Why Minecraft is better than Blues Clues (and school)

There is substantial disagreement and controversy about video games and childhood. Common criticisms of children’s media use is that it displaces other activities believed to be beneficial such as outdoor play; homework and leisure reading. Video games are subjected to claims made about television such as they lower academic achievement, to which scholars have plausibly argued academically challenged children are drawn to television and as a leisure time activity in the first place. In addition the correlation between TV and achievement has also been shown to include another significant variable – household income. Lower income households tend to watch more TV and also score lower of tests compared to higher income counter-parts.

Media has been used to address this before and it works. I’ll use the example of Blue Clues as most parents will recognise it. The creators’ and producers’ goals were to “empower, challenge, and build the self-esteem of preschoolers”. Admittedly Minecraft didn’t set out to do this, or even be played by pre-schoolers — but I’d argue it is achieving exactly the same goal though it’s enthusiastic media-based community. At the same time, there are more paths to follow than the MinecraftEdu one (not that it’s a bad path). I’m amazed that Mojang hasn’t called me, but hey I totally get why. They stand in a unique position to do some serious social good here, as well as make even more money. Call me fellas, seriously.

Video games are routinely associated with television as though these devices are comparable because of ‘time spent’ in front of the screen. I’m arguing that time-spent with screens promoting learning and improving childrens’ creativity and computational thinking is never a waste of time or resources. It just dry minds that consider fun and entertainment as separate from learning and school. Parents don’t — that has been shown over and over into research about parent belief towards what is ‘good for kids’ – Blue Clues certainly — and Minecraft … well maybe … if parents understand how to regulate it and put it to work and not use it to babysit. Using Minecraft to babysit is a really BAD idea by the way — and not bad addictive bad, bad because it creates high levels of the stuff Blues Clues aims for in a matter of weeks.

Minecraft discussions cannot overlook that many kids from lower-income families are using it instead of television — and if we are to maintain that TV and Games are the two big uses of screen time, then like watching Blues Clues has shown these pre-schoolers may well have higher levels of school readiness than those who do not — and those who only watch Blue Clues or other TV material. Are you with me here Mr Robertson?

When TV when is being used to deliberately to teach though fun and entertainment has positive effects on kids. It been shown that this positive effect is MOST beneficial to kids from lower-income backgrounds. Access to TV has been seen as a cheap and effective way to ‘educate’ those who are at most disadvantage.

When pre-schoolers are playing Minecraft and not watching Blues Clues, Dora or other TV-edu-material — do you think it is making them less or more ready for school? And what about our own ABC? What are they doing in the Minecraft (or other commercial game) space … well aside from Good Game Spawn Point MC maps — not a lot which is shame, all be it a temporary one I hope.

Now here’s the kicker Mr Robertson. Those kids arriving in school at the age of 5, from low income and media poor families can get an accelerant from Minecraft that they wont get from Blues Clues or other edu-watch-me media. They don’t need to have the cognitive and kinaesthetic skills needed to operate network (I can’t log in! Where’s the start-menu! I cant read the letters!) computers Just put an Xbox in the room and a set of well thought out activities and suddenly those kids are capable of rising to the levels of literacy, design and computational thinking that we’d normally attribute (though the literature) to high quality educational programs enjoyed by the better off in society. Not developing Xbox (or other) programs for kids (especially poor kids is brain-missing. Tapping into cultural literacy which is fun, entertaining and cheap makes a cubic world of sense.

The problem is that school culture continue sto connect media-research with gaming effectively and buy-into over simplistic (and unproven) rhetoric around ‘app culture’. The price of one fly-in-fly out powerpoint jockey to tell us about blah blah apps would seed some serious funding for development and research. Oh yes we want video games in schools … because so far the other option hasn’t worked for those kids who are at most risk.

Yes I’ll move to Dundee.

