TweetFighter3 – How to flash blind teachers

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Dean Groom @ large

A three part Easter bonanza post about how Twitter makes people flash-blind because no one speaks the same language, why Twitter might be useful for literary analysis and TweetFighter3 – another FREE game I’ve invented following on from Shelly’s awesome post this week “We don’t want more professional development” – which I know will make some people out there a bit nervous, not least Rebecca Black.

I wonder if one of the many side-effects of exposure to educational-technology discources is a kind of flash blindness.

We don’t always say it, but suggest a reflective practitioner is a more democratic and grounded facilitator-teacher, creating a classroom atmosphere of equality, reflection and shared wonder. Additionally, experts are presumed to know, and must claim to do so, regardless of my own uncertainty. The reason we hire teachers is because of their experise, not their reflective capacity, which is impossible to measure using the blunt tools called Resumés and interviews that we actually use to hire them (yet leaders say this is what they actually want)  (brain-missing isn’t it).

At times, it seems messages are flashed before us so randomly, we forget that all of it no matter how motivating, empathetic or entertaining are just messages. Any real change in an organization results from an operation theory. A concrete statement –  this is how we’re going to test that theory though action-orientated application.

In the worlds of Def LeppardAction not words.

Right now, we seem to stop short and languish in a tense state of diversity between what we actually mean and say. We seem to devise so many labels (teacher, mentor, leading-teacher, ed-tech, integrator, educational developer etc) that we are constantly blinking in response.

The cafe at the end of the universe is closed. Please go back.

The array of variable lexicons in the many and diverse discourses around educational technology that we are exposed to (and in turn do to others) is breath-taking. I wonder if we are at a point now where we’ve invented so many new words, theories and praxes that a good deal of any newcomers time is spent trying to make sense of it, even before trying to build the new-grail of the PLN.

For example: A simple Twitter lexicon (which some people would have you believe is the highway to connected-enlightenment) – It’s a flash-gun, maybe a chain-gun of information, lies, truths, ideas and a million other things.

Re-tweet: someone sends you a tweet that you like so you re-tweet it on your account for your “followers” to read

Twoosh: when you make a tweet of exactly 140 characters

Twitterhood/Twitterville: the group of people (followers and those you follow) who elect to see your tweets

Twitpic: one of many applications that enable you to take a picture on your mobile then zip it straight to all your followers via Twitter

Twitterfeeds: news feeds that go straight to your Twitter account

To be a reflective teacher doesn’t mean expert, no more than and expert can be assumed to be non-reflective or reflective. At the base level, teacher educators must begin with persons, places and things. “Learning as transformation” challenges our past learning assumptions and teaching experiences, forcing us to integrate and comprehend old experiences with our present reality. So why are we paying people to chain-gun teachers with bad professional development no one wants?

Because the alternative is … Twitter? Not if you’re an overseer it’s not.

Twitter seems to be a refuge for edupunks –  were everyone has a flash-gun and willing to use it.

It’s attraction to those (me) on it, is at least in part that it appears to have no preconceptions or preformed ideas of what ‘education’ is.

From this some people see emergent themes. While others see nothing, just a bright light.

Better teacher-education means better critical analysis of the world they live in.

What teachers want – from those offering professional development – is actually inductive clarity to make sense of social development. The speed at which information comes really stops reflection if we don’t have the time or cause to stop and wonder.

For example:

Do we ask students or teacher to try an unpack a “Tweet”? Should we? Does it matter which one, who from, when it was sent or from where?

Is this a viable literary analysis technique we should teach – even though it’s not directly called for in the syllabus?

