Introducing a Games Based Enquiry Model

After somewhat of a hiatus in developing a methodology for using games and game-like thinking in learning design, I hope that you’ll tune in and spread the word among like-minded colleagues about a series of posts I’m going to publish in the next few weeks and months.

This isn’t about levels, badges or using Minecraft. It’s about constructively aligning enquiry based learning with the NESA curriculum requirements – drawing on game theory and game cultures to surpass what I see as an increasingly dated PBL model (which is now 25 years old).

I’m not going to tell you enquiry is good, games are good or puppies are good – but explain how to develop a K12 KLA based learning continuum which is more dynamic and flexible because it taps into children’s own experiences of games and media.

It is drawing on my own research into video games and children and over a decade of talking about and using PBL in schools and university. I will talk a lot about Overwatch – as to me, the mechanics and dynamics of this game and culture are incredibly relevant to learning and teaching – and I’m so sick and tired of Minecraft being falsely seen as the edu-apex of what can be possible.

Why post this at all?

I’m going back to beginning – WoWinSchools, Skoolaborate and other gem’s of brilliance that seem to have been lost in the dreariness of Minecraft discussions. You don’t even have to play games – or use games, but you do need to accept that games-media is the most significant interactive phenomenon in children’s media-lives. If you don’t, then I’d suggest you read more than Tweets – as this has been a fact for well over a decade now.

The story begins …

Before reading on – go back to basics – JSB – who talks about why tapping into knowledge as a network is more powerful than any single person or technology. This ten minute video presents complex and thought provoking alternatives to schooling – and to me remains as relevant today as it did a decade ago.  Most of all, this video was made at a time where brands and products did not dominate or distort discussions about new ways of learning and teaching. To me, this one of the most important videos ever posted.

So a decade on from this talk — this series of posts is my attempt to share what I’ve been thinking, constructing and tinkering with.

What is GBE?

Firstly, this is a framework which takes in numerous theoretical elements from education, gaming, and media theory. Secondly, it’s a framework to design enquiry, measure progress and give feedback within the constraints to the Australian curriculum. For the most part, I’ve been working on this in some iteration for well over a decade so some of it might seem familiar. It’s assumes: learning is blended, the pace of learning is dictated by the student and given to them at the outset – in full.

The posts are going to set out how I go about creating a blended learning environment which is brand-agnostic and can be implemented in the primary and secondary school setting. They will establish how to use an enquiry approach, in which students solve problems through projects. I hesitate to call this PBL or GBL as both terms have been hijacked by psuedo-celebrities etc., I’m going with a new neologism – GBE – Game Based Enquiry – in so much as it attempts to draw upon the patterns of rhythms experienced in awesome games. If you don’t play games, then you will not get much of this as it really requires more than a shallow understanding of what it feels like to explore the wilderness of your own understanding while blasting bad-guys.

design thinking

This ‘design thinking’ illustration helps underpin my approach to GBE. It also connects with the work of Pam Cook in constructive alignment using Biggs’ SOLO Taxonomy.

The most important pillar of GBE is to approach learning design through ‘learning intentions’ rather than problems to solve. I’ve departed company with classic (vanilla) PBL methods in order to focus on what teachers see as their intentions at the outset, rather than starting with the end in mind and then trying to come up with an open ended question to lead students to it. What is often not talked about in PBL is the degree to which teacher-bias limits the supposedly broad scope of student voice and choice.

To me, if you know the ending in a narrative driven game, there would be less enjoyment and motivation. The important initial discovery phase of learning becomes yet another creepy-tree house created by teachers. If you like, GBE’s whole ethos is to allow open-world movement, rather than follow a set narrative – where the boundaries are set by time, resources and alignment to the reportable-curriculum.

Ready player one?

The above diagram is lesson one. Imagine learning as a horizontal plane that moves though phases of inductive and deductive thinking. There are three phases, and unlike PBL, there are lots of interchangeable parts to work with (I’ll expand later on that) – which I tend to call EPISODES as GBE necessarily uses the narrative of school and the teacher.

