Change: The currency of EdTech

Change is a word often used towards school. Whether it’s a shift in the method, ideology, direction, technology – the last decade has created a perpetual twilight for change. Tommorrow, things will be better – if only we can overcome some barriers.

The barriers to change are at best vague and at worst driven by individual or group dislike, distrust or disagreement with other individuals or groups. The last decade has been one in which false binaries, myths and downright lies have been created, shared and re-tweeted in pursuit of this change. But do people really want change? I tend to think they like the idea of it, in the same way we might like a better car or to feel more at ease with the huge societal and cultural changes going on. Fake new, radical pedagogy – whatever the buzz-of-the-day we can rely on someone talking about change.

Is education really as bad as we’re told? Are the opportunities as amazing as some claim – and why, if you don’t agree are you immediately labelled negative or a non-team player? I was brought up to ask questions and not to blindly agree. I don’t agree that education is rubbish or that schools kill creativity. I also don’t agree with brands provoking change as their incarnation of ‘better futures’ without a scrap of real evidence – because we all have rights and unlike children, our digital rights are deeply wrapped up in corporate spreadsheets and dubious tracking of our every move.

The worst thing about change is that people who are a) not in the classroom b) not actually teachers and c) have no academic relationships with students are driving the ‘change bus’ – and alsmost always present what teacher do from a deficit position. We know all adults know what schools are like – as they all went to one. We also know parents want the best for their kids and bombarded with ‘death of childhood’ and ‘decay of youth’ messages in the media. But what exactly do they want to change? Do they want brands to change education or do they want education to change brands?

I like to think the latter. The idea of living in a technologically deterministic society where machine learning and A.I. drives what children learn is very scary to me. I don’t think ‘most’ people want this either – but it enables the perpetual twilight where we flirt with technologies, identity and digital cultures which we IMAGINE are ‘good’ for us (and kids) when in fact the change never happens. Just like a gambler loses track of time in a casino because of their design – so we find ourselves in EdTech. Change is the vital element needed to sell products but is yet to demonstrate it improves learning or the lives of students. But if you want to be a thought-leader or get yourself a happy-clappy fanbase on social media – you gotta push the change-cart and tow the line.

Or not.

What do we really know about teens?

The iPhone has turned ten. There’s a useful summation of the so called iGen by Professor of Psychology, San Diego State University on the Conversation this week which is also supporting the release of her book (on the too read list).

This is the new normal: Instead of calling someone, you text them. Instead of getting together for dinner with friends to tell them about your recent vacation, you post the pictures to Facebook. It’s convenient, but it cuts out some of the face-to-face interactions that, as social animals, we crave. – Twenge, 2017

Essentially, Twenge reviews the issues and overlap with generational labels and why the current generation of teenagers behave very differently to previous generations. She argues that the common 1:1 ratio of teen to phone has resulted in isolation, distraction and a broad dissatisfaction with non-preferred interactions with others. It’s this which I’ll pick up – is iGen making deliberate choices about avoiding/shutting down non-preferred interactions with teachers (who insist they need an education) for a world teens see as irrelevant?

Research continues to show that screen time needs regulation and that parental practices towards that goal are almost unknown. The limited research that has looked at screen time, is more often from psychology than education or media. It broadly aligns screen addiction with television addiction and gambling, which has been the ‘media effects’ line run about young people at peril for over thirty years.

The impact for teachers is similarly unknown. While teachers might learn how to use technology in pursuit of their goals – which are aligned to the modernist roots of mass education, most teachers I speak to are increasingly finding iGen difficult to engage when they shut-down. iGen is therefore physically familiar, and skilled at swiping at tapping, but involved in a cultural reproduction which alienates them from adults – be they parents or teachers. Schools have had various success in ‘banning phones’ or attempting to get students to use them in ‘school mode’ with a goal of annexing this culture. Few have policies towards ‘screen time’ in terms of digital nutrition, nor do they account for individual usage patterns of children – from low users to habitual. Twenge hints in her article at the ‘mood’ of teens who have grown up with phones, using a range of studies, mostly from the USA.

