Why I don’t make workbooks.

I’m going to build on my deep suspicion that Blooms Triangle is one of the most problematic ideas sold into the undergraduate psyche. It symbolises an idealistic, progressive, narrowing ladder towards so called ‘high order’ thinking that students can climb. A ladder which is provided by a teacher. A teachers starts with the list questions and keep going regardless of time or understanding.

The biggest problem with Blooms is that it doesn’t account for time in either the corporeal or virtual world kids live in today. Most schools run on 40-50 minute sessions because it fit’s the organisational structure of school, not because it’s good for learning. No one ever runs a conference keynote argument about time-table reform – and teachers seem to think that reform is bounded by the same timetable arrangements of the last fifty years. Classes run X number of times a cycle and there are Y dot-points to ‘get through’ according to the overseers who decide what our cognitive apprentices need to ‘learn’. These are then divided into ability levels. I refuse to stream kids by some faux-measurement of ‘ability’. I really doesn’t make sense in today’s classroom. What some kids need to know – and can know in 50 minutes is never going to be stable or standardised. Instead teachers are told students should learn to and learn about … which is well meant, but hard to do.

I say need to learn, because it’s fundamentally different from need to know. The latter cannot be regulated by 40-50 minute sessions or planned into a timetable. Today you and I are probably going to encounter a problems and generate a ‘need to know’. It is ridiculous to believe that this will be a t !:40pm.

The ladder is broken. Kids don’t climb it on a chain like sherpas. More capable kids don’t like being tied to less capable and visa versa. A piece of advice I gave a prac-teacher this week was to be careful of the assumptions around these procedural ladder climbing sequences. More importantly – question idea that fun activities are rewards for work and those who don’t do enough work are somehow less worthy of having ‘fun’.

When I say ‘fun’, I mean any activity that to most kids is ‘active’ – throwing/catching, chasing, exploring, experimenting, playing a game, running around etc. In other words, activities that require learning through reflection on doing, rather than copying down, remembering, memorising and so on. While there’s a need for that, the ladder method assumes these things are low order and ‘beginning’ tasks that lead to doing (proficiency testing). In essence, experiential learning (Kolb) is a collection of spirals that become relational though doing.

Some kids need to so some of the spirals a few times before they recognise how to move from one to another. Eventually the spirals become connected (repeatable) patterns that have a shape which is both recognisable and applicable in new situations. Games do this rather well, which is one reason she doesn’t want to get off Minecraft and becomes so engaged in it. Some people are mistaking this experiential learning for addiction. One reason for that is probably that they themselves didn’t do any at school and therefore don’t see much value in it.

In school, while we are aware (or should be) of Dewy, Piaget and Lewinian theories I’m hinting at here … if not more recent work by contemporary scholars (Brown, Gee, Jenkins, De Freitas) there remains this lingering loyalty to Behaviourist ideology (especially computing-machine learning) which is also touted as being somehow experiential by design.

Learning design which doesn’t reform the rigid time-table, rethink physical space and allow students to step and repeat (voice and choice) cannot realistically be called ‘new’ or ’emerging’. Where they do have this … I would hope that their own knowledge of educational theory and instructional design would immediately tell them to avoid the cognitive apprentice model at all costs.

Learning in open spaces, flexible time tables and with mobile technology can be elegant and rewarding. It’s not about being one or two steps away from the modernist norm, it’s about realising that norm was wrong to begin with. It’s only now that we deliver experiential learning with relative ease – using imagination, creativity, games and, dare I say it – fun at a sustainable, relatively low cost level.

I don’t make workbooks because kids don’t learn anything. If they can do the workbook, then it pointless and if they can’t do the workbook, then it won’t help them. If one simply has to give a test, then give a test now an again … but modern learners live in an experiential world – so why give them a factory model of learning anymore.

Great games for under ten bucks?

In an effort to start collecting the use of games in the classroom, I’ve make a really short Google Form here in which I’m asking people to recommend a game for the classroom, which costs under ten dollars. The results of what people put into this are shared on this response form. We know people are using Minecraft, Portal etc., but for many schools free or cheap is an essential criteria for choosing a game.