Using Duck Duck Go for more private search

I know there are many search engines which offer alternatives to Google. I also know that Google has become a verb and that most people gravitate to it without too much concern about why Google is showing you this particular information (and ads) and how much of what you do is shared with it’s vast network. With Google search embedded into corporate websites for search too — it seems that even if you go direct to a site, chances are your search, location and history is shared for future commercial interests.

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 12.35.20 PMWhy am I showing you Duck Duck Go then? Well first up, it’s a Google friendly search layer, which says it doesn’t share your information with Google. I use a VPN a lot of the time, and Google hates it. One reason to use Duck Duck Go seems to be less whining from Google about “we can’t tell who you are”. Next up, it integrates into Chrome with ease. Lastly, it’s fast and has some user-friendly options to help filter your experience. I’ve started to notice, ironically via Google Analytics that Duck Duck Go appears more and more often as an organic search origin. Admittedly my traffic is very small, but never the less people do seem to be using it. A recent article in the Guardian broadens out their business model if you’re interested.

For parents and educators, the choice about where to go to find information as well as the tools used to do is not limited to Apple, Google or Microsoft. While I recognised the marketing mission to see these things installed in schools as firmly as bells and stackable chairs — Duck Duck Go as a default browser will disrupt commercial agendas — and the results of the search are far less media-laden.

Notice what it calls BANGS. These are things you can toggle on an off as sources for the search itself. There are hundreds to choose from, including those we know people use most often. One thing which is really useful is “Show Meanings”.

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 12.35.45 PMWe know from research that first-page results has a huge influence on people’s perceptions of information-importance. It’s also the central mechanism Google use to eek out money from advertisers. To get on the first page (CPC) search requires money. You’d be amazed how much, even for obscure terms. The lucky highest bidder will be surrounded by secondary advertising too, so ultimately even if you rank first, you’re never alone. For students, it’s very distracting at best.

Simply displaying information differently — like this — will cause students to wonder why it’s not the same as Google, and that is an opportunity. One way to expand this important realisation is to talk about “The bubble” which Google puts people inside. A great way to do that is to look at the “Don’t Bubble Us” site, which has some great (simple) example graphics to talk about.

I wish I’d had more of this kind of technology several years ago. Tools such as Duck Duck Go would have been in my SOE because ethically there are HUGH issues with the commercialisation of children though technology (and information). The idea that information — what you can and can’t see should be based on your current circumstances, location and available history is as dark as any dystopian novel has eluded to. I am not saying avoid commercial tools — but do come up with an argument as to why not positively considering alternatives to Google Search is “good practice” and not just “yes, I told them”.

Mockingjays

A few years back, Will Richardson punched up a screen shot of Fan Fiction as an illustration of how passionate people are creating and sharing stories based on the works of published writers. He was saying that everyone (with a computer or mobile phone) has immediate, low cost and simple access to create content in ways that a decade earlier didn’t exist.
I’d like to show you a site that I think illustrates where we are at today – though the work of three awesome young people.

It’s called Mockingjay a fansite based around Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I experienced the anticipation from hundreds of fans, waiting in the line for the final installment – Tweeting and updating their Facebook status’ “Got It!” – as it book went on sale.

It is a site that should be pushed in front of every ‘yeah but’ HSC English teacher in my view.

The community is run by Kimmy (17) @kimmymary, JD (19) @jdhopper and Becka (19) @beckag. It’s been around for a while, and I seriously doubt it was ever a prescribed class text or a class assignment.

“The bird, the pin, the song, the berries, the watch, the cracker, the dress that burst into flames. I am the mockingjay. The one that survived despite the Capitol’s plans. The symbol of the rebellion.”

It expertly demonstrates how young people can create a critical community, converging several streams of media around a shared passion (Mockingjay has a Facebook audience of over 8000). Their podcasts are expertly produced, the site design, beautifully executed. They even consider accessibility (something edu-podcasters often don’t) with each podcast being transcribed. There is always something new to read, something to do, and their passion promotes new creativity and ideas in the gambet of media that Will was talking about just a few years ago.

