Apple and Google don’t really care about game content.

This week, a mobile video game has received a lot of media attention. The game has now been removed from Apple and Google’s online stores after a social media based campaign  highlighted the outrageous material, which deliberately named and represented in game characters ‘aboriginal’ and required the player, at some point in the game, to ‘kill’ them. You can read about this, and what Google and Apple did here.

This is a failure of governance. Apple and Google are under no obligation to ‘review’ any game against the Australian Classification board associated with film, television, consoles and computer games. Secondly, the material content in this game plays out in numerous other mediums such as film and television quite differently. Numerous TV drama’s have shown people from different cultural and social groups beaten and killed for entertainment. For the cowboy to save the day, there have to be ‘bad guys’ to shoot and we watch the hero put down ‘bad guys’ from first person angles constantly.

The outrage against this game is of itself part of the interactive entertainment discourse in which interactive entertainment has been represented as MORE dangerous than other media.

Social media – and the public sphere is now in a constant state of outrage. Most people in Australia have watched a TV show and seen a movie where anti-social behavior is amplified to a point where they find it repugnant and vile. Of course TV and film have avenues of complaint, but will push the moral and social boundaries in pursuit of their art. For example, the BBC seem to relish drama which boarders on the horrific and sick, shot in moody half-tones, where animals and humans are tortured and abused. Robson Green is an actor who appears time an again in this ultra-violent dramas – but no one’s running a petition to ban Robson Green or have him reform his thinking. Apple and Google similarly claim they are ‘actors’ and not the producers.

At no point am I suggesting that this game has any merit at all. But this outrage should be applied to ALL games which Apple and Google publish, circumventing scrutiny and responsibly with what I’ll call the “Robson Green clause”.

While I think the correct decision was to remove this game (which is not a BAN in the sense that it has broken any law) the issue remains that media violence in other media is pervasive and remains the biggest concern of parents when it comes to allowing children to watch TV or see movies. In fact parents are far less worried about video games than film or TV – a point the media often gloss over in pursuit of an easy panic-piece.

The evening news offers thin warnings before launching into highly graphic images in order to ignite particular fears and responses, just a TV drama casts the audience as passive observers or all manner of horrific acts — as part of leisure time ‘fun’.

Last week I watched a panel presenter on  entertainment show #theprojecttv ask a woman (who filmed her now deceased baby, coughing with whooping cough). In the live cross, he asked the woman – what it was like to watch her baby in that condition?  — clearly inferring, – watching your baby die?. The director had already cut to the woman to capture her emotional response. Why did he ask this and not some other question at this time? Because it’s high drama to see the poor woman’s eyes well up when re-visiting a traumatic and devastating moment. This is entertainment, with a superimposed #theprojecttv hashtag silently asking for responses – but for what useful purpose?

I found it at best ignorant and at worse – violent. The premise of the bit-piece was that a “woman released a video of her baby with whooping cough to raise awareness” – the Robson Green clause again.

To me, the biggest question here is why Google and Apple are not subject media regulation in their ‘apps’? After all, they want to be part of society and cannot simply expect to profit from it without being held accountable – like the rest of us.

Apple and Google avoid it, because ‘video games’ are simply ‘software’ and stand outside legislation. Banning the game is simply a response to both companies expending social capital in the backlash — and so seek to reduce it and of course, avoid any comment. In fact, neither company report statistics on ‘game sales’ at all. They don’t have to, so while you read about the market-size of video games — these figures don’t include anything more than a guess or a a tidbit of data dropped by some marketing guy.

The CTIA – The Wireless Association, an industry trade group, collaborated with the ESRB to largely apply ESRB’s rating system to mobile devices. It was launched in 2011, with Apple and Google being notable abstentions from subscribing companies.

The question now becomes: why are these media giants avoiding their corporate responsibility towards mobile games – at the whole of market level – and what can the public sphere do to make them provide transparent vetting of games?

