76 Trombones in the reform parade

Reform is all about the future. Humans are notoriously optimistic about the future and every song and dance man can belt out a tune about leadership, motivation and how to turn dreams into reality. You only have to spend a few minutes on Twitter to see how the 21st Century SocMedia Leaders use ‘the future’ as a pervasive attention-grabber.

Sadly, and for all their seventy-six trombones, the future is notoriously unpredictable which also makes it perfect for doing exactly nothing. If we’re talking about actual reform, where we’re crafting and implementing a new and mostly unique model of learning – even the best intentions will run into the ongoing culture which is strapped to the neo-liberal pole of ‘do more with less’. The job of reform is thankless and at times borders on dangerous. Most people don’t want to change. Our brains are wired up to notice these things, and it tells us that change is hard and dangerous – so don’t get involved.

Saying you’re on board or wanting it doesn’t make it true. Reform is very difficult because our monkey brains spend all their time avoiding danger and risk, and want to do things that have proven safe and easy in the past. There is an end destination – the one that we all want to get to. People seem to think that at some point, the motivation to do it will come – and bingo, next stop Reform City. I don’t believe this. I used to, but time and again, people love the parade, but don’t stick around for the actual work. Even worse, the online culture has convinced people that we can reform classrooms using the ‘think system’ and not put in any [more] effort.

So even if you have this amazing thing that can transform learning and teaching — it’s going to get bogged down in the mud. People are going to wait you out and see if it goes away or worse, watch it crash and burn. I admire people who set out to reform schools – and entire systems – because it’s HARD WORK and I have little time for keynotes and Twitter experts who to me are song and dance men at the end of the day. If you’re in the reforming business – you know what I mean … seventy six trombones in the big parade!

Immerse, Investigate and Act

I first started using PBL around 2006. My school at the time was the first in the country to adopt it’s ethos and Buck Institute method. It worked so well, that I became somewhat of an advocate, showing other teachers the method, and helping them craft their early projects. Many of those teachers have also shared PBL with colleagues and today, there are many teachers using it in Australia — although the modernist demands of the current educational-political climate is far from accepting, and a long way from cultures we see in Finland. In fact, to be a school (not a teacher) doing something ‘alternative’ means culture will call it ‘alternative’ just to ensure it’s own survival.

We hear time and again that imagination is lacking in schools – and to me, imagination is still the untapped secret in developing engaging activities. Many teachers are surprised to learn that “imaginative education” is not just a real thing, but one founded in research which also shows how well it works. If kids can imagine success or being successful, then they are much more likely to put the effort it – and not zone out. Zoning out and doing nothing much is the biggest single problem in schools (says recent reports) – and when bolted onto predictable lessons – or PBL cycles – I can appreciate why.

There is a big difference between a teacher using PBL and a school using it. Over the last ten years, I’ve found the BIE model of PBL less and less effective and more and more simplistic. PBL wasn’t designed for the information age, nor the media culture infused into children’s lives. It’s an 80’s progressive rock band still on tour, when the kids are listing to Flume and Architects. If the school is committed to doing something ‘alternative’ then that doesn’t mean the teachers are making things up or have abandoned the scholarship of teaching. Quite the opposite – it takes a lot of effort to create and sustain – and there’s no safety net.

Ove the last two years, I’ve been refining an update to PBL. Based on the work of numerous scholars such as Pappert, Salen, Gee, Egan, Seeley-Brown (and my own work!) – it simplifies the BIE cycle into something which provides a ‘challenge based’ structure to work within.

The students still get the whole project up front, but work through level-challenges at their own pace. A nano project might last a few hours, a mini project a few weeks or a a full project a term or even year.

Essentially, there are three stages, which are episodic – like a good video game, movie or TV series. There’s a big idea, an essential question or drama in each episode and our heroic students work to develop a deeper understanding using their imagination – before moving on to an investigation. In PBL, children are told to use their ‘need to know’ list and ‘kwl chart’ almost at the outset. In a world pre-Internet 2017, that might have worked – but not today. An investigation needs a method and students need to learn to recognise which method suits a particular style of investigation – just as we see different research methods in University disciplines. The homogenous approach of PBL (BIE style) and that I’m still seeing promoted in Australia – fails to account for the various methods needed to research using media – and the embedded information fluencies that lie within. In part, I think this is often down to some of the current exponents limited skill in using media combined with the goat-track-fetishism that takes them all down the same EdTech path – 0ne that allows them to share a common dialog at TeachMeets, Hashtag Fests etc., but once places severe boundaries on children’s own media experiences and skills. The second stage of a project is therefore about guiding and analysis – not need to knows.

