A plague on all your houses! October 6, 2012Posted by IaninSheffield in Inspiration, Web 2.0.
Tags: cross-curricular, games, gaming, Plague Inc
Enjoyed a beautifully sunny autumn day out on the bike today accompanied by Tony and Darrel, the EdTechCrew … or rather their podcasts. That’s not unusual; I often enjoy and benefit from their informative and witty banter, but the podcast I caught today (Episode 211) was unusual. Introduced as an interview special with Plague Inc creator James Vaughan, I wasn’t particularly overwhelmed. Though I recognise, value and promote the potential of games to support and encourage learning, I’m not a gamer … there, I said it! But hey, here I was out in the countryside enjoying a blissful ride, so I resisted the temptation to skip to the next podcast. I’m so glad I didn’t!
In words the guys would understand, it was a corker! A ripper! Why? Well firstly James came across as an incredibly interesting guy who spoke with such passion and eloquence, telling the story of how Plague Inc came into being. And what a tale it was. But more than that, this was a story which referenced so many different areas of the curriculum, providing a touchstone for teachers coming from a wide range of backgrounds. The game itself clearly links with Science, Biology and PSHE, based as it is on infection, pathogens and disease. Then of course Geography is important, requiring the player to have some appreciation of countries and their interconnectedness. James’ story linked in with Maths and IT in the way that he developed and refined the algorithms which drive the game, even using Excel to manage the statistics and formulae which underlie the game mechanics. Naturally Design and Art played a large part in getting the game out of James’ head and into the hands of the gamer and there were clear illustrations how Business Studies and Economics help turn an idea into a product. But there were also lessons aplenty to be learned on the importance of the hidden curriculum and soft skills highlighted by James’ entrepreneurship, persistence, patience, determination, creativity, imagination, responsiveness and communication. The way he assembled the resources he needed was perhaps an ideal illustration of how projects can be developed and executed in the 21st century – finding then collaborating with a group of geographically disparate individuals to design, develop and produce a product, yet never meeting them face-to-face. Getting his product onto the market and achieving unexpected and dizzying heights of success … but with no marketing budget! Using social media as communication channels through which he can connect with players, listen and respond to their feedback and improve the game with each iteration. Could all of this been achieved 10 years ago? Possibly. But then there were no iPhones, no apps … no market! Do we have here an ideal example of one of those jobs often referred to in the somewhat hackneyed phrase ‘We’re preparing students for jobs which don’t even exist yet’? I think so.
A fascinating hour for which I thank Darrel and Tony and especially James. The power of podcasting to inspire and entertain!
Do you know what? Following this interview, I’m even tempted to buy the game … heck I might even play it!
Digital Explorers … new ground? April 28, 2012Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, Teaching Idea.
Tags: cross-curricular, Curriculum, Digital Explorers, ict
Eight students arrived for our first Digital Explorers Club on Thursday lunchtime earlier this week; a small, but helpfully manageable number to start.
The thinking behind the Explorers Club is to address a number of issues that have been giving me pause for thought. Following an audit of ICT across our curriculum and a review of students’ experiences of ICT, it became apparent that opportunities to move beyond the bounds of the familiar are rare. For whatever reasons (and that could be a whole post on its own) the majority of students for the most part, play safe and stick to the familiar territory of Word, PowerPoint & Google, with a brave few experimenting with MovieMaker and more recently Prezi. The interesting thing is that they haven’t encountered MovieMaker or Prezi as part of the formal curriculum. Neither is covered in ICT lessons. What seems to have happened is that a more adventurous student or member of staff has used Moviemaker or Prezi (or has suggested its use) and that’s been the catalyst to pique the interest of some brave or adventurous souls who then went away and learned how to use and apply those applications themselves. It’s not for the faint-hearted – we still occasionally get students drop by the office saying their Moviemaker file won’t work and it inevitable transpires they weren’t aware that their composition hadn’t been rendered into the final movie. But that’s part of the learning process and an accepted part of being an early adopter. The interesting thing is that, having now been around for a while, creating movies is becoming almost accepted practice; it’s not unusual for students to ask if they can produce a movie to satisfy a particular task they’ve been set. Prezi, at least in school, only surfaced more recently, but it’s clear that it too is beginning to percolate more widely. Growth and expansion of new and alternative applications seem to be occurring organically from within the student body, rather than being mandated as part of what they have to learn. I find that intriguing.
Digital Explorers then is intended as a ‘seeding’ process through which applications less familiar to students (and staff) can be introduced. Clearly some will fall on stony ground, but others may pass over into the mainstream and over a period of time, students’ experiences become broader and richer.
The choice to name the club Explorers wasn’t taken lightly. I’ve heard it expressed on several occasions that we ‘spoonfeed’ the students too much and that they in turn come to rely heavily on being provided with a sense of direction by their teachers. My intention then is that Explorers Club will challenge that notion by offering activities in a different way to those encountered in the classroom, where suggested routes are offered, but the Explorers themselves choose and forge their path, using their companions for support. Each week my intention is to suggest a region (it could be creating an avatar, making an animation or recording a podcast), offer possible routes, then allow the Explorers to plough their own furrow, taking things as far as they choose and in the direction they choose. OK in fairness I ought to mention that I also have a hidden agenda and want to sprinkle in elements of safety and ethical use of ICT, but I think that’s fair … and definitely prudent!
My intention also is to keep as hands off as possible, so the tasks will be introduced using our learning platform together with Edmodo. The former means that the activities we undertake can be shared more widely since students unable to physically attend Digital Explorers for the F2F sessions can still participate. The latter offers another fresh environment for the students to explore and having its own app, perhaps a more efficient and timely way to communicate. I have some idea of possible areas for exploration, but hope to be guided by the interests of the Explorers. As they become more familiar and comfortable with the concept, the hope is that they will relish the opportunity for greater autonomy. With luck in two or three years I’ll be redundant as they become an independent, self-sustaining, self-regulating group with its own sense of purpose. Well OK, I can dream can’t I? Small acorns and all that.