What emerges from under the bed

Games and what emerges from the games are not the same thing. This seems an essential message in teacher education getting excited at the idea of game based learning. However its not as simple as deciding on a game to play as it requires making sense of how games work, specifically in balancing mastery and boredom.

Professional Development in technology generally assumes an operational integration of technology-tools  into the existing system, which in itself is entirely focused on assessable, known and stable outcomes measured though essays and exams.

Deciding on a technological tool is determined by individual and organisational belief of  how well it will ‘fit’ or ‘integrate’ into known, stable practice which is ruled by constant grades and scores. Abandoning existing technologies also means abandoning methods, which in turn declares them less useful. Education hates this idea – as it constantly draws on seers of the past to interpret the future.

Generally speaking the function of technology currently is productivity. A typed up essay that suits the small amount of time markers actually spend reading it is preferable. A hand written exam is preferable when ticking off declarative knowledge, the NAPLAN allows governments to regulate and assign funding. Technology is by an large system-focused or dismissed. We find it incredibly hard to assess the soft skills, which is evident in the lack of them appearing in the National Curriculum beyond motherhood statements.

Outside of fractious formal educational, technology spawns networks of external sites and forums that support guilds, databases, and wikis, or the technological infrastructure that support solving diverse problems has become an intensely liberating factor in mass social development – which involves not only consuming, but producing and modifying knowledge in numerous form factors online. This work – and teaching about this work – takes place almost entirely in downtime and is perhaps is the exploit needed for those who never stood on the school stage as the celebrated academic elite, or never got that job because the qualification demand was high (despite the pay being low).

As a colleague suggested – everyone wants to pay a nickel for a dollar song – meaning formal education is used to call the shots in life. And yet the most innovation, the most opportunity for those yet to receive an education lies in mobile, mass access to the Internet.

Here is a game you can play with teachers as future-ologists.

Imagine two teams playing a video game online. Both have the objective of building a defensible fortress from the game control enemies. The game-world has limited resources to use in constructing this, and limited time before the first wave of bad-guys seeks to eliminate players. What happens next?

Educators will come up with scenarios based partly on their understanding of the problem and their assumption of what you asking in context. The way they will explain it will be to vocalise or to write something down – and use language that they assume you share a common understanding of.

If we set this problem to educators, they will usually want to know more information, and claim they can’t set about solving it as it has too many variables and too little information. Ask the same problem of children and you’ll probably get the same answer. What becomes interesting is if one team is children and the other adults, even more interesting if you separate them into gender.

This is the recipe that has been served up on reality television for over a decade. It’s what keeps people watching MasterChef, The Amazing Race and Survivor. It’s the same formula that broke gaming out of the arcade era into games like Tombraider.

If we set this as a text-based question in a blog or wiki – what can we learn? How helpful would it be to delve into past-research in order to try and make links between lab-rats and gamers?

What emerges from playing this game – in a game world – is useful. It can spawn a host of explorations and discussions in which those who are situated inside the game-world can explain broader, applied theory of how to solve more complex problems. They have shared experience, shared meaning and shared identity.

When people ask “which game should I use to teach grade 4 science” I can only answer that the question is floored unless you want to use a Taylorist ‘computer as a tutor’ instructional, education game. What would be better is to ask “what scientific phenomenon can we explore in a game-world”. To me that is the point of game-play – to explore scenarios that cannot otherwise occur.

This is one of the key reasons I dislike the idea of ‘gamification’ — the idea that people will declare new enthusiasm or be more work-life innovative, simply because they collect tokens or badges in a game.

What emerges from game-play in teacher education are raw materials. The building blocks of web pedagogy and social development strategies. And I’ve I’ve said before – building a personal learning network is game-play – it’s what happens next.


Why you need to start doing dailys to learn more

One of the reasons people log into games like Warcraft is to do the daily. It’s a quest that helps build reputation with one of the various factions in the game. Generally speaking they don’t take too long. 5-15 mins. They are a tactic of getting players to check back in – and keep playing. But, having said that – the Daily is also a great way of getting people to do something they might not – and to bring people together.

Why you need to start doing daily’s in educational technology!

A daily, is a ritual – and god knows schools love them. Rather than tweet truncated advice endlessly, try supporting another teacher or small group of teachers who have their own learning goals, and perhaps less experienced in something you are good at already. I realise that lots of gurus won’t do this as so much of this movement has become pay-me based, but I am sure some are still pure Crusaders. No one is too busy for spare 15mins for others.

