Can students save the world?

Due to my huge interest in “games as learning machines“, I’ve been actively pursuing the idea of “challenge based learning” for some time now. In short, good games build a framework for exactly that – challenge based learning. Players are tasked with numerous challenges, and they must learn what is required to overcome those challenges in order to play the game.

At the same time, education is all too often not about facing challenges and solving problems (as I lamented on recently) and we tend to forget the importance of doing things in a context. Rather, it’s about learning subject matter in relative isolation and with no immediate application.

“Why are we learning this? – Oh, because the central curriculum states its importance”.

Luckily, we’re currently seeing many movements arguing in favor of radical change. Education needs to find a more healthy and dynamic relationship with society, and one where students are allowed a role in shaping and improving the world around them. Why do we instinctively believe, that we have to be socialised through education for 10-15 years before we have any contributions to make? Why don’t we allow students to “make a dent in the universe”, as Steve Jobs famously described our reason for existing. Isn’t it in a way disrespectful to treat our young generations like this, stowing them away in classes where they can cause no harm? Couldn’t we make better use of students as valuable resources in our ongoing pursuit for a better world?

Are we really just afraid, that they can do better than us?

One ambitious and interesting project, initiated by The New Media Consortium in partnership with Apple Education, is appropriately titled “Challenge Based Learning” and intends to explore and promote the idea of linking learning to concrete real-world challenges:

Yes, the video is only showing a very polished image of the actual projects, yet I’m repeatedly impressed and touched by the kid in the end. It really says it all, and better than I possibly could.

A new report is out, where the project studies are described in more detail:

CBL makes learning relevant by giving kids problems big enough so that they have to learn new ideas and tools to solve them, but immediate enough so that they care deeply that solutions are found. Young people want to solve real problems, and that is exactly what challenge based learning is designed to do — give students and teachers a framework that makes learning relevant, and then let them dive in

In terms of clarification, my very good twitter companion, Michelle Hoyle, asked me about the difference between “problem based” and “challenge based” learning:

[blackbirdpie url="http://twitter.com/#!/Eingang/status/136780365573533698"]

To be honest, I don’t exactly know. Both are about solving challenging problems. Does problem based learning inherently focus on actually interacting with society?

Whatever the differences and similarities, it’s an important lead to follow.

Can students really save the world, then?

Maybe not, but we should definitely create more meaningful educations, which, in the very least, allow them to try.

Let’s fail more often!

Here’s a small excercise:

Repeat after me:

failure is good

To support this notion, I could fill this post with quotes from famous researchers, inventors & entrepreneurs, all arguing in favor of failure as a very natural, beneficial, even trivial component of life. I won’t do that, but staying in the realms of popculture, I’ll let J.K. Rowling have a say, quoting her beautiful, touching, deepfelt 2008 Harvard Commencement Address, “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination”:

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default

In education as well as society in general, we have succeeded in painting a much too bleak picture regarding the implications and meanings of failure. Our current infatuation with grades, exams, testing, assessing, measuring, quantifying, sadly only reinforces the fear of failure. We have this rigid, inappropriate system, where if you fail…you fail & it’s irreversible. Bad grades are potentially with you for a long time, just like a rap sheet.

Our educational systems not only maintain the black & white dichotomy between failure and success, they also seem to make students feel disempowered in their experiences with failure, as described by Ceri Jones:

These students don’t see themselves as in control of their success or failure. It’s the school’s fault

We want to promote a willingness to fail, but not failure without ownership. We should allow students ownership and autonomy over successes as well as failures.

As a consequence of the current attitude towards failure, people don’t want to fail. They’re afraid of failing. Fear of failing inevitably leads to a fear of trying. Fear of trying again leads to lack of initiative. People remain in their assigned cubicles (metaphorically as well as literally), performing the daily grind.