Mockingjay demonstrates how the multi-tasking generation understands social media convergence. I would love to see what they would do with a virtual world — maybe I’ll ask them.

http://www.youtube.com/mockingjaynet

http://www.twitter.com/mockingjaynet

http://www.mockingjay.net/

EVE of new literature

This post is something that hit the cutting room (word count) floor in the “Learning in Virtual Worlds” volume I’ve been writing with Judy O’Connell, but I think it’s worth sharing. The focus is to look at just how much you can do with a ‘free trail’ to an online game – and in fact never play the game.

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Gaming online invariably offers a ‘free trial’. This is very handy for schools – who might sign students up for Mathletics, but a game such as EVE Online is unlikely to get a run. For one thing, some of the ‘content’ is a little ‘dark’, but never the less is no more apocalyptic than novels such as Bladerunner. It seems that narratives in writing, take on new ideology when played out online. But games are now online and millions of teens ‘play’ them – and socialise.

MMOs lead themselves to Digital Story Telling – and though as not seen as a ‘tool’ as such, and maybe could be added to Alan Lavine’s 50 ways to tell a story. They are both the tool and the media – the imperative to use them – is motivation and interest. We are at a point in educational technology where we should at least be exploring where virtual worlds are fitting into learning – as students increasingly move to MMOs, creating new communities as part of the social network nexus.

Clarance Fisher posted “Events are new. Events are different and exciting. Events are something we take part in and play a role in. Then when we put a bunch of events together, they build up into an experience. I would much rather that students have an “experience” of something rather than “study” something.”

EVE Online provides a range of multi-demensional experiences and within a ‘free’ trail, teachers could easily use it to engage students in a range of experiences and discussions. For example, without playing the game; create a comic strip or explore identity and representation using the narratives from the eBooks and screenshots provided in the site. Students can read the stories, or add their own new race to the back story. Of course doing any of this requires the teacher to be digitally literate themselves – and schools need to create opportunities to ‘discover’ these teaching tools.

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Teachers could explore some of the narriatives; and suggest how the writer in (or is not) talking about things science is interested in, or how science affects natural evolution. EVE has a range of stories – sections of which will resonate with student interest such as

The Kameiras are one of the products of the infamous Human Endurance Program (H.E.P.) that the Amarr ran on their Minmatar slave populace. It began as an attempt to measure the Minmatar tribes’ durability and effectiveness when it came to various labor tasks – to see how far they could be pushed before breaking, much like a tool would be stress-tested. Over time it evolved into much more than that, becoming a tale of horror for the Minmatar as Amarr scientists began to explore the true limits of their body and psyche.”

Games, far being from a waste of time, are highly motivating and well thought out. The collatoral activities such as the art; concept; stories; forums and film that many ‘fans’ create provide a rich source of stimulus materials than can be easily recycled in cross-curricula approaches. Looking beyond ‘its a game and not appropriate’ allows teachers to see that what is happening in them is much more than ‘pac-man’. The offer rich resource materials, which is often literature – outside the game, but connected with it. We have to then think that a great deal of creative expression in the future will include MMO experiences, but not be limited to it. If anything MMOs generate more artistic and creative work that crush it.

EVE Online is one example of hundreds of ‘worlds’. They offer teachers opportunities to use the ‘burr’ of motivation; to connect wider learning activities – from science to design, music to personal development. There is a dimension that can be exploited – without necessarily ‘playing’ the game itself. But we have to look beyond the prescribed texts and start to notice how literature is changing, and being used differently – and ‘building literate communities beyond the classroom”

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Realism, Relevance, Retention

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This is a bit of a passion piece, but I think it’s important to say. I listened to some of the audience’s questions during Will Richardson’s presentation in Sydney last Friday. As ever Will was pulling out the main issues that face parents and teachers. As ever, some questions were very specific ‘which blog do I use’ or system-damming ‘but it’s blocked’ and ‘but I don’t have time’.

