You want what? No one gets that!

One of the well known barriers in the literature around teacher adoption of technology in schools are dogmatic, and territorial I.T. managers. There’s a simple litmus test. Open up the the browser, try and install an extension. Next, try downloading something like Evernote or Skype and running it.

If you can’t then you’re not going to get too far with doing anything new. The culture is to ensure everything (inc their job) is stable. They will nod and agree in meetings about your ideas, but you are going exactly nowhere regardless. The technology has changed a lot in the last few years — sadly many I.T. managers have not.

Great games for under ten bucks?

In an effort to start collecting the use of games in the classroom, I’ve make a really short Google Form here in which I’m asking people to recommend a game for the classroom, which costs under ten dollars. The results of what people put into this are shared on this response form. We know people are using Minecraft, Portal etc., but for many schools free or cheap is an essential criteria for choosing a game.

I’m asking for simple information: the game name, a link if you have it and to choose what platform and game type best describes it from a list (or add your own). Finally, just let people know why you recommend it.

The aim is simply to start to collect what games are being used in a spreadsheet of data that you can use for your own purposes. No names or personal information please … this is anonymous crowd sourcing. Open to anyone, teachers, students and parents!

Thanks for your input

Playing at it vs playing in it

Video games and their players are a sociocultural phenomenon, embedded in a technological (hardware and software) cycle, built upon commercial markets. What makes games very popular is that information situated in game ecosystems freely moves around the Internet though social communications. This is what makes games based learning (potentially) transformative – the value of an individual’s knowledge, skill and influence is essentially ‘crowd sourced’ from communications about, to and from game networks.

In games, people seek external backing and information about learning the game. For example, in the game World of Warcraft: players need to learn to complete group mission and need the backing of other players to enact this event regardless of whether they succeed or fail. Learning in a game means being intimately involved with both the ecosystem of the game and the meta-culture.

Playing games immediately immerses players in a credentialing system that matters to the ecosystem. This is problem with many ‘badge projects’, they are trying to dock a perceived set of and social-technological problems inside education with theories and ideas emerging from games which suffer none of them. Of course the central dilemma for anyone looking at badge systems as an alternative way of recognising learning. Seeking to find the right media or message that motivates learners fails to recognise the true meaning people are seeking though their use of media.

My central argument for games (and other media) pleasure is that it is the negotiations of media itself which motivates and interests us. This is no more prolific than in the largest cultural sites of this era – networked games. To me, it seems unlikely that institutions will create ‘killer credentialing’ or ‘gamification’ unless they understand the ecosystem that is driving the games industry.

A digital badge which is nothing more than a collection of meta-data aligned to curriculum outcomes seems to resemble the objectivism associated with competency based training. The challenge of badges is that they are often being visioned as a subjective method of crediting ‘other’ skills and efforts in learning. Unlike the ecosystems around games, culture is the API, it’s a people interface that can quickly discover, represent and identify people’s skills and achievements. In badges, there are ongoing frustration with data being distributed across social networks. See the issues with BadgeKit or Google’s Course Builder for examples of integration dilemmas.

My point here is that from the work I’m doing around games, this is not a time to wait for educational technology to deliver a viable, workable solution. Among the ideas are numerous innovators and start-ups competing to deliver a commercially solution. And this really is the problem for the future of educational technology: commercial shaping and competition between organisations and companies. This is not how most people want to learn. There is not an assumption that to learn well, people need to buy certain products which are nearly always focused on traditional constructions of how learning happens and the instruments to be purchased.

Games are all about ‘on-demand’ judgement and assessment. Joining a game, being able to participate or adapt are immediate and continual demands on game players and their ecosystems. Endorsement is between people and groups, where the machine maintains a record of their activity in both objective and subjective domains. There is no paper-proxy equivalent in games that many educators seem to want to create or preference. The thing about game players is that they know what badges and achievements matter and what they mean. It’s this experience which brings understanding about what reputation means inside game ecosystems and sadly, very few appear to have ever stepped into this space but rather assume they are the gatekeepers who might (eventually) allow game based learning into proper education.

Game ecosystems are not outwardly observable in the way “open systems” which the Internet has largely been constructed (technically) to be. To me, I maintain that successful game ecosystems are closed systems. Therefore it is essential to work inside these communities, not gaze or judge them.

Mahouts

“Yes, you need to get into moon design computational systematic thinking, in fact I’m giving a keynote at mega-trope-con next month if you can afford to come”.

… no thanks, I have to actually teach and it’s getting harder because I have to also feed this elephant someone keeps putting in my room.

Every time some leader puts on a show which is a series of opinion driven lectures based on little more than tropes, self-interest and valorizing markets, a classroom teacher get’s less time and less money. A student gets less feedback, less opportunities. When will we stop funding these mythic circuses, revert the casualisation of staff and actually realise that EdTech continues to siphon off millions to the pockets of people who care more about their next hotel and frequent flyer points than they do about remembering your name or actually doing their own research.