In Letting Kids Fail Leads to Innovation, Jon Dudas is making this pretty clear:

We need to let kids explore new ideas that support experimentation and failure in the path to learning and innovation. [...] We need new thinking, experiential learning and bold ideas to build a path to innovation and economic growth, and it starts with how we teach our kids. Let’s ask kids to try and fail without fear, to imagine the possibilities beyond the parameters within an assignment.  By investing in the innovative learning process with our students today, we are cultivating the problem-solvers of tomorrow

As is so often the case (when you’re looking for that sort of thing, at least), games can teach us to stop thinking about failure as some final, catastrophic disaster.

Jane McGonigal is talking about “fun failure” in her book “Reality is broken“, arguing that games teach us to consider failure in a new light:

Learning to stay urgently optimistic in the face of failure is an important emotional strength that we can learn in games and apply in our real lives

Another game designer, Margaret Robertson, has a beautiful account on how playing the painstakingly difficult Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls reminded her, that failure is not only acceptable, but desirable, a component improving the quality of life.

From my perspective, everything is pointing in one direction; we must all learn that failure is not something to fear, but something to embrace. Fear of failure should not stand in the way of initiative. Much can be changed in education, where we can definitely improve on our tolerace for failure, but it requires teachers to be much more willing to fail themselves.

What does it take? How do we challenge status quo, supporting students, teachers & people in general to fail more often?

Revisiting old posts – part two

In this post, I try to create an overview of what I’ve written on my blog in relation to digital media & education. This is the second installment, where I focus specifically on games & learning. See the first installment here

My work remains centered around the relation between games, learning and education (even though I can’t help but stray from that path quite often). My point of departure was quite narrowly concerned with the application of serious games (e.g. Global Conflicts) in school (see my master’s thesis (in Danish) or the English abstract). It’s only been 3-4 years, yet it seems like I’ve covered so much ground since then. I’ve had the immense pleasure of meeting and working with great, inspirational people, and I have been constantly on the move. As stated elsewhere, I sometimes feel a bit like Bilbo, writing and being present in so many different contexts. During the last couple of years I have, however, been trying to make this the central hub of my work, and thus I have collected here some posts on games & learning.

Games & learning

When revisiting my writing on games, learning and education, some patterns and reappearing topics are identifiable:

  • Introductions
  • Games & entrepreneurship
  • Projects & conferences
  • Perceptions of games
  • Barriers to games in education

As with the previous post, these are only analytical constructs; containers for a number of posts, but containers which overlap in many ways.

All links in this post are internal (except when stated otherwise).

Introductions

Despite the increasing attention, the growing interest and the enormous amount of work being done within the field of “games and learning”, we’re still very much in the middle of defining what we mean, when we talk about “games and learning”. I, for one, often gets confused and loses my bearings, because we lack a common vocabulary, a common frame of reference.

As a consequence, I frequently try to define what I’m talking about, drawing borders; basically, I’m chasing a moving target.

As one of my first posts, I asked “what is game based learning?“. I try to find out, what it is, that games do; they “offer a situated practice, where we as players must acquire the skills, knowledge and competencies needed to beat the game, thus echoing John Dewey’s mantra, learning by doing”. At the time, I reached upon this definition: “Game based learning describes an approach to teaching, where students explore relevant aspect of games in a learning context designed by teachers. Teachers and students collaborate in order to add depth and perspective to the experience of playing the game.”

Two approaches to games in educationIn my view, game based learning may be only one of several uses of games in education, and I thus tried to describe “my take on games in education” in a larger perspective. In short, it’s about either using games as learning tools in order to support learning in any possible subject area (e.g. maths, social science, language etc.) or working with games as cultural phenomena, which we must understand.

Building on the former post, I wrote a more elaborate “intro to game based learning“, which represented a draft chapter for the handbook in the GAMEiT Project. Among other things, I distinguish between four different approaches to game based learning:

  • Dedicated learning games
  • Commercial entertainment titles
  • Game-like scenarios
  • Developing games

By the Power of Greyskull” (or merely the internet) it becomes possible, if you are “new to games & learning“, to listen to “the worlds’ finest experts across research and practice”, and I always recommend that. Therefore, I tried to collect in this post a number of very important speakers, who all have valuable insight on games and learning.

