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A plague on all your houses! October 6, 2012

Posted by IaninSheffield in Inspiration, Web 2.0.
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Plague IncEnjoyed 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!

As well as the quality, feel the WIDTH … August 21, 2011

Posted by IaninSheffield in Inspiration, Musings.
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For some while now I’ve felt that the ICT many students in school are exposed to, struggles to represent the ICT those students experience in their everyday lives, nor that with which they might need to become comfortable and facile as they move into higher education, work or adulthood. In school they seem to learn about and with the usual industry-standard applications, yet occupy a

Width warning

from ell brown on Flickr

world where Internet connectivity and mobile devices provide access to untold riches across a range of applications to support their work, learning and play. But our schemes of work (and the specifications which drive them?) seem to limit and restrict, rather than liberate. Given the formal nature of our assessment systems and the need to obtain nationally recognised qualifications, perhaps that’s hardly surprising.

I’ve been mulling over for some while now the means by which we might extend the range of ICT opportunities we provide for our learners. To offer chances beyond the formal system … which by its very nature struggles to respond to the rapidly developing environment that is ICT. But how?
There were certain factors which I felt were important to incorporate:

  • Participation by students should be voluntary.
  • It should work alongside and with our current ICT provision, yet not impact on the workload of the colleagues teaching it. Consequently this would likely need to be some form of supported self-study (with some element of self-evaluation?).
  • The areas covered should explore new tools and the new affordances they bring.
  • The architecture should be extensible in the sense that new ‘modules’ can be added as needed to further extend and enhance provision.
  • Tasks undertaken should link with other areas of the students’ studies, providing authentic opportunities to develop skills.
  • There may be lessons to learn from the principles of gaming, both in providing motivation to participate, degree of challenge and monitoring and rewarding progress.
  • The facility to develop communities of practice should be an integral aspect, so that students support (and assess?) each other.

Now let’s consider Jenny, a Y9 (14 yr old) student who has been set a homework task by a teacher. The class have been working on a group activity over the past few lessons and the teacher wants them to summarise and present their findings … they’re often asked to do this in different subjects. Sometimes they get a choice of which medium they use, digital or not and sometimes they’re told to do it in a certain way. Jenny can produce a PowerPoint presentation standing on her head; she’s been developing her skills since Y5. So have the rest of her group. But they always struggle when it come to dividing the labour; should they all work on different slides then bring them together. Or should they take different roles, someone collecting imagery, someone else writing the text and someone else editing it all together? What’s more, they’ve not yet mastered the techniques which the PP platform offers for team working and collaboration (well, that’s not in any of the schemes of work so they wouldn’t have). Perhaps there’s an alternative technology which might set their presentation apart from the others, or one which offers greater potential for collaboration, synchronous or otherwise.

It’s to provide support for this kind of situation that I want to work on. Provide an environment from which students can extend their learning of ICT skills beyond that which they normally encounter. Somewhere they might go to address a shortcoming they might have or even just out of interest and curiosity … or even maybe just for fun!

Lots of thinking still to do so any thoughts you have, do please drop them in the comments. Am I just being fanciful?

Students Teaching Teachers? May 2, 2010

Posted by IaninSheffield in Inspiration, research, TELIC.
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Whilst out on the bike today, I was catching up on some of the podcasts I tend to accumulate and the one that caught my attention was episode 190 of Teachers Teaching Teachers. The theme was the role that games might play in school, an area that’s recently piqued my interest. Although it’s a podcast I’ve only recently become aware of, the folks on TTT occasionally invite students into the sessions … and that’s where it got really interesting for me.

The students (Jake, Riley and Matthew) were Seniors, incredibly articulate and I guess it’s fair to say, experts in this field. The teacher participants were trying to tease out the effects that gaming could have on learning . . . with only modest success. This resonated with me as I’d been attempting to do the same with the student involved in the pilot study for our 365Learning project. My initial impression is that students perhaps don’t have the vocabulary to articulate thoughts about their own learning – why should they; it’s something we rarely ask of them. (It’s also the case that I need to develop my questioning skills a little more!)

Although I didn’t find out much about the effects of gaming on learning, it was still fascinating listening to what the students in the podcast had to say. There was a marvellous moment when one of the teachers suggested to Jake that discussion about the narrative and content of a game was difficult, since other students may not have played it and only at higher levels is there sufficient complexity to warrant serious discussion. Jake’s immediate response was that the same is true in the non-tech world if some class members failed to read the set book, or had read the first chapter only. Touché!

Student discussion

From St. Gallen Symposium on Flickr

I came away from the session thinking that we perhaps don’t do this enough. i.e. provide a forum within which teachers and students have the opportunity to engage in serious discourse about learning. Surely there’s much we can learn from each other, given half a chance?