Think about a decent multiplayer game – players choose from a set of options, and each option shifts the experience of the overall game, depending on what players select. For example: In Overwatch, Junk Rat is best played when the opposing team plays three tanks with low mobility. He’s less effective against high mobility team compositions. The better players select heros based on composition, not their looks, characterisation etc., For teachers, choosing the right enquiry composition is essential – to avoid the boredom of sticking to the BIE method and dictatorial language conventions – Seriously, kids soon become bored with ‘need to knows’ as much as they hate being Power pointed and given a test.

So where PBL starts with a driving question, GBE starts with discovery and initial insight experienced as a challenge or narrative-scenario. We still want to cast students as the hero who is about to undertake an adventure … but we don’t want to give them some teacher question based on a TUBRIC or contrived question. In my experience, teachers spend way too long trying to craft a great driving question – and ultimately 50% of kids switch off as soon as they see it – as it isn’t interesting – and from that point, the intention is not to learn, but to get through learning.

So in the next post I’m going to deal with how a GBE framework creates ‘learning intentions’ in more detail.

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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.


Should teachers care about Pokémon Go?

[Version 2 – as I rushed the initial post and have added some headings to break it down]


The latest craze – sayeth the media – Pokémon Go! has got people out and about. Some apparently unaware of their surroundings and having injuries while others are just of having fun, discovering why ARGs are able to turn fantasy into reality (sort of) even just for a short moment.

People like it and for good reasons. So yes, I think teachers should care and it is rare to be able to jump in at the start of a ‘new thing’ in gaming as kids probably already have the app and are playing it. The game does have issues – rural areas less well supported,  socio-economic factors, cultural differences, social inclusion (read this article) but perhaps this just helps highlight the issue with many games — and education’s obsession with digital gadgets – and people stopped talking about ‘the digital divide’ a long time ago. Now its an awkward reality that some schools have plenty more than others — as to their students.

Mass media has been quick to point out the doubling of Nintendo’s stock price, and that’s not necessarily good for the games entertainment giant – as I’ll explain shortly. Pokémon is loved by adults and kids in popular culture, some will have played Mario and Zelda – but there’s a generation playing Go! who are not playing for nostalgia. This game is aimed at a new generation for whom the smartphone camera, GPS, and data-streaming is primordial. Pokémon Go! has the magical tech-features+brand+enjoyment that they want from their device time – and want to talk to their friends about.

The doubling of Nintendo’s company value suggests an expectation that Nintendo will monetize and leverage this craze. Investors are literally banking on brand power plus ARG to yield a big return. Yes, you will run out of pokeballs, and you have to work for them or buy them. Everyone wants to know how to get more Pokeballs!

Getting a few balls at a Pokéstop every ten minutes or so is tedious. Speed this up with an in-app purchase.  Nintendo is in new territory here, but the clear line of sight to Google and not to Zelda will see significant changes – good, bad and stumbling perhaps in the games roll out. Pokéstops are a significant cultural leap to ‘gamified shopping’ destinations … but surely no one would drive five miles to wait ten minutes for 4 balls to flick at an imaginary creature … and so shopping as you know it is already changed.

Because the game’s Pokéstops are based on the cultural production of Ingress players – many gyms and Pokéstops are buildings and landmarks – including shops. Small business is seeing people at their door – but who knows if they are buying? This may then see people drawn away from ‘the mall visit’ and we might see people back on the high street and parklands.

Playing the game


The game is easy in the early days. More and more posts and redditor postings suggest the mechanic makes it hard to progress. As I’ll explain, for kids, this will be a drop-off point, but to that point, there’s a window of opportunity to explore the next generation of gaming – in your local backyard.

Arts Technica writes “While advancing to level 15 only requires a few thousand experience points per level, by the time you hit level 30, it takes a full 500,000 experience points to increase your in-game status”. We know that kids often stop playing games pretty quickly from recent research, and the younger children ‘churn’ games constantly when they feel it get’s too punishing. Overall mobile games have a high ‘pick up and drop’ frequency – especially free-to-play (with micropayment) games. The industry is still learning, so I’m sure Pokémon Go! will teach the whole industry a lot about human behaviour in a short time.

