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.

 

Blooming Confusing

I have a confession. I collect Blooms adaptations. It seems like the making up new Blooms is a very popular pass time of teachers using the Internet these days. Most of them don’t feel particularly interesting, but I tend to bookmark them as I find them as a sort of personal Blooms Museum. Every now and again I find one that is interesting such as this.

Vivians-New-Bloom-April

You can grab a copy from the author here and get a better quality version. What I like about this is that it’s a loop, not a triangle. It’s also a good attempt at describing the typical problem-solution cycle evident in video games. The author is proposing that these stages can be constructively aligned with Blooms taxonomy.

If you are teaching though an enquiry process, then this loop is relevant. Rather than learning being a series of steps, which might take place over several days or weeks – consider how this could be uses as a daily activity loop. I’d argue that if a child is involved in this cycle – and more importantly can IDENTIFY where they are in the loop at anytime, then it’s highly likely they will be reasonably engaged and productive. Of course the key is to make sure they are immersed in a learning episode that uses these stages.

The start here, I’d suggest is a good way to pre-test and find a way for students to make something that reveals their interests, knowledge, skills, assumptions, biases and errors. All to often lessons seem to start without doing this at all. If the kid can get 60/60 on a pre-test, then why would they bother doing the task.

Think of a video game, the first thing you get to do is choose gender, race, class and a small selection of gear to get started. We all have our preferences here … as we’re often used to playing (learning) in a certain, familiar modality. There’s nothing wrong with allowing kids to work from their preferences – comfort zone – as ultimately they are going to have to move away from it with the problems you set later.

This loop is something that can be actively tracked and reinforced to students during the enquiry. It can be designed into the sequence of learning with ease. It doesn’t have to use the rigid language of Blooms (high to low) and I’ll declare here that I think this is too dogmatic for modern learners anyway. I think this is a pretty innovative way of looking at learning-loops, and if kids get to try and repeat these loops, know where they are, and why they are doing it — then it’s going to help reinforce the essential value of enquiry based learning.

Google Feud

This game is interesting. Its called Google Feud.  Its super simple and could be really amazing if you could add your own terms for class. Oh how the conceptual frame and subjective frame might be more compelling. As it is, its interesting to play, and then discover what people are typing into google. Warning: you are going to loose time to this.

Gaming the online classroom

There is a ton of information being produced about attempting to turn online learning into a more game-like experience. What we’re saying is that despite the rush of enthusiasm for technology based teaching, the profound effect on society by the interactive entertainment industry renders so much of ‘must attend’ education well outside this zone of engagement.

Consider however that ‘school’ is particular social construct and comes with certain cultural expectations and baggage. For example, school has been a daily experience of the dis-affected fifteen year old with poor attendance and a dislike of school methods. Offering her badges or points is hardly going encourage her to revisit her experiences before time expires and she leaves to make her way in the world. For the exceptional kids who chew through learning, the introduction of a game might well send their parents into a tail spin about how to play-school — a game they’ve probably been winning for years at.

The point I’m making here is that games, game-layers and game-mechanics being developed for the interactive entertainment of society cannot easily be subsumed into educational contexts. By easy, I mean time, investment and executive trust in taking a few risks and resisting the temptation to declare success after a week.

I’ve seen numerous game-systems which are little more than grade-book management and behaviour control. They might meet the power-relations of the teacher and the grade-compliance needs of the system, but I don’t think they should be called a game. Dressing up and talking like a pirate would be just as motivating to students who know game culture like the back of their hand. Let me put down the top three things which have little ‘game-basis’ at all, but never the less have been cited as game-based-learning.

3 elements which are un-proven

  1. Using points to sanction personal behaviour (ie, late to class, no homework, calling out).
  2. Assigning random events. The teacher should know exactly what events need to be triggered to move the student’s experience from A to B and B to C. This has more to do with the Zone of Proximal Development than the roll of a dice. Games do not issue ‘work’ randomly, they do it because the player is ready for it.
  3. Machine-automation should be used lightly. The best games I’ve seen played with students treat the Internet as a medium or layer to transmit important information — such as how the player is going, what they need to do next and so on. Machine programming which orientates to grading students is fluckery and should be avoided.

Why do schools find it hard to develop effective game based learning programmes.

