A Ramble about Getting Reminded…

Flickr Photo by Sharyn Morrow

I keep getting reminded that many of the people in my audiences are not of my generation, though I suspect that this is more true of those who read my blog or follow me on Twitter than those who sit politely in front of me.  I was reminded of a generational gap over the past few days as I have conducted a Twitter poll using polldaddy.  The question…

Do you typically read the packaged instructions before you start playing video games?

86% indicated that they do not read the instructions but simply start playing the game, learning along the way.  This was out of 117 respondents.  I asked my son if he reads the instructions and he said, “No!” and that he didn’t know anyone his age who did.  If you think about it, ask your students how many of them play their game only after reading the instructions, or if they just start playing.  Comment here if you have time.

Of course the respondents of my survey were probably not a good cross sampling as they were Twitter users, who follow me — a suspect group from the start.  But still, when I am presenting to a school district, it is a far more representative audience.  Often someone asks the attendees to identify their generation, and a vast majority, typically about 80%, will stand up as Boomers.

The best corollary I can think of for my gen is board games, and you simply could not play most board games without having read the instructions.  So what’s the difference?  There are probably those who believe that it’s because these kids are not capable of sustained reading for deep understanding.  I think it’s because playing a video game is more like a conversation.  Each decision you make and action you take is responded to by the game and you learn the goals and rules of the game through that conversation.

Of course, I do not play video games.  But admittedly, when I attack a new piece of software, it is in the same way that my son approaches a video game — I just start playing with it.  I try something, and if it does what I expected, then I’ve learned something about the tool.  If it doesn’t do what I expected — then I’ve learned something about the tool.

Added later: I guess my question is can teachers who demand instructions (step 1, step 2, step 3) teach experiential learners?

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Schooly Games

I’m here, at NECC, for only two and-a-half more hours, so I need to squeeze in as much as I can.  So what am I doing?  I’m at the blogger’s cafe.  The interesting thing about such a big conference that is so multidimensional, is that you can hardly turn around without learning something.  I step in the Second Life Lounge, and not only am I re-introduced to some of my best virtual friends (without the purple hair), but I turn around and there’s Steve Dembo, presenting somewhere in this complex, but displayed on a large LCD.

Walking throught one of the large open halls, I run across the Games & Simulations Lounge where I talk for a minute with Jeremy Koester and then get the five minute pitch on a couple of the games featured there. 

As context to my reaction, I go back to the Leadership Symposium yesterday, and some of the general theme of conversations here at NECC — that it is a time to blur the walls of schooling, to recognize and respect the opportunities that we and our students have to learn outside of our classroom walls.  The Internet and the new flow of information that has resulted from Web 2.0 applications offers an anytime/anywhere learning environment — where learn becomes a lifestyle, not just something you do in school.

Yet, both of the games I learned about were constrained by the rules of the grant providing organizations, a desire to produce a game experience that could be safely administered in traditional classrooms.  Both of the representatives I talked with admitted that the games would have been something different, and probably better, had it not been for the insistence for  classroom-ready products.  They wanted the games to be schooly — and in my opinion, they stopped being games, at least from the perspective of the gamers that many of our children are.

We need to object to this and to be more vocal in our proclamations for learning lifestyles that are independent of time and space.

I’m finishing this up at the San Francisco Airport, one more leg to New Zealand.  It’s currently 8:20 PM on Monday, and I’ll land around 5:00 AM on Wednesday — somewhat west of the DateLine.  Blows my mind.

Games for Change Festival

Since I could’t seem to be able to upload any of my photos, this is something from Flickr contributed by Dusk Cao
“Lunch Time at Games for Change Festival”
This is the photo I was not able to upload yesterday at the conference.

I am at the Games for Change conference (festival) in New York.  I’m not sure if I’m uptown or downtown.  It’s on 12th street, just east of 5th avenue, at The New School of Design.  It’s a small/compact conference with lots of people who care.  Games for Learning is about designing and using video games as a force for social change.  It’s an area that I know little about, except conceptually, since I don’t really play video games.  I’m here to learn, and the opening keynote certainly offered lots of opportunities for that.

Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times, has writing extensively about social change, apparently focusing most recently on Darfur.  He made some interesting points about communication, that Toothpaste companies do a better job of selling ideas than most humanitarians.  He said that large numbers simply do not do the job, that the human brain isn’t wired to handle large numbers.  As we evolved, we were seldom surrounded by anything exceeding a dozen in quantity.  “Six people starving is a tragedy.  A million people starving is a statistic.”

