Don’t panic: Ask the gamers for help

Warning: This post contains important information about COVID-19 and online schools. Some teachers might find this distressing and choose to waste a few more days trying to get Adobe Connect to work. However, if you want a fast and easy online space up in less time it will take to read this rubbish … welcome to the server.

how-does-discord-make-money

All this fuss about closing bricks and mortar schools is distressing. It’s also a timely reminder of how the billions (yes billions) which has flowed into the pockets of “EdTech” which is a long, drawn out crash site of experiments and failures.

The current COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of how poorly prepared western schools are for working at arms length, let alone ‘online’ in a meaningful way.

Today, I was informed my students need to be 1.5m apart.  – This is of course impossible. The message was telegraphed and then ignored due to pragmatics. Kids carried on in exactly the same way – because the paraphernalia of school was unchanged.

Schools are not ready of ‘online’ in the sense that few are able to meet students at the intersection of youth communications and actual usage. This results in dull conversations as to whether Google Classrooms “will do” or “can I just email it in”. A direct result of Audrey’s shit show of edtech.

95% of teachers are perhaps familiar with, or using, Ista, Email and FB with their friends and family, re-sharing photos of dogs or inspirational quotes.

95% of kids are online in Discord because they know it’s a productive way to save time and improve your chances of success and enjoyment.

Yep, Discord: That means every kid in you class can (or knows someone who can) use it right now.

They can also show you. You don’t need to panic or waste more time and money on “edtech” just because you’re a special snowflake teacher who only uses ‘teacher’ apps.

Just get your kids to create a server and relax. It took mine less than a minute and they are all over it.

Sea of Thieves for Education?

sea-of-thieves-closed-beta-impressions

Sea of Thieves is the years surprise success multiplayer. I’d pull up short of calling it a MMO, it is more an action adventure than MMO, with maps (I think limited to 99 players).

It’s fair to call this a multiplayer sandbox adventure and very worthy of being used with 11-16-year-olds in school – who perhaps don’t like stacking block in Minecraft. In many ways, this game fills a much-needed gap in gamer-teacher brain-space as we move away from digital lego and start to think about games as texts.

The game is very new, but with over 300,000 players in closed beta, the game certainly attracted a big crowd. There are some good easons it’s okay for kids is that it’s Teen/PG, with no more violence than Minecraft and less of an emotional rollercoaster than Fortnite. The other reason is when you die and lose nothing – perhaps what you have on your last voyage, but nothing so terrible that you’ll spend your days managing screaming rage all day over ‘items’. The other useful thing to tame the emotional investment is the relatively low effort needed to gather resources – bananas for heath, wood to fix your ship and cannonballs to do what cannonballs do. Aside from a short wait to respawn, there’s not ‘death tax’ in terms of resource or coin loss.

In the game, the open map is fantastic to look at and listen too. The game does take time to play, as the world is (at firsts) a big place to navigate. Saling with a small crew means working together, and for the most part, it’s easy to get a handle of what ‘jobs’ need doing in different situations. The gameplay is simple enough that you don’t need to mic-up with randoms – and of course, you can get one to three friends to crew with you, which to me makes a great ‘breakout-classroom group.

Going on voyages for gold, magic and materials is fun. Handing in loot is all very old school MMO like. No gun upgrades or better ships – just cosmetic upgrades keeps game play fair. No one has the ‘uber’ gun that destroys everything in its path. So its pretty easy to drop in and out of without investing hundreds of hours. All the loot money can be spent on cosmetic changes. This reward tree won’t appeal to those players who lust after to ‘big guns’ to increase damage or the mega-banana health pack – but Rare say that is the point.

That said, there is little sense of sense of ownership and progress in the game. Yes, you can level up and brag about yourself, but it doesn’t mean much as death has little consequence. The game can feel a bit empty at times, but that’s okay, as you sail around and visit islands looking for treasure. As a PC/Xbox crossover, the game does have glitches, despite the first 9gig patch. There is plenty of talk online about possible environmental upgrades: forts, fog, whirlpools, ten man ships … but it’s far too new to predict. The game has taken off, and the developer (and servers) are playing catch-up.

