There's an interesting experiment happening on Channel 4 (UK) at the moment, which makes me wonder what learning, schools and teachers might borrow from nearly-now nearly-live interaction between audience (students, parents, community) and "reality subjects" (educators, school management).
The show reveals the life of a score or so of normal people living in Notting Hill are followed each week by the cameras, their week cut up into one hour of docu-drama, and broadcast that night. The difference with most docs is that the flow of the programme, week-to-week semi-live, allows the "characters" to interact with their public, through the online site, Twitter and Facebook, but also through real-life interactions in cafés and the street. It's called Seven Days.
Matt Locke, helping to mastermind the online-TV mix here, noticed something the other night that he'd never spotted before:
About half-way through the latest episode of Seven Days, one of the characters, Cassie, took out her laptop and started talking about how people were talking about her on the show’s website. Sitting at home, monitoring the performance of the site on my laptop, I saw a huge spike in traffic as thousands of other people logged onto the site to see what all the fuss was about. This spike was higher than we’d seen the week before, when the rush of people coming to the site on launch night crashed the servers, and even higher than the biggest peak we saw in the final series of Big Brother earlier this year. We’d clearly hit on something, but what was it?
This is new for television. It's less new for live conferences where panelists interact with audience for real and on Twitter, responding and adjusting as appropriate.
It would be totally revolutionary, and slightly uneasy-feeling, for the vast majority of teachers. How would you react if students were criticising, feeding back or applauding your professional - and potentially personal - life online, raw and ready for you to react to the next time you see them online or in person? For years students have done this behind closed doors, or on the way home.
As we enter an era of online group spaces arguably being the most comfortable fora for young people to discuss their lives, I wonder how this would jar or excite.
[A summary of my Game-Based Learning talk, with all the bits that I didn't manage to cover in 18 short minutes]
Gaming affects and infects so much of our lives to the extent many of us don't recognise its beneficial effects any more. It's no surprise that educators need to push a "games-based learning" agenda just to help education communities and leaders start to realise some of the untapped potential that comes when we look at games from the point of view of creating systemic changes in learning and learning spaces.
For a start games seem to raise our expectations from the moment we launch them, like a Hollywood blockbuster, and then engage us for as long, sometimes longer. I'll long remember the day I returned from a day teaching to find my wife, newly adorned with a copy of the Sims, still in pyjamas and rather hungry - she'd been too busy feeding, washing and dressing her virtual friends to do any of the above to herself. Or my mother, who, on a stay over with us could still be found at 2am fighting Eastern European-type terrorists in Call of Duty.
The fact is that the opening of a game lets us know that we're in for as much joy as the drah-drah, drah-drah of the 20th Century Fox drums:
Challenge is different from fun
Games also manage to help us achieve two things that are also essential for learning. Firstly, we get quite quickly into a sense of flow where, like my wife playing Sims, we lose track of time around us and are absorbed into in-game time. Secondly, we're provided with challenges that are, it seems, perfectly pitched at our zone of proximal development - not quite too hard to understand, not quite too easy to make them boring.
The result of these three factors - raised expectation, flow and Vygotskyism - is a level and intensity of engagement with content that film, TV, books, even live football matches fail to achieve to quite the same level. I'll take suggestions of any of the above that achieve the emotion of a video-game for 20 straight minutes - about the least amount of time we spend on one.
But these faces are not just exhibiting 'fun', and in some cases would suggest the opposite. Games offer more than just fun, and for leaders this is vital to understand. It might even be worth stressing that fun is of secondary importance of all to the notion that games challenge in ways traditional linear media (from feature films to textbooks to PowerPoint presentations) generally do not at such regularity with such power and impact.
Gaming as part of a wider media literacy
Gaming is not just about offering challenge, which nearly always indicates learning. Gaming, and specifically play, make up a large part of our understanding of media literacy, and engaging the senses on more fronts would, I'd like to suggest, make for some fascinating transmedia learning experiences.
A good model to think about where gaming fits into the new media literacies our youngsters (and their parents and teachers) need are Henry Jenkins' New Media Literacies. They can be summed up thus:
Play — the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving
Performance — the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery
Simulation — the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes
Appropriation — the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content
Multitasking — the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details.
Distributed Cognition — the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities
Collective Intelligence — the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal
Judgment — the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources
Transmedia Navigation — the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities
Networking — the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information
Negotiation — the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms.
