I’ve not really engaged with the emergent STEM culture online. A two-day conference is, therefore a real opportunity to try and better understand teacher motivations, belief, and practices. As ‘design and technology’ teacher I tend to take the view “why is this new to you?” when it comes to teachers from all disciplines discovering how creative, curious and enthusiastic many kids can be. On the other hand, I ask myself, what these people were doing before someone showed them a “maker” handbook of 101 things or pointed at the pearly king and queen of PBL etc.,

At this level, STEM, like other recent emerging cultural-focus points, such as ‘design thinkgin’ helps raise awareness of design and technology more broadly. This is not to say it changes practice or revises prevsiously held beliefs or attitudes .

STEM speficicially impacts cultural conceptions and knowledge about Science, Maths, Design, Technology and Art. The question is: why have these people not been working together before now? .. the answer lies in the medium and the message.

Those of us working in these fields are probably successful and don’t welcome yet another attempt to introduce a ‘deficit’ debate. STEM is manifested as a ‘slogam’  to appear new  – and superiour to inferred ‘older’ ideas and methods.

The hidden agenda creates new revenue streams for selected elites and corporations. This well known subdefuge is achieved by valorization – using teachers and laneway experts to endore and amplify the central message to make it appear true.

In reality, schools have been teaching STEM for decades and some teachers may have taken the time to visit the HSC work of students, but few will have asked the TAS department if they can ‘borrow’ their workshop makerspace. Why is that?

Mulder (2006) argues the medium determines what information can and cannot be transmitted. As STEM is a vibrant topic on teacher-dominated-mediums such as Twitter, the main discourse predicably follows the on-going commercialization and technological determinism. It favours wealthy urban technofiles. As humans  generally believe the ‘future’ is going be better, these mediums support sufficient environmental factors, such as in-group bias, out-grouping those with opposing view etc., in otder to to sustain the on-going vision of the future message – experienced vicariously through selectivity and competition and individual undertanding and desire to belong.

STEM (to me) is best understood in the context of children expressing themselves through the interplay of digital and non-digital media and the practice of social skills and cultural competencies. This is now new! This can be easily applied to the previous ‘wave’ or ‘trend’ towards ICTs, Web2.0 etc.,

Arguably, there is now migration of teachers and laneway experts from the ICT marketplace to a new STEM marketplace because of the economic and political shifts.

Previously, the non-digital vs digital shift objectified and vilified ‘traditional’ approaches (which include the practices in the STEM areas). For example, the need to discontinue workbooks and posters.

Today the dialogue is about robots and duct tape, reclaiming the ‘maker’ space . It seems to ignore broader culture – particularly entertainment including video games. For example; why not build replica props, get into Cosplay and merge their gaming and film and comic interests with technology. Why do we once again return to ‘adult’ ideals about what is pro-socilisation – in a world where Trump is on the cusp of being President while the powerful kill innocent civilians in ‘wars’ few people really understand. Do adults believe the future will be better, if teachers somehow create a pathway to the post-war society – which was also the on-ramp for consumerism.

I’d argue workbooks and posters are well and truely back.  Where Computing Science was looted to allow ICT, Web2.0 to be commodified and generalized – so it is with Industrial Design, Technology, and Science. The fact is, that STEM further erodes the science lab, workshop and visual art room. It’s a playground for the rich and those who see commercial value in jumping into it – and promoting it online.

Where Computing Science was deminished economically, physically and culturally to allow ICT, Web2.0 to be commodified and generalized -this is now being applied to Industrial Design, Technology, and Science. The fact is, that STEM further erodes the science lab, workshop and visual art room. It’s a playground for the rich and those who see commercial value in jumping into it – and promoting it online.

So far, there is a lack of data, analysis and evidence on offer. Where the above faculties have been arguing for more funding for years — they are unlikely to get it now, unless they conform and comply to the new STEM agenda.

This means businessmen give keynotes about ‘the future’, sidestepping data and evidence again. STEM activities are not ‘new’ and when talking to kids about what they do – when not in STEM class – guess what, they are doing workbooks and other modernist practices. Of course, they like it, the alternative is teacher-dominated, content and skills focus. There in limited evidence to suggest this is constructively aligned to University.