Some Australian teens do appear struggle to socialise and recognise the role of teachers in their daily lives. While the mantra of ‘pedagogy over technology’ is a well-worn phrase, the underpinning cultural reproduction of teens themselves cannot be isolated or ignored. In addition, the social distance between iGen and thier parents – which some researchers call ‘tethering’ – is more elastic than ever. The teen who doesn’t make much effort in school will not suddenly become more attentive if they are given rich-media courses over listening to their teacher. If they don’t like the class, they are quick to reject their teachers attempts to engage them. Dealing with iGen is therefore different, and further points to how difficult (silly) the idea of preparing kids for jobs of the future, when teachers and parents are struggling to understand the iGen of today.

This is a wicked problem that cannot be solved with behaviorist rules, or the liberalism and democracy of self-determination. These are decaying ‘adult’ ideas. The digital culture iGen CREATES has it’s own rules and motivations which we know almost nothing about. The teen who doesn’t make much effort in school will not suddenly become more attentive if they are given rich-media courses over listening to their teacher – so robot-teacher is a myth, the digital native is a myth and we keep trying to find the tech-solution to what are actually social problems. If they don’t like the class, they are quick to reject their teachers’ attempts to engage them. Thier super connected parents are just as quick to hear about how their over-reaching teacher is giving them a hard time – aka, please learn, we are trying to help you – and yet at home, teens vanish into their social media worlds behind closed bedroom doors. Dealing with iGen is therefore different, and further points to how difficult (silly) the idea of preparing kids for jobs of the future, when teachers and parents are struggling to understand the iGen of today.

If iGen doesn’t like today’s class, they are quick to reject teacher attempts to engage them – enabled by an experienced digital culture of doing your own thing, when not interesting in what’s happening in immediate reality. This ‘escape’ is to a world of conumerism and marketing which also targets teens with messages about identity and self-worth. Teens don’t see any problem with this remediation of lived experience – a culture enabled by a decade of 1:1 digital access. It is no wonder parents and teacher often feel drained. Dealing with iGen is different and creates problems which I think we’re struggling to understand – after a decade of perpetual disruption and reshaping of culture. Twenge leads me to think how difficult (silly) the idea of preparing kids for jobs of the future is (the current mantra of educelebs) when teachers and parents are struggling to understand how to connect iGen to other generations.

What can teachers learn from Overwatch?


Is this banana for you?

Let’s assume your classroom isn’t a place where your desks are in rows, you DON’T stand out front holding a wipe board pen, or use your projector to etch content into a plastic board. If you have an open space and team teaching, you probably spend a lot of time rolling your eyes when people drone on about what quality teacher is. You’re probably working with one or more other teachers all the time. You’ll be sharing classroom space, collaborating and in a constant process of cooperation, negotiation, support, and on the spot innovation. If you find yourself at conferences and wondering “why is this news to these people?” then you’re probably an effective team-teacher with an offside hand that can wield technology as well as working an unfamiliar car door handle.

What can you learn from a video game such as Overwatch? Plenty – team wins and losses are a result of team choice, action and effort. If you want to simulate what team teaching feels like to a colleague, get them to play Overwatch. Of course, they won’t know the map or where the health packs are. They won’t be able to pick a dive-team composition or know how to counter a Genji, but that’s the point really. Team teaching is contextual, complex and emerges from a culture of teaching and community of practice, rather than individual actions or behaviours. In Overwatch, a team performance is always the goal, and the odds of winning are usually 50/50 with a random team, but get better with a familiar one. Over time, teams get to know each other so well, they predict each other’s moves. Some people like to play healer and others DPS … just as teachers in open classrooms choose a role and are free to swap out as the lesson develops.

Teachers can learn a lot from Overwatch about how to become a more effective team teacher … and this is a fundamentally different role and experience to those who are ‘using games’. If you want to learn how to design better lessons and be a better colleague … the Summer Games are on now.