Some games make no attempt to teach our youngsters about the wider
connected world, being more about skills development in a particular
(subject-focused area) e.g. Dr Kawashima's Brain Training. But generally, video games are superb at hitting a lot of these new media literacy bases, beyond the obvious ones of play, simulation and multitasking. In this paragraph from a stream of enthusiastic consciousness about game-based learning in a Scottish nursery/kindergarten room, we see that the game itself is secondary to game-inspired activity, and this is how games tend to hit so many of our literacies framework:
Caring for goldfish in playrooms, bringing in fish from fish counters on ice and investigating these, children’s drawings and paintings inspired by pet pictures by artists such as Monet and Andy Warhol, visits to Pet shops, visitors in to nursery linked to pets, photographs by children of their own pets and home links, use of video camera and digital camera by children in playroom, pet corner made and designed by children where they dress up as pets to be sold, use money etc etc, sensory area with linked activities, emergent writing and mark making at all areas in the nursery where the children record what they are doing, the list goes on.
This is why an over-emphasis on 'play' as a reason to harness the potential of gaming could be unhelpful in understanding why games are so powerful as learning contexts or tools; there's a lot more than play involved in effective learning that has gaming at its core or point of inspiration.
Therefore, to make sure we can stretch the literacies of our youngsters we, as teachers, might think about how we shape the social and learning environment in our classrooms and online to start filling in some gaps.
Why bother learning new media literacies in the first place?
Good question, with an easy answer. The creative industries are the fastest growing and already significantly large sector in most of the Western world, and increasingly in the Far East, too. In South America it has arguably been the profession of choice for many years, creating a world-class advertising and marketing industry throughout the continent.
Yet, I feel, the largest differential in this set of industries, spanning fashion to design to technology to games manufacture to filmmaking, will not be the cost of doing business - quality counts above price for the products and services of these industries, and outsourcing is generally done to highly paid niche experts, not to lowly/under-paid mechanical Turks on the other side of the planet. The differential factor will be the ability of its practitioners, accounting for a pace of growth twice that of the rest of the British economy, to continually out-smart competitors with a global understanding of these wide skills bases. Filmmakers have to understand the potential of gaming, game-manufacturers will have to understand how data sets and social networks can make their experiences ever more rich and realistic, fashion designers will have to understand how core technology can make their clothing better or help sell it more effectively.
Therefore, the largest differentiator is possessing 'hybrid talents'. Hybrid talents are ones that understand the potential of other sectors' work, but also where it fits within a larger systemic understanding of how users/customers/learners operate within a complex set of literacies. Without this latter understanding, how are we going to produce media that is both challenging while not being out of the user's depth, and how are users of that media (learners or customers) going to be able to understand ever more complex games and narratives of the kind Janet Murray describes in the brilliant Hamlet on the Holodeck?
This is a genuine challenge. In the past two years I've seen that the success ratio for digital media to gain investment is about 1.5%. That is, for every 250 ideas generated by people only 4 manage to bring that understanding of the wider digital ecology in which they will survive. A lack of hybrid talent means most people lose out, it means our creative industries lose out.
Creating games that fit in the wider media ecology
Games that achieve this understanding of the wider digital ecology meet with phenomenal success. While most of the Routes Game flash minigames played in isolation through Miniclip receive huge numbers of plays, the repeat engagement with the subject matter remains far less than when those same games are played embedded within the context of a long-line narrative, community challenges and a murder mystery.
Sneeze, pictured, a game designed to understand the spread of disease, is an example of this phenomenon, having received over 15m plays alone.
Similarly, traditional linear movies are increasingly using games as a means not just to market the film but to add to the experience of watching the film. Last year's Sherlock Holmes release was accompanied by an online flash game 221b.sh.
The agency who created this were at pains to make sure that the film/brand of Sherlock Holmes would "be in a better state after their work than when they picked it up". That is, the game they produced had to extend the storytelling in ways linear film could not. If you take one of the many comments of players/viewers of the film, they succeeded:
Why games & playfulness are particularly good at changing behaviour
If you were to only read the red-tops you'd believe that the only behavioural change that games can engender was one of feral violence and sleep deprivation. Looking closer, though, we can see how the ingredients of good games can work in the real world, by making 'fun', engaging and even challenging acts as simple as choosing to take the stairs instead of the escalator:
Adding play to signage is more likely to achieve the desired result, too (picture, right). Across the UK we see anti-speeding signs that achieve results not by telling us off, or snapping us and punishing us at a time long after the offense, but by smiling or "looking sad" when you speed. The results of this playfulness have been disproportionately more successful than punitive measures.
