Rifle’s Raft.

One aspect of blogging and social media I like is culture-watching. Today in NSW, teachers return to work and is marked once again by increased Twitter gruel.


Seasonals wake from their holiday slumber to tweet about the ‘near future’ which is going to be super. They spend a great deal of time endorsing the brilliance of fellow supers, their feeds brimming with ever-so-positive comments which I’ll aggregate to “the next school year is going to be awesome”.  Yep, it’s all super.

I have no time or respect for these people, they are part of the problem, as they add to the media distortion that ‘everything is awesome’. It’s not. Families are sleeping in cars, it’s almost impossible for new teachers to get a permanent job and the office troll has re-armed for a new season’s hunting.

During the holiday-hibernation, those who stayed on the wall, have been impacted by the death of Aaron Swartz, the release of new search-graph technologies, announcements by various governments about further censorship and monitoring of citizens. Teachers in Seattle have refused to administer standardized tests and US schools have been told to offer disabled sports teams or abandon having able-only sports teams. While no one can’t know every educational event, these are the ones who amplify and have high-impact on the quality and relevance of the feed. Their input to the nexus of information is not “oh look my friend is so amazing”.

I have a problem with seasonal near futurism. Believing everything will happen in the near future is not awesome. What is interesting right now, is that those who invented the near-futurism of educational rhetoric rely almost entirely on Twitter to perpetuate their trade, while the really interesting stuff has moved to Google Plus.

Ed Tech has drained billions of dollars out of schools via Twitter. The outcome (as predicted by numerous academics) has been “no significant difference” unless we’re talking about how a few made some serious cash from Web2.0 rhetoric and now live to a life-style that they certainly want to remain accustomed. It would be super if they presented some data, but alas I suspect the same grey men will show the same boring PowerPoint about Clay Shirkey and quote Prensky badly.

Show me how near-futurism isn’t just system daemons building quasi gated communities of hash-tag dogma. As a learning network, Twitter works best if you agree to Tweet “Oh I love your bracelet” whenever I give the princely wave.

Welcome back to 2013, don’t mind me … let the hash tagging begin. Before you know it the Eddies will be on and the rich will be telling us how awesome ISTE is and I’ll be looking at a photo of your lunch.

High five education. We’re living on Rifle’s raft already.


Koch according to Win8 Narrator.

I had a Win8 Slate in the office today, testing it out for students with accessibility needs. I was amused when hitting the Sydney Morning Herald website who had posted a story about TV presenter – David Koch who had voiced his opinion about breast feeding mothers.

Five reasons you might be a romantic educator

Another way of looking at ‘integration’ of technology is to see it as a hybrid solution. I remember Top Gear reviewing the Toyota Hybrid car, suggesting “this car has two engines. Normally, in say a Bugatti, this would be fantastic, but here one’s electric the others petrol – neither are very good”. Rather awkwardly digital-traditional hybrids haven’t sat easily or consistently in school either. In many ways, like electric cars the infrstructure simply isn’t there. But I’m a romantic, and I think that rather than paint a picture of a ‘digital classroom’ – building romantic classrooms is what successful teachers are doing now, and these people are somewhat irrepressible because they understand digital culture and society more than the machine which seeks to control it. If this wasn’t the case, we would walk outside and the world would be steampunk. Here are five reasons I believe in the romantic classroom.

1. Ambivalence towards a tipping point.

Some teachers and students get a great deal, others nothing in between is ambivalent interest waiting for a tipping point. As classrooms and lectures today don’t operate in isolation from society, so it’s possible that kids don’t experience any continuance in how they learn with technology, and recent Australian report show no increase in student engagement or satisfaction in recent times. It would be easy to think if students have a laptop, then digital hybrid learning is changing learning on a wholesale bases. Without clear evidence on a wide scale, the question is how do we know hybrid education is better than an alternative? For example, government policy to allow parents to purchase a laptop for their child directly (as parents carry the risk anyway) and then to present digital education as a family and community concern.