We know too, that hanging around a Pokéstop for a slow refill is the ARG version of the MMO’s ‘grinding quest’, except that you’re stuck in reality — and not in the fantasy you crave. So for teachers – Pokémon Go is a decent enough ‘entry’ for a discussion about ARGs and human behaviour, but I personally would be very wary of promoting in the way we’ve seen some teachers jump on the Microsoft Minecraft jetstream. I predict this game opens a door to what has been a dwindling interest in the ‘games are addictive’ dogma which first appeared in the 1990s. I can imagine the clinical psych’s will be banging out abstracts by the dozen right now about how dangerous this is … and maybe they will more right about ARGs than they have about MMOs and MOBAs so far.

We already hearing ‘news’ reports of Pokémon farming and exploitation, how much it costs to buy Pokéballs, people walking off cliffs, crashing cars etc., all things we didn’t hear about Ingress of course.People have asked me for ages why some games seem to ‘click’ with kids and can be useful in class – and some don’t. Right now the world works like this. It’s not what advertising says about a brand that makes it successful, it’s what people say about to each other. Pokémon Go! has relied on this network-effect to propel it to ‘craze’ level. Anyone who separates games and learning really knows little about either these days because the two things are inseparable in children’s media culture today. Minecraft has grown inside education networks because of the same (though tiny) network effect – and again, needs to do something ‘more’ if it is to be sustained. As I track what teachers talk about online (towards games and in a non-creepy way) – Minecraft (Education) has trended down since Pokémon Go!. One reason I think is because teachers are far more curious about ARG potential than virtual legos. What they are concerned about (and what to know about) is what games do this ‘fantasy-magic-learning-stuff’. My attitude is – lots of games – go and try some. But what is perhaps more helpful is to think about what kid want from playing a game – and playing one at school that’s not a crappy edumacated game – or we turn Pokémon Go into a lame class lesson – such as let’s have a debate – half the class is to argue for Pokémon Go and the other in Pokémon No. (My daughter came home with that one this week, every kid thought the teacher was reaching a bit).

People have asked why some games seem to ‘click’ with kids and can be useful in class – and some don’t. Right now the media-world0culture works like this. It’s not what advertising says about a brand that makes it successful, it’s what people say about to each other. That is why my teenager and his friend had me driving them to an actual parkland (as in out-doors). So if Pokémon Go! can get a hardcore MOBA/MMO player outside … it’s got something going for it. I don’t think it’s the game though – as I’ll explain towards the end of the post – it’s about human behaviour around technology and the fact that outside of media outrage and Trump hate, we do quite like to hang out and have fun IRL.

Pokémon Go! has relied on this network-effect to propel it to ‘craze’ level in a few days. Think about that for a second. It means that anyone who separates games and learning really knows little about either these days because the two things are inseparable in children’s media culture today. If that anyone is a teacher, then we have the accept we have media literacy challenges (but we know that it’s been like this for twenty years or more)

Step outside the Pokémon click-bait and let’s think about established go-to-game for educators. Minecraft has grown inside education networks because of the same (though tiny) network effect. It needs to do something ‘more’that being repacked and sold under the Windows biome if it is to be sustained with genuine interest by kids. Why? Because its what kids say to kids about games and anyone with a ‘real Minecrafter’ in their house knows that the advanced ‘fun’ is in modding and morphing the shared game play experience with friends. I’ve never liked MinecraftEdu because it was a business idea, not a new theory of play or gaming. I acknowledge that it helped get the game into schools – but at no point could anyone seriously argue games and play were not going to zerg-rush into schools – and to me Minecraft is the ‘safe’ option and I reject the ‘better than nothing option’. The fact games are still ‘on request’ tells us all we need to know about the ideology of mass education still.

Is Pokémon Go! impacting education?

I track what teachers talk about online (towards games and in a non-creepy way). Minecraft (Education) has trended down since Pokémon Go! this week. Teacher’s attention have been tuned this week from Minecraft to Pokemon. Microsoft to Nintendo. That’s a big thing in itself.

