Digital Sunscreen – What does your school do?

I haven’t posted anything for ages. I’ve been thinking about ‘the digital diet’ and what’s missing in that discourse. The DD is all about what kids are doing in the time they spend with screens (good and bad) and how to try and come up with a ‘healthy balance’. There have been numerous conferences and seminars about this … but I have always felt there was something missing – and here is it – Digital Sunscreen.

Digital Sunscreen is made from a strange brew of emotional intelligence, competency, agency and attention. It’s what your child (and mine) need to wear when they are engaging with technology and digital media – gaming, social media or other digitial activity. Let’s face it, even when they go outside, they take their phones and iPads, so need some DS.

Protects for up to 2 hours a day where you will have the potential for excellence and astounding focus.

My main line of discussion here is that teachers (more than systems) neither wear it nor advocate for it in their classrooms. Very few have talked to parents about it and are in fact part of the problem, reluctant to buy it – or even acknowledge the need for it. Remember – current research argues for no more than two hours a day for teens.


Buy some Digital Sunscreen today!

There is little evidence to challenge the argument many teens spend more than two hours a day with ‘screens’ and this isn’t good for them. Some studies have shown that children as young as eight exceed this on a regular basis while research also suggests that screen time can have lots of negative effects on kids, ranging from childhood obesity and irregular sleep patterns to social and/or behavioral issues.

It’s a brave new world

This was said also said of TV and before that the research raised concerns about the social decay induced by pop music. In short, media has long been paraded as a ‘monster under the bed’. Up until recently, video games were slammed for their influence on teenagers too for the same reasons, plus an additional dose of violence. The fact that most of these games were designed for adults and not children hasn’t stopped efforts to create media panic. Other research about things such as imagination and play have been routinely ignored in the anti-game debate, despite media researchers showing time and time again that young people have not (yet) been given a serious opportunity to learn about media (including games) in schools. Check your school – do they have media teachers yet?

We are now are in a situation where children’s media choices and pervasive access to media (which deliberately targets children as consumers and social beings) is well beyond regulation and under-estimated in education. I argue schools have no idea how much time their students spend on ‘screens’ per day – on their own campus or at home. Therefore, digital sunscreen is not a factor or feature of policy or strategy. Instead, they talk mostly about cybersafety and digital citizenship – which lack the critical elements needed to engage children in media education from an early age.

Protects against slogans and unproven claims. Re-apply every two hours.

The advancement of both the technology involved in children’s education and socialisation in not also without concern. It does not stand outside the research on screen time. However, sloganeering, building peer-belief networks and social capital through popular media channels such as Twitter is an ongoing attempt to circumvent long-standing issues about the role of teachers in the media, the ethics associated with allowing consumer brands to actively influence teacher education and student education about the media and technology. In case anyone has forgotten, the syllabus remains ‘brand’ agnostic when it comes to using ICTs and in Australia at least, has a rich history in developing and supporting Open Education Resources. There is a clear erosion of this in education, which is embedded in the slogans, sponsored ads, hired-experts and events which no longer feel the need to address the kind of scholarship and evidence upon which the “ICTs in the classroom” was constructed a decade ago.

Before Digital Sunscreen, I was just another Tweet waiting to happen.

We are routinely asked to believe that X technology is better than Y and that if we don’t have it, then we will fail students and harm their futures. We are bombarded with this in so called ‘personal learning networks’. This is exactly the kind of deficit message that works so well these days. And there is an abundance of these messages.

The blistering acceleration of focus scarcity, or attention deficit may soon make effective evidence-based approaches to using technology in the classroom impossible. Teachers bemoan teenagers for this – however, the resident edu-media crowd on Twitter is modelling the exact thing they don’t want, just as teachers sit in rows at edu-cons listening to experts tell them how bad things are, how powerpoint SUCKS and how disengaged kids are when teachers throw content at them. Sitting alone on your lounge listing to Twitter experts peddle their mission message is the same as sitting in rows doing it.

See your local stockist today!