Likewise, a gaming philosophy underpins our attitudes towards the punishment for speeding. In the UK, it is nearly a machismo statement to claim you have earned three or six points on your licence. In Italy, where any measures to reduce machismo in driving will be used to great effect, you start off with 12 points and then lose them as you speed or break the law in other ways.
More directly, we see gaming elements at play in social apps designed to inform, educate and spread around the web, creating more change in habits - MirrorMe is a good example of this.
I've been fascinated by a new breed of truly interactive television that has been in the making for at least a year, and started to appear at the turn of 2010. From the UK, Dr Aleks Krotoski's Virtual Revolution has provided us not only with a fascinating snapshot of where the net is in 2010, and where it's come from, but she and her team have offered up their entire filming back catalogue for us to remix, bodge together, cut up and blend into new forms and formats.
Meanwhile, Stateside Henry Jenkins tells us about Digital Nation, a PBS programme which filmed him and other luminaries as "an extra" to the main television programme.
Digital Garnish vs Digital Beef There's a difference, though, between the PBS "Digital Garnish" and the BBC "Digital Beef". Aleks points out that core to this difference is recognising that her product (a TV series) had at least two audiences:
From the start of the process in early 2009, The Virtual Revolution’s production team envisaged two audiences: the first would be an online community who would help to develop the themes we would explore, clarify hard-to-grasp technological concepts, tell us when we were heading in the right or wrong directions, and really put their stamp on the finished programmes. In the tradition of the new breed of wikinovels, wikiarticles and wikifilms, this would be an open and collaborative project within a larger old media landscape that hoped to engage an increasingly disjointed and distracted audience in a new media way. In return, they’d have access to our rushes that they could use to spin their own documentaries about the web.
As someone who has spent my professional life flirting with old and new media, the openness and collaboration was one of the biggest draws when I was approached by the series producer last March. From my point of view, it would be a gross oversight to create something on this subject without the input of the online peanut gallery.
The second audience would be the BBC2 viewing public. They needed grabby content “on rails”, as game developers describe it, evoking images of a journey viewed through a window. This was the paydirt audience: watching the show that would get the reviews and the ratings. The complex concepts that we worked through with the online community would be presented in an easier-to-consume, more streamlined way. And, despite my interactive bias, it turned out that this was where the art of storytelling really emerged.
Normally, in the world of digital product marketing, focus is where it's at: find what you want to do first, execute it better than anyone else and then move on to take over other land. Amazon did books for sale at a cheaper price first, then personalised book recommendation followed by book recommendation for gifts to others and wishlists. Big Brother does, well, Big Brother.
What Aleks and her team produced is an emerging realisation that it's never as clear cut online as it might be in the world of "product marketing", where you're shifting a finished good to a client or customer. The process is where the innovation is most likely to happen, the final product (for the masses) is where the mainstream element comes in. However, the mainstream element that Aleks and her team produced was different, different because it was most definitely informed by the audience's reactions on the blog and, beautifully, by their own mashups of the filmed content the BBC gave away.
The video at the top of this post is amongst the most amusing, exploring the whitespace and cutaways that always end up on the virtual cutting room floor..
With Aleks it happened by accident, creating two separate projects: it wasn't an process without some turbulence:
"I was uploading a photo I had taken on the shoot to my Flickr site, or dispatching another update to my Twitter followers, when the director of photography asked: “Why?”
"For him and the rest of the crew, I was doing a lot of extra work that was distracting from the real reason we were there: to create a piece of non-interactive storytelling that would broadcast to a mainstream audience in a primetime slot."
In the future, this co-production approach should happen by design. The interactive early adopters will realise the beauty in linear storytelling, and those in the storytelling business will realise the power of editing with your audience:
Now imagine that for a breed of digital product with the potential to be mainstream but with the admission that there is a second, vital audience: the enthusiastic amateur that wants to rehash, remix, recut the original and make something not necessarily better, but certainly different. Take this further: the product your first audience produces is not merely a "nice to have", but core to how you cut your final product. The user-generated editing and user-generated content is but part of your wider editorial, production and developer team, all making a better product together.