The biggest challenge for schools is they are not used to employing project-managers and/or educational developers to design a game. They tend to hope teachers will pick this stuff up in the way they picked up how to use Edmondo. Games are complex cultural objects. For example: a game should be a re-useable resource which anyone can play. It should be well designed, documented and platform agnostic. It might require the development of illustrations, narratives and other objects … all of which is really hard to do alone or as a side-role when teaching. If the game is being played online, then it will need a community manager to help interpret the goals of the teacher into an experience online that is interesting.

I am not saying avoid games, or consider GBL to be too hard, but to think more carefully about requirements of education verses interactive media entertainment. Ultimately, the game is an experience which impacts how we see the world — if you missed it, check out the PBL Game for the Hunger Games which ran a few years ago. Start not with what we did that made it such a success — but why it didn’t pick up any interest at ISTE 13. The challenge for games is simple: They need at least the same status and investment that is routinely applied to things such as Google Apps … only then will robust, re-useable designs become available.

Games are not classroom toys.

This post is intended to highlight how ‘trends’ in social media CAN create more problems than they solve. In the rush to include popular culture in the classroom, some educators now see games — especially video games as something to port into their so called ‘GBL’ classrooms. They assume that because games are ‘fun’ and that game scholars have shown players learn — bingo — add it to the pop-bazinga-bullshit bouncing around Chitter. Ideally there could be 7 steps, a diagram or a template to slap on top of content.

If games can be brought into school, kids could …. If that is true, then firstly, describe the archetypes of this pedagogy and in what context it might be true. Oh crap, gamification just got harder didn’t it … don’t worry, play splashy fish and just say they are learning. There are some very serious problems emerging from the general idea that everything can be done simply — and that all the answers are online. So far that hasn’t been true for anything else, so why with the most complex media in society?

What they want to know has to fit with what they want to believe, based on what they already know. For example which games are the most fun, and the ones kids learn from the most. They want to believe games short-cut social and cultural disengagement as well as increase academic understanding. A better social inclusion program and assessment plan could also do that too. But these are also things that schools struggle to re-position in society radically different to even ten years ago.

Why is a classroom a place to start toying with complex media is a serious social concern. Why not do it though research? Why does it have to be done ‘live’ with kids (who get no say and may well suffer as a result) — and why conduct it via Chitter?

Games are not made from things which will be ported into classrooms to make kids happier, more engaged or more interested in what the teacher has to say. This won’t of course stop teachers dragging games into classrooms and not only doing a really bad job of using games — but waste valuable time tinkering with things they don’t understand when they could focus on things that are needed.

You can’t run today’s game-culture on your busted platform or find the answers on chitter.

Using the Disney Method in teaching

So the Disney method? Well it’s quite simple. Disney thought that in order to engage the natural thinking styles of a group of people (we all think differently) the it’s important to understand both their communication and relational skills. Without doing this, whatever is being introduced will be un-matched to the group and fail to influence. If you’ve ever watched a powerpoint and fell asleep, this is the opposite of Disney’s theory of engaging audiences. It’s a parallel thinking technique.

Disney saw people in four ways. This also connects with Kieren Egan’s theories of imaginative education which is why I like it for games. The Spectator, The Dreamer, Realist and Critic provide a model of thinking styles that is relevant to children’s approach to transformational play (something that Bron Stuckey) talks about so well. Classroom games are experiences, not necessarily digital objects, so the importance here is to offer experiences around a game object or game-like scenario that match or influence the thinking style of the students.

The SPECTATOR looks at how this is viewed from the outside. You look at facts and evidence, rather than opinion. They use data to argue facts.

The DREAMER is critical to developing new ideas and goals – to widen the areas of thought. These don’t have to be achievable or even real. To the dreamer, anything is possible. They are not constrained by reality or judgement or criticism. In students, this helps develop agency.

The REALIST is necessary as a means of transferring those ideas in concrete expression – defines actions to be taken. This means taking what is being communicating and un-packing it using cognitive knowledge and skills. What can be done in reality, and what is best left to the imagination. The problem with realists is that if they don’t learn to balance what CAN be done with what is imagined, hypothesised and unreal, is that they become lock-stepped by narrow thinking. In other words, even the most realistic and pragmatic, need to act as if anything is possible more often.