The Industrialist 3Rs (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic), are still being cited as the capstones of learning –  when learning is cited as ‘failing’-  the call is to go back to basics – as if technology is somehow disconnected from these things. Learning with technology is part of the ‘digitial’ 3Rs – realism, relevance and retention. These are things to strive for in relation to a broader array of classroom activities. They are enhancing the capabilities of gifted teachers, not displacing them. But even motivated teachers find it difficult to access professional learning that is going to allow them to learn to do it. We have the ability to transform learning  and increase motivation though technology, and still address traditional ‘values’.

Imagine a global virtual world in which students have to negotiate through the complex politics surrounding a wildlife habitat construction project in the developing world, making the case for its economic and environmental benefits. Students take on the ‘role’ of diverse stakeholders, and though classroom research – the can role-play, using exploratory and explicit learning to put forward their solution for a negotiated outcome. They interact in a virtual world, develop models and ideas – blended these with reflection and discussion in other online media such as a blog or wiki to collect and justify their collective action.

picture-11We now have 6Rs, Reading; Writing; Arithmetic; Realism; Relevance and Retention. The above experience can be created using a range of technologies; MeetSee, Edublogs; Skype; Google Docs etc., and easily blended into the classroom. Teachers can connect with other schools (see Jenny Luca’s recent presentation), and can easily ‘chat’ using very low bandwidth, low-tech web tools such as Tiny Chat. In primary years, this can be created with Quest Atlantis, or ever the excellent eKidnaworld (an Australian parent developed virtual world – that needs your support!).

What is critical is that teachers have access to ongoing ‘mentors’ that can show them how to create this – though adaptation of existing, readily available technologies.

To be effective, teachers need to learn about more than Bloom’s taxonomy, but to learn how to develop learning frameworks that contructively align outcomes (what do we want them to learn), activities (how to be create motivating classrooms) and assessment (how to we know they did it). Teachers also need to learn about ‘communication’ with digital media. More often that not, they focus on ‘marking’, and not ‘talking with’ students using more informal strategies.

So before teachers begin to utilize new laptops and faster networks, there remains a huge need to help schools develop goal-orientated, achievable learning frameworks to renew curricula, and will place valid, relevant arguments to the Department of Education as to why students need to access curricula that motivates. Duty of care relates to a physical state, not a virtual one.

The current policy of ‘banning’ sites is at best inconsistent. Are schools breaching Google’s AUP in schools?. If a child is bullied on their way home on a mobile phone – does the school breach it’s duty of care? If someone complains about a ‘blog’ then, despite following policy,are teachers are left at the mercy of the legal system? In short, unless ‘we’ move to a  position where we have effective policy, effective leadership, professional learning and on the ground ‘help’ for teachers, we might as well return to the 3Rs of the 1950s. We will fail and continue to orbit the issues and not end the digital winter. The best professional learning is happening inside personal networks, not systemic ones – and I don’t see any movement forward in public schools.

The DET needs to be brave, it needs to release teachers to mentor based professional learning, and link that with clear assessment via the NSW Institute of Teachers, in co-operation with the Teaching Unions to ensure equity. Instead we find Queensland and Western Australia blocking Quest Atlantis (as the data is held off-shore) and the DET using Twitter to make announcements, but blocks it in school. In short it is a mess and the debate over laptops and school intrastructure is meaningless unless clear policy and action is taken at DET level. I’d love to have that conversation.

Will’s session was another demonstration that teachers want to learn, but lack access to people who can help curriculum leaders, libraries and classroom teachers renew curricula and develop 21st Century pedagogy. There is no preparation for the introduction of fibre connectivity or laptops in the classroom, and well over a decade since the DET ‘re-trained’ teachers.

Realism is not present; what we are doing is no longer realistic. Relevance; current professional learning is limited to policy implementation. Retention; motivated teachers are ‘expelled’ by systems unable to recognise the significance of what they are trying to do. In our desire to be equitable, we fail students. Access to powerful professional learning and therefore powerful schools is increasingly limited by geography and social capital. Bringing any scale to what is a massive problem is difficult in Australia, imagine how much more complex it is in the UK or USA.