Don’t be fooled, this is not an oversight. Both companies make (but are not reporting) a lot of money from mobile games. Both companies have created their own ‘rating’ guide and refuse to participate in any third-party regulatory body. Therefore, the content of any game (which children and adults can access) goes though no useful ‘vetting’ as the ‘spokesman’ puts it. — And I’m talking here about the MATERIAL — whereas there are clearly some games which promote alarming behavior in players – such as habitual use, paid leveling and in-game purchase regimes.

It would be great to see ‘journalists’ try and put this debate to these corporations — and not to take the easy story about material content, which no doubt they picked up on from the re-share rate on Facebook and Twitter.

The mobile game market is a huge problem and needs far more scrutiny than it’s getting.





How can we help you to learn with mobiles – PBL project

One of the fantastic project based learning solutions that came out of our Massively Productive #red project with K12 distance and rural educators was “How can we help you learn with mobiles”.

The problem statement surrounds the high numbers of students simply don’t respond to using a learning management system. They don’t log in, rendering all the instructional designed course beyond  unprofitable. This problem leads to a series of escalating pleas, threats and punitive measures which are largely ignored in a game of distance cat and mouse. As the project sketch played out, discussions turned to the transmissive use of SMS messages by schools. It seems most schools use SMS to tell parents that students are not attending school, however the gateway is not used in duplex – students can’t SMS teachers. The irony is that mobiles are banned for students  yet assumed that parents have them – as this is useful to the functional needs of school administration and proof of action. Mass SMS-ing, I am lead to believe is common practice at high public cost with un-reported results in it’s impact on improving student performance or attendance. It obviously ticks a complience box, but if this is all mobiles and SMS is seen as useful for, it’s quite depressing.

Giving students the teacher’s mobile was seen as risky, as was holding the student or parent mobile number on the teachers phone despite this information often being available via administration systems to teachers to call them. The convention is to use the official school phone to contact, or rely on the school SMS gateway to transmit a punitive message to the parent, which one assumes is then relayed to the child – assuming that is possible. In many cases the parents ignore it as well.

The project, as always, needs to make a product, and a case to an audience. The idea was to look at how kids use their phones to learn and to communicate – bringing in aspects of recent events in the UK, how developing nations are using phones, and some quantitative research around the students and their community. This case would them be presented to the people who are running the SMS transmission gateway, in order to argue how it might be better used by students to access and participate in online learning – especially in areas where actually accessing a computer and the internet is proving inadequate.

What is impressive here, is that this project was rendered by a group of teachers, brand new to PBL, in a day as their first. It is wide enough to work at all ages and stages, it has ties to current issues, known frustrations and solves a very large problem that both teachers and students face. Best of all it takes the case to the people who make decisions, policy and rules about the use of phones. The group mapped the project it NSW BOS outcomes, ISTE NETs for students and ISTE NETs for teachers and suggested several great ways of assessing the project. Best of all, it drives an innovation – as the guiding questions use SMS for delivery and response to the students. You might think this is too simple or limited, given the access we have to LMS, blogs and wikis. Consider though, that very high numbers of students simple do not respond to anything. Responding via a text might well be the first level of engagement with learning they have had in a long time.

Gratz! to the group for working so hard. It illustrates just why PBL  allows teachers and students to find, and solve meaningful problems – not cover content-standards, but leads to visible social action.

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.

Hulu to the future?

I haven’t done an ‘I wonder’ post for a while, but a few things I’ve read this week lead me to wonder about what creates change, not just in school – but in our beliefs.

Few people will not have heard of the ABC or Disney. But what about Hulu? What if I was to say that Hulu is a TV channel that ABC and Disney have decided is a brand that they cannot effectively compete with, so is negotiating to work with in the future. “Disney made a bet three years ago that the strength of its ABC and Disney brands would be enough to attract online viewers, and so it chose not to participate in Hulu during its launch”. Is there any alignment here with the position that education systems are taking?, are they holding out that they would continue to attract students due to their heritage, should there be some alternate. What is amazing with stories like this is the speed at which millions of people move to new spaces and how powerless traditional media channels are in preventing it. With so much content heading to the web, and even CBBC focusing on their online delivery as a primary activity, with TV secondary, ending long running shows – as “children no longer saw themselves as exclusively schoolchildren”.