The FIVE bits of software that every undergrad needs to know about

This post is advice for undergrads about to start Uni. Two things, get a computer that gets the job done, not a piece of marketing. Two, get a simple workflow happening before you start. It will make your first two months easier. It’s exciting getting into Uni and the first few weeks will fly past as you meet new people, avoid others, get lost, work out the best coffee lines … before you know it, the first essay is looming large and the mind-demons are saying “just knock it over on the weekend”. For staff, the first few weeks are hectic, especially as many tutors (like me) are casual and have limited face to face time, and a stack of things to bring into your line of vision. As much as everyone might like, the reality is that many students don’t have the digital-kit they need and often don’t find the supports on campus extend to things like digital work flows, configuring your digital back-packs, but instead hand out reading lists and statements such as “that’s in the library”. It might be, but libraries are not essay-whisperers.

The biggest thing to remember, the statement I repeat all the time to students:

If you don’t have a digital workflow, then you will spend much more time on every aspect of your study until you do.

Hardware

My pick right now for Uni-undergradlings would be a secondhand Samsung Slate PC at under $500, with a Microsoft PL2 Wedge Mobile Keyboard. A proper computer in tablet form running Win 8.1 Pro. Avoid Surface 1 and 2 and why buy 3 when it’s three times the price? If you want to spend $1000+ you can get a decent i5 machine with lots of RAM. Do not waste money on a $400-$800 piece of out-going junk.

Software

Universities run on two things in your first semester. One, MS Word and two, referencing, grammar and spelling. No first year is expected to set the academic world on fire … just master Word and get a workflow happening and you’ll do better and feel less stressed. You need to connect writing to referencing and store it effectively. It’s not hard, but it can feel hard with so much on offer out there.

  1. Get Word, buy Word 2013. Uni’s run on Word, don’t bother fighting it.
  2. Get Firefox for one massive reason — it will run Zotero add on and you want that so much.
  3. Get Zotero. Like Word, it’s essential to starting University study. Zotero talks to Uni databases (and more). You find the references you need and save them to Zotero and even share that with your friends (group reference folders). You can browse the Uni databases in Firefox, pull references into Zotero from the URL locator (save) and also make notes, tag and organise all inside Firefox. A super simple an easy workflow.
  4. Get Evernote, it’s amazing for everything else you’ll have to make notes about. You can also share those notes and organise them.
  5. Get OneDrive, it’s like Dropbox. You want this because you can dump and sync Word documents to OneDrive without lifting a finger. Store all your Word documents on OneDrive, never ever store them on a Flash Drive and don’t even ask about a shared-drive.

Power Ups

Get an external phone battery. One that top up your phone when it dies. There’s nothing more useless than a phone you can’t use during class (assuming the teacher has noticed the Internet is everywhere). Use your phone to PHOTOGRAPH your notes and upload those to Evernote as regularly as you check F4ceBook.

Connect Word to OneDrive so that you’re always saving your work to the cloud. Once a week, get that work FROM the cloud and store it on your computer. If you’re paranoid, back that up to Dropbox or Evernote too. Having a SINGLE STORAGE plan (especially a LOCAL STORAGE plan) is on reason student lose their work at critical times.

Brain Training

Go to a Zotero Class if they offer them in the library. If not, go to and EndNote class, it’s the same idea, but Zotero is better on the web, so start there … not EndNote — don’t listen to them if they question your amazing fortitude.  Go to a referencing class in the library. This is as important as going to your first tutorial if you want to blast past the “p’s get degrees” zombies.

Now I know some people are going to say Google Docs and EndNote. To them I ask, have you taught 200 students who just arrived at Uni and have to pull an essay out their hat in three weeks with zero XP?. No, then back off. Other stuff later.

Digital Gaffer (Duct)Tape

I am sure that you’ve come across the idea of ‘impostor syndrome‘ which this article describes as “Having to live with a nagging fear of being  “found out” as not being as smart or talented or deserving or experienced or (fill-in-the-blank) as people think is a common phenomenon”. I think that this exists inside EdTech, having met numerous people who use digital gaffer tape to hold together a limited objective knowledge or skill set towards computers, media and devices. When you can’t actually do something, or are not actually facing the problem personally then tactfully, rip off some gaffer tape and stick it over the issue. I meet people who say then know about media, but have never made any and can’t tell an f-stop from bus stop. They’ll judge me because I play games, despite being unable to sign up for Steam let alone chalk up a decent kill-streak.

There is a whole raft of people whom add “paradigms”, “shifts”, “sociotechnics” and other meaningless duct tape over the fact their personal skill and experience is at such a distance, that they can’t see the problem closely enough to solve it. So if you want to prevent kids getting bored, buy some [insert brand name] Duct Tape. It blows my mind how so many experts have never written a blog, created a wiki with students, made a film, played a game … but they’ve seen plenty who have … and that seems more important than it should.