Sending Teachers Mixed Messages

Alongside increased ‘brandification’ of education eLearning modern learning is an increasing number of non-educational professionals coaches who ply their ‘improvement’ message/method in schools.  Schools are no longer islands of social enterprise for the benefit of society anymore. At some point, parents pay fees and levies to place their children in the classroom to some degree or another. Australian education is, therefore, a stratum of costs and benefits. Schools must increasingly make their representations of benefits to attract ‘customers’. Teachers have, by and large, no experience of marketing or retail environments outside of being customers of businesses.

Australian education is, therefore, a competitive stratum of costs and benefits. It is at this point, teachers must be resolute in that no Australian school can ‘be like’ Finland, just as our broad approach to education has not been drilled down into the US model of standardised testing. It is therefore very dangerous to listen to people who draw a broad bow in social media, just as it is to believe what works in retail to get more out of workers, to reduce costs and so forth – has any relevance to the scholarship of learning and teaching itself.

Schools must increasingly make their representations of benefits to attract ‘customers’. Teachers have, by and large, no experience of marketing or retail environments outside of being customers of businesses. Unlike older colleagues, many young teachers have only experienced the mixed message of retail/business and whatever they learned at University. I would further guess, many of them have had experience of part time and casual jobs before graduation – and will remember some of that business-hussle.While not exclusive, the staff room meeting experience is one which reproduces the fandom and dogma of social media – the so called

It’s fair to argue the modern PD/meeting experience is central to the reproduction of the fandom and dogma of social media (edu-celebs) with their gimmicks and niche topics. I’ve said many times before – EdTech is short for Entertainment Technology – and for the most part is a deliberate effort by a few to deny recognition to the many. I’m sure most people in an EdTech audience for something like EduTech are just as proficiant as the speaker – and more relevant as they actually teach. The utlimate WTF for me is when Sir Ken tells a teacher crowd that schools kill creativity and everyone claps and tweets  – seriously? Hes telling you something – YOU ARE CRAP.

To be a good teacher, you need to be a flexible, empathetic human, able to meet challenges and work across broad areas of learning and teaching. Secondary teachers have their specialisations in order to shovel forth the content demanded by the various ‘authorities’, but at no point in the classroom, does a professional teacher need to act like an employee in a retail store, air-conditioning installer or tire fitter. We don’t have transient ‘customers’ who may or may not buy our ‘product’. I can fully appreciate why non-educators might be seduced into thinking teaching can be approached like any other business – but learning isn’t a business – it’s a necessary function of society.

Another interesting development I’ve noticed is the rise of the micro ‘practical philosopher’. In the history of education, there have been many who have influenced the shape of how children learn, and where they learn. Some come from academia such as Dewy, and others don’t such as John Holt. A practical philosopher such as Holt looks at the macro social and cultural issues, and influences change. They don’t zone in on a school with some pseudo-science if they did, the only way it would be adopted is with a degree of managerial clout insisting on it. Contrastingly, teachers do adopt and engage with models and methods which are constructed from academic research and implemented through quality training. Again, if the person telling you X isn’t a teacher, can’t do what you do TODAY and has no reliable evidence to suggest their ideas work – assume they are just as likely to do harm and waste valuable time.

I am not suggesting ONLY educational academics can teach us things. However for most teachers, especially early career teachers, this micro practical philosophy emerging from niche ‘EdTech’ advocates, brand reps and pseudo social/clinical science is mixed with similar amounts of ‘business’ ideas about how to make things better, faster cheaper etc.,

So what is educational leadership? What makes an effective teacher?“Leaders are not, as we are often led to think, people who go along with huge crowds following them. Leaders are people who go their own way without caring, or even looking to see, whether anyone is following them. “Leadership qualities” are not the qualities that enable people to attract followers, but those that enable them to do without them. They include, at the very least, courage, endurance, patience,

For one thing, anyone trying to understand the practice of a teacher though OBSERVATION of a lesson or day to day behaviour, is at best a simpleton. They might as well get a stopwatch and time how fast the hands of the clock move in an hour. To me, if you don’t see and treat teachers as leaders, you’re also failing to understand their motivation, passion and insight into how society is shaped and re-shaped. The observer types are not diagnosing an oil-blow back from a worn turbo charger, not wondering why they didn’t use DP40 when they etch primed that guard. No, the problem with OBSERVATION is that it comes with self-bias, is contextual and has been shown to have zero impact on the success of students whatsoever.