Let’s pitch a something else. Say we create a digital department who’s sole job is to work on topics from and in the digital domain. Digital is already a social undertaking. It harbors networks of people
who have been working together, sharing research, arguing, competing, and collaborating for many years – create a superstructure where a willingness to participate has a reward system. The department is publicly visible in ways to which education might be generally unaccustomed, yet where scholarship and pedagogy that are bound up with infrastructure in ways that are deeper and more explicit.

2. The drop out zone

While this sounds exciting, even a depiction of the “connected educator”, the problem is that it doesn’t work (yet). Much of the current research is around how to identify students at risk of drop out which then leads to predictions of virtual school success. Overwhelmingly, they find digital-opportunities tend to benefit primarily already-advantaged learner and educational access does not equate to educational opportunity.  The advantage schools have in prediction lies in policy where kids are not really allowed to physically drop-out, where as online, dropping in and out is the experience loop itself – and completely normal. In higher education, students can easily drop out. In 2010 this cost Australian Universities billions of dollars. Drop out rates among teachers, in my experience is similar story. While 30 sign up for some technological training, only half show up and two percent will persist on a reflective process of experimentation – often  over 12 months before they believe it is successful. Along the way is a sea of self-doubt – and we know the human brain hates that sensation. This means very few become digital-explorers, most remain users of the provided infrastructures – and many do it perfectly well in the context of the institution. There’s no data on how long exploration lasts either, some feel happy to put down roots in some topic or interest, while others continue to roam the metaverse in search of wonder.  More pragmatically, when only 11% of Australian have a Twitter account (which doesn’t indicate activity), I seriously question how this use (exploration method) among educators can have all but marginal benefits,  It’s easy to tune in and drop out – and results little public-sphere or institutional improvement so far. It has no scale.

3. The utopian elevator to nowhere

The Gates Foundation paints a different picture, they believe “In this paradigm of next-generation learning models, students and teachers— both secondary and post secondary—will have access to high-quality, relevant, and engaging content in a variety of forms.” In addition they say they hold “a belief that providing investment capital to strengthen emerging information and learning technologies, collecting and sharing evidence of what works, and fostering a community of innovators and adopters will result in a robust marketplace of solutions and a larger pool of institutional participants”. In other words, throwing money at it will lead to greater participation and quality. It forgets that what people imagine and what they believe are quite different things – and that for many people, this is a very Victorian idea where mechanisation will lead to greater discipline. There are then people who are are going to challenge this – romantics if you like – those who highly value individual success, pastoral activity and local community (the rural life). Look on Twitter, which is more evident? People doing what Gates suggest, or the romantics?

4. The crash-zone

The point (to me) of using digital technologies is to shape it to discover something new and wonderful in it, to do things that are otherwise not humanly possible and open doors to break the illusion being presented by people who title things with cybertopian headings. None of what they espouse tackles perceptual infrastructure issues that hybrid idealism creates (making it worse). For example, we can use technology to demolish the utterly dysfunctional 9th grade electives and replace them with digital departments (which are not the same as virtual schools). Electives are generally a 2 line system that has been around as long as mass-education. It was a way of water shedding kids using the aggregate that the numbers who get what they want – are sufficient to perpetuate the chain, but not flood it.  In column A are four subjects and in B, another 4. You choose 1 from each line and there’s no guarantee of satisfaction or transparency. Typically is you like music and technology and they are on the same column, you can’t do it. This nightmare persists regardless of whether the school has laptops, iPads or a holo-deck. It’s insane to then moan kids are disengaged in a topic that they were herded into in the first place or think giving them a laptop will somehow make them more interested.

5. Great  teachers are romantics

I believe in creating romantic learning experiences, and these lead to deeper learning. It doesn’t matter if this is in adult, primary or secondary education. People are pre-wired mentally drop out if they believe something is crap or they can’t imagine any emotional engagement in it.  Kids who grow into using the Internet independently, focus at school on things they like (as do adults) – they create friend networks and vary interest towards their academic subjects based on their belief of success and intrinsic motivation – which they call ‘work’.  Kids now have so much access to digital youth culture that they can easily opt out of ‘work’ and into thier networks of i interest – most of which are highly romantic, based on friendship and binary opposites – as is the nature of youth. This is actioned as updating your profile, liking your friends, posting a photo, support a friend in crisis  and so on. This is what digital technology is for – to react against the machine and to escape reality (which itself is an illusion of the actual world).