Edu-media has created a vocal set of educators, for whom social media is a rewarding social drama as well as a way to build social capital in a global income stream. They endlessly post their life-story in images and words – amplifying the core belief that technology is both useful and liberating to young people. On the other hand, where these people hold power – organisational power and sway – this also resolves itself as type of media violence – as those who work for them, might have some influence on them being hired elsewhere must conform – and amplify the core belief of the master and maintaining their dominant views of the group to chase off outsiders and critics.

I have a few questions …

  • Are teachers exempt from justifying their demand for  children to use select technology – regardless of background, experience, culture and media experience?
  • If children are using media at home, how is using screens at school be somehow annexed from the total time?
  • What information do schools provide parents towards in-school exposure to screens, and how to they govern use in an accountable way?
  • Do schools think (and do something about) digital sunscreen?

Do I wear Digital Sunscreen? – you bet I do.

It seems bizarre to watch some ‘leaders’ parade their love of technology online on a daily basis. Here is me with a Minister, a thought leader, a sporting hero – and here are MY staff doing X, Y and Z with technology. Pensky always said that there would be great competition for authority – and I believe, between the virtual high-fives of in-group bias – that the ‘fear of missing out’ and not being ‘top dog’ is the central point of exploitation by brands. The end result is a bunch or ‘important’ people, living their lives through social media – putting kids in front of screens – well beyond the recommended dosage.

Students (who are also children) continually fight distractions. Headphones on as they work, televisions on during dinner, text messages, emails, phone calls, app notifications … we see it every day. The solution to this is not more technology, or buying Microsoft Minecraft Education (*slaps head) – but to accept that teachers are implicated in sloppy shortcuts, like triaging email by heading, skipping voice mails, skimming Twitter and Facebook. It’s not just that we’ve developed habits of attention that make us less effective, but that the weight of messages leaves us too little time simply to reflect on what they really mean. That seems at odds with edu-media’s central claim is that technology increases productivity, connectedness, skills and knowledge (despite the scarcity of focus problem).

Economist Herbert Simon first noted, “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” and yet heavy user personalities continually seek attention (and authority) by providing information they believe to be useful to their imagined audience.

Can I wear Digital Sunscreen and have a healthy digital diet?

I’ve been using the term edumedia sarcastically. The proper term is mission-driven marketing –  a way to turn awareness into action with those new to your product or to engage already-supportive people in deeper ways. It uses teachers, enlists paid and unpaid teachers and ex-teachers – to present itself as ‘the future’ in a duplicity of discussions and forms.

When did I start wearing Digital Sunscreen?

So do I hate technology a decade on from beginning to blog about it? No. Do I feel grubby about being in the vanguard of using “the read/write web”? No I don’t.  I was there at the time – and thought that this would change the way we approach learning (anything). I have since grown to appreciate this has not without creating new issues and amplifying the existing ones – such as screen time. In the last few years, I’ve become more aware and concerned about the impact of mission driven marketing’s effect on the time children are told to spend with technology directly (teachers) and indirecty (screen-media).

It leads me to think about the impact of school-based screen time on children’s emotional intelligence – and their ability to focus. No child can succeed in the modernist schools system’s we have – a mechanism designed filter society into workers and elites  – without this focus, and they can’t focus without activating their emotional intelligence – to manage media – be that campfire, waterhole, cave or life learning envioronments.

They can’t learn to do this that without better media education (digital sunscreen and digital diet) – the kind of message that will fly in the face of popular Twitter-sloganeering.

Attempting to increase excellence (in the current system) requires focus and to be conscious of the seduction taking place through screens. How we manage ourselves is not limited to ‘digital footprints’, but how it shapes our emotional intelligence and ability to move through stages of competency with screens in our lives.

So my last reader on earth … digital sunscreen – works for up to two hours. Get some today.

Games are not stable: Is this a problem for teachers?

Following on from my post on Pokemon Go! which contained a few plus and minus points for school use, I thought its worth also raising the issue of ‘versioning’.