However, I wonder at what point someone (maybe me?) form some organisation to deliver 21st Century Learning in whole school, public access level in Australia. PLNs are great, but I think that we need to start something far more significant, that is recognised as professional learning and in some way aligned to recognition and motivation, and in such a way that it transcends the organic and provides constructive advice, policy and lobby for change.

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Leadership 2.0

I listened this week to people talking again about the ‘skills’ students need as 21st Century Learners. They spoke of their frustration that their community leaders didn’t ‘get it’. This made me think about the polorisation they were discussing; advocates talk of media literacy and collaboration while many schools focus on ‘skills’ that deliver the current measure of attainment – examinations. So what makes a ‘great’ leader?

picture-31Firslty I think they demonstrate an understanding that‘skills’ are a continuum that ranges from ‘reproductive’ to ‘productive’. Reproductive requires students to repeat a set performance to required standard. Productive requires students to apply their knowledge and skills to new situations that may be unique in that context. While technology that is powering social media and connected learning makes productive not just possible, but easy – we still have to recognise that to do so they need reproductive skills to be learned and practiced – and curriculum leaders that can understand that relationship – not just do as they are told – they have to know it.

In this regard I don’t support the ‘either or’ approach to learning. I get a chill when people talk about a ‘model’. We live in times where schools have to take new risks and media literate curriculum leaders need to be installed to  inspire, advocate and bring new ideas to what has been essentially a reproductive approach to learning. Chris Lehmann leads by doing – and the culture that he creates fuels the wider community. You have to ask – does yours? if not, what can you do about that?

Your childs curriculum leader should be talking to parents and staff about

  • Students interpreting situations;
  • Calling up knowledge of strategies and procedures to solve problems;
  • Students planning their responses – setting their own goals and asking their own questions;
  • Students performing – delivering on the continuum – demonstrating collaboration, social sensitivity, fluidity – whatever may be characteristics of skilled performance identified.

If they are not creating opportunities to talk about these things with parents and staff – then don’t be suprised if little changes in anything they ‘control’. We need to design learning better and deliver reproductive skills by teachers who do that well, and pass productive skill based activities to others who are more media literate and understand how to leverage Web2.0 technologies. We don’t need to be ‘either or’ or ‘model’ something that has worked in the past, in another context. That is a huge risk and huge strain on everyone. We need people who can assess risks, take a change, but not be polarized or paraluysed by their decisions. “Risk recovery is more important that failure avoidance” as the guy from Pixar says. PBL is not a panacea for learning in the 21st Century any more than technology, the internet or laptops are. It’s the degree to which the curriculum leader can understand and mange students on the skills continuum.

Skilled curriculum leaders are using frameworks:

  • to allow self-instruction;
  • intensive reproductive learning workshops;
  • workplace and authentic experiences to apply productive learning.
2nd half of 14th century
Image via Wikipedia

They must be talking clearly about the limitations of resource-based learning and the benefits of embedding flexibility in the programme of study. The must place value on the preparation of materials for resource based learning and offer flexible delivery options. For example – discipline intensive workshops, online self-exploration, and practical constructive.

Students need to select how best to learn – and not be placed into ‘either or’ situations, or no choice at all. I don’t think one teacher should be pressuring another is a productive use of time. They should want to do it, and understand why – because of the leadership. You simply don’t need ‘everyone’ – but you do need to elevate people who do amazing things with technology and renewed pedagogy to positions where they can influence. Right now, we still appoint people on time served and qualifications, and that is no longer a valid indicator of leadership ability.

I sympathise with the comments I listened to this week. Change in teachers, or even in groups of teachers – must be recognised, valued and enriched. In 2009, though the number of teachers who have extended their own continuum is growing, sadly the furstrations I am hearing have changed little in the last few years. How do we infuse curriculum leaders? How do we break the glass ceiling? How do we get then to authenitcally join the conversation?.

