These days technology is often the last thing I'd recommend schools bother with when trying to engage students. There's plenty else we can invest time in before technology will achieve even a fraction of what it can in an engaged school. And now a set of action research reports in the UK is showing the path many schools might wish to take.
I'm working with several primary (elementary) and secondary (high) schools at the moment in England, Australia and the States. All of them face the same daily and long-term strategic challenge: students have never been so disengaged. Many have seen technology as a principal hook to reverse this disengagement, which is why they get in touch with us, but quickly on my initial visits to schools I'm keen to point out the other steps that we need to get through before technology will add what it could do. Otherwise, I'm just a tools salesman, selling tools that the owners don't know how to harness.
The journey is a complex one, and one that, in my opinion for what it's worth, most of the 'big' eduction commentators in North America still fail to recognise. I've complained numerous times before about the fetichisation of 'tools' and 'edtech' by those who work with and in schools where other elements of the teaching and learning process clearly deserve fetichisation first.
What are these elements?
A unique and undervalued research project based in the UK, with partners in the US (including High Tech High), is discovering, analysing and sharing those elements through its regular pamphlets, blog and, above all, grounded practice across nearly 50 schools.
It's our job to help scale this ambition to other schools around the world.
The irony, for commentators like Alfie Kohn, is that invariably, “when interest appears, achievement usually follows” (2000, p. 128). … It is almost as though we have accepted the inevitability of learning as a cold shower: you’re not expected to enjoy it, but it will do you good. ... We have recently seen a large number of students becoming disengaged achievers, performing well academically, keeping out of trouble, but rejecting further and higher education. … A second problem with the traditional model of engagement stems from its predominantly instrumental applications: engagement as a vehicle to improve student performance or discipline within school. Inevitably, such a mindset constrains success indicators within a compliance model. Students are deemed to be engaged, for example, when/if they: • attend regularly • conform to behavioural norms • complete work in the manner requested and on time • are ‘on-task’ • respond to questioning If we have greater aspirations for students—beyond compliance and toward a commitment to lifelong learning—then the conventional concept of engagement is inadequate. ... While project-based learning and activities that go beyond school can be liberating for staff and students, it is important that activities incorporate a sense of bounded freedom—that students are given a clear set of guidelines, procedures or protocols within which they can make choices. As one Year 9 student put it: “I’d like to have a little bit more of a say, but...I think you need the teacher there to sort of guide you.” … Students are absorbed in their activity: anyone witnessing a young person playing, say, on-line role playing games will know what this looks like. It is rare, however, to see such depth of absorption in school-based work. Munns and colleagues (2006) at the University of Western Sydney (2006) have quantified the difference as being in-task, not just on-task. Other indicators of high absorption would be students wishing to continue beyond the end of a lesson, or not even noticing the lesson had ended—what Csikszentmihalyi (1990) has described as being in ‘‘flow’’.
Does anyone want to join me in Canada May 17 & 18 for INPlay, Toronto? You can register now for one of Interactive Ontario's showpiece events, on whose advisory board I sit (well, mostly I Skype, actually). It's unique in bringing together such a blend of transmedia, video game producers, financiers, marketers on the one hand, and researchers, educators and policy people on the other.
When Newton discovered gravity it wasn't because he was told by a teacher or even because he had the skill to look it up in Wikipedia. It was because he was provoked, deeply, and had the design skills to create a beautiful equation. Gever Tulley and Ewan McIntosh help delegates experience first hand, the durable learning that comes from deep provocation. Explore how curriculum can be turned on its head, how new skills can be learned best, how content can be explored through the same models of discovery that genuine scientists, creatives and leaders harness every day.