Commercial games react to numerous factors in their design. The portability and ease of distribution via online ‘update’ technologies allows them to significantly change features of the game – or delete them entirely with little or no notice to players. For example, Go! removed the ‘tracker’ all together in it’s first update – because it didn’t work. This feature was supposed to let players know how far away the creatures are. There was a backlash from players on Twitter, but never the less, the update removed it. Some players reported being reset to level 1 with no recovery options and the radar of interaction was dropped by some 30 meters.

Decent teachers don’t make up lessons overnight, but develop units of work which are released over a year or more. For those using games, the selection of ‘which game’ should therefore be based on a set of core-archetypes (collecting, organising, sharing etc.) and not designate “features” of the game, as they are likely to change.

I think Go! is a fun game, but also over-rewards players for time-spent rather than any critical thinking. As a game, it doesn’t require high-order thinking. Players are rarely punished, other than being forced to wait or walk. The taxonomy of collecting is simple to learn too, but so far has little hint of inter-player trading or battles away from portals gyms with other players. I hope we get there, but right now, it’s not.

The ‘fun’ factor is important, but so too is the depth of reasoning and critical thinking that is required in a constellation of other titles, many of which require the player to develop the ability to create and organise information and materials in a taxonomy – or battle other players. In many ways, Go! is an oddity in the genre of a casual-game, in that it uses GPRS and looted the Ingress geo-location database, rather than come up with a system in which players could collect and become ‘portal’ makers themselves. Given the volume of players in comparison to Ingress – there doesn’t appear to be a reason not to do allow this in terms of ‘fun’ or ‘leveling’, but rather an experiment in getting players to move to a particular space for a particular time.

The updates do make the game harder, in the sense that less information is available to the player, which means they are likely to spend more time and ‘browse’ the area more than last week. If this was a shopping-reward app, then it’s not hard to see why this would be useful and why allowing players to make ‘portals’ would be far less attractive.

So while many teachers (inc me) have explored the game in class with students, we still have a responsibility to children – over and above fun. Right now, there is very little being said by Nintendo or their partners about the road map and that’s a problem for programming quality learning episodes. Unlike Minecraft, Go! has a much smaller ‘core’ to work with – and zero community involvement (remember Minecraft was built on user-mods and Ingress on user created geo-location portals, using a taxonomy of tools (power-ups, attack and defend, charge and re-charge, with an global ‘chat’ system and a two-faction ‘war. It even allowed ‘missions’ to be created by players for players.

Go! has none of this – but is clearly very popular, and already the Edu Hashtaggers are having outdoor-meet ups (with other teachers) about it- but is that really enough for it to be chosen over other games in the limited time teachers have available for ‘play’ so far?

It seems that the decades of research into games isn’t getting to the teacher-audience at the professional level it needs to and in many ways (to me) Go! is backward move towards the tragedy of EdTech – homogeneity and casualising complex things rather than having — a robust media/technology — evidence based approach to games and muves. But Go! get’s attention and is fun, so for now – it’s worth watching, but personally, it doesn’t warrant 10 hours of my precious class time, because the taxonomy of games-in-learning simply doesn’t support un-cooked and unstable commercial offerings – even if they are popular. Go! has to be part of bigger agenda if it is to be more than the new Google Wave.


Pokemon Go re-ignites ‘addiction’ debate – and it’s wrong.


Saying Pokemon Go is fun – is like saying jogging uses energy. Most people, including me, are pro-fun and play. In this post, I want to look at why you shouldn’t re-subscribe to the ‘addiction’ debate about video games, simply because this game has become VERY popular in a few weeks – and I’ll set out my reasons why parents and kids are enjoying it.

Games rise and games fall. Pokemon Go is no exception to this reality. Nintendo’s current success spells the final-death-nail for toy-games such as Disney’s Infinity. While not connected, the rise of Pokemon Go enphasises changes in consumer reception to digital games. The  once massive toy game market in which parents bought physical plastic Skylanders, LEGO Dimensions and Infinity has paved the way for games like Go!.

I’m injecting this here – because my argument is that Pokemon Go is an evolved version of ‘collecting’ which appeals to a huge numbers of ‘latent’ playing adults and has made a connection between parents-children that other games (toy games, Minecraft etc.,) have achieved – but to a much higher level. As I’ll explain, games which allow children and adults to have a shared taxonomy are seen (by parents) as media worth having and playing.