So take time to help others using online spaces such as wikis or Google Docs. Just support, offer advice and maybe act as a moderator for their ideas. It is healthy for experts not to ram their view down everyones through all the time (just some). Getting new perspectives is so much more important than banging your own into the psyche of others. I try to do this with about 8 teachers all the time – you’ll be amazed how much you learn – even if you think your role is just to keynote or consult – to tell others what to think.

Why kids need to do dailys MORE IMPORTANTLY

Kids need to do them. They can go towards grades if you like. I suggest these are to spark minds right out of what you are teaching them that day.

  • Create a set of daily’s that they can choose from initially.
  • Venture out and ask questions that you might not even know about other subjects.
  • Start kicking down walls – daily.

I think, these can be at a uni-structural level. They are not exactly busy work, but are at the base of the taxonomy (not Blooms). Here are some verbs and some technologies that you might use. The point here is for students to win easily, spend a small amount of time on it – but extend them into areas and interests that you really are never going to get to.

  • Verbs: memorise, identify, recognise, count, define, draw, find, label, match, name, quote, recall, recite, order, tell, write, intimate.
  • Digital activities: Googling, highlighting, bullet pointing, bookmarking, favouriting, typing out, searching, facebooking (status updates, commenting, liking, favouriting), tweeting.

Over time; start a Google Form, and get kids to suggest Dailys that they or others can do – begin to negotiate learning – without having to tank the damn curriculum and gatekeeper. The great thing about invention is that you don’t need to tank – you just operate in spaces that no-one even notices.

All you need is a Google Form, Edmodo or Moodle activity. Once again – you can share your Daily’s with others. Daily’s at 5-15 mins a day, soon add up and take almost no time to develop as online activities. See, games are smart – start using DAILYS in your classroom – and please share them with me, love to hear.

How to get staff to develop a learning plan

Another question from ISTE – “How do I get teachers to recognise what they need to do”. The stems from the issue that no one knows exactly what ‘it’ is that they are supposed to be doing with technology if they’ve never really used ‘it’ in a strategic or even tactical way. I keep saying to people – don’t start at the implementation level, it results in marginal gains but consumes vast amounts of mana.

According to Knowles (1975), learning does not take place in isolation but in association with others such as teachers, tutors, and peers. Therefore, learning can be placed on a continuum, ranging from teacher or other oriented at one end to self-directed at the other end. When shifting from one end the other, the amount of control over learning changes as well as the amount of freedom to evaluate learning needs, to decide on the content of one’s learning issues, and to implement learning strategies to unravel one’s learning issues (Fisher et al. 2001).

In trying to develop professional development strategies, consider firstly if you are likely to see the person/group on a continued basis.

If it is a one off, I suggest that you start with talking about knowledge, and take a look at Knowles ideas on the development of a ‘personal learning plan’. You can’t really do much more than decorate the store window otherwise – and there’s a place for that too, if you’ve got no other option initially.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking adults learn in the same way kids do! Don’t mistake bums on seats as an indicator of engagement either – all too often we try to make learning into an ‘event’ by making it sound exciting. This ain’t Disneyland.

If you are going to see them again … work on their development plan and form some online support system around their needs – and then go and lobby whoever can make the decision to make further release time available to do so. One-off workshops really should be limited to providing a basic, persuasive argument for them to think about developing their learning plan around xyz – unless you’re just ‘training’ in some didactic fashion.

You might need to give them some idea-primers – the best ones are called ‘in your job description you need to’ … and outline the kinds of skills and understanding you’ll find in ISTE NETs for Teachers.

If you are able, and this is the best approach – use a project based learning approach with them. Help them find their own essential questions and then help them map their learning time and materials to their own goals – in the real classroom. Don’t for example put on a show about mobile phones if they won’t be using mobile phones in the immediate future.

Project Based Learning is not just for kids … its highly effective in adults, but it’s not some bandwagon to jump on. Without a high level strategy, it’s just another tactic and in the hands of a novice, and won’t do much of anything.

But – the first step is to try very hard to understand how to develop a personal learning contract, and then to work at the individual level – perhaps over several months.


Knowles, M. S. (1975). Self-directed learning: A guide for learners and teachers. New York: Association Press.