To me, successful teachers which use hybrid technology (not opimal technology) almost always create romantic positive digital spaces. The poor ones use hammers and gears of the machine. The best create the illusion of a digital department (usually for almost no money) and bring in like-minded friends to fuel the richness of the experience loop they want- the bad ones hold a webinar and talk.

I think that by using technology is to discipline students. To me, those who use it to break the illusion, and open doors have a lot in common with romanticism and for the most part use it against the machine, just as Blake wrote deceptively simple poems, using the technology of his day. That seems kind of wonderful to me.

Filter Bubbles and Monocultures

“The governing pattern a culture obeys is a master story– one narrative in society that takes over the others, shrinking diversity and forming a monoculture.” F. S. Michaels

I’ve just bought “Monoculture: How One Story Is Changing Everything”, after reading the brief, but always to the point introduction on Brain Pickings, one blog I make the time to read. As time moves on, I find myself more interested in the nexus between story, technology and culture than I do ‘education’ per se, mostly as I find much of educational technology discussion insufficient to describe, let alone explain what I see when kids play multiplayer video-games. Increasingly I find Edu-Twitter less and less useful in terms of discovering new ideas for learning theory and hold a deep suspicion that ‘EdTech’ serves a market-need, and is highly artificial.

Your filter bubble is the personal universe of information that you live in online — unique and constructed just for you by the array of personalized filters that now power the web. –  Eli Pariser

This idea of a filter bubble is also really interesting – as clearly once inside the bubble, it’s hard to leave it.

Listen to the natives

Prensky also said “our kids will start listening again when we begin to listen, and to value their passions and developing skills.” Games designers are listening. Ralf Kostner uses “fun” as a synonym for “unforced learning”.

So let’s be open about this, student-centred-learning can clearly happen effectively without a teacher. If we look at research on retention of information, lectures, powerpoints and textbooks – to a child – they barely crack 10% info-retention rates.

It seems odd when we stack up the research, the trends, the forecasts which do listen, and do collect extensive data (such as OECD), that learning isn’t often about fun, discovery, discussion and mobility. Perhaps this is simply to keep 90% engaged in a practice that works 10% as well as it could.

No one felt sorry for the typing pool or the finished artists when technology arrived to make their jobs obsolete.

Knowing isn’t the same as knowledge

Larry Johnson at the New Media Consortium (NMC) and Horizon Report has said more than once when asked about Second Life, that he has always seen it as a ‘now’ technology and in doing so is conscious that whatever they do there, needs to be transferable to some other technology that contains new opportunities. By this he means the objects are less important that what they ‘know’ about virtual worlds, they can afford to leave objects behind if the potential ‘knowing’ is greater. I call this holding your tools lightly — which is still problematic with teachers, who like to invest in heavy tools, that they a reluctant to change. You can’t blunder your way into making a virtual world successful, if you are reliant on knowledge as facts, or strategy as process – but as history has shown, millions of dollars can be wasted searching for the grail.

Anyone who has been involved in virtual worlds seriously will tell you that people bring with them knowing and knowledge —  ideas, facts, experiences and skills from other domains. While anyone with a modest amount of technical knowledge can set up a Minecraft Server and set about getting kids to do tasks that can be paraded as educational, to me that misses the bigger opportunity. By this I mean not stamping ‘education’ on it. Virtual worlds have important differences from other digital environments. John Seeley Brown said “While the architecture of these worlds is distributed across the Internet, the activities within these virtual worlds create a sense of shared space and co-presence which make real-time coordination and interaction not only possible, but a necessary part of the world.” This is the sense of ‘being there’ and most significantly choosing to be there with others, not being forced in an open-world such as Minecraft is, as JSB states “culturally imagined and the practices of the participants, their actions, conversations, movements, and exchanges, come to define the world and continually infuse it with new meanings”. If we look at Huizinga (the father of game research in many ways), he said that culture is the manifestation of play, not the reverse. So learning to play is not the same as playing to learn.