The core is there: so for kids (and schools) this is a great adventure game which allows time for socialising. There’s no ‘home city’ and no ‘faction’ arrangements, so ‘be more pirate’ is perhaps a fitting slogan. Ownership of items hasn’t been turned into a transferable auction house – which is often fraught with issues and I think this has deterred the ‘ganking class’ of player for whom this low-loss adventure style doesn’t tap into their ‘killer’ behaviour. At times there are foul-mouthed muppets, so its not a game you want kids to play with a mic – unsupervised.

I’d say the game is well suited as a ‘text’ for school. There are so many stories to tell about your adventure, despite the seemingly limited content in the game so far – but it does a solid job at recording reputation and achievements. Like Minecraft, I suspect only a few will wade into the water here for a while – as educators seem to want both a critical mass and an “Education Editon” before adopting much of anything. But if you are a teacher who’s willing to do more than follow the crowd – then SoT is definitely a sandbox for you. If you’re a parent with Fornite and PubG fatigue or want to make that connection with gameplay yourself – this might just be the game that makes that happen.

May your chests be filled with treasure and your barrels full of bananas.

Return of the DS

Ever keen to find way’s to create ‘shared environments’ I’ve recently revisited the Nintendo DS.(Duel Screen). These were HUGE around 2005ish, and for many kids they were the thing to have BEFORE the launch of the iPhone and iPad — which really changed how we experienced and conceptualised hand-held gaming.

Nintendo DS was educational! – Derek Robinson was at the vanguard of this and in my view set the scene for the rest of us. The Captain Crunch on video gaming in school. Of course some quango of short-sighted suits in Scottish Education failed to recognise this for what it was — the tragedy that many pioneering ‘game’ innovators know too well. If you want to hear this from the man himself – watch this video on YouTube in which he sets out the opportunity and passion which is still waiting to be tapped into.

So back to DS 2015. A group of Year 8’s (13-14) have started playing their DS’s in ‘genius’ hour (and other times as I’m pretty lax on gaming). More and more have joined it, and it’s great to see them stroll down memory lane. They are busy discussing games and much more, sharing social-history. Any time I see ‘connecting’ happening, I encourage it … and no I don’t really know where this is going … but at my school – that’s just fine.

Creative Writing Games for Stage 3 and above

I don’t like ‘ice-breakers’ as a rule. They tend to be far too pushy for people who are naturally introverted. So as I thought about kicking off a new set of Year 7s this week, I opted to create a simple writing game which later we’ll use as the basis for art making – drawings made from text. This is an example – and great for getting people who think they can’t draw to write (and then make a drawing). The game is designed for table work, so I’d suggest 2-8 players. It lasts about an hour. You’ll notice in the games that there are objects. For my purpose these things are simply concepts, but they could be physical things or even mathematical formulas etc., It’s a pretty low tech game, but I guess you could do this online.

The aim of the activity is to get students to think creatively and to critically follow rules to re-frame their original position. Let me know if you use it or modify it! Creative story writing game.

Active Production Networks: Simplifying PBL for middle-school with media.

Next year, I’m labeling my teaching as ‘active productive network’ based (APN). This is based on Goodyear (1992) SHARP learning cycles. Among several other scholars interested in how networks produce and reproduce knowlege, Peter Goodyear at Sydney University is someone I recommend you discover.

The key idea in APN is that it places students in a persistent, iterative corporeal and hyper-mediated process of rendering tacit knowledge (the things we are required to teach) inside local working practices (and cultures) through a share-able media interchange.

Unlike the ‘flipped classroom’, APN doesn’t attempt to jump-start learning with a media blitz, compensate for a lack of time, money, resources or make a shallow effort to reform teacher behavior to the technological determinism of Web2.0. It relies on every day culture. While  SHARP learning pre-dates YouTube and the subsequent rise and dull fall of Web2.0, APN learning is socially designed and embedded in today’s media culture. The re-production of knowledge, error checking and correction occurs through and because of this network culture. To me, this allows children to explore decision-making processes which have been traditionally denied in schools — even schools which claim to be “Voodle Sites” and so forth.