Nearly all games are designed to be fun and play cannot be separated from  human behavior. Pokemon, like all games, requires the player to engage with a set of  rules which require particular human behavior to be applied to it. Let’s take a simple Pokemon ‘goal’ to be in a Pokemon Gym. Within hours of playing (and talking about) the game, players become attuned to the idea that these locations are split into factional ownership and there are player-elites which have more power than you – right now. In order to become elite requires hours and hours of what MMO players would call ‘grinding’. Repeating simple behaviors – the most significant ones being – spend many hours engaged with it and move to specific locations to for more reward that you might currently be receiving.

Pokestops are not ‘owned’ in the way they were owned in Ingress (the geo-location database created by players 2013-2016 used as the basis of where Pokestops and Gyms are located). Pokestops don’t require any ‘work’ other than to get there are wait around. They don’t defend themselves from new arrivals and your clutch of creatures are not damanged when trying to attain more ‘balls’.  There is not downside to going to a Pokestop and there’s no reason to leave one … because in a few minutes, it will let you have more Pokeballs. So when a parent takes a kid to a Pokestop and kids get what they want – more balls- everyone is happy. Imagine if they didn’t – but the Pokestop killed their best Pokemon or damaged it … less fun right? – Nintendo are not stupid – they are not selling to the same market that plays Ingress – but carefully re-shaping behavior and experience.

Media commentators have become to use the term ‘addiction’ in response. No shock here, as no game recently has managed to generate the level of ‘changed human behaviour’ that Pokemon Go has. Ingress didn’t as it was largely a ‘geek’ game (and still is). The perception, especially among TV new-anchors is that Nintendo have come up with a ‘new phenomenon’ which has magical powers (addition) – by way of them attempting to discuss behaviour which they don’t understand (meaning: haven’t much experience or knowledge of). Let the nodding begin – Pokemon Go is a new opportunity to revisit themes of ‘decaying childhood’, ‘the simple society’ etc., but no one’s interested in a full on media panic – as mobile phone games are largely seen as permissible in society these days.

The original game had just over 150 to collect, which expanded to over 700. There’s no reason to think that Nintendo will not add more – if the game remains popular in this form. The have told us that the current game is about 10% of the final thing (we want to believe it don’t we).

3 Reasons why is it ‘fun’

  1. The games involves taxonomy — the process of naming and classifying things into groups – and that is something humans find enjoyable, so yes kids soon get a handle on this.
  2. Collecting is a rewarding pass time. I am totally guilty of this – I have more cars than I need and obsessively collect parts for them at every opportunity. I don’t drive most of them, I just like to ‘own’ them. It’s irrational to most people, but not to thousands who were in Valla this week for the bi-annual Volkswagen gathering.
  3. The fun is not just in collecting and working to develop knowledge of the taxonomy. Like all successful games in recent times, the fun works around the social-graph of comparing and discussing your collection with others.

The social-graph, who is top and bottom in class, is used in very different ways at school and in society, so Pokemon Go is very much counter-school-culture. No surprise to see those teachers who are fustrated by the generalised-school-image have been quick to show they are using it – in class. You rebels! But imagine if a child’s learning was built around collecting and comparing, not timetables, silos and tests. Now that would be rebellious.

The thrill of the chase is not a sign of addiction

Pokemon turns the thrill of finding rare car-parts Pokemons into a chase. That chase is a personal story – and we love that. Take a look at educator stories in the last two weeks – a high energy story where each teachers sets about ‘showing’ how their class is into Pokemon and how thrilling it is – this is also part of the educator ‘taxonomy’ of collecting EdTech things.

People are not ‘addicted’ in the scientific sense, but in the self-expressive “spending too much time sense” usually shared around a social-graph. So many people tell my wife that I am ‘addicted’ to buying old cars and that I don’t need them (waste of time and money). They generally don’t tell me this directly, but my taxonomy isn’t one they value.