Games & entrepreneurship

One particular area, in which I’m increasingly interested, is the relationship between developing games, learning and entrepreneurship. This is way outside my initial line of sight, yet it has proven to resonate with the principles of good games. When David Williamson Shaffer is talking about “epistemic games”, he could thus be talking about games about game development:

David Williamson ShafferEpistemic games are games that let players learn to work and, thus, to think as innovative professionals. Epistemic games are games that let students develop the epistemic frames of innovation. Epistemic games are fun, but they are fun because they are about innovation and mastery of complex domains. Epistemic games are about knowledge, but they are about knowledge in action—about making knowledge, applying knowledge, and sharing knowledge. Epistemic games are rigorous, motivating, and complex because that’s what characterizes the practices of innovation upon which they are modeled.

For the GAMEiT Handbook (an outcome of the GAMEiT Project), I wrote a chapter introducing some of the ideas behind “learning by producing“. Springing from the work at GameIT College, I describe how students develop games and how they, by doing so, start working and thinking a lot more like entrepeneurs.

Talking about entrepreneurs, I urge everybody to “embrace the initiative“. Inside as well as outside education, we need students, people, citizens, who are able to take the initiative and make things happen. Oh, and I also talk about the inherent importance of failure. We need to be willing to fail more often.

Describing a very recent project at GameIT College, I wrote about “games for medical students“, where the GameIT students are “making games for medical students. The games were primarily supposed to be concerned with supporting reflection and decision-making in regard to law and ethics in the field of organ donation”. Highly exciting stuff.

Projects & conferences

This is a somewhat inane and broad category, but bear with me.

GAMEiT Partner MeetingOne of the projects, which have occupied a fair chunk of my time the last couple of years, is the GAMEiT Project, where we have been “exploring game based learning“. “We aim to identify, collect, test and distribute good practice in game based learning. Our project will result in a framework of game based learning pedagogy.”

As the project is coming to an end, we did a conference, which I described in a “GAMEiT Conference – post mortem“, where I sum up the conference, and talk a little about our GAMEiT handbook. At the conference, we ended up talking mostly about the “learning by producing”-approach to games, as almost every speaker touched upon this in one way or another. We also, however, had a chance to reflect upon the capability of games to make us reflect upon the world; exciting meta-stuff.

I keep attending as many relevant conferences as possible, as I always walk away with more than I brought upon arrival. Even though most often I’m not confronted with radically new knowledge, I get to hear what other people in the field are doing, and – most important, probably – I get to talk to people more passionate and insightful than myself. I love that almost more than anything.

IMAGINE (Increasing Mainstreaming of Games In Learning Policies)

Last summer I went to Prague with the very inspiring Ella Myhring, and I wrote about my “impressions from Prague“. We were invited to participate in a workshop in the IMAGINE (Increasing Mainstreaming of Games In Learning Policies), and we each did a talk. I took note of a couple of things in particular. First off, a year ago we were all confused about what the actual meaning of game based learning. We still are. Secondly, some participants argued for the use of small and simple games in order to lower the effort needed to include those games in education. I’m not opposed to “small and simple” per se, but I’m opposed to the idea that we should only consider that type of games out of a misunderstood intention to make things easy. Education is and should not be easy. Games are many things, and we should certainly also include the big, complex and – perhaps – intimidating ones.

Last fall, the European Conference on Games Based Learning (ECGBL) was in Copenhagen (right now it’s in Athens), and I wrote a post appropriately titled “ECGBL“. Despite me not being a researcher in the formal “I’m-at-a-university-doing-research” way, I’m tremendously interested in the field. Three topics were central to me throughout the conference; 1. the idea of using the study of games (usually labelled “game studies”, appropriately) and their understanding of games as our foundation for game based learning, 2. the idea that assumptions regarding games and game based learning must be constantly challenged, e.g. the notion that games automatically foster motivation, and 3. the idea that games should not be directly integrated into exisiting teaching practice, as they should be used to leverage new was of teaching.