One reason I think is because teachers are far more curious about ARG potential than virtual legos. What they are concerned about (and what to know about) is what games do this ‘fantasy-magic-learning-stuff’. My attitude is – lots of games – go and try some. But what is perhaps more helpful is to think about what kid want from playing a game – and playing one at school that’s not a crappy edumacated game – or we turn Pokémon Go into a lame class lesson – such as let’s have a debate – half the class is to argue for Pokémon Go and the other in Pokémon No. (My daughter came home with that one this week, every kid thought the teacher was reaching a bit).I think is because teachers are far more curious about ARG potential than virtual legos. What they are concerned about (and what to know about) is what games do this ‘fantasy-magic-learning-stuff’. My attitude is – lots of games – go and try some. But what is perhaps more helpful is to think about what kid want from playing a game – and playing one at school that’s not a crappy edumacated game – or we turn Pokémon Go into a lame class lesson – such as let’s have a debate – half the class is to argue for Pokémon Go and the other in Pokémon No. (My daughter came home with that one this week, every kid thought the teacher was reaching a bit).

Why would teachers be interested?

I think is because teachers are far more curious about ARG potential than virtual legos. They are probably bored of ‘another Minecraft preso’. I have done once since 2012 in Dundee – and that wasn’t about school – that was about what happens when kids get agency though video games.What they are concerned about (and what to know about) is what games do this ‘fantasy-magic-learning-stuff’. My attitude is – lots of games – go and try any. But what is perhaps more helpful is to think about what kid want from playing a game – and playing one at school that’s not a crappy edumacated game – or we turn Pokémon Go into a lame class lesson – such as let’s have a debate – half the class is to argue for Pokémon Go and the other in Pokémon No. (My daughter came home with that one this week, every kid thought the teacher was reaching a bit).

Many teachers are concerned about the academic value of video games and how to align them with the outcomes school systems use. I get that, I really do – but teaching is not about the material and the outcomes alone, it’s about letting the child being the best that they can be. My attitude is YES, GAMES ARE IMPORTANT – go and try some. But what is perhaps more helpful is to think about what kids want (and get) from playing a game – and playing one at school that’s not a crappy edumacated game. Avoid turning Pokémon Go into a lame class lesson – such as “let’s have a debate – half the class is to argue for Pokémon Go and the other in Pokémon No” (My daughter came home with that one this week, every kid thought the teacher was reaching a bit)

“What kids want” is connected to computers and human behaviour. We can’t assume a 10-year-old has a 10-year-old media age – as we know, some 40-year-olds don’t have a 10-year old’s media age.  why Pokémon Go is going to be good – aside from the initial network effects.

Teachers should care about Pokémon Go! – after from the initial network effects (craze) as it is a good way for kids to develop socially. It isn’t designed for education and certainly presents the all too common accessibility issues of commercial games – but THIS game leads you to start thinking about why games, play and learning are important – and how they can be connected with helping children deal with saturated media cultures – Great!

Here are the four key things that research is telling us about MMOs, MMORPGs, Networked Gaming, MOBAs etc., and it’s all about humans making sense of their transmedia lives – though pleasurable leisure choices. It’s part of the social history of our time.

What are the key things teachers can observe and learn from this?

  1. Multimodal connectedness is associated with bridging and bonding social capital
  2. Playing with existing offline friends is associated with bonding social capital.
  3. Playing with offline and online friends is associated with bridging social capital.
  4. Multimodal connectedness moderated the relationships between co-players and social capital

What does the research say?

There’s a lot of research around these four things, but so far, when we need much more research about specific MOBAs (LoL, Overwatch etc) and ARGs (Pokémon Go, Ingress, Zombie Run etc. For example, what are children’s attitudes towards the frequency of playing ARGs and how do the interaction and experiences of play vary in group size, cultures, gender etc., But you might be surprised to find very little research is being done – or has been done outside of the ‘giants’ of gaming – Warcraft, Ultima, Doom etc., and this research is good ‘beachhead’ reading, but it hasn’t had a huge impact on what teachers believe about games in their classrooms. What teachers should try and bring to games in the classroom are objects which give them a clear(er) sense that what drives kids. This is not the

You might be surprised to find very little research is being or has been done outside of the ‘giants’ of gaming – Warcraft, Ultima, Doom etc., so far. While this research has developed a good ‘beachhead’ in video games, especially since 2001 – it hasn’t had a huge impact on what teachers believe about games in their classrooms. What teachers should try and bring to games in the classroom are objects which give them a clear(er) sense that what drives kids. This is not the

What teachers should try and bring to games in the classroom are objects which give them a clear(er) sense that what drives kids. This is not the material content or an ability to sandbox build castles. Seeing the child’s developmental curiosity and ability to experiment with these four things – alone and in groups is quite an experience.