To talk about Pokemon Go as a game, in the way we might discuss Ingress or Tomb Raider isn’t possible, because the leap from screen to augmented reality changes the user-perception of collecting, comparing and competing. Educators needs to ‘see’ the game against the broader context. Think about a friend who collects Disney memorabilia or Hot Wheels cars – this is what is going on, except that the ‘rules’ on how occurs isn’t constructed socially as you’d see at a collectors-meet, but by a corporation (with an agenda) and an immediate connection to the collector/player.

Of course, in extreme cases, collectors put their interest ahead of other things – buying an object and not paying a bill or spending too much time at a meet-up they forget to pick up the kids from swimming – but these are likely to be extreme cases – and so attempts to get a head of steam about Pokemon Go addiction are already tiresome and ignorant.

Parents need to set limits on screen time and take some responsibility for the ‘quality’ of that time. Games (screens) are not digital-childminders – they are portals to media experiences and not all of them are going to meet the expectations or moral standards of parents (and their friends). In school, Pokemon Go will manifest itself though the interaction and cultural production of the children.

Of itself, this game (like any other) needs to be articulated into the curriculum – to address defined purposes. Anyone can ‘tweet’ about how EduPunk they are — rebelling against the stereotyped modernism of the establishment. Big deal, why this game? What is it’s pedagogical imperative which other games don’t have? – aside from popularity, media attention etc.? For example: what other games are use a collecting/taxonomy which can be used around a social graph? – more specifically – which EDUCATIONAL GAMES.

Minecraft managed to achieve much of this, what blocks can you find, what is your best build, can we work together – how close or different are our interests etc., and yet Minecraft Pocket (mobile) hasn’t received much in the way of teacher interest. For example, why not take MCPE mobile and allow kids to ‘build’ while IRL. For example, go to the park – imagine how you could re-design it?

I think the BIG thing, the really BIG thing about Pokemon Go is that it’s taken the idea of ‘collecting’ into a digital form, in the real world at a time where society no longer cares if every single person on a train stares at their screen and disconnects with reality – working on ‘their story’. The question become how much time are people investing in this, and the extent to which ‘sharing’ their story makes them feel happy and more connected to each others – and who is going to miss-out or feel alienated by it.

Here are three ‘concerns’ I have … which to be fair, are true of most commercial games being used towards ‘educational’ time (I’d say purposes, but I don’t think we’ve earned sufficient CP to claim that yet).

  1. We know digital-media is used variously to create internalized constructions of the self. Being ‘digitally popular’ is important to many people. The effort they perceive to be needed or valid is translated into hours-spent as a form of work. We’ve seen issues with this in other social spaces, especially in teens.
  2. So far, research suggests children have variable levels of success in self-regulation of digital media. This game is designed to promote repetitive behaviour and provides consistent rewards for this. Aside from time-spent, the depth of the game remains relatively shallow, focusing on time-spent and simple actions. Given the Google DNA of the game, it’s reasonable to suggest that user-behaviour is ideally suited to rewarding sales-promotion and shopping behaviours, such as coffee-discounts, being in a store for a length of time, or winning a new limited edition creature.
  3. In schools, there are vast differences in location. We know rural schools are at a disadvantage for all sorts of reasons, and the Ingress DNA of user-created portals favours the city – where more portals we’re created over rural ones. So, city educators have more opportunity to use this game than more rural schools. There are limited choices for rural school to engage in this form of commercial game which presents further equity issues.

I’d be interested to hearing your experience and views!



The Weekend Pokémon Go Took Over The World..

It didn’t take long for educators to discover Pokemon Go!. I like to curate what educators tag as ‘game based learning’ and in the first weekend, I captured (get it) 46 separate references to the game, all of which dropped straight into the hyper myth that some games (those picked up by the more popular EdTech voices) are going to reform education. I know right, 4th wall break, we’ve been here so many times.

Also interesting is that Pokemon Go! fever has pushed Minecraft – and the new fully endorsed Minecraft: Education Edition (MCEE) off to the side. MCEE has been warmly welcomed by those with commercial ties to Microsoft. Really, before Microsoft, only Joel had the ear or Mojang – so I think it will be interesting to see how (if) the same group of people can find a way to friend Nintendo (or do we mean Niantic Labs.)