I think this is a powerful conversation we need to have again and again this year.

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Never mind the blogging …

A few people have been talking about ‘the end of blogging’, suggesting that the rise of more micro-blogging platforms such as Twitter has transformed the exchange of information and communication.

The ‘end of blogging’ discussion is akin to that of the ‘end of the long copy advertisement‘, which has be raging for decades.

One of the texts I remember in Ad-School was first published in 1938, and continuously modified in the following decades. “Tested Advertising Methods” by John Caples. He mentions about writing

“Ads with lots of facts are effective. And don’t be afraid of long copy. If your ad is interesting, people will read all the copy you can give them. If the ad is dull, short copy won’t save it.”

David Ogilvy, in 1963 commented

“Research shows that readership falls off rapidly up to 50 words of copy, but drops very little between 50 and 500 words. In my first Rolls Royce advertisement I used 719 words—piling one fascinating fact on another.”

In 1963, most people read newspapers and long copy ads were perfectly acceptable, predominantly full of ‘important’ facts – to sell an idea or product.

20 years later, Ogilvy explained why they still worked

“I believe, without any research to support me, that advertisements with long copy convey the impression that you have something important to say, whether people read the copy or not. Direct response advertisers know that short copy doesn’t sell. In split run tests, long copy invariably outsells short copy.”

We are immersed in media that knows and exploits that we are essentially ‘difference’ engines. We notice things that are ‘wrong’ or opposite to the expected perception. They are smothered with aspiration, sexuality and cultural semantic devices – in the hope, we will ‘read their message’ before the next one a few moments later.

Retention in advertising and education is desirable, yet conflicting.

In doing this, the media are very comfortable to rehash, remix and leverage past media messages – and often blatantly rips off the work of artists in the process. Few are making the effort to create new ideas in the way Ewan McIntosh is attempting at 4ip. But then again, it takes a stack of cash too, and that is not something education can draw on.

We then wonder why teens find it acceptable to do the same – remash, repurpose, rip off – and call it evidence of learning.

We constantly devalue communication by taking shortcuts. Students are continually exposed to commercial ‘push’ content, who’s sole intent is retention through differentiation. I learned in advertising that very few copywriters are great at the long copy ad and just about everyone thought they could write a short ad.

A short ad is star burst  information usually designed, like Twitter, to grab your attention to do one action in just a few words. As the price of media placement falls and the opportunities increase – they can blast us more often. The long ad strives to inform you of much deeper thoughts, and relies on accuracy and relevance. It contains much more information. You don’t advertise using long copy to teens. They are conditioned to receiving short, sharp busts of information – which they cope with by learning to multi-task.

picture-2Educators never needed to market themselves in K12 – they have tenture! We never needed to allow for multi-tasking or digitally media ‘savvy’ read/write/create learning environments.

Teachers always set the agenda and the pace and held the keys to formal learning. Web2.0 is then a disruptive technology. People have become brands and brands now leverage popular culture and visual imagery to grab your attention. The messages are no longer about, as Oglivy said, “piling one fascinating fact on another”‘.  Like it or not – educators have to ‘sell’ learning in new ways, using new approaches and help learners make sense of it all.

Today’s teens are fed a daily diet of  instant, franchised information – short messages that have specific intentions – few of which worry too much about being un-biased, impartial, ethical, moral or accurate. The result has been a generation who now ‘skim’ content, not critically analyse it.

Ever seen a teen read a game manual before playing the game?

In 140 characters I can make a point, shout or push a link, but I really hope that people don’t pass the idea to students that ‘blogs’ – or more specifically – extended writing is not relevant or worse –  as long as you can short message and skim, you’ll succeed.

What comes after this

picture-4I despair at teacher’s who think that PBL or Instructional is ‘the’ way that teaching will go in the next decade. That is naive to say the least and hardly worth beating your chest over. Learning is blended. I think that no matter what approaches you want to use – effective teaching demands that you are media literate – and so are your students.