Thirdly, students need to act. This comes from gaming – solve (mental work), implement (making, playing, modding, inventing) and finally evaluate – did it work, what the foundational knowledge and skills sufficient, did the research provide enough of a clue – do you need to try again?

“Imagination is the essence of discovery” – Winston, Overwatch (Blizzard)

Within this, the activities students do are tied to verbs – each episode in deliberately truncated when it comes to the verbs we can use. This ensures learning is scaffolded and starts with a ‘win’, but also allow students to craft thier own questions and make choices based on their current achievement and developmental knowledge of the topic.

So far, this process which is supported by the classroom organisation and socio-cultural norms such as ‘shoes off and headphones out’ is proving to be successful – beyond that I’ve had in PBL.  Onward and upward then ….


Fifty years of games

It’s been fifty years since Baer invented video games. It has been thirty years since the days of coin operated arcades and parlors gave way to home consoles. To give some perspective here, video games consoles were bought in their millions and nothing has changed.

It isn’t sufficient for educators to tweet out”I am playing Minecraft Edu” to suggest they are now on board with THE new literacy – games. *Coughs*.

This lego-like environment is to literacy as one of its blocks is to an entire Minecraft world. The essential element that has been omitted (and still is) is that games have re-ordered literacy to become the most popular, diverse and complex media available to us – on a mobile and global scale. Despite this they are still at the back of the educator line and the order of which literacies matter in teacher culture is clearly shackled to the modernist school schematic that kids find so BORING and dull.

In our society – the one being over run by consumerism and fake news – games are an important cultural commodity  essential to the how children experience the world around them and how their tastes, interests and expressions are formed and reproduced.

If you want to let children watch endless “Trump” and want them to share your outrage, go ahead … games are perhaps your child’s sanctuary from other media. Children have a hard time processing adult-views of the world and I seriously doubt the concepts involved do anything that fuel their concerns about they lack of control in the world.

Why do games matter as a culture? Videogames exploit all of the four key affordances of digital media: procedural, participatory, encyclopedic, and spatial. They don’t carry the adult current binary themes of mainstream media, nor do they support the kind of hate and bullying in ‘social media’. But games are bad. Let’s ban them – but you over there Minecraft Edu, you’re okay. This is dumb.

Teachers using Minecraft seem to base almost all their opinions about why they like it on spacial and participation. Having said that, participation isn’t happening within games as culture, but within school culture. At best, this is half the potential of games and far from understanding them as a literacy.

That’s why Rooster Teeth convention in Sydney today is sold out – and I doubt many teachers would know what it is, let alone why it will give them more insight that a years worth of teacher to teacher Minecraft Edu ^brofisting.

**goes back to playing Overwatch**

Xbox Live: What do parents need to know about Party Chat

If you own and Xbox or PS4, the chances are your child is playing online with a headset. In the past, the online-stranger-danger centred on so-called ‘internet chat rooms’. These things died ten years ago in reality, but TV and movies tend to talk about them still. Today, it’s not likely your child is live-chatting because there are so many better options such as Snap Chat and Xbox Live.

This post talks about ‘party chat’ as distinct from in-game chat. I am therefore not talking about in-game commands, co-ordination and instructions that players might do to win – I’m talking about the social chat that sits above that. The difference between game chat and party chat.

Should you be concerned about voice chat in a game? Yes. Most parents never sit in party chats and play games, so have no experience of what is going on. It’s like saying you can visit a different culture and apply your own culture’s norm to it and expect it to be the same. It’s not a case of it being bad or good – but to understand that party chat is a pervasive communication layer that defies geography and allows kids to maintain a semi-permanent tie to people they like and share values with. I hesitate to use the term ‘friends’ here as this term is illusory and yet used constantly in games to signal relationships. This post therefore tries to give you some background on party-chat: who uses it, what it is, how it’s used and so forth – you could ‘ban’ it, but that doesn’t actually create more harmony or stronger ties in the family or outside of it.

I’m also saying you (the parent) need to listen and understand it as a layer of communication between kids and not as an extension of a video game at all. So let me get into it.