At the heart of this fuss is nothing new to those who are interested in games and human behaviour. Amazingly, people do like to go outside and the myth of the isolated teen, sitting in a basement playing Warcraft is one which only works on the ignorant these days. The game is simply a variation on the same thing: using GPS to move to a location. Here the user can interact with a virtual object for a reward – in the case of Pokemon, attempting to flick balls at a cartoon character over laid on the camera view (fun).

Some reports suggest this added $10 billion to Nintendo’s value, as their brand appeals to kids and younger parents. Nintendo may then have succeeded to create a behaviour where people use their GPS “navigate to a location” the holy-grail of mobile-push technology that leads to commercial purchases IRL – not just online.

This game does also feel like a step away from the promising transmedia story telling approach that they began with as a Google internal start-up – ie Ingress and Endgame. Commercially it’s a huge success of course, and that is what drives games – not the research and development of new media as texts or education.

This also extend’s cultural acceptance that play must increasingly be connected to commercial brands and purchasing (though micro payments and real payments) … and therefore to be entertained, we must also be spending money and time on brand derived pathways – ie walking into the right store and out the wrong ones.

Can you catch a bargain at K-Mart this weekend, Catch 20 mall-rats and go in the draw to win a Starbucks — all the time, data is collected, sold and re-sold to ‘help’ people find the products they really want – but in a fun way.

Is it of any value to Education? Well no, of course not yet. Nintendo has dabbled with it’s brands in Education before and didn’t succeed. Now EdTech believes that it can convert just about any popular trend into some form of scholarship, there is, and will continue to be those who’ll claim it has – with little evidence and a whole lot of enthusiasm – which is the story of EdTech itself. The game has succeeded in putting AR into the mainstream media realm – something Ingress didn’t, although it was very popular among the technorati  – and still is. On another level, Pokemon Go represents a further shift way from US Pop Culture being the dominant ‘entertainment’ force it once was. If we look even slightly past the Euro-US-Centric EdTech dialogue, we see Asian mobile culture, games, narratives and play styles growing in western popularity.

Here are just a few of the articles which appeared this week. To me, this adds another layer of complexity to how parent’s regulate video game play – and as ever, if you’d like to add your experiences to my research just head over here

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Pokemon Go! has full access to your data

According to Art’s Technica (a site that passes the C.R.A.P test) consistently, the newest craze Pokemon Go! on iOS has FULL access to your personal data. You might not care, which means you don’t yet see your privacy and data as currency which it now is. Your data is more than likely to be bought and sold.

Blogger Adam Reeve picked this up, saying

Let me be clear – Pokemon Go and Niantic can now:

  • Read all your email
  • Send email as you
  • Access all your Google drive documents (including deleting them)
  • Look at your search history and your Maps navigation history
  • Access any private photos you may store in Google Photos
  • And a whole lot more

There is a lot more ‘scare’ going on too – as hack-journalists bang on about people walking into the road without being aware of their surroundings and of course the ‘potential’ of malware and viruses hitting your device. This media ’rounding off’ behavior is nothing new and commonly applied as top and tail puff pieces to pad out the word count about games in mainstream media *cough, so I wouldn’t pay much attention to that.

However, privacy is an issue for schools and those using Google apps as their back-bone are ‘potentially’ at risk, but the wider concern is that the ongoing happy clapping over Google products will see this issue ignored completely and resigned to being an ‘at home’ problem, well outside of school. But of course it’s not – Google is a brand and it’s been shown in research that they don’t see a dividing line between Google school and home.

Next term, I’m looking at AR and VR with students and we will in fact be playing Ingress (made by the same company) and one of the main reasons we’re doing this it to think carefully about the future of information that we will supply and collide with in the ‘natural’ environment. Pokemon Go! makes for a nice discussion for me – because while people are out hunting down Pokemons, there are some very big servers collecting your information – whether by accident or not – they are not going to tell you.