“Leaders are not, as we are often led to think, people who go along with huge crowds following them. Leaders are people who go their own way without caring, or even looking to see, whether anyone is following them. “Leadership qualities” are not the qualities that enable people to attract followers, but those that enable them to do without them. They include, at the very least, courage, endurance, patience. – John Holt.

Another useful quote from John Holt, deals with the on-going problem of fruit-managers. These I characterise as people who are given some status above others and to maintain it, focus on the low hanging fruit issues. To be fair, they are often unable to do much else – which is the central argument Seth Godin makes about why organisations orbit the same endless issues and staff become disillusioned. Holt said “The true test of character is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don’t know what to do.” A good team, or faculty understands that this is a daily test, once which they face and discuss daily. They also DO something meaningful and impactful about it quickly and reflect on the results just as quickly.

While they take on board a range of discourses presented to them (largely through the medium of public debate and media) – teachers are living in a half-real world where factual errors, misinterpreting and oversimplifying the research, and making logical errors is seen as normal. For example, arguing against positive reinforcement without acknowledging the body or research which support is – is a convenient omission in the message, but can’t be as easily omitted in the classroom – no matter how passionate you are about the sociological importance of self-determination and self-worth.

My approach to teaching is an evolution of ideas, successes and failures. However, my own code is to base all of that in the scholarship of learning and teaching, not the last TED Talk I watched. I strongly promote blended learning using enquiry and challenges – only some of which are auto-telic in nature. I also recognise that I am part of a system which is deeply rooted in modernism and being carved up by neo-liberal politics. I don’t expect continual wins without some spills.

Screen Shot 2017-08-12 at 10.44.59 am

I do believe students should not sit in rows and be lectured all day – and I absolutely despise worksheets – paper or digital. I believe children’s voices matter in their own education, but at the same time – their day to day experience doesn’t happen outside of culture. And here is my main issue with teacher experiences of late, in order for these external methods/ideas to be correct (not adopted, just TRUE) there has to be a villain or problem. For example, children need encouragement, not praise – depicts them being immersed in a particularly problematic situation. In this case – the age old argument about autocratic teaching. Another example is that teachers use technology for consumption, not interaction. This representation doesn’t consider that interactive consumption is the message these days and therefore we need to think more about the quality of it – not to establish who is using it or not using it (low-hanging fruit).

Anyway, there’s a reflection of sorts – now back to Overwatch.

Did someone eat the last Screenager?


This post is about the issues with assigning buzzwords to complex problems in order to a) simplify the problem, b) mask the problem and c) perpetuate the problem for personal or organisational benefits. The losers are always parents and children, which is ironic as they are supposed to be the one’s being liberated.

There is a ‘blockchain’ of terms used about children and technology. Each block encapsulates its own assertions, assumptions and bias which, so far, have been rebuffed by one or more field of research – later on. The reality is that research moves far less quickly than social media, and so it’s inherently dangerous to jump into today’s new claim simply because someone invented technology to do so. Therefore TIME matters more than ever – and many revelations from thought leaders are later crushed by researchers, so don’t write off academia just yet.

The nature of these terms/concepts emerges from the vibrant competition among ‘experts’ and ‘commentators’ who find the topic either entertaining enough or career boosting enough to spend hours and hours online discussing it with other experts. Towards K12 Education this is at a frenetic level as the rewards are high – overseas trips, ego-boosting keynotes, special treatment by your employer etc., The great thing about ‘blockchain’ culture is that it only takes a handful of these people to create a representation that those who arrive later buy into. The evidence of this is the effort brands go to recruit ‘thought leaders’ and ‘influencers’ or organisations with an agenda to recruit experts on a topic – most of whom are not qualified and don’t even work in the industry aside from their commentating (hmm, the nature of neo-work).