Content on mobile phones and netbooks used to be on the lounge room television. Increasing lower costs access to wifi with pre-paid and 3G wifi will sweep away metropolitan broadband ADSL, as more people lower home-consumption in favour of greater mobile. Mobile learning, with high quality content will increase as organisations like the BBC focus their attention on it’s development and delivery.

How will this affect students? Now they won’t need ‘your’ network or ‘your connection’, and will be sharing net access though informal, add-hock networking, using 3G and Bluetooth connectivity. 3G dongles look just like USB drives, but do remarkably more. Once they wanted SMS credit, now they want’web credit’. I see dozens of high school students on my trip from the Central Coast using mobile internet on their phones. They are not just texting, but emailing and chatting in IRC with Skype, and this is a big motivator for teens to have ‘smart phones‘. In fact now you send a txt message to get the URL of internet content. We are seeing TV increasingly interested in ‘virtual worlds’ and ‘online games’. A solo experience or game, as an add on for traditional TV and film marketing, is no longer enough.Advertisers know that we are connecting to each other, more than their messages, and know that social media is where their customers are – online and mobile.

New pre-school entertainment comes with ‘virtual world’ connections.- as they are painfully aware how tomorrows media-consumer is motivated. Anything that was on TV is now on your mobile – and more than likely connected to a massive mutliplayer environment. Few teachers are even beginning to think abut how this is going to impact them in the next 5 years. Much of the operational instruction we used to provide – such as information literacy and ‘computer mastery’ is being taught by online avatars and popular culture websites.



Students in Grange Hill in the late 70s, experienced classrooms and process of learning that has changed little in over 30 years. Yet the students in them are increasingly there because of ‘tenue’, and not motivation. We have more strategic, surface learners that deep, life long learners.

What do we have to do to ensure that ‘schools’ are the best ‘channel’ for learning? It seems entirely possible that something could appear in education from an unconventional quarter. It is happening everywhere else, ask the Mouse, who has several ‘virtual magic kingdoms’. If encumbent, successful, organisations are being unseated from their traditional markets, will they education be seen as an opportunity? Will the slow change and lack of central government investment see schools being commercialised? Well maybe, it’s here already with McDonalds, free online software for schools. The media was fixated with facile ‘McSchool’ jokes, or if burgers would be advertised, once again showing how out of step they are with reality. Of course McDonalds software is FREE – it’s online, and online is predominently ‘free’. A paid model is not how it works anymore. We have Google ‘educators’ already, and Apple have been claiming ‘Apple Schools’ for years.

I wonder how near we really are to the Florida Virtual High School, If the AIS and Catholic Education Offices are talking to McDonalds, and therefore parents are accepting commerical, third party teaching input, then can parents and students opt to study Anchient History in a commerically funded Teen Second Life’ class. Does software have to be ‘linear’, given that some of the most innovative learning environements in Australia are ones in which, as Will Richardson observes “the kids are driving the learning, from the design of the school and the curriculum to the decision making around school policy and more”. Policy is therefore central to the debate. We have ‘outcomes’ prescribed by the Board of Studies, and assessments are guided by policy compliance and the HSC summative examination.

If a parent wants their child to do well, and there is an alternate offering – online, mobile or virtual – then the central issue is about ‘tenure’. Students are required to be at school. I’d like think they ‘attend learning’, through effective activities, guided by outcomes and assessment  (attendance, may be an outcome/assessment btw). This is not so futuristic. In China, thousands of students attend class via mobile phone as well as online webinar.

In an atomised way, the elements of negotiated learning, mobile learning and virtualised learning are there – together with an economic imperative for large organisations to re-position themselves and find new opportunities. It’s not going to happen tomorrow – but at the same time, I wonder if the ‘shifts’ for learning will actually come from the education sector leadership – or from more motivated commercial enterprise.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]