Of course, this is just a theory (at best) and part of what I’m interested in.

Families who have high levels of multimodal connectedness and actively apply it to create bridging and bonding capital appear to have ‘the edge’ over parent’s who don’t.  We are raising children who need to be confident and successful in these things – because human behaviour is changing with technology – and what we (as adults) are expected to do or not do with it and though it matters in life.

What does EdTech seem to think?

Sadly EdTech doesn’t see games as important as it could (as a public dialogue). EdTech relies on the network effect to popularise certain products and ignore others. It also uses it to make some people famous/important and others customers, clients and the object of their commentary. So for the most part, Pokémon Go! will not be placed on the high altar of importance – such as Google Classroom or Apple’s wadjamacallit. So this game may well come — and go. It is now competing with  Microsoft Minecraft Eduction, which has a fairly established group of advocates and popular ideas. Let’s not forget, there is alway plenty of people competing for attention in EdTech — and the gamer ‘hackedu’ types are misfits sitting in the corner. But you never know, Sir Ken might visit a Pokéstop near you.

Summing up

So I hope teachers will give it some attention. Pokémon Go! (early levels) is super easy to try and learn from – but when it stops being ‘fun’ – quit – because quitting games can just as enlightening as playing them.

If nothing else, you’ve walked in the half-real world of video games and perhaps taken the dog for an unexpected walk, hatched a few eggs and maybe visited a different kind of gym.


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 ( 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.

Great games for under ten bucks?

In an effort to start collecting the use of games in the classroom, I’ve make a really short Google Form here in which I’m asking people to recommend a game for the classroom, which costs under ten dollars. The results of what people put into this are shared on this response form. We know people are using Minecraft, Portal etc., but for many schools free or cheap is an essential criteria for choosing a game.

I’m asking for simple information: the game name, a link if you have it and to choose what platform and game type best describes it from a list (or add your own). Finally, just let people know why you recommend it.

The aim is simply to start to collect what games are being used in a spreadsheet of data that you can use for your own purposes. No names or personal information please … this is anonymous crowd sourcing. Open to anyone, teachers, students and parents!

Thanks for your input

Minecraft isn’t just a game

In the 1950s, Disney hit on the idea of connecting classic folk-tales to their animation technologies, and from that creating their own books, magazine and toys. Minecraft, also started by one man with an plan — has enabled a very similar process except as a company, Mojang don’t chase down every licensing and copyright claim imaginable.

It’s another reason parents can’t compare Minecraft to other sandbox games — they are not all about the value-add sell, but of course do licence certain aspects. It must be a total nightmare to manage, but cudos to them for at least attempting it.

Online there are some amazing toys, gadgets and artwork that have emerged because of Minecraft. Mojang don’t appear to mind people adding their own creativity to their game such as this.

Crafting-1.3-Part-1-1 (1)

Now you don’t have to PLAY video games in your classroom to be able to see how this is brilliantly executed story. There is enough detail in this story for anyone who’s read a romantic story about the heroes journey to be able to figure out what is going on here.

This is simply ONE part of FIVE posted onto the website 9Minecraft. You can go read the rest yourself … and find out how it ends. That’s five comics, filled with pop-culture references that kids could EASILY relate to … and any (good) teacher could put to work.

I post this as an example of how VIDEO GAMES are part of cultural literacy. Minecraft is as embedded in today’s culture as Donald Duck was for Disney — and better still there is a massive fan-talent base producing plenty of FREE or low-cost resources that kids can relate to. Getting primary aged kids to turn their classroom into a Minecraft house would require almost zero effort on the teacher’s part. Go on, I dare you …


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.


  • 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.

Copy this down

It has been popular to state that the Internet has moved from ‘read’ only (consumers) to read/write (sharers and co-creators). It has been repeated by thousands of citizen-journalists to become somewhat of a trope in online-edu-culture.

Plagiarism is still frowned upon as being cheating, where as collecting other peoples work is now called curating or following. I spent half my career being an artist. I like to spend at least 2-3 hours a week drawing. I learned to be an artist by doing two things, accepting the world cannot be made stable, but people can be made to pay attention. The second is less philosophic – it’s good old fashioned copying. It takes a lot of time to select the right things to copy. It takes a lot of reading and deciding what is worth copying, and who from. It takes even more time to decode the artwork and copy it faithfully. Finally, you get to add that small new addition or twist of your own.