Whether you're in the business of making television, designing digital products or designing curricula for the creatives of tomorrow, this co-production approach by design, not accident, should underpin the work we plan, because the results are not just more of a learning experience for the creators of content, but for the audience, too. Learning together, pushing and pulling on the content through digital platforms, ultimately makes for a better end-product that is reviewed, rated and assessed.
Scotland's games industry makes more cash for the UK than the film industry. My six-figure investments this year in the sector seem small-fry when held up against the seven-figure investments made by independent companies themselves in the hope theirs will be the next big hit. Dundee's Realtimeworlds has had to attract over $80m to produce its 2010 release, APB, above.
Yet, as Jack Arnott points out in his Guardian column, the daring and skill demonstrated in studios around the world is barely honoured in our annual plaudits. You rarely see end-of-year "best of" or "top ten" lists in your glossies that include video games:
For games, however, [these end-of-year lists] acquire some extra significance. The lists you may find dotted around national newspapers this Christmas reflect an increasing slice of cultural cache for a still emerging medium. For a lot of people, arts critics especially, video games are still very much a poor relation to their more well-established siblings.
Even in its own media-luvvy domain, games are still looked down upon by those who see the craft of film-writing or programme-shooting as more, well, 'noble'.
The same snootiness is still visible in education despite the work of dedicated, tax-payer funded units like the Consolarium and legions of empassioned expert teachers like Mark Wagner. Video games are on a joint-pegging with the television and the internet in children's media habits, yet tend to feature only on the last day of term for most youngsters. The potential to learn in the game, as well as learn from their production, is lost to all but the most culturally open and connected of educators who want to expand their students' understanding of gaming beyond simply picking up another coin.
As we hurl ourselves into the last days of learning this decade, we might not see top ten lists of computer games in our holiday special bumper magazines. It is with hope, though, that more educators will realise: videogames are not just for Christmas.
BT Wholesale is working with BT Retail and two other ISPs –
understood to be Orange and Virgin Media – as well as the BBC, Channel
4 and Five, on a network called Content Connect. The idea behind the
service is to store popular video content on an ISP's network, rather
than relying on the internet, which is becoming increasingly congested,
for the delivery of online video.
A logical extension for those in education who can turn the vision into reality, is that schools and education authorities are or can be Internet Service Providers to their institutions. In the same way as Scotland national intranet, Glow, hosts content on a network of cache servers throughout Scottish schools, a Local Authority or small country could ramp up the potential for downloading and sharing high quality video 'online' by not going online at all. Use overnight downtime to download prime learning content overnight to a local area network, and then deliver it quickly at the point of need during the day.
Previously, only large-scale enterprise could envisage this way of borrowing content on the cheap to serve it later at faster speeds. As a service provided by a larger scale programme such as that proposed by BT and Google, the economies of scale they will earn let the rest of us enjoy fast video at a reasonably priced premium.
Could it really change anything?
But, given that television was promised (wrongly) to be the saviour of learning in the 60s, how would you change things in your learning and your students' learning to take advantage of such an opportunity? Are classrooms full of plugged in kids, akin to the average open-plan office of iPod-entangled drones poking at Outlook, what we're after? Or would fast-streaming video be a significant enough innovation to change pedagogy, curriculum and school spaces beyond recognition?
I'd say there are a good few educational and Governmental establishments where at least 11 of these hold true in day-to-day practice. Shouldn't every organisation, public or private, check itself on a regular basis against these statements? If you did it on your own one right now, how many statements can be seen in your work?
In an age where celebrity is held higher esteem by tweens and teens than ever before, Simon Cowell has emerged as an unlikely superstar: old enough to be most teens' dad, appearing to have the Midas touch where everything he touches turns to gold, the evil-turned-soft record label mogul.
In the last week, he's written a letter to his younger self which every admiring fame- and money-obssessed youngster should read to gain a worthwhile reality check.
On the eve of his 50th birthday last week wrote a letter to his younger self (A letter to my shallow, reckless, cocky younger self). It charts the rise and fall and rise and another fall of the boy who thought he had it all when, in fact, his bank account read zero:
"Look at you. You look like a complete idiot. Could you be any worse?