Party chat is wide ranging. It is more of a hang-out than a tool to improve game performance. The second use is to say “I am here”. This is deeply connected with growing up. I’m not talking about the latter here – it’s too complex for a blog post. But be aware that kids use to tell the illusory world beyond your house – I am here and I’m connected.

Kids are often in a party chat but playing DIFFERENT games or even watching Netflix. On the upside, these tend to be tight-friend based parties in which the same kids come and go. Party chat is a communication layer, much like Skype. It sits over the game. The more sophisticated version being Twitch, where kids broadcast to the web and an audience forms online as a party. Most kids are watching Twitch (lots of F-Bombs) and not broadcasting – but they do mimic what they see in party charts. Little Jonny is probably going to try an F-Bomb in party chat – because, at the dinner table, that would have consequences! This doesn’t make them a bad kid!

Is my kid playing with online F-Bomb weirdos then?

Strangers are not likely and kids don’t leave the party ‘open’ to random joiners. The downside is that kids use this space to ‘shit-talk’ each other. This is complex, but many parents might be shocked to hear the projected persona of their own child. It’s just ONE identity they are experimenting with – don’t freak out. It doesn’t mean they are going one percent biker.

Don’t assume this is teenager issue either. Primary aged kids are among the biggest users as they can connect without needing mum or dad to take them to a friends house. The language in some of these parties can be quite alarming. This is about boundary testing and other developmental reasons – not as they are bad kids – but be aware, kids do swear a lot. They also don’t listen to each other too much. Unlike a real world interchange – shit talking – is almost part of the competitiveness of the game – as kids comment on others, testing relationships and figuring out where they are in the overall scheme of things.

Party Chat‘ allow kids select who they want to talk to. Who is in and out. There are squabbles here, as kids rage-quit the party or group ditches a kid for some reason. In my observation this is not long-lasting and they don’t seem to hold grudges. The party is likely to be a mix of in real life (IRL) and met online friends. Don’t expect this to the same IRL friend group from school. They may party chat online with kids they would not talk to at school. This appear very normal.

This is likely to be a mix of in real life (IRL) and met online friends. Don’t expect this to the same IRL friend group from school. They may plan online with kids they would not talk to at school.

Party chat is wide ranging. It is more of a hangout than a tool to improve game play. It’s mostly about ‘being present’ and socialising and a very casual basis. You teen might be in the party all day and only say three words. The important thing is that want to be connected – and the good news is that party chat is almost always a closed network and the core group quickly vet anyone joining – usually through an invite from someone already in the party.

A note here about ‘friends’. Kids add other players who didn’t suck, or perhaps compromised and helped in the game – where others didn’t. A ‘friend’ is more a ‘preferred player’ in most cases, but Xbox uses ‘friends’ as part of its taxonomy. It doesn’t mean “friend” in the same way it does IRL. The parent just appear dumb when they quiz kids about ‘real friends’ and ‘have you met them’ – kids think this is a ridiculous line of attack.

Furthermore, kids are often in a party chat playing DIFFERENT games or even watching Netflix. The downside of party groups is that kids use this space to ‘shit-talk’ each other. You might as well learn that term. Don’t freak, if a kid ‘shit-talks’ another, the other one usually doesn’t care or even respond. Telling another player “you’re bad” is far worse in the taxonomy of commentary. I’m not suggesting this is the norm, there are some very sensible and articulate kids in game chat – but there are morons – just as there are everywhere else in life. Kids often mirror what’s going on, they test out new identities – and yes, your otherwise angelic boy has probably heard and used language that won’t be alarming at the dinner table.

The reasons for this are complex. Don’t assume ‘shit-talking’ is teenager only, primary aged kids are among the biggest users as they can connect without needing mum or dad to take them to a friends house. Younger kids are full of bravado and mosy of the time, they provide a running, high-pitched commentary on the game. They verbalise their thoughts – not caring if anyone’s listening. Broadly speaking, older gamers call them mic-squeakers and mute them. Mic-squeakers are prolific trash-talkers to other mic-squeakers. Most of them don’t swear, but plenty does.The language in some of these parties can be quite alarming. This is about boundary testing and other developmental reasons – not as they are bad kids – but be aware, kids do swear a lot. They also don’t listen to each other too much. Unlike a real world interchange – shit talking – is almost part of the competitiveness of the game – as kids comment on others, testing relationships and figuring out where they are in the overall scheme of things.