20141216_084116In this model, there is a pre-defined structure to the learning, where membership allows for constant, mediated, peer-review which I don’t see the same as PBL’s ‘critical friends’ approach. There is also an expert-prompt, which I don’t see the same as a lesson hook.

For example, we might start by asking why do some soccer fans sing and others don’t at matches?. Then we design experiments to find out, collect some raw data, then share and report what we find. The process of designing the experiments is not the same as selecting a method, or being told what method would work best from the outset (classic teaching).

The APN cycle is simpler than PBL, and closer to research than to art or design methods such as design thinking. Inside it, students provide and are provided with persistent peer review (even though as individuals they come and go) online. All they need is a simple communications interchange. The cycle is simple to follow and focuses on the social design of networks which actively reproduce information effectively. First, research problems and questions are defined. Next, experiments are designed which students think will help them process the problem (some will work better than others). The network produces raw data (which can be re-used by anyone) and finally the product appears through student reports and discussions. The discussion of the method (experiment) and the data is vitally important. Some students will repeat the cycle, others will come to a conclusion (at that point). The environment can be open or closed social-media, an open or close video game, open or closed online course … and much more.

Anyway, this is something that I’ll be using in order to compress the seven step PBL process (which does not take into account media networks or cultures) into four in order to accelerate and increase the active cycles that can be had in the classroom (middle school). Here’s a diagram I drew, based on Goodyear (1992; 2014) and the open source bio medical research site design (http://www.thesynapticleap.org/). The main aim (for me) is to use media spaces as social design, not necessarily an ePortfolio … and so the hunt for the right tool/space to do that begins.

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.

The Minecraft Experience at Games for Change, NYC, April 2014

mmpIn 2011, when Mincraft was a beta-game with 100,000 players and not the 1,000,000 it has today – a small idea called Massively Minecraft took flight. It’s main activity was to enable children and adults to play on a server which attempted to allow children to develop ‘digital skills’ based loosely on ISTE’s NETs for students.  Today we’re launching a new project around Minecraft — building the right drivers in home, school and research.

I’m thrilled to be feel like I’m at the centre of it, both as a parent and now as a games researcher. Minecraft represents a unique media-phenomenon and has clearly been taken in remarkable new directions by the community. There is no one ‘best’ way to play, teach or parent around this game in particular. Unlike much of the technological determinism associated with technology and children, Minecraft has achieved what educational software and culture hasn’t. It has managed to bridge the gap between family literacy and school literacy. But all too often, the voices of parents and kids are lost. They are the subjects of research, not active researcher — and that’s what the Massively Minecraft Project is about — actively helping support autonomous research by parents, teachers and kids in to Minecraft.

The Minecraft Experience – at Games for Change, April 2014, New York City.

Today we are pleased to put up the first of a series of projects in this space, reviving the “Massively Minecraft” research and practice agenda. The International “Games for Change” has accepted our panel discussion with leading Industry experts on the “Minecraft Experience” as game, media, educational and cultural artefact. We’re provoking the panel and audience discussion by inviting you (and people you know) to share your road-story (good or bad) with us. This takes place in April 2014 in New York.

Here’s Bron’s open call for participation … please share it widely so that the panel discussion in April (In New York City) takes in as much as possible!

You can read all about it here http://www.minecraftexperience.net and we really want you to spread the word!

This project is a chance to have your say about Minecraft. We want to be able to describe Minecraft is all its different experiences and to do that through the eyes of those most experienced with it – youth, teachers, parents and designers.

You can add content to the wiki or point to fab content you have already online (stories, blogs, photos, videos etc). Contribute to a page or design a page of your own. Take this space in whatever direction you feel it needs to go to describe Minecraft well!