Dr. William Rankin is an associate professor of English and Director of Educational Innovation at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. He describes an amazing learning tool, a virtual learning environment so successful its engagement levels can be tranched as follows:
86% of participants use it for social knowledge construction
58% for system-based reasoning
37% for counter arguments
28% for harnessing data or evidence to win an argument
LWF 2011 will bring together the equally high demand Handheld Learning, Game Based Learning and Digital Safety that Graham Brown-Martin and his partners have put together over the past four years. The Sunday Service on January 9th will provide a festival atmosphere for all the family, with a chance to trial the latest games and take part in a grand TeachMeet. Speakers will bring their expertise, research and classroom-based stories from the world of games-based learning, mobile technology and social media for learning:
Jimmy Wales, Founder, Wikipedia
Karen Cator, Director of Educational Technology, US Department of Education
Theodore Gray, co-founder, Wolfram Research
Iris Lapinski, Director CDI Europe & Apps for Good
Ed Vaizey MP, UK Minister for Communications, Culture and the Creative Industries
Lord David Puttnam of Queensgate, CBE
David McCandless, Author & Information Designer, Information is Beautiful
David Yarnton, General Manager, Nintendo UK
Josie Fraser, Social & Educational Technologist
Tim Rylands, Award-winning Educator
Stephen Heppell, Heppell.net
Tom Chatfield, author, Fun Inc.
Derek Robertson, Consolarium at Learning & Teaching Scotland
David Yarnton, General Manager, Nintendo UK
Ray Maguire, Managing Director, Sony Computer Entertainment UK
David Braben, CEO, Frontier Developments
Alex Evans, co-founder, Media Molecule
David Samuelson, EVP Games & Augmented Reality, Pearson
Dawn Hallybone, Senior Teacher, Oakdale Junior School , and star of the latest Nintendo DS adverts
Professor Andrew Blake, Managing Director, Microsoft Research Cambridge
Evan Roth, artist & researcher, Graffiti Research Lab
Saul Nassé, Controller BBC Learning
Genevieve Shore, CIO & Director of Digital Strategy, Pearson Plc
Tom Chatfield's seven key video game takeaways are incredibly useful for those redesigning curricula (or their classroom practice) who want to tap into the power of video games. My colleague Derek is always at pains to point out that "good teachers use good tools at the right time", but I still meet folk who miss that, and still feel that a lesson without games-based learning can't be as exciting as those with it. Tom notes in particular the potential in using gamer progress bars as indicators of academic and personal progress. He cites the University of Indiana as one of the cutting edge institutions working in this way.
That said, though, I'm sure when even I was at primary school we had a class chart that we filled with shiny stars every time we progressed in our learning or worked particularly well. Was my Year 1 teacher Mrs O'Hare inventing game mechanics in 1982 without knowing it?
Much in the same way as we can learn from how social networks operate in order to. say, make our own virtual learning environments work better, without the need to feel we need to harness Facebook for learning, I'd say that there are seven gems in this talk that show how we can harness games mechanics for learning from tomorrow morning, without feeling the need to learn the practicalities of bringing in Xboxes, PlayStations and Wiis to the classroom. One thing - to get what these mechanics are, it still helps if you've experienced them first hand by actually, erm, playing a game. Something for your Christmas holiday homework, perhaps?
There's one example of visualisation that could help explain why my former colleague Derek Robertson has a regular meet with the press each year, at the same time, justifying (again) why video games are great stimuli for deep learning:
In the video above, McCandless highlights that news stories on violence in video games generally peak in huge numbers around November and April. Why November? It's the month that Christmas releases of video games appear. Why April? It was the month that the Columbine shootings took place and, every year since then, this is the point where the media would like to suggest to us that violent video games were responsible (even though, at the time, it was violent film that made the headlines, video games not yet having attracted that unwelcome kudos).
There you go - if we know it's coming, we can get ready for it.
Originally shared October 11, 2007. Updated August 22nd, 2010.
As a high school French teacher I found the Sims one commercial game that had both the interest of the students and something that directly helped instruct the content I wanted. Since the early 2000s the quality of commercial off-the-shelf games (COTS games) has risen to match the values of feature films.
Most people's perceptions of games and gaming have more to do with the arcade or shoot-em-ups that they experienced when they were teens. How wrong (happily) could they be.