University, it was said, is not producing sufficient maths, science, medical and engineering graduates (no source). The inferrence is that schools are not driving interest or that the school curriculum is once again – in deficit. What is omitted is any discussion about political policy, youth under-employment, casualisation of the workforce etc., For many, the cost of being at university is simply too high.

I can only conclude from this: STEM will not solve the lack of graduates or their willingness to work for corporations – let alone be successful entrapreneurs. While we are hinting at creating STEM teachers, we’re still ignoring the need to improve Media Education and in so doing, infuse that with existing disciplines – Maths, Science, Engineering, Technology and Art.

There are some inherent problems with generalising.This is evident in the communication of STEM ideals. Parents are homogenous groups, technology is generalised and ‘jobs of the future’ lack any meaningful explanations. We are left with ‘stories’ based almost entirely on personal belief and agendas.

There is an assumption that the purpose of STEM education is to deliver bodies to univiversities and corporations, parents can be discussed as homogemous entity, that providing ‘sources’ of claimed facts doesn’t matter … and that the development of a child, includes a plurality of interests and abilities expressed though thier communication in transmedia forms. A wicked problem is a complex problem – embedded in the socio-political economy and a long history of disadvantage towards certain (non elite) groups in society.

The key new media literacies – for active and fulfilling participation in society involve much more than 4 letter buzzwords. Play, Distributed Cognition and Transmedia Navigation are key to living in the “digital age”. We are dealing with a generation where over eighty percent of their ‘down time’ is spent on media and eighty percent of that is spent watching movies and videos. STEM does not change this reality and I think there needs to be a lot more added to the discussion: the growing equity gap; the participation gap; the gender gap; low SES access; disabilities; universal design; policy and much more.

As it is, kids are having a hard time self-regulating media and technology. Making things is a way to develop problem-solving and design thinking skills, Reggio can help move an inquiry forward – but the underlying need is not to erode what we already have and replace it with STEM. We need to be wary of ICT Integrators and App-Gurus who are now talking about STEM in their keynotes and pithy tales of reform and change.

As ever, I’m much more interested in media cultures and games than I am in laneway topics such as STEM. I’m yet to see any ‘new’ or ‘unique’ properties in what is being displayed, but alarming bias and generalizations in the ‘online’ discussion.

Perhaps Day 2 will move me forward … perhaps not. I’m concerned that we’re repeating the issues of the past because we’re being told it’s better — and forgetting what we can already do.

EdTech Inc.

There isn’t a whole lot of research as to why teachers leave teaching and work for software, hardware and media brands. Highly successful ones leverage their social media influence and reputation built during their classroom days. This is a currency with which they attract attention to their products and services. I am not saying for a second that they don’t know their stuff – quite the opposite. Their insight and skill is often well above that of the people who attend their sales presentations conferences.

Brands have become adept at creating pseudo journals, publications and conferences. Such terms as “Official [Brand] Educational Provider”. This is of course a biased and self-appointed slogan, nothing more. Conferences sales presentations are given seductive titles hinting at both a better future, and attendees belong to the correct-thought group.

The point I’m making is that successful classroom teachers, with deep knowledge are running the sales front for brands who offer limited proof (being generous) that their products make any significant difference to the overall excellence and success of students. Further, in the slick workshops and high-tech playgrounds – the chances of this skill and insight being synthesized and replicated has been shown to be slim. Once the day is over, there is no sustainable support, other than online advice from the evangelists on social media. Again, research has show how important on-going, sustainable support is in teacher belief. We also know belief is a key influence on adoption.

I find it increasingly difficult to reconcile, as the equity gap between the have and have nots is ignored, much like the selective engagement with Gonski funding. To me, teaching has been a united profession, but there seems to be a vast gap between rich and poor, rural and urban, fast internet and slow. For example, research is showing that low SES families rely on mobile phones as their sole technology while others have access to more than one screen consistently. It used to be that educational events would discuss these things as well as watch demonstrations by vendors.

