Why you might already be using games-based-learning … and never knew.

There’s a cycle to games that reflects Kolb’s learning styles. He’s the guy who talks about experiential learning, and that learning happens even when there is no teacher around. You might see this in action whenever you see a kids huddle around a computer game. You might have also noticed that even though only one is actually playing, the others are actively watching. This is what Kolb calls active observation. You might then have seen kids wade in with tips, pointing at the screen or calling out ideas and instructions to the player. This is them thinking, or what Kolb calls abstract conceptualisation. They are predicting what will happen next much of the time. Eventually all this leads to doing, or rather active experimentation leading to feelings – excitement, disappointment – being in the zone or boredom. This is where games close the loop, by providing concrete experiences.

To be good at a modern game requires kids to acquire declarative, procedural and strategic knowledge. Kids will often be hurtling around this loop often unaware of the process. There is a generation gap of technical knowledge with teachers rarely playing of even having knowledge of games. What games do very well is place kids in recursive loops that promote persistent re-engagement and meta-cognition. Whether a game is single, multi or massively multiplayer, as soon as more than one kid is present, these learning loops are engaged, but not synchronous. As one is doing, the other is watching etc., Now multiply that by 12 million players, all working to increase their knowledge and skill of the game at different rates, and we have a highly complex social learning design.

Teachers are trained in traditional methods that do not include the use of games in the curriculum. Only researchers and a few innovative teachers have embraced video games for learning beyond ‘elearning games’. Students are being training to learn in very fast cycles, and are well able to phase their own learning cycle with other players – and spectators in order to improve their performance. In fact, learning though a game would not work if every advanced in sync with each other. When we compare this to the way most adults learned about technology – though step by step training and follow the leader tutorials it is very different – however, classroom activities are often exactly like this – as students advance as a mass, rather than as individuals – which results in a tempo for learning that is often very pedestrian and linear.

This isn’t to say teachers are not interested. Numerous reports by organisations such as FutureLab report high numbers of students and teachers interested in game based learning, but not necessarily (as many are) for the purpose of research. It seems to me, that the advent of social media, and teachers forming personal learning networks is that teachers are exposed more and more to affective learning methods using Twitter, Facebook etc., If you revisit Kolb’s cycle, it’s not too hard to see the cycle in personal learning networks.

However, don’t be fooled by gamification or games based learning. Badges and tokens won’t change motivation or intent in schools very much in my view – unless the method is designed – from the outset using game-theory, complete with actors, narrative, fantasy (and room for error and conflicting ideas). Training teachers to recognise what an experiential learning cycle looks like, and how effective affective learning can be using the full range of tools on offer today seem more important than teaching them yet more ‘skills’, as no matter what tool they learn – if it’s not used in a way that resonates with kids who are – as they say – growing up digital, no ICT will engage and re-engage them over and over the way games do.

So why not make learning fun – it doesn’t mean the teacher won’t play a crucial (exhilarating role) in achieving the learning outcomes, be it declarative, affective – it just means we fundamentally need to training teachers to think in cycles that reflect the digital-age-tempo. You don’t even need a video-game to do this – you classroom is more than capable of being a game-world, and students players. It’s a mindset, not a console issue – but it’s not something anyone’s going to do well, without having a clear vision, roadmap and passion to do it – unless you’re in the games industry of course.


What is it for?

In a world of a million online tools, where we can consume and produce with equal ease, one of the key things teachers struggle with is trying to decide which tools could be used to promote deeper learning. Of course these tools do little without adapting pedagogy, but all too often, the question to from newbies is ‘how do I use this – please give me a roadmap’. Here are a simple set of questions I use to interview a teacher – to get a picture of not what staff what (in terms of tools), but what how they see (any) technology being used as part of learning and teaching. The best way to find this out – is to talk to them. Even better, record the meeting and then you can talk around the these things but not come over as the Spanish Inquisition.

