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

cultural_jet_lag

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.

VVVrrrrrrooooomm,.

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.

TWITTER and EDU-TYPES

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.

WHY PEOPLE TAKE ACTION (or not)

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.

 

Minecraft digs deeper into learning.

Minecraft has many potential benefits in education. I believe these are being under-estimated. While some uses seem obvious — building a sustainable house, making a replica of a ancient monument and so on — it’s important for teachers (and parents) to recognise and value the learning processes which are happening. I’m about to argue these processes have widely been considered the domain of adult eLearning — and are skills which go beyond many definitions of “21st Century Learning”. In addition, your children and mine are bringing these skills into school.

Regardless of whether a school allows or sees value in Minecraft, there will be a significant number of children (using sales, age and platform sales) who have these skills and are sharpening them evenings and weekends.

Let me be more specific here. Using John Keller’s ARCS model of motivational design, its possible to show Minecraft is teaching kids skils that get buried underneath ongoing controversies around screen-time.

Keller’s ARCS Model for motivational design

  • Attention – Get the learners interest and curiosity
  • Relevance – Show the importance and usefulness of the content to the learner
  • Confidence – Including challenging, but do-able activities (tasks and sub tasks)
  • Satisfaction – Make the experience worth it (ie Why should I care about this?)

Using computers to assist learning only really works when the learner feels satisfied and commits what they learned to long-term memory. We’ve all been to demo or had training where we walk out and never revisit the lesson.

As a parent, it’s totally frustrating that my children seem to remember a thousand items in their favourite video game inventory — yet can’t remember what todays homework was. Keller’s model is the foundation of many eLearning and classroom activities. What I’m saying is that we can see kids doing this without any adult prompts or motivators. The brilliance of the game design is that it allows humanistic learning.

The major problems of our age deal with human relations; the solutions can be found only in education. Skill in human relations is a skill that must be learned; it is learned in the home, in the school, in the church, on the job, and wherever people gather together in small groups. – Knowles.

Minecraft doesn’t have ‘rules’ on how to accomplish a task other than the machine-rules about the properties of objects in the virtual landscape together with the players ability to interact with those objects. The game itself allows an ‘idle’ state where by the player can do nothing at all if they want. Time passing is marked by the sunrise and sunset. The first task learners perform is how to create a personal space — where they can be safe from harm. The classic hierarchy of needs becomes realised almost immediately. She builds a shelter by analysing her performance constantly to race again time and if successful in that task — starts to think about deeper task analysis.

This is hugely powerful stuff. A four year old is undertaking constant task analysis more often than they are reacting to tasks set. To me this represents a significant alternative view of “flipping the classroom”. Among the questions she’s asking herself (and seeking media information to answer) are:

  • What’s the complexity of the task?
  • How often does it needs to be performed?
  • Is the task critical to the end state (performance) I want?
  • Is this task separate, connected with or linked to other tasks?
  • What does the overall task-relationship look like?
  • What are the risks associated with not being able to complete the task?
  • What background skills to learners need to perform these tasks?

It’s critical to acknowledge that kids playing Minecraft are developing two fundamental skills. They are working towards developing the kind of reflective, critical “self-directed” skills previously associated with adult learning.

This immediately creates new challenges and opportunities. Minecraft allows kids to engage in humanistic informal learning by becoming self-directed learners, maintaining deep motivation towards their own goals. I think Knowles would have liked Minecraft.

This will, to some, clash with many EdTech’s assumptions about what kids can/should do with computers. In particular who benefits most from using them – students, system or teachers. It fly’s in the face of popular opinion and assumptions. When I then hint at the power of connectivism and network culture, I begin to see kids as part of a new and vast network of learners.

I think using this lens, kids are doing things in Minecraft is quite staggering. The objects they make are not the measurement of their achievement, but simply a landmark on their increasing ambition, skill and knowledge. As I said at the beginning of this post — I question the need to create lessons for Minecraft. I see greater value (to them) by simply allowing kids to play for a few hours a week. This has benefits which so far, EdTech has really not achieved despite vast investment and enthusiasm.

Minecraft is not just a game — it’s a sandbox for self-directed learning which is probably one the most significant skills children will need in the years ahead. Obsessing over “digital literacy” seems a particular teacher and system obsession.

(Tapped on a phone, in a train).