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

Does it Hurt the Profession

This continues to be an amazing trip — if only because I left home last Friday and have yet to get on an airplane.  I love it.  Yesterday, I was lucky enough to catch the Acela high speed train back from Boston to NYC, arriving at 8:00.  The hotel is on a fairly shady street, so I stuck to my room last night, forgetting to e-mail my brother with a breakfast restaurant suggestion.  A little surprised that a New Yorker would ask a North Carolinian for restaurant suggestions in NYC.  I’d caught sight of a dinner on my walk up from Penn Station, but couldn’t remember the name this morning.

The Tick Tock Dinner, as seen from Google Street View.

So, and this is a first for me, I pulled up Google Maps, found Penn Station.  Then I switched to “Street View,” retracing my walk, and there it was/is the Tick Tock Dinner, just beneath the Hotel New Yorker.  It’s OK.  I’m not ashamed of being old enough that this stuff still AMAZES me.

It was an excellent day at Nobles and Greenough School yesterday for their Emerging Technologies Conference.  I was a little intimidated by the fact that their last two keynotes were Alan November and Will Richardson.  But the day went off well, made new friends, and was very pleased to witness Liz Davis’ first large audience presentation/keynote, which she did with Tom Daccord — obviously seasoned at this sort of thing.  She was at ease, funny, highly expressive (which is important on a stage), and passionate.  She did GREAT. 

However — and the point of this blog — during my afternoon session about on-demand, in-time, on-going, and casual professional development, a young man, from the predominantly private school audience, politely interrupted to ask,

“In our efforts to improve the community’s image of teaching as a profession, does it benefit us to openly utilize this social information environment, which is not formally published, is un-vetted, in unrespected in some communities.” (a liberal paraphrasing of the question)

There was a lot that I could spout from the Web20 koolaid.  But what’s tricky is that we all have our own vision of the profession and makes it a profession — and it isn’t right for me to intrude on his vision with my own.

So what does this messy new information landscape that I’m suggesting we make significant use of, do to the profession?  Please comment!

But here’s a paraphrasing my answer — or what I was trying to convey.

“I believe that the professional educator, today, must engage in this open and global conversation.  We should blog (or whatever), reflecting on our experiences and our profession. We should actively and generously share what we’re learning, contribute to the conversation and the the growing body of knowledge, and we should invite other stakeholders into the conversation where appropriate.  Our professional and personal image should become dependent on the quality of our communications, the logic and validity of our ideas, the threads of connection with the ideas of others, and our knowledge built from success and failure.

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