For each of the questions, come up with three dot point sentences. From that you can start to plan a personal learning plan for them (or do it for them).
* What does the technology offer students in terms of developing concepts and content?
* How does it help students to carry out inquiry processes?
* How will students work together collaboratively or cooperatively?
* What is the relationship between technology and other instructional materials?
* What new knowledge of my content or discipline, of teaching, or of technology do I need in order to foster new learning in my students?
* What knowledge processes, and skills do students need before using the technology?

How to disarm in-active staff with ICT

Following on from my previous post about taking an evaluation approach to selecting the best set of classroom tools, here is another activity that will help you get traction … it probably occurs FIRST in all reality – and is a strategy to better understand their needs. Notice here that I’m not talking about new technologies – that is something to do after the session.

It’s a way to set up a piece of technology that you introduce later — to disarm those who enter the session with a certain view. Draw your bow, provoke thought around current practice.

Provide these as a set of questions on paper.

Ask teachers to read it and spend 5 minutes answering them as individuals. (This avoids immediate group bias and getting side-tracked into conversations they’d rather have).

1. Think about an evaluation of work that you have recently carried out, or are planning to do.
2. Ask them to select a pathway for the evaluation to determine it’s purpose.

a) because you wanted to learn about your own practice
b) because you needed to be accountable.

3. Highlight the characteristics that best describe the evaluation

* Evaluators include staff, students and other stakeholders (parents, executive)
* Examples used in the evaluation are randomly selected to represent the whole
* Evaluation has an emphasis on finding out reasons for success and failure
* Evaluators are independent perhaps external to your classroom
* The aim of evaluation is to improve future activities
* Used a mix of data – qualitative and quantitive
* The emphasis of the evaluation was on qualitative data
* The evaluation was carried out at the end of the project cycle
* The examples are selected because they illustrate a point (what you were looking for)
* The examples are selected because of a potential to transfer the wins and loses to other things
* The aim was to compare current and past activities
* The emphasis is on how successful/unsuccessful the project has been
* The evaluation is carried out during the project cycle – as part of the planning cycle
* The evaluation data is collected once, at the end of the project cycle.

4. Pair with someone; and decide which of the above characteristics best describes evaluations carried out for the purposes of accountability – and which best describes evaluations for the learning process. Draw two columns (accountability and learning). Allow them to only place a maximum of TWO items in BOTH columns (you will have some who hedge their bets).

5. Are the characteristics which describe your evaluation all in the same column or divided between them? – Ask for feedback and reasons (allows people to talk/vent).

If we are interested in introducing technological interventions that bring benefits to a child’s learning – then we are interested in the approach described in the learning column. There is a cross over, but that should not be seen as a conflict.

We should be emphasising the learning column’s potential – and use these characteristics as criteria when looking at technology.

Now let’s gun-down some of the current practice.

Form people into groups of about 6. Ask them to take their tables and start to order the characteristics from most to least important. Get them to draw up a sheet and stick it on the wall. This allows everyone to see how the cohort sees evaluation itself.

At this point – you should be happy – you have just found out a lot about your environment; what they see as important and will have a clear idea about who is leading your table conversations. Observation here is key – figure out who is most likely to support you if you invest further time.

Now ask them to do something they didn’t see on the agenda.

By each of the items on the sheet – ask them directly – “which ICT is best used to help you do that?”

ie Which ICT do you use because it illustrates a point? – an example might be – scanning student work samples.

Now you have your research – you can now go away and find some tools that will allow them to do what they say they are doing – perhaps better use, perhaps entirely new. In the above example; you might introduce a digital camera as a way of imaging student work – during the learning, not just scanning work at the end.

So the action step for you – as the educational developer; review and suggest tools that present characteristics most likely to deliver the things everyone put in the learning column.

Will they stay the same – or change? What can you do with available time/resources – what are the priorities – for learning.

The great thing here is that you are taking an evidence based approach … you have something ‘real’ to talk about.