He told about a middle school in the Bronx, where the plight of Darfur had become an integral part of the culture of the school — because of the video game, Darfur is Dying.  Incidentally, two of the developers of the game were in the audience.  He said that they school sent him an invitation to come and speak by sending him to a web page URL: dearmrkristof.com.

He said that the struggle that defined the 19th century was irradicating slavery.  Of the 20th century, it was defeating totalitarianism.  He suggests that gender inequity in the developing world will define the 21st century.

The next session was about Pew’s recent report on teenagers, video games, and civic involvement.  Joseph Kahne listed five myths about video games:

  • Video games are violent.  There are violent video games, but teenagers, in truth, are playing all kinds of video games.
  • Many boys play only violent games. In truth, most youth play many genres of games, especially boys.
  • Game Play isolates you. 65% reported that they play in the presence of others and 27% reported that they play online, collaboratively with others.
  • The Game defines the experience.  Not true.  Many games offer huge opportunities for differentiation of the game experience.  My son got bored with Halo in a couple of weeks.  So he and his friends started inventing their own games to play in the Halo environment.
  • There is a huge digital divide when it comes to different groups’ video game play.  Again, nearly 100% of teens play video games across all demongraphics.

What I found interesting was the notion that the digital divide is more about the divide between classrooms that are making authentic, productive, empowering use of digital technologies, and classrooms that are using it to drill and kill (my wording).

The second speaker of that session was Ian Rowe, who works for the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation.  He is currently focused on college completion.  He reported that only 70% of U.S. teens finish high school.  But only 50% of entering college students graduate with a degree.  Part of the problem is that only half of the graduating high school students are prepared for college (1/3 of all high school students).

It’s time to bring this entry to a close, except to share one thing that Jim Gee said in a later session on assessment and video games.  He said, “Looking at the choices that people make in solving problems is a good predictor of knowledge they have gained. But measuring knowledge does not predict problem solving ability.”

Choice vs Knowledge

Eco-games for Kids

I leave today for an eight-day tour that has me in Richmond, Lynchburg, suburban Boston, New York, and those are the ones I remember. What’s remarkable is that I do not get on a plane until the last day.  Cars, trains, cabs, subways — I love it.

I wanted to add this one thing to my blog before I get back to the one remaining writing deadline I’m struggling with and starting to plan the brand new keynote I’ve promised for the 1:1 conference in Pennsylvania week after next. 

I was scanning through USAToday on my phone and found this article, Eco-games help kids to do good.

The first of three described is “The Greens.”  Created by WGBH and partly funded by National Geographic Educational Foundation, the site offers 11 episodes (webisodes), “..short video stories -that cover a wide variety of issues about living ‘green.’

Featuring cousins Izz and Dex, the site presents real-life eco issues through the eyes of these hip teens. In the most recent episode called That’s a Wrap, Dex unwraps a large present with numerous smaller boxes inside to discover that the sender has given him a small notecard stating that a tree has been planted in his honor. Wryly, Dex notes: “But you have probably used a whole tree with all these boxes and wrapping paper.”

Time to get back to work, but look at the article and check out the other two games, “Elf Island,” a virtual world where the player is an elf and “Emerald Island,” another virtual world entered as animals.

Your Game Puppet

Flickr Photo by Mark CoffeeGeek from Vancouver

Tweeted yesterday that during a pilot project in Portugal involving 8 and 9 year olds setting up virtual businesses in Active Worlds, they were encouraged to call their avatars, their “toys.”

I just discovered a Tweet-reply from VWassessments (Kathy Landerson).

Interesting -in SL -“avatar”, in WoW players call them “toons” & have main & alts, in Muxlim Pal -it’s ur “pal”, in Spore ur “creature” (Landerson)

I wonder how your term for your game puppet affects your relationship with the player identity and/or the player’s relationship with the game?  I’m sure somebody’s researching that.

For that matter, how does the students relationship with a end product affect his or her relationship with what’s being learned — or how well it’s being learned?

I always preferred being the race car.

Landerson, Kathy. 11 Apr 2009. Online Posting. Twitter. Web: 13 Apr 2009.