Three terms spring to mind: net generation; digital native; and screenager. These terms are of course just that,  attempts to appeal to individual identity and emotion. They emerge from the largely negative view of ‘media effects’ tradition, which has a special focus on children and ‘technological determinism’ in which people are transported to become consumers – usually portrayed in binary forms such as have/nots, experts/idiots, enthusiasts/laggards, in/out etc.,

Screenager – Blend of teenager and screen. A person in their teens or twenties who has an aptitude for computers and the Internet. Term coined in the 1990s. (Oxford Dictionary)

Educational Technology (teaching with digital technology and communications) – or EdTech – as it’s called is the prime example of determinism in action. It has dominated online discussion for over a decade, and there are plenty of folk besides me, who see it a part of the reason children are still disengaged and not learning – better – as EdTech is still on the cusp of breaking away from its modernist roots and revels in thinking of itself as the ‘counter culture’ to ‘school culture’  – which is of course ridiculously selfish, wrong and cringeworthy. EdTech generally pays no attention to research and favours spawning sub-sets of itself – which it sees as innovation – not degradation of a fundamentally self-limiting ideology (technological determinism). There are of course many exceptions – those who do read the research, to produce data, do publish evidence based insights into practices which better reflect contemporary culture and the shifting demands of family life. However, the vast majority are stuck in the blockchain in some subset of EdTech – EdChat – EdBots – EdTalk – EdWhatever.

The current focus in the media is towards ‘screen time’. In fact what they mean is screen use as separate from children’s time. There are many many reasons children spend their time the way they do – mostly because parents today are super-controlling in response to endless commuting to work, commitments to organised sports and consumerism. When not working, or acting as the family

There are many many reasons children spend their time the way they do – including parental responses to extensive commuting times to work, social commitments to organised sports, dancing and other sites of consumption. When not working, or acting as the family taxi, they are answering work emails after work, planning for tomorrow’s work or binging on Netflix. Most don’t even notice that the main reason they head to the mall is to buy food and drinks – they don’t even shop anymore – even shopping has become entertainment.

This means the time children have to do as they wish has been eroded significantly in the last twenty years. At the same time, research shows kids who do spend their time playing games do not become violent or anti-social. On the contrary,  playing online wit others – in between family activities – allows them to form strong social ties with other people – both online and offline. The social challenge is that these might not be family members. In effect the time they spend online diversifies and expands their social-connectedness and their immediate family can struggle to accept this shift. For example, children will say “I playing with my friend” – which brings into question our conceptions of what friendship is and means. The friend might be in New Zealand or Perth because that is the region the game’s matchmaking system used to create teams. This also means that children are not in a global digital world, but participating in regional groups, organised by brand, product and currency.

Back to EdTech for a second. The NUMBER ONE thing EdTech fans say is that ‘forming a personal learning network’ has changed their life and added plenty of new (great) friends. Now, let’s remove the determinism. It’s not a ‘personal learning network’ at all – its a personal entertainment channel, which is no different to kids jumping online or watching a Twitch stream – if we break it down as purely media communications – the PLN is simply a contextual media channel, curated by individuals for personal consumption.

Therefore there is no such thing as a screenager. The video above is loaded with parental angst and confusion about the role technology plays in their own – and their children’s lives. Screenager is a less confronting way to present children as victims of media consumption and appeals to quite natural parental insecurities.

The ‘screenager‘ amalgamation is two part. First, it appeals to the ‘media effects’ tradition that technology is inherently bad for children and secondly, it reminds us that children cannot (or should not) make informed choices about media until they are adults. Only then can they walk around the mall glued to their phones or line up to get their bear-tear infused latte and swipe their Apple-Pay money away.

