Introducing a Games Based Enquiry Model

After somewhat of a hiatus in developing a methodology for using games and game-like thinking in learning design, I hope that you’ll tune in and spread the word among like-minded colleagues about a series of posts I’m going to publish in the next few weeks and months.

This isn’t about levels, badges or using Minecraft. It’s about constructively aligning enquiry based learning with the NESA curriculum requirements – drawing on game theory and game cultures to surpass what I see as an increasingly dated PBL model (which is now 25 years old).

I’m not going to tell you enquiry is good, games are good or puppies are good – but explain how to develop a K12 KLA based learning continuum which is more dynamic and flexible because it taps into children’s own experiences of games and media.

It is drawing on my own research into video games and children and over a decade of talking about and using PBL in schools and university. I will talk a lot about Overwatch – as to me, the mechanics and dynamics of this game and culture are incredibly relevant to learning and teaching – and I’m so sick and tired of Minecraft being falsely seen as the edu-apex of what can be possible.

Why post this at all?

I’m going back to beginning – WoWinSchools, Skoolaborate and other gem’s of brilliance that seem to have been lost in the dreariness of Minecraft discussions. You don’t even have to play games – or use games, but you do need to accept that games-media is the most significant interactive phenomenon in children’s media-lives. If you don’t, then I’d suggest you read more than Tweets – as this has been a fact for well over a decade now.

The story begins …

Before reading on – go back to basics – JSB – who talks about why tapping into knowledge as a network is more powerful than any single person or technology. This ten minute video presents complex and thought provoking alternatives to schooling – and to me remains as relevant today as it did a decade ago.  Most of all, this video was made at a time where brands and products did not dominate or distort discussions about new ways of learning and teaching. To me, this one of the most important videos ever posted.

So a decade on from this talk — this series of posts is my attempt to share what I’ve been thinking, constructing and tinkering with.

What is GBE?

Firstly, this is a framework which takes in numerous theoretical elements from education, gaming, and media theory. Secondly, it’s a framework to design enquiry, measure progress and give feedback within the constraints to the Australian curriculum. For the most part, I’ve been working on this in some iteration for well over a decade so some of it might seem familiar. It’s assumes: learning is blended, the pace of learning is dictated by the student and given to them at the outset – in full.

The posts are going to set out how I go about creating a blended learning environment which is brand-agnostic and can be implemented in the primary and secondary school setting. They will establish how to use an enquiry approach, in which students solve problems through projects. I hesitate to call this PBL or GBL as both terms have been hijacked by psuedo-celebrities etc., I’m going with a new neologism – GBE – Game Based Enquiry – in so much as it attempts to draw upon the patterns of rhythms experienced in awesome games. If you don’t play games, then you will not get much of this as it really requires more than a shallow understanding of what it feels like to explore the wilderness of your own understanding while blasting bad-guys.

design thinking

This ‘design thinking’ illustration helps underpin my approach to GBE. It also connects with the work of Pam Cook in constructive alignment using Biggs’ SOLO Taxonomy.

The most important pillar of GBE is to approach learning design through ‘learning intentions’ rather than problems to solve. I’ve departed company with classic (vanilla) PBL methods in order to focus on what teachers see as their intentions at the outset, rather than starting with the end in mind and then trying to come up with an open ended question to lead students to it. What is often not talked about in PBL is the degree to which teacher-bias limits the supposedly broad scope of student voice and choice.

To me, if you know the ending in a narrative driven game, there would be less enjoyment and motivation. The important initial discovery phase of learning becomes yet another creepy-tree house created by teachers. If you like, GBE’s whole ethos is to allow open-world movement, rather than follow a set narrative – where the boundaries are set by time, resources and alignment to the reportable-curriculum.

Ready player one?

The above diagram is lesson one. Imagine learning as a horizontal plane that moves though phases of inductive and deductive thinking. There are three phases, and unlike PBL, there are lots of interchangeable parts to work with (I’ll expand later on that) – which I tend to call EPISODES as GBE necessarily uses the narrative of school and the teacher.

Think about a decent multiplayer game – players choose from a set of options, and each option shifts the experience of the overall game, depending on what players select. For example: In Overwatch, Junk Rat is best played when the opposing team plays three tanks with low mobility. He’s less effective against high mobility team compositions. The better players select heros based on composition, not their looks, characterisation etc., For teachers, choosing the right enquiry composition is essential – to avoid the boredom of sticking to the BIE method and dictatorial language conventions – Seriously, kids soon become bored with ‘need to knows’ as much as they hate being Power pointed and given a test.

So where PBL starts with a driving question, GBE starts with discovery and initial insight experienced as a challenge or narrative-scenario. We still want to cast students as the hero who is about to undertake an adventure … but we don’t want to give them some teacher question based on a TUBRIC or contrived question. In my experience, teachers spend way too long trying to craft a great driving question – and ultimately 50% of kids switch off as soon as they see it – as it isn’t interesting – and from that point, the intention is not to learn, but to get through learning.

So in the next post I’m going to deal with how a GBE framework creates ‘learning intentions’ in more detail.

Hit the subscribe button and tell your friends …


So this happened

Apparently, I replied to my own work space blog post with this insightful rubbish. Good to know a Virgin user in NG9, UK reads what I post online. I’ll add this to the pile of  convefe then.