Certain games are incredibly effective at generating more expanded horizons in students imaginations when they are writing and speaking creatively or transactionally. But play itself is not easy to define. In school we have "play time", which must be both different and more fun than any other time in school. If you hear this three times a day over 13 years of schooling what happens to your notion of work and play? It can't be good.
Jane McGonigal is probably the leading expert in what games offer. She suggests that it's arguably not what most educators think. 'Fun' is but one element that many, but not all, games inspire in us. For learning this is great. 'Fun' gets you the same effect as in this video - you grab attention in the short term, you might even change behaviour. For a while:
The educational links have to be sought out, though, when the game is not quite so obviously related to curriculum. This is a skill and confidence teachers have to generate by playing games, or at least spectating their children's efforts and discussing the potential with them. Take Nintendogs as an example. In one Aberdeenshire school we have seen how a game about putting virtual dogs through competitions can generate multiple contexts for learning and activities, from running a business to art and design work.
Another popular Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) game, Guitar Hero, has been used in hugely varied ways by clusters of primary schools and their local secondary school in Musselburgh, Scotland. Depute Head Ollie Bray explains the background to the project, the planning that had to take place and some of the activities that prepared primary school students for a day of collaborative Guitar Hero action in the secondary school at the end of the school year to get secondary mentors and their new primary school friends to get to know each other. Activities included designing guitars, learning how to DJ, designing CD cases, writing fictional band member descriptions and life stories, finding out about suitable locations for a world tour using Wikipedia, tourist websites and Google Earth, planning and costing said tour, and, of course, learning how to play a real guitar.
We also need to consider the kinds of skills games can help students learn before jumping in. Marc Prensky's breakdown of the stages of learning in a game are useful for starters. Most teachers would see the 'how' in playing as the main activity in a game, but moving into the moral dilemmas and complexity of decision-making in more long-term "no endgame in sight" games like Sim City or Rollercoaster Tycoon, we can see that very quickly students are moving into the areas of when, where and, ultimately, 'whether and if' type decisions.
Expanding the horizons of our imaginations The environments within Spore are far more graphically advanced and appealing, far more personalisable than anything that has gone before it. While we wait for Spore to hit the shelves, though, we can still get that buzz and expansion of our imaginations by touring around Myst, Samorost 2 or Haluz. Taking Myst first, a $20 game that has been around for 10 years now, we have ample resource on the web already to see how it could be exploited to bring students' use of language up a bar or two.
Maintaining rigour and engagement Tim Rylands is by far the Myst Master, using the dreamy and occasionally spooky landscapes in Myst III in particular to get students loving creative writing - and improving attainment as a result. LTS has also carried out a Myst case study to show how replicable this way of teaching can be. Viewing Tim at work you'll notice that although the method appears spanking new, the pedagogical background is as firm as it's ever been. I love the use of realia to help students find out what sand really feels like, for example. You'll also notice writing being modeled around extensive use of adjective and adverb, effective punctuation using the punctuation pyramid to differentiate and escalate grammar use:
. ? , !
. ?, ! ’ “”
- . ? , ! ’ “” : ; ()
He sits with the children in the class, with one computer, a wireless keyboard and mouse meaning he's not bolted to the front stage. He praises students by repeating, affirming their work. Students write, write, write, all the time engaged with the task in hand. The result is the kind of writing from young children that is well beyond their (apparent) years. And even with our youngest learners, these ones just seven years old, we can use paired writing to achieve equally magical results. The trick is not the technology, but the support it provides to a great teacher intent on getting kids exploring the wonderful world of words.
Visuwords.com was a wonderful tool introduced to me here in New Zealand just minutes before the workshop in Auckland, which will provide more independent learners with a means of seeing the connections between the basic vocabulary they already have and the new words they don't know exist yet.
We can analyse students' writing afterwards, seeing which words they are overusing or if they could make their text more powerful (by taking a deluge of continuous presents into the active (e.g. the clock chimes, instead of "the clock is chiming") by copying and pasting their text into Wordle.com.