You are about as bad an example of Eighties' excess as you could
"You are overconfident, far too cocky and dressed
from head to toe in expensive designer gear. Armani and Versace. Oh,
nothing but the best for you Simon! It hasn't dawned on you yet, you
idiot, that you can't afford any of this stuff.
"You believe that everything is just going to get bigger and bigger
and that you are an intrinsic part of it all. You are up there, riding
so high, that you cannot see what is really happening.
hell is that outside your interior designed, four-bedroom house in
Fulham? Please don't tell me it is a Porsche? Doh! Of course it is,
what else could it be? You are driving a Porsche because everyone did
in those days."
Read more of it over on the Daily Mail, and, if you recognise the cocky youngster about to lose it all (for the first time) sitting in your classroom, maybe send them the link.
If we all knew the idea we'd not be writing blog posts like this, reading them or doing workshops on the matter. We'd be busy pulling that limitless supply of creativity out of its hole to see the light of day and bring us riches, joy, learning and new friends.
However, given that we're not, over the next month or so (or however long it takes me to splurge out those thoughts) I'll be summarising on this here blog some of the best online and offline reading and viewing that has attempted to answer that question, throwing in my own unresearched but tried and tested notions (and a few that haven't even got that far). This post will change to reflect the updating posts that will take a peek at:
Creative Genius. Man At Work: Arguments for not working as a team
Getting Creativity Done (GCD): How to get productive and clean down the mental decks
Nurturing creativity: Worrying about "Tanya's Bow" or the Dinosaurs: Some arguments for caring about the team, not pissing them off and really understanding what failure is
Finding your tribe
Creating visions, not missions
As they're posted, please leave comments, disagree, add your own links, videos and pictures. I hope that by the end of it we'll have a resource to which we might come back with the stories of how the works, thoughts and attitudes of others have changed the way we operate.
In about five minutes the PR machine is likely to kick in as Alexandra Burke wins the X Factor. But it's amazing to see how little her online profile has been managed over the past twelve weeks of finals live every Saturday night on the telly box.
In other news, I'm delighted Alex has won, netting me loads of dosh (virtual dosh, that is) on Hubdub.com, a wee Edinburgh-based site making waves across the entertainment and news worlds at the moment. On the other hand, condolences to JLS, whose member Marvin is close to the hearts (and stomachs) of us at Channel 4 - his dad is the catering manager.
So what's the conclusion of all this? Well, social media can't trump pure talent, and tools and platforms don't make up for creativity and genius.
OK, it only took a few minutes to do, but the will to do this in the first place, coming from Scotland's national education agency, should be a powerful message to all education authorities around the world: you can and you should be looking at how all technologies might provide an opportunity for learning and teacher development.
We've had GoogleVideo clips since last September, although most of the material is for proof of concept and is from the East Lothian area. We've also just opened a Blip.TV channel which should be more accessible in schools and which, I think, has a nicer interface than anything else - just need to fill that one up a bit. Once again, we're avoiding that big project, big launch thing. We just hope that we can get some even more interesting video out there over the next year - it's not like events such as the Learning Festival don't provide enough ;-) When we've got that we might make a little bit of a song and dance about it (we'll video the song and dance, of course).
The advent of TeacherTube should mean that we get in there, too, and we probably will. But part of me also thinks we should be engaging with 'real' tools first and foremost, not slightly phony 'safe' schooly curricular ones, where the quality of content is just as debatable as on non-schooly versions and doesn't seem to be kid-friendly. Judy's got a resounding silence to people who use it successfully in lessons, and I don't think it's really helping answer the real question: do teachers know how to exploit video online in a safe way? The answer, as Leon Cych hints, is probably not: how many of those kids in the videos have written sign-off from their parents, as East Lothian teachers have now been empowered to do? In the 21st century informal learning, not the formal stuff, will become the way the vast majority of lifelong learners will get their fix. Is creating a new silo of information which is deemed more valuable because of its 'safeness' worthwhile?
Clearly I don't think so, and, for once, we've got a public organisation making a very public statement on its intentions and desires with new technology: use what the kids use, use what engages them, and educate them about it in school.
Meanwhile, what kind of videos would you find of interest from your (inter)national education provider? More of the same? I'd hope that we might also have some new ideas to bring to you through the box, but maybe the next big idea is from you. And, yes, we will see you on Bebo soon ;-)
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.