Now track down people and issues one by one – start to work directly on their practice. Avoid large groups – and make sure you schedule time(s) with staff. Perhaps you can tie this to individual performance reviews; time needed to evidence professional development; or some other organisational requirement. The more you make it appear to be part of their job – the more likely you are to see them adopt or at least consider what you are suggesting.

Make sure you write up your workshop; and give it to everyone who attended for feedback and comment. This is really important. More important – write a further report for the executive to make recommendations – based on your new evidence. Getting the backing of leaders is critical. If they don’t take the time to read it and discuss it with you — then think hard and long about beating your head against the wall in the future. Set it up right and you become empowered – don’t allow your efforts to be a time-filler or nice to know. Make it matter to everyone.

Retraining Australia

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Image: 'The Sentinel of the Sacred Path'

School isn’t broken; its just got patina and potential. It can be restored; but taking on a large project on your own is a little daunting.

Not all schools can afford to join a private coaching clinic or hire a consultant to provide them with specialist training. Most are totally reliant on their employer and their peers. Teachers may be aware of some benefits associated with adopting technology but can be reluctant to embrace it fully due to a general distrust of computers. This distrust is sometimes a result of a previous computer failure and can be exacerbated by a user’s inexperience in using a computer and/or application.

BUT, simple toolsets; though effective retraining can produce big differences. The real problem is that we are not focused on this; but reacting to the wider changes in read/write publishing; powered by the rapid advanements in technology. It is widely accepted that around 60% of us are visual learners; but unfortunately 60% of teachers are not visual ICT creators or even users. Not every student we teach is going to embrace each tool you give them, so don’t expect your education leaders to  either. Right now we are still awaiting any real definition of the 21st century attributes that are being illuded to in the draft National Curriculum – what exactly is it we have to do again? Oh yeah get Band 6s.

We can’t continue to work 1 or 2 teachers in public schools trying to support 60 forever. We need 10 or 20 to support 600 in a single community focused on retraining. Those 600 will interact with 6,000 – and the structure for this is horizontal, democratic and online, focused on foundational skills – that have low cost or no cost; that allows everyone to contribute something; but not everything. We can restore it; but we’re are not at the glossy paint stage; some are in their supa-communities, but over 90% need fundamental skills training. Its those teachers who are gonna be teaching my kids.

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Russian invasion!

INCREASINGLY it seems, newcomers are taking their classes online in blogs, wikis and online communities. There is a wealth of published materials that encourage and celebrate the adoption of technology in the classroom. Schools need to  provide adequate orientation and safety assurances; taking the newcomer through practical guidance be an effective, safe, online course facilitator. As soon as part of a course is online, the role of teacher is opened to greater risk and responsibility.

Schools with hundreds of kids online, without obtaining any additional ‘permission’ or ‘advice’ on social media risk assessment is a reality.

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I noticed a Ning site, for middle school students that was left open. It appeared that the site was abandoned. A russian ‘porn spammer’ had joined the group, and immediately added all the students as a friend, leaving a comment on their wall inviting them to visit ‘her’ online. It is highly likely that kids signed up to the Ning with an email address, and that they receive notifications – as a year or so later this new member, produced a flurry or activity in the ‘old abandoned’ Ning.

Replies and comments to the new user flourished.

There is an excellent Social Media Guidlines project in the USA that is well worth adding to; and modelling from developed by Gina Hartman, Educational Technology Specialist in the Francis Howell School District. As more newcomers arrive, and more technology appears in classrooms, the risk grows – as I believe that the risk has a proportional relationship with experience, ability and understanding.

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Providing orientation training to the online space is very important – and seeking help to do it is advisable and you want your employer to support and acknowledge that in sharing the risk – else you may wear all of it, if you have an invasion.

Demonstrating that you can operate effectively and safely, just like ‘safety’ tests in an industrial workshop or science laboratory – is something that should be a norm, like manual handling and OH&S.

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