  • What is the narrative strategy?
  • What is the narrator’ s tone?
  • The meaning of literature often rides on paying close attention to the voice or tone of a text.
  • Is the narrator reliable? Is s/he ironic?
  • Are there multiple narrators?
  • Doubles of the narrator?
  • Consider the effects of the narration devices themselves?
So here’s the reward for reading all the way down here.
TweetFighter 3 [credit me if you use this please]
  1. Take a large piece of paper and markers (all the same colour – black)
  2. Pull up a Twitter feed such as #edtech or other popular group-tag and instead of talking about social media for an hour, ask people to create a concept map.
  3. Draw out circles of the participants, try to categorize what the are saying by adding spurs to ideas.
  4. Keep building away for half an hour our so and you’ll end up with hundreds of bubbles and lines to ideas, key words and themes.
  5. Get more paper, just keep writing as tweets appear on the public timeline.
  6. Now spend another half an hour trying to collapse those into 20% of the size.
  7. Combine them, create subsets and pull out people, places and things.
  8. Finally choose the strongest catagory – the one with the most people, the most ideas and the most things … (maths needed).
Now apply the literacy analysis above.
Can your group now come up with a theory of what’s happening and how are they going test that theory though action-orientated application.
Is this process only going to work with Twitter – or would it work just as well for a teacher who’s never going to use Twitter? – How so?
Draw out the new map to explain it, take a photo of it and Tweet “We’ve been #massivelyproductive” and share the image.
That’s Massively Productive, but it isn’t professional development – it is what The Hordie wants – Social Development.

The Downtime Learner theory

I’ve followed Steve Wheeler’s recent commentary on Twitter and personal learning networks and thought I’d extend on the discussion, as I see these things a little differently. Have blog, will theorise.

One of my pet theories is that digital learning for in-service teachers is best served on the run, in short bursts anywhere you can access it. This is my ‘downtime-learning’ theory that’s based on the ideas of Mr Downes around Connectivism.

The resilience of systems, the lack of funding for in-service professional development, and perhaps a certain optimism that ‘they’ll do it themselves for free’ has to my mind created an enviable monster under the bed for education – almost inadvertently.

It is undeniably true and reported by scholars that top down technology initiatives fail time and time again to prepare teachers adequately, which in turn fails to alter their dominant belief and attitude towards everyday pedagogical approaches. Furthermore, professional development in a formal sense tends to treat adults as they do children – locking them in rooms with computers.

Part One – The Downtimer theory

The solution, for reflective-teacher-learners is to explore and consider the role of technology from their seat on the bus or train (not the car – you’ll crash). We dip into learning in the park, waiting for a friend or ordering a coffee fix.

This I’m calling my ‘downtime-learning’ theory.

My hypothesis is that digital-mastery among teachers occurs sporadically in networks, powered more by gamer theory than any single educational theory. Furthermore mobile learning is more satisfying and generative than either the home or the workplace – and there is almost no design imperatives to create similar environments. We learn more when we are not at desk so to speak.

The importance of this for teacher educators is their systems and institutions will remain ineffective in comparison, unable to shake a legacy method and unwilling to declare failure.

In addition, smart-teachers build personal capacity and activate it inside networks and tempted to leave any organisation that tries to tame their ambition or access. The option of working entirely ‘online’ isn’t a delusion it’s the most significant threat to stability of essential ‘ground based’ places of learning. After all, most kids don’t have any other option – we still need local communities and strong social connections to people.

Part Two – Scale is impossible if you build walls.

To broaden my argument, stand in a public space or take public transport as an observer. You’ll see all sort of people doing all manner of tapping digital objects – as we shake out information and experiences. The physical keyboard and mouse inside 4 walls is a DEAD belief. We can learn anywhere if we have people worth learning from. We just need someone to lead us until we can lead ourselves – which is the ultimate instructional designer’s goal – and the empirical basis of good game design. Downtimer theory is about sustainable and stable learning centred around the person, regardless of where they work or where they study. By 2020, Australia will represent less than 2% of the world internet access – and yet currently has one of the highest mobile phone ownership rates. Why will be be bottom very soon? I think this picture is a big clue. This isn’t how we see the world? We are learning in downtime, they are learning because it creates massive up-time.

sustainabilty flows from the mobile form factor

Zoom in on individuals with mobile phones. What are they doing? – the are cheating our societies downtime, finding something to occupy their restless subconscious – experiential learners on a course of their own design. We still go to and from work, but we’re learning in the middle.