Fisher, M., King, J., & Tague, G. (2001). Development of a self-directed learning readiness scale for nursing education. Nurse Education Today, 21, 516–525

Cool Tools for iPhone App Development

This is a presentation and collection of resources that was shared by the Apple Distinguished Educators at ITSC. I did check that this was okay to share and he was happy with it, but please cite where it came from. It was a very brief, but interesting ‘unconference’ as the speaker put it. Personally, I thought it was the best 10 mins of the day.

Resources for Up and Coming iPhone Developers (or those at least thinking of it…)

Starting Points
1. Beginning iPhone Development by Dave Mark and Jeff LaMarche. A good book for absolute neophytes – takes you through all the steps in developing an app. Also has an excellent support page: http://www.iphonedevbook.com/

2. http://www.stanford.edu/class/cs193p/cgi-bin/drupal/
This is the homepage for CS 193P iPhone Application Development, part of Stanford Engineering Everywhere’s online course. Lots of lectures, handouts and sample code to get you started. Assumes you have some knowledge of Objective-C.

3. http://developer.apple.com/iphone/index.action
This is the official iPhone Dev Center from Apple. Contains all the documentation you require to get started, as well as the SDKs to download and all the other odds and ends. Good reference tools here, too. They are also working on developing forums.

Images and Icons

1. http://www.iconspedia.com/
If you’re like me, and can’t draw to save your life, this site is a godsend. Plenty of great icons that you can use in your iPhone apps – all completely free!

Sample Code

A very simple getting started page. Tells you what you get in the SDK, how it all fits together, the principles of iPhone software design, and finally shows you how to build

2. http://www.iphoneexamples.com/
Some simple examples for common tasks in iPhone App Development.

3. http://howtomakeiphoneapps.com/
Matt Drake runs this site; he regularly updates it with useful tips for all iPhone developers. Lots of sample code here too.

4. http://www.aboutobjects.com/tutorials.html
Excellent examples here, and the sample code is provided free of charge. Very good site.

5. http://www.iphonesdkarticles.com/
Lots of examples here for sample code, as well as some reasonable explanations, so you learn why you are doing and not just how to do it.

6. http://appsamuck.com/
30 different samples here – covering a whole range of apps, from simple to quite complex.
Don’t forget to check on youtube for lots of examples!

1. http://www.iphonedevsdk.com/
If you ever have a problem, this community will have someone who will be able to solve it for you. Very useful when you are stuck. Also has a few examples.

2. http://forums.theappleblog.com/development/
Another useful forum. This one focuses on all mac development.

3. http://cocoadevcentral.com/d/learn_objectivec/
An introduction to objective-C.

4. http://www.codza.com/how-to-debug-exc_bad_access-on-iphone
Some hints and tips with debugging apps here.

Retraining Australia

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Image: 'The Sentinel of the Sacred Path'

School isn’t broken; its just got patina and potential. It can be restored; but taking on a large project on your own is a little daunting.

Not all schools can afford to join a private coaching clinic or hire a consultant to provide them with specialist training. Most are totally reliant on their employer and their peers. Teachers may be aware of some benefits associated with adopting technology but can be reluctant to embrace it fully due to a general distrust of computers. This distrust is sometimes a result of a previous computer failure and can be exacerbated by a user’s inexperience in using a computer and/or application.

BUT, simple toolsets; though effective retraining can produce big differences. The real problem is that we are not focused on this; but reacting to the wider changes in read/write publishing; powered by the rapid advanements in technology. It is widely accepted that around 60% of us are visual learners; but unfortunately 60% of teachers are not visual ICT creators or even users. Not every student we teach is going to embrace each tool you give them, so don’t expect your education leaders to  either. Right now we are still awaiting any real definition of the 21st century attributes that are being illuded to in the draft National Curriculum – what exactly is it we have to do again? Oh yeah get Band 6s.

We can’t continue to work 1 or 2 teachers in public schools trying to support 60 forever. We need 10 or 20 to support 600 in a single community focused on retraining. Those 600 will interact with 6,000 – and the structure for this is horizontal, democratic and online, focused on foundational skills – that have low cost or no cost; that allows everyone to contribute something; but not everything. We can restore it; but we’re are not at the glossy paint stage; some are in their supa-communities, but over 90% need fundamental skills training. Its those teachers who are gonna be teaching my kids.

The start button is bottom left. Leave your name in the box. We can fix it.

Independence from interest

122154814_462df2f7c6How much important are you putting on ‘independence’ in transforming classroom practice?

If you walk about talking to people about the ‘wow’ of the week, your favourite Web2.0 gizmo this week, sooner or later people switch off. The honeymoon period is over. Initial interest can fade as people get lost in the fog of technology.