What Massively Mincecraft is  interested in is this idea of ‘living in shared practice’ and in providing that, liberating players from the experiences of everyday learning as ‘students’ – most obviously by re-defining their role in the world. We believe that doing this allows kids and parents to develop new practices though imagination though networked, collective action. We are interested in kids and parents ‘knowing’ rather than it being used to create knowledge both inside and outside the game. We are already seeing this, even in our youngest players. Rather than waste time defending it, my response is to ask doubters – how are you creating better ‘knowing digital communities’ and most specifically, if you are focused on knowledge (content) how do you know that what you do with technology around the edge of that is not just a novelty.

This is why Massively Minecraft isn’t about getting the game into a classroom per se, it’s about what kids and parents bring (or not) to the game-world, and what they take from it though collaboration, shared meaning and collective action. One parent told me that they went to see their kid’s teacher and challenged the results they had been given saying “clearly my child is capable of more than this, what are you doing that gives you this information as fact – as I can see this isn’t right”. Massively Minecraft isn’t just playing, it’s about creating roles for players in and out of the game, that perhaps they didn’t expect – and I see this growing everyday, and it is a good thing. To me playing Minecraft with teachers is a very useful experience for them … it’s promotes knowing in new ways.

Eat, Prey, Rez

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” according to Peter Druckler, who’s writings were marked by a focus on the relationships among human beings, as opposed to crunching numbers. Among the many great ideas, he saw de-centralisation as a key way to bring out the best in people, find a sense of community and dignity in modern society.

The problem with this appears to be dogged centralization of decision making, financial control and policy within top-down structures. Occasional pilot schemes and experiments are awarded only to a chosen few , yet give a public impression of a socially inclusive, progressive approach to education – yet are under lock and key. Almost no funding goes to social-enterprise, yet these are some of the most innovative and dynamic innovators, who see their work as more than a task, it’s a mission. Those with power, never give it up without a struggle, yet de-centralised approaches are rapidly draining the long-held internalised intellectual property once assumed proptery of the central system. It probably doesn’t even notice, but is arguably unsustainable in light of the depth of resources, support networks and research that is happening in lounge rooms every night.

“Personal infrastructure eats institutional infrastructure for lunch”

3G and portable devices have killed the imperative to connect to one organisation channel. Competition in the marketplace is a race to zero which makes BYOD (Bring your own device) only semi-useful unless it is also connected to BYON (Bring your own network). It’s not the Internet that we want, it’s the ability to connect to people who can help us realise whatever we are trying to do – anytime we like and to make choices based on advice from those we trust most – the network.

“Process networks eat organizational networks for dinner”

If we take Kolb’s learning conjectural cycles – Concrete experience, reflection & observation, abstract concepualisation and active experimentation, it is vividly characterised through networks of people (PLN) who come together to solve problems, regardless of their partisan alliances or social status. I grant you, there are some co-opting opportunists here, but in the years I’ve been hacking away at this, most move on or fade as process networks require effort. If the person above you or next to you isn’t doing this, then it’s a sure sign it will be a long winter, requiring fortitude and resilience to stay motivated.  If the person below you is doing it (and you’re not) – then they have no need of you and won’t bother to tell as much either. The Internet and the media carried though it simply doesn’t care about idealism or conservatism. Innovation hinges on invention, and invention is the name of the game online as it leads to reputation within these process networks. Someone who gets things done, is willing to help others and don’t assume they have all the answers.

The Internet was created to connect people, media, mentors and institutions in one dynamic space designed to inspire collaboration and creativity. That was what Berners Lee set out to do, so who is hasn’t kept up? When you think about it, institutions had at least a decade head start, and has spend the last one agonizing over what it all means – not that anyone knows really.

By working both in process networks and as individuals (life long learners and researchers) people have an opportunity to engage in online projects that promote critical thinking, creativity, and skill-building. So many projects in fact there is something for everyone. The role of process networks (YouTube, Xbox, Twitter, Facebook etc.,) is to connect physical and online spaces to support people in participating with digital media to get things done faster – and that is fueled by diversity, not conformity.

Professor Mizuko Ito (2008) produced a report called “Living and Learning with Digital Media. This ethnographic study of more than 700 youth found that young people participate with digital media in three ways: (1) they “hang out” with friends in social spaces such as Facebook; (2) they “mess around” or tinker with digital media, making simple videos, playing online games, or posting pictures in Flickr; and (3) they “geek out” in online groups that facilitate exploration of their core interests.