People on their mobile devices do a surprisingly small number of things repeatedly.

They check their text messages, email, Twitter, Facebook, they follow network-links and investigate people they see as interesting. They do this hundreds of times a day. Input, find, process, respond – question and confirm. IPFR – QR is a kind of ugly acronym, so I think ‘downtimer‘ or ‘downtime-learner’ is better – and far better than digital-native or immigrant.

Actually deciding on what to do is much harder than following a prompt. Twitter generates thousands of personal prompts a day for each person. We’ve learned that trying to decide isn’t effective. The freedom of interpretation (I have this 5 freedoms theory too).

Education is all about following prompts where as networks are all about following people and ideas.

Social media has created a vivid, diverse and unpredictable experience – that feels increadibly satisfying. The constant pinging of our networks, its the time-clock as we look for clues and ideas from other people to make sense of problems, challenges and dilemmas.

Twitter is a mastery dash-board. You don’t need to be gifted know it’s works on connections, however it’s ability to create smart-sets of mentors and influencers allows us to performance measure ourselves verses everyone. It’s a flow of qualitative data to make sense of, rather than a transmission tool, providing information to make false dichotomous decisions. It takes a long time to work that out – and makes the idea of telling people about Twitter almost impossible. Each use case is personal.

Twitter is one example of numerous exploits for the game of education itself.

Rather than being stuck inside a perpetual feedback loop (the annual predicability of content, test scores, performance appraisals) it allows teachers to break out and and not wallow in problems. Rather that wait for an idea or problem to be processed by someone else, astute teachers use it to short-circuit the hurdle – instantly.

Do you find it annoying if your question takes a few hours not seconds to get a response? How does that compare to traditional learning? – Lag lag lag … you question is likely to be classified – off task or irrelevant to the lesson … that doesn’t happen on Twitter, Facebook or Games.

So when I think about my theory and look broadly at how we set about in-service professional development, or how distance education sees distance learning, I have to wonder why we designing for the long-course. It clearly has major problems that won’t be solved by buying HD webcasts over standard def webcasts, or embedding YouTube into an LMS.

I’m sticking to my ‘downtime-learning’ theory for now. To be an effective learner in a world with unprecedented access to people and information means being obsessed with learning everything and prepared to take action before you have learned everything you might want to know. This belief makes Twitter very useful. However it’s abstract for most teachers. My downtimer theory calls for teacher educators to start playing games with teachers … not training them if we want to win hearts and minds.

I’m going to prove this by working up a Games Based Learning Course for in-service teachers, leaving it as a theory isn’t much fun.

Three NEW things we need to see in education

cc licensed flickr photo by Heini Samuelsen:

Cognitive science tells us that learning with technology is a duel-band activity, which in some way explains our desire to live in a world with multiple tabs, multiple devices and multiple streams of information at our finger-tips.

This post is about actively dealing with three things: cognitive load and capacity, the modality in which we teach and learn, and the filter.

I’m going to argue we can’t have it all, but 2 out of 3 aint bad – if we at least get 2 things right – and we’re not yet getting it right.

Learning modalities are the sensory channels or pathways through which individuals give, receive, and store information.  Many students have pervasive access to technology and potentially engaged in extraneous (no relevance), essential (selecting) or generative (organising, integrating, making) activities. I think, that the common modalities we use – don’t really teach use much about our cognitive capacity, but overload us. Our motivational and emotion responses -(which make up a third of our belief-making brain activity) is not to persist.

Take a typical professional development vignette


cc licensed flickr photo by RDECOM:

The presenter has a pre-made Powerpoint, with a dozen or so slides. The room is set up with computers and the presenter has a handout. The intention is to teach the teacher why and how to use some web-tool in their practice to improve learning.