You might think what you are talking about is crystal clear, but others are simply looking into the murky unknown. Too many conversations, too many tools leads to confusion and inaction.  At times I have thought, ‘wow, I thought they were getting it, but what happened?’

Now I have learned that from an educational development perspective, there are some critical questions you have to ask yourself before saying much of anything.

For example : I want to create podcasts for my distance students. How do I do that?

The easy answer is : Audacity, Podomatic and a microphone. But that answer is incomplete.

We have to also ask

  • How will what I do/say next build independence, so they can sustain this?
  • How will the way I maintain this build capacity in the department to do more?
  • How will this intervention in the established ‘norm’ – strengthen learning?


We want to ensure that whatever we do to develop education creates independence in those we help. This adds value, and prevents you being the ‘go to tech’ person – to ‘do’ it for them.

Capacity building

How will your instruction be recorded, shared or published so that it can be re-used by others repeatedly. What is the cost of this? Developing a resource such as a wiki or creating a screen cast has is a cost outside that of the mastery skills needed. This is normally measured as your time.

If you are able to create an independent teacher, with supporting materials – then they will be able to model the educational development in others.

Strengthening Learning

Locating and aggregating quality supporting resources will strengthen learning. This could be connecting the person with people who have experience and passion in this area (their blog, wiki or actually having a conversation).

Setting out terms of reference to evaluate the benefits to learning will assist in turning the intervention in the existing ‘norms’ in to a measured argument to sustain or modify it. It is likely that un-seen factors will affect this. Bumps in the road, such as access issues, technical issues or policy issues. Documenting and addressing these will help with maintaining the use of the technology over a period of time, not being a one off field trip.

Educational development requires more activity than the act of ‘teaching how’, it has to predict issues, challenges and further opportunities that will create independent advocates, that build capacity to do it again and again. This has always been the issue with ICT in schools – how to maintain and build on any given ICT introduced into learning. The major difference today, than a few years ago, is the amount of existing freely available materials and connected intelligence that we can draw on.

We simply don’t need to show people everything, but we do need to ensure that we scaffold resources and provide wider information that they can explore, knowing that it has been provided a result of our own evaluation.

Three questions I ask myself, whenever someone asks me for help.

The virus spreads

When I dropped a 10th grade class earlier in the year, as our EdTech needs grew, I felt really bad about no longer working with the IST class who I’d pioneered most of my Web2.0 ideas with the year before. When I interviewed Suzanna, she hadn’t used Web2.0 in her classrooms. In fact in her previous school she was teaching English. So I wondered what the boys would make of it, and if indeed, they would continue to use Web2.0 at all.

I dropped into some of the kids RSS feeds today, and look what I found. An amazing teacher, who has taken on board the methods we’re using in Project Based Learning environment, and not only kept on using Web2.0 with the class, but has extended what I was doing with them to include a solid Ning group, developing a classroom learning network.

In a difficult topic (programming), shes been using Alice, Ruby, Pascal and Visual Basic! – and transformed the old topic (Logo/VB) into a dynamic trip into a range of languages and programming concepts.

The Ning is alive with students posting comments to each other in conversational writing. The forums are allowing students to post questions with her, well outside the classroom. Her own blog is being used to scaffold their learning – abandoning the LMS that is available from ‘head office’.

The students are selecting and using a range of Web2.0 tools – from presentations in Zoho to organising them with Slideshare. Their blogs are showing continued development as independent learners and reflective writers.

All this in a term!, and with no direct PD at all. This 2 year course has been completely reinvented and supported with Web2.0. The skills these students now have can’t help but facilitate better learning for those moving to the HSC, and for those leaving school – they have a greate ePortfolio to show how well they can use technology – and that as learners or potential workers – that they make a consistent effort.

While I was still thinking about a comment on my last post about ‘teachers are independently developing their own models of PD’ – this is such an appropriate illustration of that fact. The other conversation this week was around teachers ‘not having time’ or ‘access to PD’ – again, how amazing is the professional development here! – and Suzanna has a very young child at home – so certainly has no more time than anyone to put into this.

She’s supported their learning, supported what I started – and taken it even further – without saying a word. No wonder the students speak so highly of her as a classroom teacher – and it’s never easy picking up someone else’s class mid-semester. Wow, I am blown away by this and really hope that she can find the time to take part in the Powerful Learning Initiative with Will and Sheryl. Just amazing – but I said that already!