Teachers are somewhat implicated however. Vendors have often been ignored, yet fund the event. While Teacher X is showboating their ideas, the vendors are stuck outside – and that’s always been wrong. Now the vendors are running more and more events and attracting more and more great teachers from the classroom.

I do wonder how this happens … why do teachers bail the classroom and move to sales?

The solution to the web isn’t a website

This week I’ve done some work around updating the discourse about social media and mobile learning. I’ve made a big effort to reconnect with the core – and really happy to find lots of people have spent 5 or 10 minutes completing my survey. What survey? Well, the one about parenting young kids online – click here and tell me I sent you.

Recent figures out show that kids are not only spending more time online, but they are spending more time streaming and consuming than ever. Teens especially are hitting screens until the fall asleep. The are also not surfing the web anymore. The vast amount of websites and videos they watch – billions of hours a month in Australia alone – are though links … from mobile apps. This means that they are not searching the web – finding their own stuff anymore. Just 9% of kids activity is about learning, news or careers. Well over 60% is about streaming media, music streaming and gaming.

The are also not surfing the web anymore. The vast amount of websites and videos they watch – billions of hours a month in Australia alone – are via links … from mobile apps.

This means that they are not searching the web – finding their own stuff anymore. Just 9% of kids activity is about learning, news or careers. Well over 60% is about streaming media, music streaming and gaming.

The canon of EdTech has always been that  tools  presented and promoted as ‘better’ would also give children the power to read, write and re-write the web. Who didn’t read Will Richardson’s book and think – give me some of them there powerful tools. Of late the message has become a dullness of ‘lack of creativity’, ‘jobs that are not invented’ and ‘this product is what those kids need’. This era is dead. The issue is how do we get kids to log off from consumer culture long enough to sleep. Parents have no idea how to deal with it – most are answeting work emails at 8pm and binge watching season four of Longmire.

The vast numbers also mask the issue of who has access, at what price and how fast.

The poorest people don’t have tablets or laptops. They don’t have computers – they rely on mobile phones and pre-paid data plans to participate online – so the figures don’t indicate how big the have and have-nots has become – just that everything is bigger and getting worse – and it’s societies fault. You’d be forgiven for thinking media is or has been regulated …

While the government avoids the issue of a proper media education agenda, the office for eSafety (yes that’s what they called it) has a website – with things for parents to read and some videos which depict the various monsters under the bed. If you are keen (I was) then you can fill out a massive form, be evaluated and maybe you too could be a ‘volunteer’ to deliver their message in schools and the community.

I don’t deny the need to educate society – after all, people have been calling for ‘media education’ for years – but this is it – a website that assumes parents are going to take a look at themselves and follow the guidelines. One can only assume this cost a small fortune to create and run – but the end node delivery relies on volunteers.

We need (because we pay taxes and are subjected to the media’s onslaught of news, opinion polls and advertising) media education. We need it to be funded. We need actual teachers in school teaching it. We can’t rely on the good will of teachers to do it or for people ‘who know a bit about it’ to become volunteers. That works for traffic management at the Olympics – but I poor response to the government’s own research.

Did you wear Digital Sunsreen today?

Yesterday’s post was a bit of brain-dump. I hate doing that, but twenty-four hours later, it feels good to have let a monster run free across the metaverse.

I think I’ll do more work around the idea of digital sunscreen, as I’m welded onto the idea that managing screen-time isn’t easy, but distraction is abundant. I’m hoping to raise awareness among the teacher and parent community – those with concerns about screen-time, especially towards social media and games. To that end, I think I’ll actively promote two hours a day (school+home) is an essential contract between parents and teachers.

I’ll let others continue their good work towards overall digital diet and the quality of screen-time. I think we all want the same thing – children who are connected to the world around them, having both the emotional intelligence and media management skills to be happy, mindful and be the best they can be. No tall order, given the vile media culture of outrage, fear, hate, and lies which bombard news broadcasts and social streams.