This is arrangement, classically presented to teachers as good practice, is also how most teachers encounter professional development.

Think about the first two things:  modality and cognitive load. Powerpoint to audience decode, translate to the desktop, more input, more trial and error, more questions than answers. All the time the day’s agenda moves forward. Each participant has differing prior-experience, different capacity. The method of instruction presents a high cognitive load. How many times have you been here – fumbling to work the machine, grasp the purpose or the imperative as the presenter says “let’s move on”. It is only our familiarity with this environment that makes it feel normal and unsatisfying. – We can’t be surprised to find decreasing motivation in staff and students when this strategy is presented time and time again.

A second vignette: The keynote speaker delivers a presentation, full of motivation and emotional arguments. The audience lacks the modality to en-mass separate erroneous, essential and generative. The presenter fails to address socially independent knowledge and meaning (the other two thirds of brain-making belief). We are entertained, perhaps inspired, but how many have the capacity to action it. There are many reasons for this, the most toxic is that the presenter – is in-accessible after the presentation, a common problem when we import speakers because of their past profile or because the point of epoch they speak from – is a concensus point for the assumed audiences cognitive capacity – and sadly the popular ‘sweet spot’ messages often imitated as a result – with no evaluation.

Both these common experiences are producing marginal gains in teachers being able to rethink the modality and method they use with technology in learning and teaching. Now I’d like to look at perception, disruption and distortion in relation to filtering.



cc licensed flickr photo by simonov:

Also think about how we present ‘the internet’ as a media and not a method by which learning occurs. We cannot be shocked when students lose interest and motivation, when we present it in an almost opposite modality. They are not distracted, just intensely more interested in socially independent uses of technology at their finger-tips – as they have greater capacity to engage with it this way, that to learn in the manner I described earlier.


The filter  is a very blunt tool to deal with erroneous information and is a subjective as Alan Jones on gin. [excellent social studies clip there]

The filter distorts how we access and manage essential and generative opportunities – and counter-acts the modality of learning that students experience in just about every other area of their technological-lives. It wasn’t designed to do this – it was created to remove risk to the organization, preventing accidental or deliberate access to pornography, hate, drugs, violence etc., but has evolved into a social-filter without any real evidence or discussion with teachers or students. The filter is also applied vary differently between systems, and often between schools.

“there was no evidence that online predators were stalking or abducting unsuspecting victims based on information they posted at social networking sites.” – Crimes Against Children Research Center (CCRC) at the University of New Hampshire, March 2008.

THE SEMANTIC DISRUPTION – The end is coming.

cc licensed flickr photo by See-ming Lee 李思明 SML:

Today much of filter-policy ignorantly assumes the internet’s role in education is predominantly as media delivery mechanism and not a medium to support a method. To some degree, few parents and teachers are lobbying for anything else – making it a social issue, not so much a school one.

Filtering (as we know it) assumes information remains static in the way it is organised and identified. Emerging semantic technology – draws heavily on information produced socially – ending the time where ‘the internet’ was experienced as separate experiences or compartments. Only silly minds will think the browser and laptop will be pervasive in the next decade.

Current policy often fails to recognize youth agency: young people as participants, stakeholders, and leaders in an increasingly participatory environment online and offline.

For the most part, the filter is a crude stop/go mechanism. Given the lack of training to helps teachers learn to manage, create and use technology in sympathy with real world modality. Social filtering distorts learning because it’s not safety from bad outcomes but safety for positive ones. We want to students to be be safe, but do we want our children to play in places that are only safe? This brings me back to modality – and the neo-classical depiction of a classroom. Projector, Laptops, Filter – is this how we want children to learn and teachers to teach?