I’m asking for simple information: the game name, a link if you have it and to choose what platform and game type best describes it from a list (or add your own). Finally, just let people know why you recommend it.

The aim is simply to start to collect what games are being used in a spreadsheet of data that you can use for your own purposes. No names or personal information please … this is anonymous crowd sourcing. Open to anyone, teachers, students and parents!

Thanks for your input

Cultural Jet Lag and Phoning it in


These are two problems I see facing me as classroom teacher. I am living among nice people who suffer cultural jet lag and attempting to teach students who are often just phoning it in.

As much as I, or anyone in education likes the idea of using media and technology is pursuit of allotted tasks driven by system orientated education, I can only subscribe to the idea that in all sectors of education, students will have virtual and actual contact which range in quality, experiences and culture. Most will have has exposure to a hit and miss experience of media and technology as a classroom resource and a few will have encountered learning about media and technology itself. I’d guess that the latter would be down to an on-the-ball library and/or librarian in the majority of those instances.

The one inescapable fact is that media and technology socialises society. Our society is made up of people who are unique, yet share cultures among other things. Inside an era of profound social change, the ‘masses’ are increasingly seeing themselves as important enough to take on (and maintain) individual identities online. A decade ago, the Internet was really only about institutions, governments and brands. Today we’re each engrossed in our devices and connections which makes the Internet so big, it carries vast amounts of information though its layers at such a pace, we no longer wait to sit at a desk or even stop in the street to ‘check in’.

Even if children have access to digital media and technology in school — and the teacher knows how has time to blend it into the allotted tasks demanded by the curriculum. The vastness of the Internet and the mediums it supports: news; video; radio; videogames; photography; art; automated-systems and so on has separated us emotionally from the natural world. Imagine delivering the same new’s to three hundred people in row – and half have heard it moments before from someone else. The more we reproduce information and predicable behaviours in response, the less invested and interested we become. I’d argue that in classrooms, plenty of kids are suffering from cultural jet lag — and often simply ‘phoning it in‘ when it comes for formal education. I’m not at all anti-technology or media, but I am against the kind of blind assumptions made by people who claim kids are simply “growing up digital” as though there is not a pre-existing demand by children to live with parents who can’t leave their phone on a table for five-minutes without tapping it.

This resource is something I’ve used to provoke group-discussion among students in an effort to provoke and gauge their critical understanding of media (as a literacy) and it’s socialising effects on them.

The new ton-up boys.

In the 1950s the post-war youth discovered motorcycles while their parents were getting into cars. Hire Purchase allowed young-people to emulate The Wild Ones, get into a leather jacket and race between cafes — pulling the legendary ¨ton up¨. Kids had mobility, kids had a sub-culture and kids railed against the society that had put them in the saddle.

Mobility these days isn’t about cars or motorbikes. Recent figures show kids are not buying them for all sorts of reasons — and the kind of youth-clubs created such as the 59 club are nostalgic cultural history. Today’s ton up boys have gadgets. Its a sort of middle aged crisis — where youthful ambitions and sub-culture affinities can be revisited from the tethered fantasy of the home or office. Anyone can get on social media and do a ton-up. They can impress others (if others know little about EdTech culture) as they flash past making noise. Ultimately, this sub-culture online is a choice. I know its got all sorts of names which sound clever, but a lot of what happens is purely about entertainment, showing off and increasing your own credibility — which also means making others invisible.

Sure you can Tweet your way to the ton-up and become a recognised name in the cafe-scene, but this doesn’t represent any measurable impact in the bigger challenge itself — shifting culture and helping people teach and learn better. Most people don’t go to these cafes online, nor their manifested events in the real world. Most people are working to help others and not do a ton-up and ride over the dumb saps on the side of their road. Success in EdTech means creating meaningful work-packages for people who want to do a great job. It seems that people are more being acknowledged for doing a ton-up down the information super highway than they are for struggling though the reality of current culture and demands.