Two hours a day is going to sound ridiculous to kids and adults alike – but a decade ago, most kids didn’t get two hours a week in school computer lab. Fifteen years ago, they’d be sharing the family computer with siblings and parents, using dial-up and waiting to use MSN Messenger. It’s not so long ago that watching a movie was a day’s download – seed people seed! and no one had more than 2mpbs for the whole home or school. In short, not much used to happen in 2 hours – yet today, we’ve turned up the dial and can watch 2 hours of UHD movie’s via Netflix instantly while the kids are playing Overwatch.

Let us not forget, that most school Internet use is allowed though a risk-to-us mentality and is dominated by the commercial agendas and belief of a few mega-brands – Apple, Google, and Microsoft. The ‘social stream’ of edumedia is seduced and propositioned by brands (using teacher and ex-teachers) all the time – as no one has to declare their interests nor account for their actions later – but I suspect one day, parents will take legal action over the time a teacher ‘forced’ a child to spend on a computer which led to them doing something … addictive, violent or otherwise. No one’s using sunscreen – they are still manning ‘the great firewall’ in the dumb pursuit of ‘content’ being the monster under the bed.

However, the speed of the Internet is not a sign we can make sense of the media streams we can access. It’s faster, but we are not. In fact, as I said yesterday, the faster it gets, the bigger the deficit of attention is – and the less likely we are to cope with what is happening around us. Take US Politics – is it just me, or are kids not talking about it at school? Since when did Aussie kids do that – do they care, are then activating their global citizenship – or is Trump simply another ridiculous meme – among the clowns, Pokemons and gorillas? How much of that two hours a day should be allocated to Trump’s latest gaff? How do kids discover it? We simply don’t know because we don’t know much about the content that kids see – let alone engage with. As teachers, we can’t reasonably claim to be experts … but we can help them develop the kind of intelligence and competencies that allow them to manage and select the media they engage with – better than we are.

We simply don’t know much about the environments and emotions that trigger that thumb to swipe across the screen. That seems amazing, given the data streams and users, however, the research is very limited. We suspect a lot, but we know little. That’s why I’m saying, be cautious – think about what we lose every time we add another hour of exposure – are they 100% focused for that hour – Had they focused the last hour? – Do you even know what they used or saw in the lesson before yours? How much time has Amy spent online today? … The current mentality is to simply ban or take the phone away.

As teachers, we can’t reasonably claim to be experts or timekeepers in today’s media environment … but teachers can help them develop the kind of intelligence and competencies that allow them to manage and select the media they engage with – better than we are doing.

The first step is to think long and hard about our own behaviour online … and that of those we ‘see’ – are they modelling a two-hour exposure … or pervasive eduaddicts?

Digital Sunscreen – What does your school do?

I haven’t posted anything for ages. I’ve been thinking about ‘the digital diet’ and what’s missing in that discourse. The DD is all about what kids are doing in the time they spend with screens (good and bad) and how to try and come up with a ‘healthy balance’. There have been numerous conferences and seminars about this … but I have always felt there was something missing – and here is it – Digital Sunscreen.

Digital Sunscreen is made from a strange brew of emotional intelligence, competency, agency and attention. It’s what your child (and mine) need to wear when they are engaging with technology and digital media – gaming, social media or other digitial activity. Let’s face it, even when they go outside, they take their phones and iPads, so need some DS.

Protects for up to 2 hours a day where you will have the potential for excellence and astounding focus.

My main line of discussion here is that teachers (more than systems) neither wear it nor advocate for it in their classrooms. Very few have talked to parents about it and are in fact part of the problem, reluctant to buy it – or even acknowledge the need for it. Remember – current research argues for no more than two hours a day for teens.


Buy some Digital Sunscreen today!

There is little evidence to challenge the argument many teens spend more than two hours a day with ‘screens’ and this isn’t good for them. Some studies have shown that children as young as eight exceed this on a regular basis while research also suggests that screen time can have lots of negative effects on kids, ranging from childhood obesity and irregular sleep patterns to social and/or behavioral issues.