In the old days, circa 2000 – technology that power’s social media used to be called ‘application service provision‘. Clearly tools like Twitter carry ‘media’ information socially – but the term itself is misleading, popularised by culture and group bias – and even inside the believers, there is argument over what it actually means and affords society. It’s a word, along with Web2.0 that is meaningless to the majority.

Clearly GoolgeDocs, WordPress, Wikispaces etc provide a modality of learning which are clearly different to pornography – yet suffer from filtration (something I’ll come to next). Recent research finds kids are more at risk of peer-use of networks in abusive ways – than from people they don’t know.


  • We have, like it or not, chosen to put technology into learning and teaching though government and organizational investment.
  • We cannot afford to accept we don’t need to train (and mentor) teachers to see technology as a method and find better modality in how we do it.
  • We need to accept how much more powerful technology is when used through personalisation and allowing people to become socially independent learners.
  • We need to accept, that in terms of cognitive load, capacity and modality – technology does not give rise to Frankensteinian epoch moments we can push out as being ‘the future’ or something to ‘work towards’ – but that as events that need corresponding change in education immediately.
  • What we did before and what we do after any epoch moment – causes greater distortion in the classroom.

TWO OUT OF THREE AIN’T BAD – Something I can live with

In approaching teacher development and support – we have to recognise that teachers are capable of asking for help, and that request comes from a professional capacity. What they do out of work is entirely their business. This is a blurred message much of the time – perhaps most problematic in the current popular dialogue of the personal learning network.

  • We need to find ways that we reduce the cognitive load needed to learn something essential – but delete the erroneous – in the classroom.
  • We should stay clear of generative desires when helping and mentoring them – as generating content is now seen as a chore, rather than creative joy.
  • Teachers should not believe that making more content is better – or required in pursuit of using technology in the classroom. (busy-thoughts).
  • Most of all we need to accept that the envelope in which we often work is not realistic – but a simulation of the real world. There is no shame in being clear about this with students – so that they recognise where the classroom-end point is, and where they need to start taking responsibility for their future. Even if this is to find a grade-school game that they could use at home to learn maths, that is banned in school.

Two out of three aint bad, as Meatloaf said.

Accept that we can’t have it all – we never did, and we never will – we live in amazing times, with mind-blowing complexity – but there are ways to do a lot of good with what we have … and each time we do … we push negativity one step further backwards as we make more sense of the positive.

Code of Everand

This is an interesting, and nicely styled browser MMO called Everand. It has been developed by the Department for Transport in the UK, to engage children making the transition from Primary to Secondary school, on the topic of road safety. The aim is that players will improve their road safety behaviour and apply what they have learned in the game, to the real world as a learned response. Maybe it is just me, but the UK and Scotland seem to be kicking some great game based learning initiatives right now. This one is free play with a ‘chat’ style system that is well thought out, with mini-games and friend-system. There is a level system, rep system, spells, powers and abilities … all the ingredients needed for for engaged learning, not content shoveling. Just image how easy it would have been for them to make an eLearning blah … instead this.

Little Big Planet 2

Well this is a BIG deal. Little Big Planet, which allowed you to play a really cool game with all your friends collaboratively is back. In Little Big Planet you could customise just about everything and create new levels. The original game had 50 levels, and players made 2 million more. This time you can make entire games according to the trailer. More details will probably be released at E3.

Admongo – Game Based Learning

Here’s a neat example of a very well produced, instructionally designed game called Admongo. It’s a cute platformer, in the current style of Ben 10 type graphic characterisation. This is a step in front of Poptropica, Pearson Education’s subtle venture into games – as it explores a distinct topic – advertising.

It is aimed at 5th and 6th Graders, and comes with all the lesson planning curriculum materials needed to allow kids to explore the world they are immersed in. I believe this is not (yet) blocked by the Department of Education. It is worth noting how this game has recognized the emotional domain need to create engagement, by creating an avatar, something often missing from edu-games. It is developed with Scholastic Inc, and a pleasing step forward, though obviously not an open-world and very much in the eLearning model.