Axing the Interactive Games Fund

Among the raft of cuts made by the Australian government, which it’s leader describes as ‘grown ups’ in a rather patronising manner — is the axing of the Interactive Games Fund to the tune of $10million. This was set up by Labour of course and administrated — very well on most accounts — by Screen Australia. Screen Australia are in turn doing some really important work around ‘screen time’ too, and in fact one of the few bodies to be doing so. The Australian game industry is reportedly worth $1.45 billion dollars in 2012.

Why would you invest in games development? Simple. Games are the multi-billion dollar growth industry which can start in your bedroom and take the world by storm. Australia is (unless your are media hermit) known for being great at games. Go and look up some of the most influential games in the last five years … Australian’s are massive. Then consider that many in games also work in social media, marketing, advertising, film and television — so it’s not ONE company or a few grants which government killed off, but a valuable pathway which also includes education and life long learning. It’s hard to dismiss the culturally conservative undertones which focus almost entirely on game content and ignorant of game-play. The embargo-banning of games such as Saints Row is a typical example of not understanding the medium itself. For example, game-play is vital to the experience of a good or bad game, not content which is background (James Gee). Game-play would therefore be critical to medical and military simulations and so on. It will be important to training and education … but the fact that games have zombies and Murdoch hates them is sufficient it seems.

Compare this to the $248 million allocated indoctrination of children by un-trained and deeply culturally filtered people who freely wander into schools, where as media education is still waiting outside. I know massive spending and massive cuts make more sensational headlines, but for Australian gaming, this fund barely got up before it was pwnd.

I am clearly not a fan of neo-liberalism, and as a free minded citizen amazed at any ideology which believes it can legislate, starve or in any way prevent the continued rise of the interactive media entertainment industry globally — and bemusement at the simplistic ‘leaders’ who believe it prudent to dismiss Australia’s contribution so far or the value of this industry into the years set out in their ‘return to surplus’ as though that has any meaning in today’s society.


First person vs third person media experiences

One problem I see with assumptions about ‘going digital’ in education is that so far, it almost always means using technology and not understanding media. For example, few online commentators talk about ‘media education’ or ‘media pedagogy’, they hook their discussions to the technological wagon and then point out ‘pedagogy before technology’. As I’m going to show this is because their are using FIRST person media experiences and taking ‘protective action’ against what they see as harm. Arguably this hard includes: loss of status; employment or promotion opportunities; connectedness to students and social inclusion. Their drive to be online may well have little to do with education at all.


A gaggle of educators joyfully re-tweeted an assertion by Twitter itself this week that educators ‘dominate’ the Twittersphere. That’s quite telling really, given anyone who spends time with educators would put the discretionary-voluntary-user-base at under 5% (a generous guess on my part). This of course appealed to the FIRST person Twitter users. It made them feel correct in their own choices and most of all SAFER. Theres no way of knowing how the other 95% of educators reacted to this announcement (if they even knew). They are more concerned with their own FIRST person experiences of media — political rhetoric about budget cuts; casualisation of the workforce; media announcements by their institution and so on. Twitter to them is at best another THIRD person media experience.

If educators are the ‘alfa-group’ at the fore of using social media for civic debate, it indicates that there is little cohesion of thought for society as a whole in social media. It strengthen’s support for media theories which suggest topics (called trends) come and go very quickly — and that these trends are at best ‘temporal’ settlements. Even teachers who use Twitter fade away get bored as soon as they realise this reality. In short people are drawn to issues and events, not civic structures such as education or professions such as teaching. For example, there is no #ActorChat or #SoapOperaChat. There are of course new versions of IRC happening like #edprimschat but arguably people participate here out of self-identity and being seen rather than solving any actual deeper issues in education itself. There’s nothing wrong with IRC, people have been ‘chatting online’ since the mid 1970s about it’s potential for education … welcome to the party finally. So why don’t these people use Second Life or a Google Hangout — why do the ONLY participate in a form of TEXT IRC? — the answer lies once again in FIRST person media and protective action.


