a moment of truth combined though a legal obligation to attend school daily.

For me, there are FIVE PILLARS that I want to bring into learning. And learning is about technology, environments, and agency. It’s also why I believe playing video games is not a waste of time.

When I hear people rant on about ‘addiction’ and ‘too much screen time’ – that’s their opinion. But ask them, what are you doing right now in their lives to give them these five pillars of learning about the world around them …. draw me a picture of that … please don’t claim … we can’t do X because of games or that games have done Y because …

It’s taken 30 years of research and technological development to say that right now, a kid can get all five of these things whenever they want – but probably not at school.

1) Learning takes place in a total context of immediate action, feeling and perception;

2) attention must be devoted to the child’s thought processes to determine his level of cognitive development;

3) errors should be accepted as information that can serve to correct one’s practice or ideas, rather than being viewed as behavior to be eliminated;

4) the mental processes involved in the search for understanding contain their own self-expanding and extending  ; and

5) provision for self-selected activities is essential to keeping alive the “urge to learn.” Consequently, self-undertaken practice needs no artificial motivation.

Happy Sunday.

Finaland or bust.

My post this week is about the hyper frame which surrounds education. Teachers are routinely told directly and indirectly they are part of a deficit profession, where costs are up and yet results are declining — the resulting frame for teachers is ‘do more with less’ and to accept to work in a profession where inspectors and authorities (also known as the mysterious they) will sit in closed-door judgement of their work, as though the crisis and deficit in education has not occurred through global politics and economic policy and best solved by weeding out the chaff – regardless circumstances and opportunities.

Experience is the best teacher. It isn’t easy to be a teacher despite un-evidenced claims that Universities are doing a poor job at training them. But the do more with less manta isn’t about quality teaching or reform, it is about money. Teaching is a profession where the long-tail of expectations – things teachers do that is invisible – is an inexhaustible pool. The juxtaposition that teaching is both too expensive and in deficit sits against an economic landscape where electricity prices have risen 50% in the last decade and house prices in Australia’s major cities have skyrocketed. New teachers cannot afford a house in Sydney, and face a two hour communute from a rented house share. So do more with less, includes things out of school – such as less quality of life and realistic tipping point. Teachers have always paid for things for their classes and not ‘claimed the expense’ unlike the world of politics, where expenses are seen as a right – teachers cannot realistically fund the system forever.

Schools are now compared to the ‘Finland’ and it’s worth looking this …

Finland has developed a deeply thoughtful curriculum and then provided teachers ever more autonomy with respect to how they approach that curriculum, they have both a curriculum worth teaching to and the kind of autonomy in how they approach it that is characteristic only of the high status professions.  Because Finland is at the frontiers of curriculum design to support creativity and innovation, teachers have a job that has many of the attractions of the professions that involve research, development and design – NCEE

Now let’s revisit other countries. Teaching is not a high status profession as it is in Finland.  If it was, parents and students would not physically or verbally attack teachers. Teachers are also not encouraged to be researchers, but consumers of products which they are told to use (by ‘experts’) as they are going to improve the outcomes of students. Classroom teachers often have very limited input into these products or processes.

In Finland 85% of teachers stay until retirement. They are paid roughly the same as other OECD countries, but the schools are not run by administrators or the hyperframe of deficit and failure which the media report is response to political and lobby group rhetoric about lowering costs and driving up productivity. Children are not products, but products seek children out as life long revenue streams. This is fundamentally wrong and partly why I oppose the endless sloganeering and brandification of schools (who can afford it).

Finnish teachers work HALF the hours of their American counterparts. So in many ways, people who say directly or imply accept how things are – are never going to change, anymore than he’s going to leave his wife and be with you tomorrow. American, Australian, and UK teachers have many more obligations than Finnish teachers, meaning potentially high levels of stress and less time for planning enriching educational activities. So there will be less, but not in the cost saving way the administrators insist will occur.

The hyper frame has two positions – those of the administration and those of the teachers. Finding a common frame is not going to achieved by expecting teachers to continually accept a culture of fall-back and criticism, but one of advancement and tangible benefits to their status, health and environment – which also has a flow on effect to the most important people in our society, those without a voice and choice – children.