The lesson activities are typical of the kind of thing Scholastic would have you do – print this out, make a poster etc., but don’t let that put you off – if you’re new to the idea of seeing a game motivate students, unsure about how to integrate game play into the curriculum, this is a great place to start. I like the way it didn’t ask for any personal details (though kids will forget, so write it down), and was pretty easy to get into and use. The game itself is quite dull, so don’t expect kids to love it for too long, but it does give teachers a road-map to think about the constructive alignment of games with outcomes and activities.

5 ways to get into game based learning for under $5

Thinking about Game Based Learning? this is a collection of games you can use in the classroom for under USD$5. Great for the primary classroom! Just grab them from Steam, and start thinking of interesting ways to use them. I’ve played ’em all my friends, with my trusty team of home test pilots. You just download and go. Easy as.

1. Simplz Zoo.

Combining two types of games, simulation and puzzle into one unique adventure, Simplz: Zoo puts you in charge to decide what animals to add, and where to place them in your own zoo. Filled with more than 90 comical animals, fun and challenging game play, upbeat music, hidden secret codes, and lots of make-you-smile goodness, Simplz: Zoo is roaring.

2. Toki Tori.

The gameplay in Toki Tori is a blend of two genres. While it looks like a platform game, it’s a puzzle game at heart. To progress through the game, the player must pick up each egg in a level using a set number of tools. Players will have to look and plan ahead carefully.


Create matches of 4 or more butterflies of the same color to help them to freedom. The more you match the higher you score (It’s possible to create matches of up to 13 butterflies!). Increase your score by making matches in quick succession.

5. The Misadventures of P.B Winterbottom –

Create your own paradox… for the love of pie Enter a macabre and comical silent world filled with mischief, time travel and delicious pie. Record yourself and harness your time bending abilities to cooperate, compete against, and disrupt your past present and future selves. Winterbottom’s debut misadventures present a whimsical spin on the notions of time, space.

Infographic: The tangential learning principle

These are two infographics I’m using in a presentation in a few days to Principals. The first represents the disruptive element (social) that has appeared in socially-connected learning. It’s the part which often is potentially a crack in the wall and may lead to tangential learning, or a crack that fuels intellectual and network lock-down as we struggle to answer questions based in fear, uncertainty and denial.

My presentation is not about that conflict, but to attempt to illustrate why students will spend as much time in online games and virtual spaces as the will in the K12 classroom, during the school career. The choice is pretty simple; either we choose to allow social-interplay into classrooms, and develop curricula founded on solid experiential learning principles, or isolate students from the potentially cataclysmic web.

Informally, our children are already exploring and trying to make sense of the world outside the window. At the same time, politicians are gearing up for further high stakes testing, standardised learning, back to basics (3Rs) and filtering – not just school (but everyone’s content).

Our children, in their school career will experience 10,000 hours of this, learning about a set of rules and future predictions that are not true anymore and ignore the tangential experiences afforded by web, game and mobile. The infographic below describes (as best it can) how I see the theories of Connectivism (Downes & Siemens) playing out in my childrens use of technology – daily.

I’ve invited my 9 year old along to demonstrate how this infographic relates to his use of MMOs – which I think is a model which can be applied equally to how I want him to learn at school (and out of it).

I have been at pains not to use edu–techno-babble, jargon, or to name specific technologies — as this further complicates the message.

What I am trying to demonstrate in the session is the way in which ‘social’ impacts school (like it or not) and to help those attending try to make sense of what they (and you) see as core, important and worthwhile – so that they can begin to formulate their own view and local community manifesto.

This infographic is very much the way I see the design of learning, though the principles and strategies embedded are far more complex.

It is how I learn, how I see my children learning – and how I am trying when possible to help other teachers develop their own classrooms in professional development.

If you have time, I’d welcome your feedback – to see if this infographic can be applied to your own learning – Does it work for your interests, even though yours may be tangential to mine?