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200 Virtual Worlds for Kids

Club Timemachine [click image to enlarge]

I am still working on this article on virtual worlds in education, an ran across this report from January 26, 2009.  According to Virtual Worlds Management, more than 200 youth-oriented worlds are currently live or in development.  This is an increase from 150 known youth-oriented virtual worlds in August of 2008.

I pulled the listing into a spread sheet and did a little inquiry.  Here are some of the things I found:

  • 38 of the virtual worlds products are explicitely intended for children six and younger.
  • Two are being developed in Australia, 2 in Belgium, 8 in Canada, 2 in China, 3 in Denmark, 4 in Finland, 2 in France, 4 in Germany, 3 in Israel, 5 in Japan, 4 in Korea, 2 in Spain, 2 in Sweden, 14 in the UK, and 126 in the U.S.
  • One is in Alpha, 10 are in closed beta, 36 are in open beta, 7 are in concept, and 26 are under development.  Most of the rest are live.

“200+ Youth-Oriented Worlds Live or Developing.” Virtual Worlds Management. 2 Feb 2009. Show Initiative, LLC. 26 Jan 2009 <http://www.virtualworldsmanagement.com/2009/youth-01-26-2009.html>.

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New Online Journal from MIT Press

Screen Shot of IJLMI’m probably a bit late with this, and only have a few minutes, but I got this news release this morning (5:15AM GMT+3) and am very excited about the potentials.  I got the link from MIT Press Journals intern, Johna Picco, announcing IJLM, The International Journal of Learning and Media.  Here is a snipit from the release and a link.

MIT Press, in cooperation with The Monterey Institute for Technology and Education (MITE), is pleased to announce the publication of the first issue of The International Journal of Learning and Media (IJLM). A first of its kind, the journal is devoted to examining the intersection of media and learning in multiple contexts… Facebook | The MIT Press

The first issue includes the following titles and more:

  • Learning: Perring Backward and Looking for Forward in the Digital Era
  • Childhood: Changing and Dissonant Meanings
  • Why Virtual Worlds Can Matter
  • Let Everyone Play: An Educational Perspective on Why Fan Fiction is, or Should Be, Legal

I cant’ wait…  Read it here.

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The Future in Edmonton

Ready to Record
About to get underway.  The presentation was piped to students in five high schools across the district.

Most of this was written during my flight home from Edmonton on Tuesday.  I had spent Monday in Edmonton, Alberta, working with about 250 educators from the local school district, some neighboring districts, and the local Catholic schools (also publicly funded in Alberta).  Similar to many of the districts I’ve worked with lately, the Edmonton Public Schools have been focused on improving student performance, as measured by the province — for which Edmonton has been especially successful.  But they are now looking to the future, realizing that much has changed in recent years, for which their schools have not kept up.

I started off with a general keynote address talking about the future, our students, and how the nature of information has changed, becoming increasingly networked, digital, and abundant.  That address was watched, via teleconferencing, by several students from each of five high schools across the district.  These students backchanneled the address using Knitter, the transcript of which was immediately made available to the educators in the immediate audience.  They used this transcribe and their own reactions to fuel small group reflections and conversations.

One of the continuing themes of the students’ conversation was the digital divide and a learning divide. Another was education in general, about which they were fairly conservative in their opinions.

Here are some quotes from the studentss chat:

I do not want to just learn facts, I want to learn why things are said and done the way they are.

..education cant change the only thing that changes is the way its delivered

I say we make Windows and Mac open-sourced. Send the development code to tech instructors at public school boards. See what happens 🙂

As part of a conversation about Wikipedia and the library:

there’s no reason to go with one or the other, but it IS necessary to know how to use both

To the question, “…isn’t technology making us lazier?”

Theres a fine line between lazy and the ability to do more, if the computer can check our spelling, that saves us time to do more

i believe that technology has made the poputaion lazy. but it can also be veiwed as a very positive thing if we learn to use it in a way that is positive for society.

About Facebook:

Facebook may not be completely safe but neither is taking public transport that doesn’t stop us from using it

Random thoughts:

y not cut down on the keeping up and focus on whats important, student learning, there’s always going to be the latest and greatest technological advancement…

Sitting and watching powerpoints for an hour everyday is not as exciting as it may seem

computers are used like typewriters, everything useful is blocked or restricted

why not make the students the teachers..