I hassled out my kids this week to do some copying using a Windows 8 Slate, pressure-sensitive pen and Sketchmaster Pro. We headed into the always mind-melting Deviant Art and they selected some sketches which they mercilessly control-c’d and control-v’d into Sketchmaster. For the rest of the week they learned how to trace the lines, how lines are just taking the mind for a walk – and how the software works by experimenting and me showing them how to copy brilliantly. In fact you can buy a Slate for about $500 which is half the price of a Wacom 13″ and doesn’t need a computer – and get really good results.

There’s no shame is copying. Copying teaches pattern recognition, how lines and text hold the ideas and best of all copying always gives immediate context. There’s nothing abstract or fuzzy about copying. Copying is essential to games-media evolution. Players seeking to learn, need to have things to copy from. They actually hate fuzzy, vague and incomplete rhetoric. Unlike school, there’s no philosophic argument over the degree it exists.  I games, there’s no room for rhetoric and show-boating. You can’t fake your way to level 90 in Warcraft, like you can in Powerpoint.

Over time, players perfect the critical skill of selecting what is worth copying and applying to their game. I think gamers tend to make things for the intentional purpose of being copied. They don’t do what many educatoring-gurus do – lead you down the garden path of potential, only to sell you something vague at the end you have to still figure out. It’s all clear and explict. My kids tune out if I try to BS them about how to do a quest or build something in Minecraft. You can’t fool them for a minute, let alone years. My kids can spot a ‘tech’ BS-Artist in under 30 seconds. In gaming, you can always get the answer, but that’s not the objective at all … unlike school where knowing the answer is 99% of being called “smart”. Kids dont’ want to repeat the answers … that’s not the kind of copying I’m talking about.

I question the value of copying in class, as it seems a hightly productive element of how kids are learning out of it. I don’t mean copying information (that’s stupid), I mean being able to trace and copy methodology and then apply to something that matters. It doesn’t have to be unique or even innovative. I can just be a copy and still have validity. Pilots copy the perfect landing, musicians copy tone and music samples, doctors copy proceedures.

As a parent, I’m here to say that I encourage my kids to copy it. I know won’t dent their creativity or make them bored. I point out how something is made, how to assemble it and pull it apart and get them to do it over and over until the master it (or get bored). There’s no moving on ’till they do – because that’s how the world works. No shortcuts – sit on Twitter all day, you still won’t get the kind of free-handout to make more sense of the world, just become a zombie-sheep I guess.

Kid’s don’t have to make new new new and unique unique unique – until THEY want to. I suspect kids are being pushed into ‘innovation’ as some weird teacher construct – as the trope that gave us ‘the shift’ has the sequel “the innovative teacher’. Rubbish, copy everything, steal the lot and stand on top of the pile. That’s how to rule the world.

You are standing in what used to be the library

As most people probably know, video-games have origins in text. Back in the day, text was pretty much all there was. These games are not forgotten, but formed the basis of today’s semi-open world games, forging the foundations of game-rules and game-play. Despite the visual evolution of games, you can still find the origins of text adventures online – which began, and live on as Interactive Fiction. The magical words that spawned a generation, Adventure begins.

You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building. Around you is a forest. A small stream flows out of the building and down a gully.

My idea was that it would be a computer game that would not be intimidating to non-computer people, and that was one of the reasons why I made it so that the player directs the game with natural language input, instead of more standardized commands. My kids thought it was a lot of fun.”

— William Crowther

There are plenty of these games still online, lovingly curated by people long forgotten in this era of gamification. But they were both romantics and adventurers who helped create the code that today powers the Internet and began the epci adventure we all experience daily as “ICT”.

Despite numerous studies and scholars attempting to find a definition for video games, something that seems to take an extra-ordinary amount of time, money and effort, it seems that no one has managed to come up with one that does more to describe how games feel to players than calling it Interactive Fiction.

I don’t like the idea of Serious Games, as it smells schooly and sells-out programmers like Crowther and fiction writers like Gibson in order to appease the minutia of experts defining them. Most equally they don’t like comics, cyberpunk, steampunk or Buffy. That doesn’t mean they are right.