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 7.05.53 am

Testing Teachers

I have only watched part of the SBS documentary Testing Teachers. A young teacher was trying to teach year 8 science class with a baseball hat-wearing swear bear – while also trying to sort out an on-going social-war between a group of students. Most interestingly, the solution (monitor modelling and role playing) was based around the experience of an other teacher. The incidents on camera were both based on the students’ use of media and devices.

The is a clearly a big problem with students at this age using devices as extensions of their social exploration of the world around them – and the boundaries of behaviour and cultural acceptance. It is utterly naive for any parent to believe that once they have enabled a teen with Instagram, Messenger, Yellow app etc., are not at significant risk of being part of toxic image sharing, group trash talk etc.,

Children are not users of phones. They are active agents in cultural reproduction of media – some of which is not simply negative, but a proving ground for the adult-toxic content and behavior online – and in the work place.

Some are obviously creators of this, some are invited in (and don’t feel like they should declines) and there are more that are more than willing to find this negative and insulting culture amusing. The issue is that the bystanders are also enablers and influencers. They believe as they don’t post, that they are not as responsible as the person who did.

We know that social media is a medium of cultural reproduction. There is also plenty of evidence to suggest that young people have poor judgement when it comes to isolating entertainment fiction from reality. So a child who’s involved is not behaving in isolation from real life. Children who present defiant and challenging behaviors in class – happy to defy instructions, socialise rather than try their best appear (to me) to also be invested in their personal phone. While I’m sure the parents provide it for communications home – they cannot escape the fact that poor phone behaviour and poor classroom behaviour are more than co-incidental.  Of course some kids will directly challenge teachers anyway – but this show’s director UN-intentally showed the link between phones, apps, behaviour and the amount of time schools now invest in dealing with this problem – directly – and the indirect behaviours that result from so called private conversations that spur on behavior, create in-group belief about taste and decency etc.,

I can imagine that the outraged and helicopter parents would instantly say “that teacher needs to control the class”. No, sweetie – control your own behavior. Then walk a mile in the teachers shoes.


The problem with Minecraft Edu thinking

The addition of the new Microsoft Coins and Marketplace to Minecraft (public) will soon be something parents will come to hear about. That assumes their child has discovered the game, and already and has figured out how to access the numerous server communities.

It’s usual to ‘donate’ to servers and in return buy ranks (privileges) for often tiny amounts. Eventually, kids get tired of the ‘free spaces’ which tend to be less than stable or come with restrictions, griefers, and officious moderators. Many kids, according to my field work, find online communities which are far more socially-bound – and often provide an environment based on on-going faction based wars and territorial raids on rivals.

Many kids, according to my field work, find online communities which are far more socially-bound – and often provide an environment based on on-going faction based wars and territorial raids on rivals. The level of agency and literacy to participate in these environments is no less complex than any big MMO such as Warcraft. Building skills are needed, but the community space is far from a sandbox.

I seriously doubt Minecraft Teachers using the Educational Edition take this into account. From what I ‘see’, they are happy in their cut-down, teacher empowered solution which removes 90% of what is possible in the actual Minecraft community. However, my concern is not this – but that when a teacher enables their school game, they induct kids into a broad new culture – and take no responsibility for it. Sure, many kids play Minecraft, but there is an ethical dilemma here – you are showing kids a vast online culture, with media (not intended for children) – and leaving them and their parents to mediate and navigate it. When I’ve raised this online, people reply  – MCEdu is the school only world or that they are teaching ‘digital citizenship’. This might be true – but two issues arise – first, there is no research to suggest this is true – as the concept of ‘digital citizenship’ in as vague as ‘digital literacy/ and second, that they fail to address (or even discuss) the teachers role in adequately preparing what I’ll call – inducted players – into not just a game, but a massive online community which comes with both good and bad elements – with no responsibility. Furthermore, we are rapidly finding in research

Furthermore, we are rapidly finding in research, parents have little information on how to mediate games in general, let alone Minecraft. They also don’t make connections between the game culture and readily available game media on sites such as YouTube. Like teachers, the block world, devoid of blood and other anti-social content – seems safe. The fact that public servers are heavily invested in role-playing and imagined situations, from kidnapping to bank robbery isn’t observable.

So while I read so much about how awesome (for teachers) Minecraft Edu is – my challenge to those teachers is that you are being at best nieve and possibly negligent when you induct kids into the Microsoft Marketplace and Coin-grab – and unethical when attempting to ignore or annexe the ‘real game’ culture from that you establish in class. So far, I see no Minecraft Teachers addressing this – because it’s no something they want to deal with – and worse, not presenting any evidence that kids are developing any new skills or understanding – possibly as they have not read enough literature, and far too many tweets.

Inducting kids into Minecraft, means bringing them into the total Minecraft culture (good and bad) – and unlike using Word, writing a blog or some Canvas poster – Minecraft is a MMO/MUVE which comes with the same issues and dilemmas associated with previous spaces – such as Second Life, Ultima etc., Just because it looks like Lego and you can get it running inside a school biome — doesn’t make it okay … but then I’m also are that the echo-chamber of EdTech doesn’t have to take any responsibility for what it pushes onto kids – YET. But as a professional – I argue teachers have an ethical responsibulity to ensure parents and children are adequately prepared for using Minecraft – not just comply with the rules the teacher sets in class.

That’s the spirit

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


Separating this from that.

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

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

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

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

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