The CRITIC is necessary as a filter and as a stimulus to refinement – evaluates pay-offs and draw backs. This isn’t the hater, the non-participator or the saboteur who often uses rhetorical fallacies to assert their opinion. In Disney’s model, the are learning how to make arguments and predictions based on evidence presented and experience. They learn strategies for ‘what if’ problems occur or ‘how can’ we make this better.

So when we ask a question to direct children’s learning: there is a need to ensure that we communicate the problem and under pinning ideas and concepts such that they match or influence the thinking styles of children.

This is a common method used in German Engineering for example, but little known these days. It was a method used by Disney to create ideas and evaluate them towards a workable solution. It was used at the height of Disney’s studio system.

Benefits

  • Allows students to discuss an issue from 4 different methods (Spectators view, Dreamers View, Realisers view and Critics view).
  • Spectators view – look at problem analysis from the outside. It uses facts and data to make arguments  not opinions. For example. If trying to understand why countries go to war, children would look at data and facts external actual war. How many countries are at war, what was the longest war, the shortest. Which war has the most post-war problems or benefits (how can we tell). Looking at the problem from this perfective allows problem analysis.
  • Dreamers view – They ask what is the ideal, dream view of this solution if we made it. What is that we wish to happen. What is the extreme boundaries of our ambition. This is divergent thinking.
  • Realists view – Their job is to use convergent thinking. To look at the ideas presented, consider them mindfully with the spectators view and start to organise them such that they roughly appear as: done before, reasonably do-able now, could be done in the near future. They are not judging the dreamers, just helping to organise them. They would come up with a PLAN and they will have agreed and set CRITERIA. This helps students sift ideas and identify the most significant elements in the ideas. The PLAN is a set of steps to implement the IDEAS.
  • The Critics: Are looking at the risks and dangers, who would oppose the plan, what could be done to the plan to improve it. On what evidence should the plan be refined, rejected or implemented.

The Disney method was designed to be simple, and to allow teams to rapidly develop ideas and put forward workable plans for production, but also to ensure that the organisation had sufficient ‘dreams’ documented that could be revisited. This method was central to the development of much of Disney’s films, television, literature and theme parks.

I think that this method could be used towards games in the classroom. It could be applied to any topic, if presented as a problem – and even in PBL, it encourages teachers to approach the same problem in four ways using a method – it’s a way to overcome PBL fatigue where students quickly learn the seven steps and become bored with it.

How do we know you’re really serious this time?

You know that feeling, when you want to write about things that wash down the gutter of social edutainment channels. Oh, maybe you don’t … but there is an increasing amount of ‘game based learning’ debris floating past of late. Here are two things I think are fundamental to how educators think about games in learning.

First, the job of a game is to blur the lines between reality and fiction. Secondly, they are there to change the way the student perceives and interacts with the course.

This doesn’t require a computer, iPad or any other technological tool. It requires imagination – and work. New work, work no one’s going to Tweet @you for free either. It means getting up earlier, sleeping less and doing it because it’s the right thing to do – not because it adds to you’re CV or allows you to sandbag your power-tower.

In many ways, technology is the villain here, not the hero – and it seems apt that the protagonists of techno-learning experiments (students) are set to un-cover some big-fat lies as they sail down the educational canals. Little has changed and even less is ‘new’. Sadly, a good deal of what used to be called Computer Science and Computer Aided Instruction has been told to wear a ballet-skirt and balance on a beach-ball for it’s keep.

The computer was never going to make students smarter or more successful, but to give the student some agency over what is presented as ‘real and ‘true’. That’s what I do as a parent – we use it to poke a digital-stick and the world and to learn from how it reacts.

For example: Educational pundits have constantly used “the slippery slope” and “suppressed evidence” to get what they want, under the illusion that learning was ever remotely a perfectionist endevour. It’s messy and people get things wrong all the time. Wrong is not bad, or the opposite of Right – unless you’re willing to accept that rule.

Pundits have consistently avoided games for the last decade for a good reason. In a culture where false dilemmas and new idioms are sufficient to maintain power-hierarchies, it became lucrative to act as propaganda agents and as a result, many full time staff or evidence-based researcher are now left wonder what the revolution happened to scholarship and ethics.

Games in education, yes please – but not supplied by same people who blew billions on … well