Perceptions of games

One thing that always strikes me, when working with games, is the multitude of perceptions.

People think all kinds of different things, when thinking about games.

One discourse, which have been hampering the use of games for anything than entertainment, is the rather crude idea, that games make players more violent. Trying to be just a little provocative, I wrote a post on how “I kill people“, in which I tried to shed some light on the actual research in the field of video games and violence. The conclusion? “We are nowhere near any final conclusions”.

In continuation of this, I’ve been discussing if “games can get too close?“. Time and time again, we see discussions about whether or not games should be allowed to tackle contemporary issues like terrorism and war. “Books, songs, television and movies have been depicting painful events for years on end, and they all caused quite a commotion; at least in the beginning. Why are games not allowed to follow suit?”

I’ve also been looking at “games as arguments” in an attempt to explore, how games can be used as media to promote ideas or arguments. “Could a game persuade you? To think differently? To vote differently? To change your perspective on the world? To buy another brand of milk?”.

Do you want to buy this red tractor?

There’s a widespread perception, that games are not real; or, to elaborate, what takes place in games is not real. The rapid growth of “virtual consumption” radically challenges this notion, because what are you buying, if what you’re buying doesn’t exist? I argue, that “virtual goods ARE real!“, quoting the Finnish researcher, Vili Lehdonvirta, that  “people buy virtual goods for the very same reasons as they buy other goods”. Among other things, this is important because we have to address the notion of “consumer competence” in education.

Barriers to games in education

Many people seem to think, that the barriers to applying games as educational tools are too many and too hard to overcome, and that it really isn’t worth the effort.

It should be obvious by now, that I passionately disagree.

Even so, it’s very important to identify the barriers in order to address them in our continous effort to increase the understanding and use of games in education. (I haven’t explored this in appropriate depth here, but take a look at Simon Egenfeldt’s “The Challenges to Diffusion of Educational Computer Games” for a research based introduction).

When I am (frequently) asked, what it is, that I do – I say, that I build bridges. That I am “bridging gaps“. This is because, I see the many gaps between game developers, researchers, politicians and practitioners as one of the major reasons for game based learning not being much more advanced and widespread by now. We should share knowledge much more vehemently, and facilitate dialogue both with stakeholders inside as well as outside education.

Another barrier is linked to the “time to play“. This refers to the very real issue of the actual time it takes to play games. Many games are big, complex and long, and requires the player to dedicate massive amounts of time. This is hard, but we still need to consider the playing of games an essential part of “understanding games”. “We need to be serious about playing games; even when it’s just for the sake of having fun. Could we imagine a situation, where we only talked about books without ever reading one? Where our common frame of reference was primarily built on some vague preconception rather than first-hand knowledge about concrete books? Where the suggestion of actually reading a book was above all received with scepticism and a disoriented laughter?”

Revisiting old posts – part one

In this post, I try to create an overview of what I’ve written on my blog in relation to digital media & education

I’m not really the stable blogger, churning out a steady flow of blog posts week after week…and I probably never will be. Too much else is going on all the time. Too many projects, conferences, meetings, talks, articles, teaching, trips abroad, games, people and other exciting stuff. I love it. A bit hectic at times, but still; terrific.

I do have a couple of new posts coming up, yet I thought I’d also like to try another approach.

I’d like to try going back.

For you and for me, I’ll try to provide an overview of what I have written on digital media & education so far. Many posts are related, touching upon similar subjects, and grouping thus makes perfect sense; as long as it’s clear, that many posts overlap those four categories:

  • Sharing knowledge
  • A new direction for education?
  • New literacies?
  • Games & learning
The remainder of this post is a kind of summary of all that I’ve written on the blog. It is at the same time a summary of most of my thinking regarding digital media, games & learning.
I’ll cover the first three topics in this post, and the last one – games & learning – in a separate one, as this is a subject I’ve covered in a large number of posts.
Sharing knowledge

As hard as I may try, I’m probably not able to appropriately highlight exactly how important the sharing of knowledge is. 