Educators use of narrow bands of discussion by choice. They always have enjoyed the privilege of being self-selecting and the major selector for everyone else — the power of being ‘the teacher’. For example, when teachers say “I’m working towards using games” they actually mean, I choose the media-text around here and I don’t choose that — why? because they can and always have seen this as a fundamental ‘right’ of being a teacher. Nothings changed – now they ‘allow’ Google Apps or Twitter perhaps — but media-choice is not in the hands of students as a FIRST person experience as teachers see students in the THIRD person — despite being life-long learners themselves of course.

TEACHERS are concerned about their own safety

Media selection (and rejection) is related to teachers personal sense of safety. It’s not primarily about identity (which is just a feel good). A common finding in studies of societal use of media since the 1930s has shown this to be true –and Twitter is just a form of media-text and sort of procedural rhetoric (which is why Twitter is also game like). The aim of the game is to survive, to predict the intention of others and to take protective measures. Those measures can be defensive (I don’t use X, I don’t agree with Y and so on) or offensive (I’m running #edChat or I endorse M over K app and so on)  from a FIRST PERSON experience.

Most teachers experience this media via the THIRD PERSON (observing colleagues, being told at a seminar and so on). They arefar less likely to take action — and it actually reinforces them not to each time someone bangs on about it.

Why people don’t participate (the 95%) is not because they are ‘boring’ or ‘old’ educators but because those who do are not focused on how media works, but on the effect they want to see — more teachers talking about digital literacy, knowledge networks and such – on Twitter itself. If it’s happening in a school, off line or because people are studying it in a course — they can’t see it.

This somewhat rails against the popular opinion of adopter/lurkers or literates/illiterates which thrive in the edu-twitter cultures — but when you think about it in terms of harm and protective action as a media psychology it makes much more sense than inferring some teachers are laggards or irrelevant. They are taking action — they are not buying into this particular media-text (Twitter) because people’s concerns for their own safety rather than for others’ predict their intention.


Writing tools for imaginative minds

Writing in Word sucks for anyone using imagination towards creative expression. I have no doubt that those who love to write in linear forms, obsess over grammar and follow templates love using Word, but for millions of the rest of us, it doesn’t inspire and Banksy seems to get by without it. I often wonder if people become habitual Word users eventually, more interested in the oxford comma than a new idea.

Ideas were never meant to be put into Word, they are to be drawn, torn up, scribbed on, re-arranged and debated. Word almost certainly means ‘critique’ and ‘literal interpretation’. Hands up who wanted to work in a typing pool when they were young, and who wanted to be in Hanoi Rocks until Razzle died.

Many people, especially creative people are all about being difference engines. The easiest way I know to explain it is to cast your mind back to childhood (tempted to sing “up and around the bend). The kids who loved to ‘read’ comics didn’t finish them in moments, but pondered them for weeks. What was going on between the frames was just as important as visual text. They processed it, imagined what was going on and what wasn’t — and most of them wrote and drew their own comics. Comics were not academic when I was a kid. A sure sign of a vague, wandering mind — the smart kids read books and the diligent kids studied grammar. I liked books and writing too, but liked comic books and was obsessive over the fluidity of handwriting and the formation of letters into words. I grew up to study illustration and typography. I was probably in my mid-20s before I was forced to use Word.

There is an alternative. Scrivener2 is a great non-linear writing tool. I don’t have the inclination to explain it all here — suffice to say, if you like to work in pieces and figure out how the pieces come together, you’ll like it. Then there is the other tool Literature and Latte make – Scapple. It’s a mind map gizmo. It lets you think in organised pictures — move pieces around, and then drag that drawing into Scrivener as the basis of a document. You can also use MindNode too, but I’ve moved to Scapple because I just find it faster to use.

When you’re done — compile your masterpiece for Word, PDF, ePub, Kindle, iBooks and even share it via Amazon.