Can we go back to the origins of the adventure, and find ways of using game-play that doesn’t have to have a ‘sanitised’ label on it? I think so.

Today, this idea of transmedia is being explored taking advantage of new tools – and requires new literacies. It has close relationships with Augmented Reality games and even the what you are about to see more of – devices that augment console game play – like the new Skylanders, where your physical characters unlock pathways and talent of your in-game character (which is marketing’s brilliant idea that sucks). Just for the record, as soon as it say’s “sold separately” you sucked the fun out and I’m not playing. So while I advocate for games, I don’t advocate for this idea that shoving a console in a room creates more motivated and engaged humans.

There are plenty of people keeping the idea of adventure alive — though now is has morphed into “transmedia’ – and these games don’t have to reside on devices most people will associate with games.

Schneider (2005) states that “the readers of hypertexts appear as empowered readers, liberated from the constraints imposed by ‘traditional’ literature – some commentators even raise the question whether the very terms ‘reader’ and ‘reading’ might not have become inadequate for hypertext reception”. This type of reading requires skills not required in traditional reading.

Oh no, so moving from printed to page to ePub isn’t as 21st Century as it seems. In an era of ‘push me’, i’ll do everything read/write technology, it seems that we are no more creators now than when we started, as few people are actually learning how code works, and how to link the medium’s together. I recall the phrase “A good story, well told” by Adam Elliot. To me a this isn’t using one media, or embedding some widget inside another widget, it’s understanding the media itself, and then linking them together to tell a good story. In many ways all Internet media is Interactive Fiction, as reality is only that we experience first hand.

Take a look at The Amanda Project as an example of what I am driving at. The Amanda Project is the first collaborative fictional mystery told across an interactive website, and an 8-book series published by HarperCollins.

Amanda Valentino is the most mysterious, the most magnetic girl you’ll never meet.

How good is that! No it won’t leap off the page and tell you exactly how to use it, you have to figure it out. However, I’ve posted the synopsis video and suggest you look at this post, just to illustrate the link with the original idea of mapping an adventure. Here’s a clip from a teacher talking about the Amanda Project.

It’s worth watching, then going back to the website and pulling it apart. There’s nothing in there that is impossible to re-create. Even if you didn’t use this book, there are plenty of ways to rethink reading and writing. There is a free teachers kit – which if you an educational developer would give you some clues on how you could re-package any story, or perhaps, with a little creativity, create just enough story for another subject. There are so many resources about writing, such as the Sydney Writers Centre that getting started isn’t impossible at all. Then there are tools, such as Inform7, which allow kids to create their own interactive fiction based on natural language.

These things are all games as much as they are books. Even if you’re not yet interested in jumping into Massively Minecraft with us, this post is a fore-runner to where we are heading with our guild. Almost all our players now have the skills to create Interactive Fiction, it remains to be seen if they’d want to. What we know is, that there has to be a constant call to adventure in which they explore their own creativity – and to me, Interactive Fiction is a game, and reading today is not about just about text or where it appears. All we have to do is make it part of the game, to facilitate the steps in the mission and to celebrate the end product.

I take great issue with games, when they deceive kids if the only acceptable meaning is that which the teacher wants, presented in ways they like to mark. My view is that using  play as a frame has strong links with the past – and quite happy to say that I believe using and then creating ‘transmedia’ as Interactive Fiction is an approach to ‘digital literacy’ that connects the dots for some students far better than arguing there read/write web is anything more now, that when Berner’s Lee invented it. You have always been able to read write, if you had the literacy of the day.

To figure out what’s next, we have to be willing walk down that road, and find out what’s in the brick building, not wait until some merchant appears from the distance and tells us as we hand over money. Adventure still awaits – and for the most part it’s still free.

Wizard 101 – MMO for learning

I, (Nicholas Dragonstone) am loving this massive multiplayer called Wizard 101 for several reasons.

You’re a young wizard being trained in the ways of magic at the Ravenwood School of Magical Arts under the care of headmaster Ambrose. As you learn to use mystical powers, you are tasked with saving the school from the evil Malistaire Drake.