In “knowing together?“, I briefly touched upon collective intelligence and how it “exploits the potential of network culture to allow many different minds operating in many different contexts to work together to solve problems that are more challenging than any of them could master as individuals”.

Throughout my work – and life – I try to promote “transparency as an ideal“, which I even describe as my business model. Increased sharing is a big part of the solution to the challenges of education, but “how do we nurture a culture of transparency in education? How do we make it not only feasible, but attractive to share?”.

I wrote a blog post on Twitter, which described “why I love Twitter (and you probably should too)” and in which I was able to quite Niels Bohr’s request for “free access to information”. I focus on Twitter, but I try to place Twitter within a larger framework of transparent communication and collaboration.

In my latest post on this topic, I end up shouting in order to encourage people to “share EVERYTHING“. This was sparked by a couple of thought-provoking incidents, which made it all too clear, that sharing is often considered much less important than creating knowledge. I recommend to not “fear experimentation. Try different methods, tools and approaches. Mix online with offline, writing, talking, showing. Be a little more ad hoc’ish – .anarchistic if you like.” We should experiment with the ways we share, and we should not wait until any “final” results; share the process as well.

A new direction for education?

Throughout my writing on this blog (as well as in most of what I do), I argue in favor of change. This is most prominent when talking about education, as I wholeheartedly believe, that radical change is needed.

Inspired by the many game jams taking place, I suggest that we start “jamming in education“. I would love to see education jams, in which we “summon a large number of dedicated, creative teachers and relevant practitioners, release them from the everyday constraints (if only for 48 hours) and indulge them to work out new experimental solutions”.

One challenge in facilitating change is that we are already so caught up in the “old ways” of doing things. We follow ancient maps, when we should probably just “leave the map behind“. “We should consider leaving the map behind a crucial part of our solution. We should continually encourage experiments and a willingness to risk failing by challenging conventional wisdom and old assumptions on what constitutes good education.”

We need to say and do things differently. When one approach doesn’t work, we shouldn’t just do the same again; “don’t just repeat; rephrase!“.

I have a profound problem with our current framing of cheating in education; not least because this practice effectively means, that “I’m a cheater“. “What is considered “cheating” in school, is considered “creative, innovative problem solving” outside school”.

I’m convinced, that one key component of education in the future must be “context design”, which I elaborate upon in “context is everything“. Oftentimes in school, we provide no context for the curricular activities we expect students to interact with. “Whichever kind of education (also the corporate kind) one is engaged in, context is invaluable. We’ll probably never become good enough at designing relevant contexts, but we should never stop trying. We should always strive towards embedding any kind of learning in a context, where said learning actually makes sense.”

This is important because we must not underestimate “the importance of relevance“. If learning contenst is isolated from proper contexts, chances are, that most students won’t understand the relevance and importance of said learning content. If they won’t understand the relevance, they’ll have a very, very hard time learning anything.

We also need to focus on new skills and competences. One such set of competences is comprised by the notion of “entrepreneurship” and the ability to “embrace the initiative“. Quoting Seth Godin, “most people don’t believe they are capable of initiative”. This is sad, and we as educators must be better role-models in inspiring students to think and work like entrepreneurs, who are willing to experiment, take chances and – from time to time – fail.

My latest ponderings on new directions for education was inspired by a little yellow duck (made of LEGO bricks). Guess I was in a poetic mood when I wrote about “the simple beauty of a duck“, yet my arguments were surprisingly well aligned with what I’ve written elsewehere. “Less scaffolding and rigid rules, more freedom and exploration”.

New literacies?

It’s becoming increasingly obvious, that we cannot rely solely on traditional notions of “literacy” in a world, where digital media is as pervasive and important as ever.

This is only accentuated by the oft-cited dichotomy between digital natives and digital immigrants. I’m quite skeptical about the value of these terms, and argue that “digital natives get lost too“. We need to understand, that digital natives are not really that competent, and that being competent means more than “pushing buttons”.