Those wanting to contribute will have to join the wiki. We have chosen to not have this a completely open wiki in order to monitor and protect any of our young contributors. And we would love them to contribute and sign their contributions with their username and identifying whether they are ‪#‎youth‬‪#‎teacher‬‪#‎parent‬‪#‎designer‬ or other. This will be very useful data as time goes on.

We want this to be a global project with the widest ownership possible, so don’t be shy or feel that your contribution will not count because this crowd sourcing stuff is only powerful if every voice is heard.

Are you in? Let me know if you need any further info or advice.

Bron Stuckey & Dean Groom
The Massively Minecraft Project

What’s in your fantasy school arcade?

By now you’ve probably worked out I’m a fan of using video-games, and see them as essential to any effort to use digital-media with school children. At the same time games  are “Vegas’ed” — meaning moved off the strip — by many school systems — in favour of media-forms they see as less controversial. This isn’t just software — we’re talking here about physical space — actual walk-in spaces in schools. In an era of open-plan, idea-paint and primary coloured cube-chairs — no ones building arcades.

Imagine you had 20 arcade cabs in a school where kids could go and choose to play one or other game. What would you include on the machines? Why would being able to wander in and play it — be educational or useful?

No media studies? No future.

Australian education has ignored academic and social arguments to introduce media-studies into school age curriculum. Australia is a media rich and media poor society where parental styles, conceptions and attitude towards media have been show as critical in how children see, understand and use media. I’ve been around “online” for a long time, and rarely if ever have I heard a book author, consultant ‘expert’ mention the role of parent mediation in how children respond to media.

Office Automation verses Media Studies

This is one example of why school systems often allow ‘dangerous experts’ to offer opinion, they can avoid topics they don’t like, and amplify those they do. It helps to cover up the trail of poor decision making over decades when it comes to the importance of media studies. Let me give a brief, snapshot. Computers arrived in schools as a mathematical science. Around 2000, curriculum bodies began to insist that children could also use office automation software. It had nothing to do with media or information studies, but a media panic over middle class wealth. At some point, children had to learn to use a keyboard and basic office tools, which is still seen as the main affordance of computers in schools today. Check the curriculum documents if you don’t believe me.

A history of avoiding media

In the mid 2000s, schools blundered their way online with an in-consistent fear-based-policy approach. On one hand they believed that kids could now search for information, which potentially saved them money — less books, less libraries, less databases — and a place to stick these computers which by then had been thrown out of science/maths because they were culturally no longer about computing at all. On the other, schools have a poor track record when it comes to using media, always favouring PROTECTION (of the system) over PREPARATION (for life). Parallel to this parents of course were told (my the media) that in the age of ‘the information worker’ knowing how to be a USER was most important to future prospects. Ironically, all that work as gone overseas. More worryingly is this idea that all kids are in a media rich home, able to select, maintain and provided BYOD devices — and agree NOT to also give kids their own network-connectivity to circumvent ‘essential’ protectionist security. 

So school has a legacy of machine-use, which suits the “web2.0” agenda. In effect, it can fund endless speakers and pilots at a far lower cost than re-orgnising curriculum in schools and universities to provide media-studies with the same importance it does biology of geography. At the same time, it’s PR engine promoted media as the future (all be it in their own weird way) depicted by these self-styled online experts – whom seem to have little credentials towards media studies, design or adult education.

Media Studies in the curriculum, not just inferred

When media-studies becomes part of the national curriculum, then academic, institutions and commercial providers can set about building something of substance that feeds into further education and the world place. That process would of course involve public consultation — not just the Twitterarti — which shapes a romantic, status based theatre as scholarship. Even worse, games are being added into classrooms on the basis they are popular, or can be de-clawed enough to be “educational” – It’s brain missing to me.

I feel pain for those teachers who put the hours and time into learning about media, and considering it’s impacts and affordances — they carry the burden and the hopes of children — who are basically be failed by dogmatic refusal to accept media (the arts) as being of equal importance to science. But when you have power, you don’t need to explain why and how you are going to use it I guess.