The kind of tasks you can do with these games, though, is not limited purely to 'creative' writing in the fantasy-land way:
journalistic accounts of what has happened (past tense)
writing a transactional piece of writing (a cheat sheet or walkthrough)
And the writing needn't be done individually: group and collaborative writing is possible, too, either using the technology of Google Docs and wikis for some virtual collaboration, or using large A3 paper, rectangle drawn to create a large margin in which up to four students write a little before spinning the paper to add to their friends' texts.
'Free' writing Buying Myst or a bunch of Nintendo DSes (for which Myst was launched in November 2007) might still be too much of an investment for a teacher just wanting to dip their toes in the water. In terms of Dr Kawashima-like games, plump for Tutpup, a free online mathematics and literacy gaming platform that keeps children's identities safe and provides email reports for parents or teachers. In terms of Myst-like creative work, there are some flash-based free games on the web which provide equally mysterious imagination food.
Samorost is available in two versions. Samorost 1 is great fun, although the opening scene with a hooka-smoking hippy may push some teachers away. Samorost 2 is a great game for all ages when it comes to dreamy landscapes on which to base some creative writing. When I blogged about it last session Kim picked up on it and almost instantaneously jumped into creating some amazing teaching and learning opportunities in her classroom. Thankfully, she's blogged about the process and her thoughts on using the game as a stimulus for creative writing. I don't want to copy and paste her thoughts, so take a look for yourself at this great teacher's work, in particular:
I think I know the answer to the last question, and it's the answer with so much of this technology. It's not that the technology is particular cool, funky, well-made or educationally sound. It's that the teacher's style of teaching and learning has almost undoubtedly changed. We've been seeing it since, too, with Ant's students with additional support needs.
Here, in this last example, we witness Kim going from the unknown into the deeper unknown. Living on the edge, not sure how it will pan out, being on the same level of anticipation and discovery as the kids in this new emerging world, means that her practice is also constantly emerging. And that, as I have said [too] often, is a central key to us doing better.
Are you using games or game-making to expand the imaginations of yourself or your students? Are you talking about it on your blog or wiki, or even sharing your students' work? I'd love to know about it.
Imagine being able to interact with content on the screen, with a game or experience, without needing any console control at all. That's what Kinect does (formerly project Natal for XBox 360), and it's about to dramatically change the way things are made in games, as well as experienced.
Milo, in production by Peter Molyneux's Lionhead, will be unveiled at TED in a couple of weeks, where Peter's company seek to give users a sense of wonder like they've never had before - a computer game-experience where your computer game can hear you and talk back. It's what Jesse Schell saw as part of the final picture in his Gamepocalypse.
In the space of two days at GameHorizon we've gone from about to happen to happening in two weeks. That's a pace of change.
Jesse Schell sees games reaching out to real life and real life is reaching into games. He imagines a world, and sees increasing evidence of, the gamespocolypse: where every part of your life is part of playing a game, from brushing your teeth to eating your Cheerios. Some people think this sounds horrible, others like Jesse think it's going to come anyway, so we might as well learn how to do it as well as possible.
1. Social Networking Networks - let's say, erm, Facebook - propagate material that is helpful, funny, controversial or just amazing. Material that is poor quality, that is viral in a bad way, bombard us every day. Our Facebook immune systems are getting stronger, repelling good content as well as bad, since it's easier to turn off all notifications from games or from my Wall on the basis of a few bad experiences, rather than to filter for the good stuff.
For developers, this means the spammy ways of sharing your games and ideas have to change.
2. Microtransactions These have been a huge change in the games industry, and their success is unmitigated - just look at an app store to see this. Just because you're not making money out of microtransactions doesn't mean that the principle is wrong or not happening. This whole model scares console manufacturers who are loathe to move from their large-value consoles to the many times 0.99c transactions
3. Advergaming Billboards in games, when done badly, are done badly. But making games around products (e.g. M&Ms, Dr Pepper, Sweetarts) might feel a bit better. Ultimately, though...
4. Retail gaming Retail gaming is bringing huge potential in partnerships between Farmville-maker Zynga and 7-Eleven grocery stores. By choosing which Farmville-themed cup you'll have for your milkshake you are actually playing Farmville.