This is the to me the most significant issue – not the style of delivery. You can be as passionate as all hell about your ‘method’, but if you are not media literate, online and in the global conversations, you are not going to be as effective as students need you to be.

Sorry if that cuts into your idea of what your ‘teaching job is’ right now. But there it is. It is not enough to do in 2009 what you did in the decade before. It is not enough to only change if the syllabus changes or you need to be compliant.

Technology transformed the possibilities. Now we have to re-think and talk about how to stay on top of it. Connectivism is in effect and that delivers connected, networked new knowledge.

Learning needs to be blended, multi-modal and fluid and connected. Technology is ubiquitous in this process. Learning will be instructional and inquiry based – synchronous and asynchronous. It will be virtual and distance, it will be digital and face to face – because it is already.

That is a BIG problem. Not enough teachers have any understanding of the complexity of that last paragraph. Those that do are often not empowered to deliver it beyond their classroom. Teaching as we have known it is doomed to fail if we don’t gain traction. The Titanic was unsinkable technology, the world economy was stable, and no US President would use a line from Bob The Builder to win office. Change is quick and doesn’t care if you agree anymore.

As a rough rule of thumb, I would suggest that a school’s capacity to renew curriculum and explore alternate approaches to learning is directly proportionate to the amount of people who are ‘media literate’ and active online.

I then wonder, given the limited time everyone who can do that has, how it can be done.

picture-5That was a conversation I have this week with Dr Ian Solomonides, who is the acting Director of the Learning and Teaching Centre at Macquarie University. I asked him how K12 teachers could connect with Higher Education, so that their interventions with technology could be assisted, supported or studied by Higher Education. I thought maybe this would strengthen the recognition that those who work K12 are doing.

I was half expecting not to get a concrete answer, but Ian explained about a global group looking at online learning and collaboration based in Australia, the Omnium Group.

Omnium is a research group of academics, designers, artists, programmers and writers who work collaboratively (and from different countries) to explore the potential the Internet allows for what we term – online collaborative creativity (OCC).

As I start working in Higher Education, I am more aware of people talking about Universities being last to take a seat at the table, but this does not mean that there isn’t progress or interest. They, like K12, have academics and lecturers that are passionate about the changes that technology brings and the laggards. Like K12, the issues of taking change to the people, thousands of people, is a challenge. As Ian said this week,

“we know we have to do this, but we are few and they are many, so we have to be strategic in where we do it, how we do it and then to make sure what we do is significant enough that it is maintained.”

Isn’t this the same dialogue in K12?. Hmm, I thought, same issues – but the terms of reference for a large Institution like Macquarie University – which in itself is under going massive changes are different. In this regard, storming the school Firewall Nazi’s office or flash mobbing un-cooperative curriculum laggards seems easier. But I guess there has to be evolution, not revolution, so I’ll put my stick down.

How important are connections between K12, TAFE and Higher Education – are we are all now in the same orbit when it comes to change?.

Write a book in a day

04112008561Day 1 of the ‘Book in a Day’ creative writing project with 9th graders ended in an almost party like atmosphere from the 60 students who took part today. The final hour had 60 students in one big room, furiously working in groups to finalise their work and publish it.

The scene reminded me of the buzz that advertising studios generate in the final moments before some suited up account representative takes the creative thoughts of the writers and designers to pitch for the account.

What also stuck me was the organisational skills and co-operative skills that the students have.

04112008558No teacher was pushing them along or giving motivational speeches. From the moment Lucy Gresser posted the days work groups, the kids threw everything at it. Even the students that tend to lurk on the very brink of engagement usually, were sucked into the vortex of creative writing that was going on.

We presented a short video montage of themes from Orwell’s Animal Farm – spliced between images taken in Second Life from Tempura Island (a recent field trip with the Jokaydians). This was the visual base from which they had to produce a book – on a given theme – 8000 words. The students almost fell off their seats when seeing that – 8 0 0 0 words? – it looked impossible – and in a single day – madness, but we are  giving them a summative writing test in a day. We thought they could do it, now they had to believe it too.