It’s a brave new world

This was said also said of TV and before that the research raised concerns about the social decay induced by pop music. In short, media has long been paraded as a ‘monster under the bed’. Up until recently, video games were slammed for their influence on teenagers too for the same reasons, plus an additional dose of violence. The fact that most of these games were designed for adults and not children hasn’t stopped efforts to create media panic. Other research about things such as imagination and play have been routinely ignored in the anti-game debate, despite media researchers showing time and time again that young people have not (yet) been given a serious opportunity to learn about media (including games) in schools. Check your school – do they have media teachers yet?

We are now are in a situation where children’s media choices and pervasive access to media (which deliberately targets children as consumers and social beings) is well beyond regulation and under-estimated in education. I argue schools have no idea how much time their students spend on ‘screens’ per day – on their own campus or at home. Therefore, digital sunscreen is not a factor or feature of policy or strategy. Instead, they talk mostly about cybersafety and digital citizenship – which lack the critical elements needed to engage children in media education from an early age.

Protects against slogans and unproven claims. Re-apply every two hours.

The advancement of both the technology involved in children’s education and socialisation in not also without concern. It does not stand outside the research on screen time. However, sloganeering, building peer-belief networks and social capital through popular media channels such as Twitter is an ongoing attempt to circumvent long-standing issues about the role of teachers in the media, the ethics associated with allowing consumer brands to actively influence teacher education and student education about the media and technology. In case anyone has forgotten, the syllabus remains ‘brand’ agnostic when it comes to using ICTs and in Australia at least, has a rich history in developing and supporting Open Education Resources. There is a clear erosion of this in education, which is embedded in the slogans, sponsored ads, hired-experts and events which no longer feel the need to address the kind of scholarship and evidence upon which the “ICTs in the classroom” was constructed a decade ago.

Before Digital Sunscreen, I was just another Tweet waiting to happen.

We are routinely asked to believe that X technology is better than Y and that if we don’t have it, then we will fail students and harm their futures. We are bombarded with this in so called ‘personal learning networks’. This is exactly the kind of deficit message that works so well these days. And there is an abundance of these messages.

The blistering acceleration of focus scarcity, or attention deficit may soon make effective evidence-based approaches to using technology in the classroom impossible. Teachers bemoan teenagers for this – however, the resident edu-media crowd on Twitter is modelling the exact thing they don’t want, just as teachers sit in rows at edu-cons listening to experts tell them how bad things are, how powerpoint SUCKS and how disengaged kids are when teachers throw content at them. Sitting alone on your lounge listing to Twitter experts peddle their mission message is the same as sitting in rows doing it.

See your local stockist today!

Edu-media has created a vocal set of educators, for whom social media is a rewarding social drama as well as a way to build social capital in a global income stream. They endlessly post their life-story in images and words – amplifying the core belief that technology is both useful and liberating to young people. On the other hand, where these people hold power – organisational power and sway – this also resolves itself as type of media violence – as those who work for them, might have some influence on them being hired elsewhere must conform – and amplify the core belief of the master and maintaining their dominant views of the group to chase off outsiders and critics.

I have a few questions …

  • Are teachers exempt from justifying their demand for  children to use select technology – regardless of background, experience, culture and media experience?
  • If children are using media at home, how is using screens at school be somehow annexed from the total time?
  • What information do schools provide parents towards in-school exposure to screens, and how to they govern use in an accountable way?
  • Do schools think (and do something about) digital sunscreen?

Do I wear Digital Sunscreen? – you bet I do.

It seems bizarre to watch some ‘leaders’ parade their love of technology online on a daily basis. Here is me with a Minister, a thought leader, a sporting hero – and here are MY staff doing X, Y and Z with technology. Pensky always said that there would be great competition for authority – and I believe, between the virtual high-fives of in-group bias – that the ‘fear of missing out’ and not being ‘top dog’ is the central point of exploitation by brands. The end result is a bunch or ‘important’ people, living their lives through social media – putting kids in front of screens – well beyond the recommended dosage.