5. Brands and gaming - Extrinsic rewards TV Commercial time has, since 1950 to 2010, gone from 13% to 36% of the television schedule. Its encroachment into the games space is inevitable. When we think about how the best brands have used other media, we see how it can work for both brand and individual: Harley Davidson and Tattoos.
6. Wearable gaming - disposable sensors The Oral B Smiley face that tells you you've brushed enough, the Nike+ shoe that games your running and walking, the sleeptracker app on iPhone that tries to wake you at the best point towards the end of your sleep cycle...
7. Beauty Everything is becoming more and more beautiful, and this trend towards beauty effects every aspect of life and especially digital media. Coming up with functional just doesn't work any more.
8. TV Television is evolving. Fast. 3D isn't new (in 1849 the stereoscopic lens came into existence), yet we don't see 3D photography, 3D signage or 3D books everywhere. Are we really going to see this take off in such a ubiquitous fashion? That said, by Christmas 2010 1 in 5 televisions in the UK will be internet-enabled. What does that mean for digital media?
9. Personalisation Games are adapting to take on me as the player rather than the avatar the graphic artist came up with. That's personalisation. Not just letting my type my username in before I play.
10. Authenticity People want to connect with things that are really real, not artificial as games have been for the last thirty years. Which leads to ideas like...
11. Geo-caching Is playing Foursquare and taking twenty minutes to enter any building fun? Will it really become an engaging game?
12. Sharing The 21s Century is built on sharing if the first ten years are anything to go by. Little Big Planet players have made over 2m levels. This collaborative process is leading to more
13. Cloud Gaming Take a look at OnLive - but ask yourself how the servers will be paid for? Cloud computing reduces the cost of storage and servers to 'near zero' if you read Chris Anderson, but it's less 'near zero' if you're paying the bill.
14. Transmedia worlds A world is not just a movie, or a game. It's a separate thing that can be entered in several ways. One of the most successful is Pokémon (cards, TV, toys, Wii, Nintendo, DVD...). In the music world we are seeing more 360 degree deals: the record label takes control of the Lady Gaga music, downloads, games, books, merchandise...
15. Speech recognition Chris Swain notes that film only became the core of modern culture when they started to speak. It's when games start to listen that they become the core of our media experiences. When the method of control is above the neck, rather than below it, the medium will be elevated beyond the power of film, of any other medium for that matter. Schell imagines how this might change our morning drive from a routine of listening to the radio, to speaking to our games, taking games (safely) into new arenas and locations, with different groups of people.
16. Nooks and crannies When so much gaming takes place in so little time that we actually devote to entertainment, the nooks and crannies elsewhere in our packed lives become the new places to play - eating, drinking, working (we've already got that with mobile games) and how about sleep?
17. Portable screens Portable screens easily fall prey to the Hype Curve. From the peak of inflated expectations, to the trough of disillusionment to the slope of enlightenment and into the plateau of productivity. Take a look at the iPad - where does it stand today? The slope of enlightenment? It must be when people are paying £500 to find out what it does!
18. Quantitative Design Bringing in more data from more real-time places becomes a fresh way to make games that change every second.
19. THE GAMEPOCALYPSE This is not maybe all that bad, as the one thing that will not change amongst all these other changes is human psychology. If we can get our heads around that constant, then we can begin to understand the scope of change and potential before us:
Little Big Planet 2 has just been announced by Sony, setting its fans into a spiral of oozing admiration and excitement. They've made two million levels already on the crowd-sourced game/gaming engine. Now kids are being encouraged to make more, with the Hastac/MacArthur Foundation competition.
Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services.
His company, NoTosh Limited, invests in tech startups and film on behalf of public and private investors, works with those companies to build their creative businesses, and takes the lessons learnt from the way these people work back into schools and universities across the world.
Do you worry that your school or district could better harness its people, digital technology or physical space? Do you want some actionable inspiration, a mentor for a learning journey with your staff?
In a keynote or masterclass we can give them concrete ideas based on experience, enthusiasm fired by a vision of what can be, and backup before and after to make it happen for them.