Digital competence can also be understood along the lines of “digital literacy” and I’ve been quite inspired by “a model for digital literacy” put forth by Futurelab. The value of this particular model is, that it makes it very clear, that digital literacy consists of many different skills and competences.

That’s it for now. I’ll be back very soon with another post summarising my writing on games & learning.

Share EVERYTHING!

I don’t normally shout (in typing, at least. I am known to noisy in person, though), but I sincerely feel it is appropriate this time around. During the last week, I’ve encountered several related issues, which I don’t fully understand. Or, to be more precise, I understand them, but they worry me a great deal.
Earlier this week, a quite popular Danish site and forum for people working with media and communication (and hey, who isn’t these days?) known as “Kommunikationsforum” featured an article on Twitter. Despite some very reasonable personal conclusions from the author towards the end the article, it mostly painted a bleak picture based on the very small userbase in little Denmark. Because there are few of us on Twitter, numbers are ridicolously low when looking at traffic generated, and also the general activity level on Twitter (which just reinforces my existing belief, that English is lingua franca in this respect).

My earlier musings ought to make it very clear, why I disagree with a reduction of Twitter to a simple generator of traffic and hits. Not only does this quantitative, metrics-based analysis not say much about the real potential of Twitter, it ends up being just another example of trying to understand one service in the light of, or even worse, as an extension or copy of what came before. This, to me, is certain to lead to misunderstandings and a shallow understanding of, in this case, Twitter.

This brings me to my most recent and eyeopening experience (in all its simplicity).

A couple of days ago I participated in a small workshop focusing on the many international (or EU, at least) collaborative projects to improve education. I’m in one of those projects, and I wholly support these initiatives. The day was all fine and good, visited by very passionate and dedicated people, who obviously were all eager to make the famous difference. What struck me as surprising – frightening, even – was one very tiny exercise, where we each had to tell, why we attempt to distribute whatever we learn in our respective projects.

I may not have been entirely clear or persuasive myself, but I do hope that I managed to convey, at least partly, my huge passion and belief in sharing. I don’t mean to do projects for the project itself, just for the involved institutions, or for entirely egoistic purposes. I want to do projects, because I sincerely believe, that they can contribute to a better world – however microscopic this contribution may be. Frankly, if that’s not the purpose, I don’t care.

Several other participants looked at this quite differently. As they said, they share because they must. Because EU (or whoever is funding the project) tells them to.

In the current upshot of talk on motivation, this is clearly extrinsic. We need the idea of sharing to be intrinsic and meaningful to everybody.

I’ll be very quick to point out, that I’m not targeting anyone here. It’s not that these are not good, competent, inspired people with the best of intentions – I am completely convinced, that they are. It is merely a symptom of a challenge, which is to be found everywhere in society.

We need to challenge and change the firmly rooted culture fuelling the perception, that sharing is secondary, tertiary or even completely undesirable altogether. This holds true in education, but also in society in general. I’ve been there several times, but never stop repeating myself on this matter. Sharing does not undermine your own position. Sharing is not like sawing off the branch, on which you yourself are sitting more or less comfortably. On the contrary. By sharing you make yourself relevant, and move into an even more lucrative position of being someone people want to consult in the future.

Experimentation can be fun!I don’t have any final solutions (I never do, mostly because I think that’s an illusion; nothing is final at a macroscopic level). I don’t claim to be particularly good at it myself neither, but I keep trying, keep exploring new and (perhaps) better ways. This is probably also my primary recommendation – don’t fear experimentation. Try different methods, tools and approaches. Mix online with offline, writing, talking, showing. Be a little more ad hoc’ish – .anarchistic if you like.

Also, sharing should not be thought of as something we do once the project is over. Don’t wait for the build-up of a large body of work before you start talking about what you’re fiddling with. Think of the process as an open, iterative one with a constant feedback loop influencing decisions and directions. Sharing is just one part of reciprocal relationships, where you talk, other people listen and talk back. It’s not always as simple and well ordered as this – far from.

We really do need this change of culture, and we need more transparency.

