EdTech Clone Wars

We live in an era of duplicity. There’s little doubt information is repeated, but ethically and professionally – should systems and organisations RIP OFF work that other people who they used to call ‘colleague’ did? I don’t think so. Copyright is automatic in this country – and you’d hope so would ‘being a professional’ or at least having a code.

And yet, some organisations and individuals are actively cloning the work of other people. They do this to save money, make money and to advance their own perceived insight and value to the broader audience. We know that brands make ‘knock offs’ and are keen to clone products they can make money from. We know school and universities are super keen to teach about ethics and plagiarism and yet systems routinely attempt to RIP OFF work of former worker – and current workers – without permission or conscience.

Let say I’m an expert in ‘digital health’ and have been researching and working on it for say a decade. Let’s say I’ve given my time to colleagues and set them on their own journey. That’s called being a professional. Not lets say I discover that my ideas, my work and all that foundational intellectual property is cloned and I start to read about people actively trying to commercialize ‘their version’. Not only is it an unprofessional dick-move, it reduces my interest in bothering with the current culture of scraping Twitter and blogs for ideas which can be cloned. But they can’t be cloned – there are insights, data and layers of knowledge and experience that can’t be repeated (even it you scraped their slidedeck of Slideshare). Being a professional means not stealing IP and work from others.

So don’t be a dick. If someone have worked (for you and others) on a topic, is local, is available and justifiably get’s pissed when they see a clone of their work, their workshop and thier ideas being put on by someone else – with added Doc Martin’s and pity anecdotes – it isn’t okay – it’s a dick move and you and your office full of Twitter sucking vampires need to take a look at yourselves. Add something to the pool of knowledge and keep your hands off things that you didn’t create – just go buy into some Sloganware – they love it when you copy their media messages and crafted bylines.

Be professional, be a scholar and have some respect.

Yeah, you know who I’m talking about.

How do I get to speak at a conference?

These days there are three conference types. The first requires some call for papers or posters though an abstract. It should meet the theme of the conference and should provide peers in your field with new insights or updates to what is known about the topic. These are peer reviewed and common practice in higher education, however many membership-based associations use the same approach. The focus in on empirical evidence, proven methods of research and serves to inspire and update colleagues.

The second is the commercial show. The largest in Australia is Edutech, so I’ll use this a particularly predatory example. This is a company created and dedicated to making money from conference organizations. Approaches are made on the basis that their work has sufficient popular interest to fill a room. I am only one of many who declined their offers. The process in amusing as some marketing office assistant attempts to conduct a phone ‘interview’ – and apart from going to a school at some point as a student, seem to have no idea what scholarship means, nor do they care. At these events, the ‘keynote’ will be paid anything from $5,000 to $100,000. The most famous – the ones with the most popular pithy quotes such as “schools kill rock music” are fairly shameless in repeating the same mantra, the same true-isms and generally see conferences as easy money, bringing along they wives or husbands for a nice little holiday. Further down the ranks, these event organizers stop paying anyone past a handful of elites. Most of the speakers are there to fill rooms and present this an  ‘opportunity’ as though your insights and work is worthless or at best, it’s okay to treat you like an intern who will do almost anything to move up the food chain. Don’t be fooled. There is no food chain, the elites guard their income fiercely and not about to share. Often the elites have not actually been in a classroom for years and simply peddle a story – one the audience want’s to believe. It’s a predictable formula that has been remarkably successful.

The third are the in-system events. These do have some merit in that they are sharing information between actual teachers, but these too, tend to import external-elites, who drop amusing stories for a fee (leaving ASAP) while the actual teachers who know the context backward, get side rooms, and often have to pay to attend the event to boot. These are usually invitation based, and run on who you know – and who did people ‘like’ last time. Another lottery – but at least you’re spending time with people in your system – so most people go for the networking and suffer the boring powerpoint parts by some dude who’s never going to care about you.

Last, we have the ‘unconference’, ‘bar-camp’ and ‘teachmeet’ – these are largely the same thing. Low budget, but no less of an oligarchy. They are promoted via people who have set themselves up as ‘leaders’ or ‘founders’ using Twitter hashtags. They mimic the ‘grand story’ of the big conferences, and there some argument that they are slightly miffed at never being asked, so it’s a little counter-culture. The good part is that bar-camp set up a framework in which most people get a lottery chance at speaking. BUT there are ‘special guests’ who don’t have to use the speaking lottery. Again, good for networking – but the larger ones are highly orchestrated around the ‘in crowd’ and again tend to encourage the ‘intern-apprentice’ culture in which dissenting voices who dare to ask curly questions such as ‘do you have have evidence’ or ‘what is the method being used’ are less welcome. These events seem to encourage buzzwords and bandwagons, as the rely on pop-culture as a promotional vehicle. Bar-camp was about ideas, but we have moved a long way from that these days. In my decade or more experience, I’d suggest the smaller events are far more useful and authentic than the BIG ones – because they often sing to the choir and ego-boost ‘innovative principals and leaders’ etc., because social media based groups are not anywhere near as open and libertarian as they’d like us to believe.

Career booting though Twitter and unconferences works if you are prepared to promote yourself and to align yourself with those who share the ambition. Being popular matters if you want to be part of the in-crowd. This is no different to how YouTubers share audiences to ensure outsiders are locked out. It’s not as though there’s a clear goal here – but clearly, some people are working 24/7.  It works too, you can go from classroom teacher to DP or better in a short(er) time – simply by becoming popular and never do anything more than a song and dance. A word of caution: there is a song list. Don’t talk about how unaccountable teachers are for the time they force kids to sit in front of laptops – but just say how X Software on laptops is awesome.they lack evidence and rely on popularism and in-group bias to be correct. They are also often aligned with personalities who are not just brand loyal, but salesmen for the brand.

Where ‘speakers’ lack evidence and must rely on popularism and in-group bias to be noticed. Founding a hashtag and asking simplistic questions is actually seen as ‘good communication’ when in fact its Haw Haw.  These people/things are also often aligned and infused with personalities who are not just brand loyal, but salesmen for the brand.

Consumer theory has established that brands have exploited children in recent years – and who better to be the ‘face of brand X’ than a teacher who can insist and command children use it. No wonder technology brands have “edu” high on the list of promotional activities. Brands don’t find peer-review and scholarship appealing ways to promote their products … and social media based events and commercial ‘

Brands avoid peer-review and find membership driven events are ‘best sponsored’ as to avoid scrutiny,  whereas and social media based events and commercial conferences are essential to their bottom line.

So how to you speak at a conference? – get in competition with everyone else, be ruthless, find a niche, don’t bother offering any evidence – in fact do the opposite of what education is supposed to do – to arm children with defences against exploitation and to ensure teachers are not in competition, but work to improve what we know works in a world where marketing and media actively work to mask it.

I know >>> I don’t call you, you call me.

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?

Screen Shot 2017-01-04 at 11.53.23 am.png

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 …