My point here is that friend based party chat DOES often contain swearing – shit talking – and at the same time, this does NOT MEAN your child would do it outside of the party. Overall, party-chat is well meaning and players can come and go – which they do often. To me, it doesn’t appear a persistent space where systematic bullying might thrive – unlike Snap Chat and Facebook – which are far more permanent in terms of digital footprint.

My suggestion is to get in a party chat – the one your kid uses – and play. Figure out what is going on. You might find your kid is spending time with some GREAT kids and that they are very responsible. You might also discover shit-talking isn’t an idicator of much more than the advancing media culture in which F-Bombs and slagging off others isn’t now seen as Taboo.

Either way – Party Chat isnt going away …

Has Web2.0 finally died?

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This is a screenshot of the online applications that are being offered to students at University. The old criticism of school’s approach to computing was that it focused on stand-alone office automation (Word and Excel). Now we see a range of applications that to many (including me) are ‘new’. One reason for this has been my own resistance to getting onboard with brandification in schools, and the demise of the open-source ethic long associated with educational technology.

The question of the day is what do we gain or lose by investing time and attention in these applications vs attempting to create workflows with other, perhaps more longstanding applications which emerged from Web2.0. In school, this graphic is a clear symbol of what students are going to need to know about in tertiary education. I suspect the Word essay will remain common in assessment (it’s easier and cheaper to mark) and for the most part, other applications will be work-flow for the more media savvy. So on that basis, this isn’t a ‘panic’ as 90% of these applications are not going to apply to undergraduate life.

However, the image itself is a powerful reminder of ongoing influence brands now have on how what and how people learn – under the illusory notion of that students have a choice. From a student perspective, being able to get all this ‘for free’ is a bonus. For universities, if further extends the notion of the virtual campus, where, like shopping centres, a corporal campus is a place of entertainment and leisure, not retail or learning primarily as a social function of the transmedia experience which is a necessity if students want to attain a degree. I wonder if the debate about the death of lectures should continue … given the clear move to virtualise the campus for learning, and use it as a social-hub with a selection of high-end labs and other spaces which allow production beyond the essay.

So I’m onboard, a new suite of software for my PhD, new email address and 8gig less space on my hard drive. Welcome to 2017 …

Do I blog another year?

End of the year again, and the perennial question return – is blogging dead?

According to Google Trends, some topics remain popular, however finding educational blog content becomes ever more difficult though the use of Google’s search *cough engine. The popular view is that ‘blogging’ reached a peak around 2006-2008. Bloggers began to use a range of tools (email subscriptions, ebooks) and of course the advice to move to the ‘on trend’ platform such as Tumblr or Periscope.

The personal blog has long since been packaged and re-packaged as a tool which creates personal income and tangential success as a result. The message is perhaps the key to relevance, and as I end 2016, my tenth year of tapping out a blog – there are some messages that no longer interest people – according to Google Trends etc.,

Education has been well and truly commodified. Bloggers who curate, review and amplify software and brand messages dominate the online discourse. Counter-voices are simply washed away in the rankings – offering no value to advertisers. The personal blog (this) is dead, aside from it’s value to me (the tapper).

Some decisions need to be made here …

  1. What topics am I actually interested in … (useful)
  2. What topics are just rants about sloganeering and the slide of “edTech”.

When I look back this year, I’ve spent hardly any time on item (1) and been increasingly irritated by (2). I am sure I’ll be more irritated next year … so the answer is to let it go.

When producers want to know what the public wants, they graph it as curves. When they want to tell the public what to get, they say it in curves.  – Marshall McLuhan

The curve of EdTech is narrow: a set of binary comparisons set against a backdrop of teacher hopes and fears. Brands dominate the curve, therefore what we understand is derived from products far more than the scholarship of teaching.

2017 is also a year in which I want to make deeper inroads into my thesis – which is about media – the interactions of parents and children around games and other screen based media, so I’m going to take my own advice and focus on that.

Thanks for reading in 2016. Much appreciated!

Reality vs the portrait of EdTech

I find limited scholarship in the #hashtag #edchat dialogues but I do find their existence fascinating. There seems a craving for importance and to be heard. I pay attention to the biographies of teachers (usually briefly acting in the role) who claim to be founders of things such as TeachMeets and Leading This or That. I accept we live in a neo-liberal political and economic structures and that children are therefore an exploitative market in a global marketplace.

In media theory, the ‘effects’ discourse describes how people reconceive themselves by representing themselves in carefully constructed imaginings – using the illusory power of names and naming.