Everywhere.

Conference on game based learning

As I announced on Twitter earlier today, I’m currently working on a conference to conclude the GAMEiT-Project in a way, which mirrors the overarching purpose of the project – to explore the field of game based based learning (in practice) and to share all relevant knowledge found along the way.
The conference is being held in conference facilities at Park Inn Copenhagen Airport Hotel the 13th October 2011. The hotel is very easily accessible no matter where you’re coming from.

So far, so good (literally and figuratively).

Project GAMEiT

Being the one responsible for planning, coordinating and executing the conference (with help, of course), I’m thus likely to leave my usual mark of openness and transparency on both the process of planning and the conference itself. I’ll attempt to include external partners, announce everything on Twitter (with #gameitconf), and invite inspirational people to introduce projects.

We’ll have a number of keynote speakers (to be announced soon), who will represent some of the most interesting developments in the use of games in education.

Another important component is an open “call for posters”. Again, in accordance with the ambitions of the project, the purpose is to support a more inclusive approach to knowledge-sharing. We want to create at the conference a platform for (primarily) practitioners to tell about the amazing game-related project, they have just carried out. Let me know, if you have done something interesting with games in education, and would like to share it with all of us at the conference (ca. 10-15 minutes).

In conclusion, we’ll introduce the most important findings from our own project; either as a concluding panel or a serie of short talks. In the project, we develop a handbook, which will be available in print for the participants, of course.

Overall schedule will look something like this:

9.00-9.30 Arrival, registration & coffee
9.30-9.40 Welcome – by GAMEit
9.40-10.40 Keynote 1
10.45-11.30 Keynote 2
11.30-12.30 LUNCH (+ perhaps a minor exhibition by developers etc.)
12.30-13.00 Mathias Poulsen with students
13.00-13.50 External contributors (along the lines of Teachmeet and similar initiatives)
13.50-14.30 Keynote 3
14.30-15.00: Panel/Q&A

Pricing is not completely in place, yet count on something around 1000,- DKK (130 €) everything included.

Follow the progress and announcements here, on Twitter, contact me for more information (which will be available soon), if you want to suggest yourself or others as speakers, or if you have any kind of questions.

Oh, and the conference will be in English.

We are looking very much forward to welcoming you!

Why I love Twitter (and you probably should too)

However, to make it possible for nations to benefit from the experience of others and to avoid mutual misunderstanding of intentions, free access to information and unhampered opportunity for exchange of ideas must be granted everywhere.

Niels Bohr

Having recently reread Niels Bohrs famous letter to the UN, I was immediately awestruck by the foresight of his visionary thoughts on exchange of ideas. Suggesting such a transparent approach must have been radical and controversial back in 1950; heck, it still is today.

Tim Berners-LeeEven so, I’m completely convinced that Bohr was and is right.

His vision was later mirrored by Tim Berners-Lee, who, working at CERN in the 1980’s, argued that only by sharing knowledge could the institution and the level of research see radical improvement. Upon realising this, he eventually went and developed the World Wide Web.

Inspired by these incredibly important thinkers, I truly-sincerely believe in sharing knowledge, ignoring or breaking down any possible barriers or boundaries along the way. It is a mandatory prerequisite of change/improvement/reform/revolution, or whatever we like to call it these days.

We simply cannot do without sharing. No one person can perform fundamental and lasting changes on their own (yes, we see exceptions, but they’re seldom and far between).

This holds true in every corner of society, and very much so within education (and also so within the field of video games, as eloquently argued by Michael Abbot). As I see it, not sharing enough is one of our pivotal barriers in initiating change. Thousands of educators across the world is constantly wrestling with all kinds of challenges, from smaller practical issues to momentous questions about purpose and direction.

This work is gargantous, and worthy of the utmost admiration; no doubt! …but what if no one never hear about it? What if good ideas and invaluable experiences remain in isolation, secluded from everybody else?

The true value of the effort, the real potential breakthrough, is only going to happen if good experiences and ideas are distributed far and wide.