Parenting has never been done in the absence of social and technological progress. Australian parent culture has never been shown to subscribe to the levels of media panic about digital technology seen elsewhere – and aside from those with particularly authoritative/religious views of what children ‘should be’ – rather than what they are – we don’t shy away from or regulate every click and swipe. Even more importantly, there is no research to show parents believe children are at significant risk of poor mental, emotional or physical health because they access screens. In fact, academics continually point out how hard it is to measure children’s media use – and just how unreliable self-reporting using reflection and opinion is. As much as I found the Digital Australia 18 report interesting – it didn’t seek the views of children under 14 – and therefore doesn’t truly represent all Australians or their opinions at all. But surveys are often touted as statistically significant by those who love a media panic or find social and financial benefit in peddling their technological determinism.

In my research, I’ve adapted four criteria for talking and thinking about screen usage (towards games). Children use media sporadically and we know homes own several devices, with children having faux-ownership of some devices.

passive consumption, which includes listening or watching broadcasts about games and associated cultures, for example, watching a You Tube channel reviewing a new game; interactive consumption, activities that are dependent on the users participation with content, narratives and ludic methods created by others (playing a game); communication, which includes those activities in which communicating with others is the primary purpose of using the media device, for example in game voice and text chat, streaming gameplay to an audience for the purpose of live or near live interaction; and content creation, which includes time spent using digital devices to write or to make one’s own video of game play, developing games or media elements that might be published in or about games, such as music, reviews and tutorials.

Without distinct contextual categories of screen usage in each layer of media stratification, there is no way to even talk about screen usage with parents and children. Therefore, terms such as screenagers and digital natives are highly emotive and subjective. At the same time, the rise of social media is obsessed with buzzword and hashtag creation – and to me, to discuss children’s use of media without also asking how the increasing consumerism and habitual adult use of technology influences children – on a spectrum from “I use my phone too much and I feel guilty …. I bought the PS4 for her to enjoy and show she’s enjoying it … school might not enable my child to particiapte in society the way I did ….”

So when someone stands on a stage and uses the term ‘screenager’ – the first question to ask is how exactly do they measure screen usage – what method(s) did they use to capture this data and what leads them to believe it to be the most reliable (if not perfect) method. Then ask them if they included children as respondents. If not, the term is mearly an attempt to demonise children and perpetuate the same moral panics we’ve seen (and discounted) for years.

ESports High – just a click away?


Occasionally, I muse over the potential of  E-Sports High Schools. Not fake ones that do a bit of coding and Minecraft – but one that actually develops talent to play pro, or to work in the industry – player, developer, media, cosplayer – the REAL world that swirls around ESports. For example, why not ENCOURAGE kids to stream an find the media success that their streaming and YouTube hero’s have found? Why can’t someone such as LoserFruit not get a high school start?. There is no real barrier aside from culture. There is plenty of evidence that Australia can create new schools – and models – especially high schools – so to have an Esports focus is also proven possible in the eyes of NESA and the all important government funding. So anyone who’s sniggering at the idea – simply fails to understand the shift in youth culture – and what kids actually want to learn about every day. There’s nothing to suggest that studying ESports every day would be BAD.

“Interactive games are woven into the fabric of our culture – a culture more nuanced and capable of enjoying the benefits of the digital economy than ever before.” – Digital Australia Report 2018

I have four essential arguments for a ESports High School Academy.

  1. There is sufficiently low-cost digital technology to deliver a full (high qualigy) high school program online as: fully online, blended, block or campus mode, and plenty of subject teacher talent to do it – not just well, but exceptionally well.
  2. The ESports industry is a well established growing one that is not served by current educational models. 92% of people play games with OTHER HUMAN BEINGS which make ESports not just viable, but attractive to people which very high cognitive processing and dedication. The myth of the fat-slacker-loner is long since dead.
  3. 93% of Australian households have had gaming devices since 2013 which places games as being as more culturally accepted in Australia than ANY sport.
  4. The ‘for implementation’ digital technologies curriculum in 2019 is more than sufficient to meet the needs of the gaming industry (coding, playing, producing, broadcasting etc.,) as an elective from year 9 onwards.
  5. Yeah, I know +1 right – THIS IS HOW YOU DEVELOP ‘Digital Nutrician” in kids by GIVING them what they want … the solution to too much gaming is, in fact, more gaming.