Sounds like Harry Potter? Well, it is a lot like Harry Potter; but set in a game system that is a lot more like World of Warcraft.

Lets get the FUD out the way. YES there is a chat system in the game, but several mechanisms are in place to ensure that chat is child safe.

I always smile at people when they freak out about online chat in games – I ask them if they mute their TV and never listen to the radio in the car when their kids are around. A trip to school with a moronic morning breakfast host is far more likely to ruin their sense of innocence in my view, but thousands do it without a second thought.

MMOs are a damn sight safer than web-chat, and there’s very very little research to suggest otherwise.

“It’s great to see kids getting so excited and involved in a game that, as a teacher, I can feel good about recommending for play”Amy Gonzalez, English Teacher, Austin Independent School District

The system can be limited entirely to preset phrases. Alternatively, players on your friends list can be granted additional chat priviledges that allow you to speak more freely.To avoid any shenanigans related to naming characters, names are similarly constructed from presets. Parental controls can be activated on an account so that settings can’t be changed and purchases can’t be made without grown-ups. Parental controls are a feature that should be high on any parents list.

You defeat enemies (NPC) and other players using a magic circle where combatants take turns casting spells at each other by choosing cards from their decks.

Spells are based on a deck of cards selected beforehand – Yu-Gi-Oh! style – from which 7 are drawn each round. Players have less than a minute to play a card or they pass their turn. So if kids are used to playing card games, and not just getting owned in action-based games; the turn taking here is a nice relief. But you cant cast magic all day, you’ll run out of mana (fighting power). It beats the pants of Jumpstart’s online world for engagement. I won’t even compare it to dusty Magic School Bus type CD-Roms.

After casting spells at your enemies, you’ll be mighty tired – and have low mana (Fantasy writer Larry Niven in his novel Not Long Before the End described mana as a natural resource which is used or channeled by wizards to cast magic spells) .Mana is standard measurement of power in most MMOs.

You have several ways to get your mana back. Running around catching wisps while out of combat, which is a little like ‘grinding’, if there are other players around, competition for whisps is fierce. If you have potions you power-up immediately, else it’s a slow regeneration of energy in town. You can  play mini-games for mana. The mini-games are similar to casual titles like Bejeweled, so if you’ve got kids playing on your Facebook account – then this is similar, but a step up in a MMO.

Wizard 101 is a free PC download – I had it running under Bootcamp on OSX, Vista and XP. Mercifully it is not the usual 4 gig download of most MMOs, so you’ll be up and running in 20 mins or so at the outside. Its free to play – but after you hit Level 10, you run out of things to do. This is where they hit you up for money – but to be honest, I think it’s worth it. The game is 10+ Rated; but Mr4 seemed to have no real problem playing with a help reading.

I’d think it will suit 10/11 year olds – though the game will be interesting because of it’s spell-card system, not action – it takes some skill to select a series of spells to cast to beat an opponent.

There is a decent map to explore – and the levelling system is very WoW-esq. My kids loved setting up their character – which seems critical in them deciding to play the game. They hate mini-mmos where you only get to choose some ‘toon-animal’.

The story is presented well, it doesn’t demand reading some novel or bore you with several next buttons to skip though. There are a number of activities that you can also hook into though the community portal – fan art and fan fiction! – so no only can you build a writing task around this – it has a place where they can actually publish it!

This video is a great example of players wanting to make video and share their experience of a game – though a story. It’s well worth watching, as they take you on a tour! – Needless to say my nine year old took to this instantly … I wasn’t too unhappy that he didn’t complete the photocopied maths book worksheet this weekend.

There is a lot you could construct around Wizard 101 without needed to get to the payment level of play in the classroom – and I am sure children would love the interaction, even with chat set on safe-as-boring mode. My kids didn’t want to read or chat – they were too busy working out how to organise and use spells to build their reputation

Where does it fit in game based learning? – I think it would make a great ‘small group’ computer activity, and be a great way of introducing the use of games to the classroom. Keep it simple; spend some time playing yourself, then work towards the fan faction and art. It would give teachers a good introduction; and start them thinking about adapting further games … if you have kids on the Autism spectrum – they are going to love Wizard 101.

Read more at Wired about this game’s details or alternatively, download this english worksheet about the ocean and type ‘games+ignore’ into Google.