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Ready for Work?

Flickr Photo from Matthew Stenzel

A couple of days ago, I worked with the school district of the Chathams (yep, two Chathams), a few miles west of Newark, New Jersey.  It was a facinating and very appealing community and I was reminded, once again, how hospitable people can be and not be from the south (sorry).

Most directly, I worked with a local education foundation, which has funded a number of technology projects for the system, including projectors and interactive smart boards, video game systems (Nintendo DSes, and a cyber social learning center at the high school.  They asked me to come and talk about video games, their associate superintendent having met me at an NJ conference a year ago.

I presented an afternoon workshop with educators, sandwiched between two sessions for parents and the community, one in the morning and one in the evening.  It turned into a long but very enjoyable day.  As you might expect, there was some initial skepticism about the educational potentials of video games, and I did not alleviate all of it– nor should I.  We should all remain cautious about new technologies and new techniques.  It is too easy to go overboard, blinded by the glare and seduced by the glitz.

We tend to form our opinions about what is new from our past experiences, and when talking about education, we all have fairly rich experiences to draw on — and though they not always positive experiences, they are indelible.  It was during the evening session that the most push-back occurred, as I shared some findings indicating that the video game generation is more sociable and better collaborators than the previous generation.  This ideas is especially difficult to easily grasp when it goes against the experiences of watching our children spend hours alone, at the screen, game controller in hand.

One particular woman challenged this idea, stating that employers are complaining that young workers are unskilled at personal interactions and do not easily adjusting to work life.  I should have asked her where she was hearing this and under what circumstances, but being pressed for time, I simply responded that these video game and social networking experiences do not make our children and that we all had difficulty adjusting to our first jobs.  I also brought up one of the studies, published in Got Game, by John Beck, Senior Researcher for the USC Annenberg School’s Center for Digital Futures.

Part of the message of this book is that because of their video game experiences, today’s youngsters are gaining skills and insights that may be especially useful to today’s business and industries.  However, those skills may not be easily apparent, that to see and leaverge these skills we have to alter our expectations and even aspects of the work environment and schedule and even the nature of our assignments.  The woman seemed less than completely convinced, but I went on.

After the session was over, a young man came up and introduced himself.  He has recently taken a new job at a small publishing house, but before that worked at McGraw Hill.  He said that he supervised a number of employees and that he found the younger folks to be a delight to work with — that they were creative, good communicators, and eager to please. 

He also mentioned that McGraw Hill had offered generational training to its supervisors, informing them of the differences between the work styles of younger workers and older ones.  He said that one thing he remembered was that younger workers want to know that they are doing a good job, that they need frequent reinforcement — an idea that makes sense in view of the constant reinforcement provided by video games, and even social networking activities.

This is not to say, again, that the kids are perfect communicators and or collaborators or that they adjust easily to new work environments.  The issues are far to complex to express in one hour.  However, it is essential that as we continue to value our own experiences and the lessons of those experiences, we must be willing to open our minds to the value of new ones. 

It’s not a new lesson!

Video Games in Chatham, NJ

Presenters Deborah Evans and Erik Yates

I’ve been working in Chatham, New Jersey, today, for their Education Foundation.  The organization has invested a lot of money in the schools, including a cyber center in the high school, a section of the cafeteria where students can lounge and have access to laptops for surfing and working together — social learning.

I’ve been doing my thing about video games as learning engines for parent groups and teachers.  My presentation is followed by Deborah Evans, who is a self-professed gamer.  What impresses me is that she is almost my age.  She started with a Commodore 64, on which she and her kids played Zork.  She said she would never forget that Christmas. 

After that, her children started using educational games to master math facts.  But things got interesting again when they discovered SIM City.  Deborah went on to adventure games but is now entrenched in World of Warcraft.  She makes the point, as she shows a typical WOW scr

People with a British Accent are so smart! 

Eric Yates, the district’s K-6 tech integrationist, then talked about his experience of brinking Nintendo DSes into his elementary classroom.  He got the idea, when he first ran across Brain Age.  The Education Foundation invested in ten DSes and Erik has learned a lot about using them in elementary classes.  One of the best features of the DS, he says, is that it is wireless, and multiple devices can communicate with each other. 

He is basically using them as a learning center.  As groups are doing differentiated activities, one of the options is using the DS and math software.

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