Why? Well, look at the world outside. There is a shortage of authentic, engaging physical and virtual spaces for teens in public space (unless you want to play sport). There is a lack of meaningful opportunities for teens to learn digital media skills while also gaining relevant new entry points into public space.

Public space has to be as dynamic as virtual space if it want’s to be relevant. That means buildings not laptops. it means immersive social worlds, not content-portals. For a generation online, virtual space now eats physical space for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is not optimal, but it is very adaptive. It is full of mentors, interest based research and partnerships – and is now so de-centralised, that continuing to arguing over which parts should or should not be allowed into buildings (by the high authorities) – largely says more about the failure to innovate in learning spaces as it does about curriculum reform.

If we can’t change physical space, why not use virtual space? If you don’t like virtual space – then innovate the physical. Standing still isn’t a strategy, it’s an excuse. Do one or the other.

Oil-dipping your culture in 60 seconds

Most teachers use technology — they have to, email, marking sheets, accessing resources is part and parcel of the job. So arguably, there is no such thing in societies affluent enough to have computers as non-digital teacher, more degrees of motivation toward the constellation of variables that people offer up to exemplify new media literacy.

To determine the cultural preferences of teachers and their working environment, we might simply ask a question.

Which of these  do you use most often in communication with others for professional learning?

  1. name@domain.com
  2. attn of:
  3. @name

Perhaps ask this in the next staff development day – take a cross-sectional view of your school culture – know your culture in 60 seconds. It’s a 1 page slideshow that can start a year long discussion – if you’re approaching change from a concern based strategy.

Henry Jenkins, in a recent interview said

We don’t tie the literacies to specific technologies. We’re saying that these are sets of skills that cut across technologies. Technologies are constantly going to change. But there are certain cultural practices that have started to emerge that help us to navigate though those new technologies, and to engage more fully in participatory cultures. And that’s the essence by what we mean by new media literacies.

One gripe I have with the Web2.0 crowd – is that they tie new media literacy diversively to browser based toolsets – blogs, wikis, twitter etc., In many ways this behavior parallels that of teachers who will have answered the question above with option 1 or 2. The cultures we subscribe to tend to speak from inside a belief – so if you selected option 3, chances are you are speaking from inside a culture that subscribes to blogs, wikis and twitter – and that those choosing option 1 or 2 will be seen as targets – beyond your current bubble to influence.

The best answer of course is all of them. To, as Jenkin’s says “cut accross”. But then they will whine and say “there was no option 4; it said ‘most often” – and that’s because they are not thinking critically enough about the question – looking for gaps to exploit – to ask a better question. And that is an epic cultural problem.

As Jenkins points out, new literacies are not limited to blogs and wikis. Essentially – those espousing  web2.0 culture in various guises, focus their discussion around ‘school, teacher and student motivation’ – arguing that schools often want to reduce digital literacy to the most fundamental level that is just using the device — and that ruins everything, for ever, for everyone – amen.

To me, those interested in what lies beyond Web2.0 – games, virtual worlds, mobiles, point of view cameras, semantic search etc., see browser based tools also the most fundamental level of media literacy – and provide an inadequate depiction of technologies we could, or should be exploring and actively creating opportunities for teachers to encounter.

But I get it, I really do. Web2.0 culture is seeking to increase market share – to attract new listeners to a particular message. They extend it marginally on what they have been talking about in order to increase their share. They are not as interested in creating bigger markets for everyone, so you don’t see them keynoting about things outside their bubble – and we all live in bubbles – the mentalists choose to pop them, just to see what happens.

So before we get too carried away with the new school year and start banging on to new teachers that Web2.0 is the new cheese – consider your own bubble … are you content to float around with everyone else, or do you want to get into something new, to speak from inside something that you’re currently looking towards … after all – that’s exactly what those often singled out as ‘not being savvy’ are accused of – be it oh so subtly.

* pop *

That feels much better … now I’ve got room to explore the next chapter – what motivates game cultures … and I’m pretty sure it’s not blogging.