Let’s break it down MSMC Edu

When I wrote a post about why I believe the Microsoft Minecraft Education Edition needs scrutiny, I knew that those whom have seen value in associating themselves with it, would probably prefer I shut up or rebuff my post. Fair enough, people are free to have their opinions too.

My belief is that introduction of video games as texts is key to quality media literacy education for young children. It’s an areas of research and practice that I am more than happy to tank on behalf of those whom might not and I don’t suck up to brands. If brands tell the truth, then we’re all good – but they are not doing that – in my opinion.

Let me break down some of the marketing spin to explain my position (beware brands using games to exploit children).

Children learn naturally through a combination of observation, trial-and-error, and play-based practice

It would be nice if this was true – but childhood is far more messy. This claim is perhaps more true of early childhood than later – but MSMC targets primary and middle school markets – using the emotional appear of a creative (Robinson-eque) deficit. There’s little to go on here, and it assumes you either know or just buy into the statement.

The academic literature says is that early experiences either enhance or diminish innate potential, laying either a strong or a fragile platform on which all further development and learning of the person, the body and the mind is built. The longer children spend in adverse environments, the more pervasive and resistant to recovery are the effects. We also know parenting practices such as reading to children, using complex language, responsiveness, and warmth in interactions are all associated with better developmental outcomes. This is why you are hearing about games and their negative effects. Minecraft is not isolated from this, simply because it’s a sandbox – it’s implicated in the discussions about ‘screen time’. Even that’s often a false debate – as it’s not the time spent that matters so much as what they are doing in the time. For a teacher, what can I do in an hour? What games best facilitate the discussion and outcomes I want for my students?

Minecraft encourages independence and self-direction, allowing students the freedom to experiment and challenge themselves. Much like real-life, there are no step-by-step instructions – students must try, fail, and try again to achieve the result they want.

All games require interaction and while the machine upholds the rules (even in Minecraft), the freedom is within boundaries set by the rules. This is basic game-theory. We also know that intrinsic motivation is a good deal more complex that is being said here … and that fundamentally this games (like most commercial games) is a form of interactive media leisure. At best it’s being repacked as ‘childrenware’.

There is no such thing as ‘real life’. All children’s lives are contextual. We also know that children’s own experiences and backgrounds play a key role in their access to, and belief about media. The suggestion here is that MS MC allows children to somehow navigate ‘real life’ better as a result of buying this product. Let me return to the literature. The body of Australian and international research has found correlations between poverty and behaviour, concluding that being born into deprived circumstances has negative effects on child outcomes and life chances (see for example Bor, 1997; Mitchell, 2009; Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000; NICHD, 2005). This means ‘real life’ is not a market-segment created by marketing departments – and this at the heart of the essential battle for media literacy.

Children’ s goals and curriculum goals are not easily aligned. It’s nieve to think that what children want – and what they can create within this sandbox are aligned, or that goals are somehow driving their actions more than curiosity, imagination and autotellic creativity. Education is driven by goals – and that’s why this is included in the passage.

There is a clear marketing claim throughout the homepage that Minecraft is good for children and that parents are external to the purchase use in the classroom. It ignores the fact that Minecraft is still banned by many schools (games are seen as facile in school governance culture). Special arrangements are to be made for it – and of course tagging Edu on the end sanitises and placates the same powers who refuse to accept alternative views of media literacy and media education – ie those that promote play and games as core drivers of school life. Microsoft are tapping into this debate – because it attracts debate and therefore brand recognition. Few teachers will have heard of Project Spark on Xbox One. Lots of teachers are hearing about “hour of code” and “Minecraft” and yet here’s a game (and community) that allows kids to make very high end games – in the MS stable. Why is that not the flexible platform being pushed? (answer: marketing and onboarding to the MS Office 365 ecosystem). Notice you need to move to Windows 10 to buy into this game.

So what about parents? Why do all these experts and marking passages omit them?

In the early years, the strength and quality of the relationship between parents (and close family) and their children is being seen as fundamental to the effective development of children’s brain architecture, functions and capacity. Parenting practices such as reading to children, using complex language, responsiveness, and warmth in interactions are all associated with better developmental outcomes. My point is that ‘real life’ begins before school and that good health, nutrition and exercise are critical to children’s development.