I’m not here to argue the benefits of gaming – these are well documented. Unless you’re so ingrained in a micro-belief that MINECRAFT is the apex of gaming – it’s easy to see the vast number of careers and media related opportunities there are for ESports High School. Not everyone will be as great as “IEATYOUUP”, but there are thousands, if not millions that are playing. Consider that ESport Pro player and broadcasters are POST SCHOOL AGE – is this not an industry that is “of the future” that educators on Twitter bang on about endlessly – but never do anything about.

In addition, I’m just going to say that the road to making this happen is both short and low cost – if the industry gets’s behind it, even to a token degree. Of course not every edumactor who’ s been mainlining EdTech for the last decade could do this – but there are some that can – me included. And no, I’m not going to road map it for you.

I’m just a dude researching games, working in eLearning for a decade plus and know exactly how this gets turned into a REAL EDUCATION. But I’m also super realistic that “games based learning” isn’t really understood in the context of school culture. But if parents want to deal with ‘screen time’, media culture and get the most from the millions of kids who LOVE gaming … or if Australian education REALLY AND TRUELY wants to tap into the multi billion dollar ESports media industry – I can totally assure you that pissing about with Minecraft and Hour of Code is amateur hour.

Why are real games missing from STEM?

The Australian video games industry, as it turns out, is both successful and ignored by the government when it comes to funding. The developers of games (the industry that makes them) reported revenue of $111million in 2015-16. In the same period, sales exceeded $3billion, with over half of that being digital only sales. The industry associations continually stand with hands aloft asking why the government is removing funding, not adding to it. While the government (and education) bang on about ‘jobs of the future’ and ‘computational thinking’ – they overlook games. In education, the education-brain is unable to evolve past Minecraft Edu, which it thinks ticks the STEM box nicely. Except it doesn’t. It is simplistic and panders to conservative sensibilities.

When we see schools engaged in eSports, when there are rows of consoles in a media-lab and high end PCs with sufficient grunt to play and render … then we can say we are rushing towards the future. We can honestly say that we are engaging kids in games.

Why do I say we are not? Shaw (2010) argues the central themes in game studies are: knowledge acquisition, identity and performance, representation, and the relationship between media and audiences. He says game studies included a “pervasive sense of video game culture as separate from a constructed mainstream culture, as something new, different, and more importantly definable” (p.404).  This is not true of schools. Thy continue to BAN games. I would argue most of the Minecraft loving schools still ban other games – or make teachers jump through hoops to get them unbanned.

So no, the fact some schools play Minecraft does not mean Australia has included video game making and playing in it’s STEM culture. What these school have done is created narrow explorations and narrow critical language – something academics said would happen. Schools do not like divergent media cultures – and yet Game Devs – professional and hobby rely on them for connectedness and shared-space.

There is, as many have said – an embedded conflict of the ‘prior’ and ‘current’ narrative. While STEM should support the multi-billion dollar game industry – which dwarfs television, radio, film and novels in both income and time, schools still defer the idea of playing eSports and funding media labs to ‘the future’ – which seems a place filled with Thought Leaders making bland statements as they watch thier follower count +1. To me, these pundits are part of the apparatus that prevents change. They sit in influential judgement when they could step away and acknowledge the need for diversity in the narrative. But I totally get that the ego-buff of being the Twitter/Teach Meet Alpha is compelling enough to represent the potential of developing professional game devs as Minecraft with the narrowness of the K12 STEM bubble.

So why are we not preparing kids for the future? Because we don’t actually want to – the games industry future is massive – and yet here we are with less funding and Minecraft (to which people say “but it’s a beginning” – when games are over 30 years old. It’s just culture which is still shit scared of games).

Why don’t teachers use Minecraft?

Last week saw another Tweet-storm from Minecraft creator Notch. A series of unapologetic statements, replies and foul language which website The Gamer called a “melt down”. He was happy to attack fans and critics alike.