Students (who are also children) continually fight distractions. Headphones on as they work, televisions on during dinner, text messages, emails, phone calls, app notifications … we see it every day. The solution to this is not more technology, or buying Microsoft Minecraft Education (*slaps head) – but to accept that teachers are implicated in sloppy shortcuts, like triaging email by heading, skipping voice mails, skimming Twitter and Facebook. It’s not just that we’ve developed habits of attention that make us less effective, but that the weight of messages leaves us too little time simply to reflect on what they really mean. That seems at odds with edu-media’s central claim is that technology increases productivity, connectedness, skills and knowledge (despite the scarcity of focus problem).

Economist Herbert Simon first noted, “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” and yet heavy user personalities continually seek attention (and authority) by providing information they believe to be useful to their imagined audience.

Can I wear Digital Sunscreen and have a healthy digital diet?

I’ve been using the term edumedia sarcastically. The proper term is mission-driven marketing –  a way to turn awareness into action with those new to your product or to engage already-supportive people in deeper ways. It uses teachers, enlists paid and unpaid teachers and ex-teachers – to present itself as ‘the future’ in a duplicity of discussions and forms.

When did I start wearing Digital Sunscreen?

So do I hate technology a decade on from beginning to blog about it? No. Do I feel grubby about being in the vanguard of using “the read/write web”? No I don’t.  I was there at the time – and thought that this would change the way we approach learning (anything). I have since grown to appreciate this has not without creating new issues and amplifying the existing ones – such as screen time. In the last few years, I’ve become more aware and concerned about the impact of mission driven marketing’s effect on the time children are told to spend with technology directly (teachers) and indirecty (screen-media).

It leads me to think about the impact of school-based screen time on children’s emotional intelligence – and their ability to focus. No child can succeed in the modernist schools system’s we have – a mechanism designed filter society into workers and elites  – without this focus, and they can’t focus without activating their emotional intelligence – to manage media – be that campfire, waterhole, cave or life learning envioronments.

They can’t learn to do this that without better media education (digital sunscreen and digital diet) – the kind of message that will fly in the face of popular Twitter-sloganeering.

Attempting to increase excellence (in the current system) requires focus and to be conscious of the seduction taking place through screens. How we manage ourselves is not limited to ‘digital footprints’, but how it shapes our emotional intelligence and ability to move through stages of competency with screens in our lives.

So my last reader on earth … digital sunscreen – works for up to two hours. Get some today.

My Learning Exchange

My Moodle Course site – for my high school students is here.

My WordPress Blog Network – for my high school students studying DS106

Negotiations of Play – If you are an Australian family with kids under 13, you can add to my research! and find out more about parenting kids who play video games.

My personal blog – started in 2006ish is a decade of me talking about technology and education is still online here.

Find me on Twitter @Type217

Stuff you should know about this blog (and me)

This blog, it’s contents and ideas might not agree with your own. In such a case, I suggest you skip it. This work has no connection to my employers (past and present). My interest is in imagination, creativity, video games, parenting and using technology to creating imaginative, enquiry based learning.

Big thanks for Jim and Tim at Reclaim Hosting for helping me out after disastrous experiences recently with previous provider. Reclaim specialist in educational hosting, so give them a try..

The perils of using levels

I hear teachers talking a lot about using the idea of levelling from games in their classrooms. The basic idea being that students complete a set of activities sufficiently to ‘level up’ to presumably harder work or for a reward. This is like designing a learning activity on the idea that a Rom-Com usually has a happy ending.

I don’t want to overly gamesplain this .. but simply to offer  two ways of thinking about how levels can work. Both work, but the SOLO Taxonomy is probably better known – and has Blooms-like verbs to help guide the sequence.



If you are going to have students set out on an enquiry, the trick is to set each level up so that students can work through several activities which operate at these levels. The more able will quickly run over the lower levels, and those less able will have sufficient foundations to try relational and extended abstract. So levels are really about setting up learning such that whatever they are finding out moves from fuzzy and isolated to concrete and abstract – to a new situation – even if its visual arts!