Learning-by-doing in Minecraft teaches students independence and perseverance, giving them great satisfaction and sense of accomplishment when they can demonstrate their knowledge

Now we are getting into very dubious claims, which are homogonising how memory works at different stages of development – again, much of this page is written around broad themes associated with early childhood for a product that is aimed at later stages.

Knowledge acquisition can happen long after the original acquisition of the memory providing the new learning is in the same spatial context as the original learning. If the context is new, a new episodic memory is created (Hupbach et al., 2008). So yes, kids playing games inside game systems do remember those episodes and use them inside the system again and again. Watch your 15 year old play Call of Duty to see this happen. BUT emotional context also influences memory, young children remember (low order) words given in a positive emotional context than those in a negative – therefore the language of games (in game feeback) is a key driver of independence and perseverance – and not the LACK of it as you find in MSMC.

Now curriculum – well let’s think AUSTRALIAN curriculum. I’ll be specific – as MSMC seems not to be – and will just touch on ONE dimension.

Children are born to learn. This is a key driver of how we go about education. At no point are we hedging our bets or subscribing to the ‘not good at life’ rubbish. Learning is developmental and cumulative, there’s no evidence to support the claim (in Minecraft) student activities (map) directly to specific learning outcomes and curriculum standards nor there any deficit in the framework which Microsoft have redressed.

The outcome of all learning in Australian schools is that children become confident and improved learners where “belonging, being and becoming” is core. Children are then placed in secure, respectful, reciprocal relationships. Teachers are responsive to children and  have a strong sense of identity, connect and contribute to their world.

I am not anti Minecraft, quite the opposite. My students have a Pocket Server and a PC server which they built a year ago and run. I have zero involvement and they use it when they feel like it in our PBL projects. They create learning folios, use fraps etc., so to me, I don’t need to make place the game on a special platform.

What teachers need to know (and learn if they took my CSU INF541 course on game based learning) is that a contemporary media landscape in school is already set out in curriculum frameworks from the Early Years onward.

Specifically, the Australian curriculum wants teachers to allow children to play a range games.Games that strengthen social/emotional development and abstract thought – pretend and role play, group, turn taking, humour, language, drawing, ball games, rhyming and word games, stories.

I could pull the whole thing apart, but I think if you’re got to here … you’ve got a good idea of where I am with MC MC Edu. There is a huge issue with believing the hype – not least the missed opportunity to play a range of games.

Have you played the FREE Robocraft? Have you even downloaded STEAM?

Beware shiny things! Beware marketing based on emotional appeals and generalisations … and figure out why are people saying this about Minecraft now? and what are they telling me to do (and therefore not do).

I realise a bunch of people are going to be invested in this version and will not care or agree with me … but I have never been interested in playing nicely with brands – when the main fight is still – games are a media literacy  deserve to be in schools on their own merit (not because they are backed by MicoGoogleAppledoms).

Return of the DS

Ever keen to find way’s to create ‘shared environments’ I’ve recently revisited the Nintendo DS.(Duel Screen). These were HUGE around 2005ish, and for many kids they were the thing to have BEFORE the launch of the iPhone and iPad — which really changed how we experienced and conceptualised hand-held gaming.

Nintendo DS was educational! – Derek Robinson was at the vanguard of this and in my view set the scene for the rest of us. The Captain Crunch on video gaming in school. Of course some quango of short-sighted suits in Scottish Education failed to recognise this for what it was — the tragedy that many pioneering ‘game’ innovators know too well. If you want to hear this from the man himself – watch this video on YouTube in which he sets out the opportunity and passion which is still waiting to be tapped into.

So back to DS 2015. A group of Year 8’s (13-14) have started playing their DS’s in ‘genius’ hour (and other times as I’m pretty lax on gaming). More and more have joined it, and it’s great to see them stroll down memory lane. They are busy discussing games and much more, sharing social-history. Any time I see ‘connecting’ happening, I encourage it … and no I don’t really know where this is going … but at my school – that’s just fine.