Interestingly, a number of educators, often vocal about the game were quick to distance ‘their game’ (Minecraft Edu) from Minecraft and with it, saying that Notch has nothing to do with the game. Of course, that’s true. Notch has long since sold the game, and Microsoft was been quick to further monetize Minecraft Edu, following on from Joel’s original cash-grab educational version of the game. What is also true, is that Minecraft Edu has so far, never been shown to have any educational advantage over a vanilla version – yet this doesn’t appear to worry edu-fans of the game at all and seemingly, they don’t feel any need to ask for any evidence before putting students into the creepy treehouse school environment.

If like me, you have been researching and working with games in the educational context, you might appreciate how much resistance there has been to games and virtual worlds such as Second Life, Teen Second Life, Quest Atlantis, Warcraft etc., The educational community – happy to adopt unproven tools such as blogs and wikis, demanded evidence and proof before even considering a limited adoption or trial.

So it seems that Minecraft Edu doesn’t see Notch as an influence on children anymore. Research tells me that games are significations systems which play a central part in producing meaning through media representations – what we say about them, the emotions we associate with them and the ways we classify and conceptualise them. On this basis, the school game may look like the public game, however, their creepy treehouse school server.

I argue that this meaning making – ie whatever teacher created and mediated activity, lack the very post-structural elements which make the public game such a powerful element in the overall media representation of games, and furthermore doesn’t attempt to consider the continuity of change in children’s play and games as texts. This is why these Minecraft Edu fans use the game almost exclusively because meaning making is reflective and not constructionist. What they attempt to do with Minecraft Edu is drawn from the teacher’s own culture and relfection of what games are, what play is etc., and this is hugely divergent from a teacher whos is using Minecraft vanilla of Minecraft Pocket on a public/private realm.

So if teachers want to annex Notch from the cultural game-soup of Minecraft they also have to accept that they way they understand and deploy Minecraft Edu stands isolated from game cultures and the media representations that children access out of school. The success (if you call it that) or the tragedy of Minecraft Edu is successfully appeals to traditional conceptions of what children should do with technology.

Minecraft as a phenomenon, allows children to access and create media representations which is destabilising conventional meanings of power, values, conceptions and beliefs. I maintain that Minecraft Edu (and it’s vast EduCulture) deliberately avoids this because it puts the power in the hands of the teacher community which remains more interested in sanitising gameplay as part of children’s media culture – because it makes them feel powerful. They have already formed into classic ‘us’ and ‘them’ factions. As one teacher said “you don’t know me or my kids” … which is true – but I do know the difference between an authentic use of media and a creepy treehouse.


Adaptive Game Design


There are two main discourses about games in school – gamification and game based learning. Neither are as new as some suggest, and both require a level of understanding and development that is difficult for classroom teachers to pull off – given the current demands of being face to face instructors. While courses and units can be put into a ‘blended’ online format, most practice revolves around using online ‘content’ to supplement a lesson or creating new resources to ‘flip’ the classroom and extend the school day. There are examples of truly innovative work, using MUVES and MOOs, but not in recent times.

So here I’m talking about mashing up game design, instructional design and adaptive learning theories and methods to create flexible blended learning frameworks.

Adaptive game design approaches take theory from games and cultures to create new frameworks to engage students in learning experiences which are linked in some way. Perhaps they are linear and incremental, perhaps branching. The design of these are geared towards the kind of experience needed (to learn) and to play. Therefore some frames are about analysis (problem solving) others are for comprehension of challenges.

An adaptive game design approach allows a teacher to use technology as well as corporeal space – towards a more flexible delivery of learning which is not welded to the sermons of PBL or any other ‘model’. At the same time, it draws upon proven methods of instructional design, gaming, challenge, scenario, problem and enquiry.

The key to delivery is in being able to create adaptive frameworks for teachers to use easily in the design of learning activities. Think of how games allow players to create different ‘load-outs’ for game-play. These allow them to play in different strategic ways.

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.

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