We didn’t want them to start getting into graphic design, so the supplied material negated them spending time there. The end product would be a simple 5.5″ x 8.5″ book, with a title cover and about 12 pages in which 6 students developed their storyline – and each took equal share of creative writing – 1000 words each, or approximately 2 pages of writing.

04112008556Two pages of creative writing might now sound too much, but to get 9th grade boys to undertake such a thing is, in my experience, a rare thing.

We are so used to seeing students produce reports and recounts – using crutches like Google and Wikipedia, that the work done recently in community blogging in their Green Up project – gave them the confidence to engage with the task.

The way in which we’re designing projects and lessons is delivering confidence, engagement and a sense of adventure in learning – or at least that is the feedback that students are giving us. They bail staff up and talk about ‘learning’ and Gavin Hayes reported last week how he overheard kids at the cricket nets discussing teaching approaches between classes, and which worked best.

The students are very aware of what good teaching and learning is, and that accountability fuels the enthusiasm of the teacher. 9th grade is often a difficult grade, and our school used to be a proof of that. Now, we have learners, not issues.

They are reflective writers now, so this project is pushing them into being creative too. The year long skills that they have developed, under the project leadership of their teachers, especially Lucy Gresser in English was paid back in a single day it seems.

The boys know how to collaborate and share information and ideas and the groups took several different approaches to the task.

One, for example, decided that they would co-operatively create the first ‘chapter’ of a thousand words. From that they each took a subsequent chapter individually. This approach they thought would give them some common unity and style, so the remainder of the writing would be much more connected.

These are decisions that they can now make as they are experienced in what makes collaboration work. They are now a long way from the prior norms where a few do the majority of the work and the other coast along for the ride. They all WANT to contribute – and support each other using the critial friends process that they have been taught all year.

The know how to use a GoogleDoc and share it to speed up their effectiveness – they can throw 8000 words into InDesign in half an hour and format a publication. Their fluency between technologies now affords them methods of collaboration to manage time, pace and delivery.

04112008557During the day, it is significant that Google was not a tool that students used. There was no desire to try and ‘find answers’  or short cuts.

I think that the way in which the English projects have been designed and presented to students in the last 6 months have sufficiently promoted individual thinking and writing that to a large extent, students no longer see Googling as the best way to learn. They may hit it for quick facts, but do not rely on it anymore. That to me is a massive shift away from prior ‘norms’ that we saw in 9th Grade ICT based classrooms.

Lucy is writing up the more literacy aspects of today on her blog, so I’ll link there, where she has also posted up some examples of the work the students did today.

All 14 groups posted their work on time, which is 112,000 words. The next step is to work with them to extend the project in terms of design and publishing – and post the combined works on Lulu for purchase and download by their families – and of course the world.

Day 2 will see some 80 students do the same summative task – and I’m really pleased to know that Judy O’Connell will be sparing some time to come and get involved in the afternoon!

I am finding that students work really well in carefully planned tasks that have a sense of urgency and deadlines about them. We’re finding that 2 week projects appear to yeild higher engagement than 4 or even 6 weeks. Lucy is also very adept at using a range of formative methods – this is a critical teaching skill to ensure that her classes are not only meeting outcomes – but also demonstrating sound knowledge of the syllabus content.

If there’s one critisism of project based learning I have – it is in teachers being able to track and evidence syllabus content as well as meeting outcomes. There is a danger that ‘content’ is glossed over in the desire to have a ‘cool end product’. This isn’t something that is happening – and I think that using Web2.0 tools makes the formative work far more transparent, than if students were using more tradtional PBL approaches, but it does take a lot of strategic planning to build that into activities – the results however, are worth it. To see these students work right through recess and lunch, almost oblivious to it, and then to end the day so enthusiastic is amazing.