Let me take Teach Meets. This is a powerful name and represents the counter-culture, a more post modern group, who’s member hold special insight that the establishment either ignores or fails to recgonise the significance of. Describing yourself of this as ‘the founder’ or ‘one of the founders’ is an example of names and naming – to differentiate the self from the others – your product from their product. The fact that Teach Meet is a copy of Bar Camp which has roots in “the penny university’ is omitted as it fails to shape the media space in a way that benefits the founder.

To create a successful branded self – it is important to recognise and activate the power of names and naming. The ‘unconference’ became the ‘hashtag’ discussion. I’d point out here that people who have cleverly set up ‘hashtag chats’ have created nothing more than dial tone. They have simply exploited children to create a simplistic and temporal discussion – using Twitter. There are numerous better channels to use to hold a discussion which can be traced back to online communities of practice – such as The Well.

These things are examples of the work of ‘late arrivals’. We know that teachers have been using online communities well before the iPhone and Twitter. There is a great deal of research done around what they are, why they work and what encourages teachers to form or join them.

What I’m talking about is not that. It is a deliberate practice of seeking illusory power and influence based on nothing more than entertainment, names and naming. If that’s how people want to spend Sunday night being entertained, that is their choice. If people want to claim to have invented things – which have a history which can be traced back for decades – they just appear fake.

The explosion of media messages these people flood into the media discourse is deliberate. It ensures there is no way to reconcile conflicting claims about what is good.

A friend said she thought the online discussion ended up in a cycle, and goes no where. I agreed, this is the intention. The teleself hides its identity as not to offend. The result is are glam-profile pics, lots of positivity statements and rousing endorsements of low skills and pimative insights. I don’t mind offending, as that’s just a term used to avoid what is actually going on – outing people’s whos main goal is to serve themselves. Hashtag #sorryNOTsorry.

The key to finding these people is their neediness. They like to be at the centre of attention but will nominate others to be the channel contact (hosts). They will work in organisations that they think are somewhat authoratiative, then later move to their true goal – their own business – which almost always emerges from their ‘leading insight and experience’ of being at X or Y – rather that what they have done inside the spaces (classrooms) they claim to experts on – and more insightful and brilliant that the audience member (the teacher) – which is the height of derp.

Twitter enables the post-modern construction of the self as a commodity. It makes sense for that product to want to ignore rivals or raise a clan of followers to chase them off. These things STOP reform in its tracks. It is not interested in research or scholarship. It positively acts to dismiss or avoid it.

These people, or rather their projected teleselves (they are probably nice people) are a product of hyper-commodification and fetishism. Note that each of these people have their own fetish and that there align with non-rivals to form body which dominates the mass media discourse. It would be easy to see these people are the alphas of EdTech and therefore buy into their offerings – because we recognise ourselves though the names and naming conventions they control.

The basic issue I have with these two things: TeachMeets and Hashtags is that they are based on the idea that knowledge accumulates and not simply reflections of contemporary history – and in the case of our media-selves – a personal contemporary history – whether and early adopted (circa 2000-2005) or Web2.0 adopter (2005-2010) or late arrival (2010-). Humans like to code and decode communication – and it’s fun to transmit our interpretation of the populous in the hope we are benefitting society (what I’m doing here).

This creates limits and roadblocks. It creates illusory power because the populous is not in touch with the science of technology and craft of teaching. The result is to choke what is possible – as hashtag chats, TeachMeets and other ‘targeting events’ are driven by ‘status’ and over emphases the importance of whatever phenomenon we promote (sell).

If you like, the classroom is a pucture of what education is – where Twitter etc paint portraits of what children and teachers should (or want) to be – using media’s liberating effect – we receive knowledge which is assumed to be accumulative. The mutated self is therefore a product of mass media effects – rather than evidence and research. We only have to look how Pokemon Go was adopted as a new cheese overnight for education and vanished a few weeks later. The work in ‘game-like’ learning is sidelined (again). Even the dominant Minecraft had to take a break – but is not back … and using Pokemon Go as ‘proof’ their product is ‘the best’ – which is part of the switch and bait culture within the cycle itself.

Educational reform (improvements) should not be measured by: similarity, analogy, proximity or attraction. I argue those things are the core of those creating teleself brands and should be called out on thier claims – or better still, dropped into the reality of teaching – the reality vs the portrait.

I’m off to work … have a great day …