Sharing really needs to be at the heart of education and at the core of our actions.

Enter Twitter

Brian Kotts on TwitterIn a series of inspiring exchanges on Twitter some time ago, @briankotts elegantly made the following declaration:

Sharing is the new currency! Educators have moral obligation to do it.

I really couldn’t agree more, and Twitter is great at this.

Being active on Twitter requires you to share and probably also to continuously revise your opinion of sharing. I would not hesitate to recommend every single educator in the world to immediately run off and create a Twitter account and start taking part in the global community of users, that constitutes the real value of Twitter.

I have grown extremely fond of Twitter, this charming little microblogging service with such surprisingly versatile possibilities, and by now I consider Twitter my tool of choice when engaging in networking and communication.

At first, it appears to be heavily limited by the core concept of only allowing messages to span across 140 characters. This limitation, however, only works to the advantage of Twitter, and it encourages users to be reflective, precise and to continually follow up on discussions.

Technology is not the goal however; readjusting our individual perceptions of value of sharing is. Twitter is all about sharing – thoughts, ideas, images, videos, links – and thus serves to not only allow sharing, but very actively encourage it. If you don’t share anything, or don’t share anything of value, you’re unlikely to build a following and thus also unlikely to really harness the potential of Twitter – the interaction with other users.

Where’s the uniqueness?

I’m clearly very preoccupied and infatuated with Twitter, but why is that so? Most people wouldn’t hesitate to reduce Twitter to nothing more than the trivial status updates on Facebook.

I would certainly disagree with such people.

Twitter is much more; or rather, it is something different altogether.

Twitter vs Facebook

Facebook is, by nature, a closed network. Precedential use is limited to connecting with people, whom you already know. Friends, family, colleagues, and more peripheral acquaintances as well, but still – people you know one way or another.

Twitter is not like that. Twitter is open, encouraging interaction independently of the mutual obligations in the “Facebook friendship” (however that friendship is interpreted). You can follow people without their consent, and no reciprocity is required. If you think Twitter is full of nonsense, you’re simply following the wrong people.

This allows me to follow all the interesting persons working within my fields of interest (games, digital media, learning & education – in short), and over time (perhaps) build a relationship to those people through meaningful interaction and discussion.

At the end of the day, what keeps me tweeting is the dynamics; the fact that there’s always something going on. Twitter never sleeps. The chance to not only peek into the minds of really smart people, but also to enter immensely inspiring discussions with said people.

Get in the game

If you’re entirely new to Twitter, Mashable offers a very elaborate guide. In short, go create a profile, start writing updates (tweets), follow interesting people, initiate or participate in discussions, provide relevant content. Accept that it may take some getting used to, and that people don’t start following or communicating with you right away. Keep at it, be resilient, tweet your ideas, good experiences, provide links to articles, videos, comment on other peoples tweets – be active, be relevant; and please, speak English. Anything else is too excluding, effectively hindering communication across borders.

Besides following and communicating with people, #hashtags is one of the keys to really harnessing the potential of Twitter. Roughly speaking, hashtags are used to categorize topics, just like the tags on this blog serve as a container for specific subjects (go here for a more detailed introduction).

Here’s a brief selection of interesting hashtags as seen from an educational perspective:

  • #dkudd – a newly established hashtag used for tweets on education (uddannelse) in Denmark.
  • #edgames – my attempt at introducing a hashtag for games in education in general
  • #gbl – a widely used hashtag for tweets about game based learning
  • #gameliteracy – another attempt by me, meant to tag tweets specifically on game literacy
  • #edtech – a very popular tag for tweets on technology in education
  • #edchat – also very popular on education in general

I’d be a fool not mentioning the fascinating phenomenon that is the Twitter chat sessions. These sessions probably take place all the time, and really show the true potential of Twitter. Often such an event is scheduled, but sometimes people spontaneously initiate discussions as well. Again, the hashtag is central, as the only thing connecting all participants is a hashtag. These may be one of the above, or #UKEdChat is another popular example. For a relatively comprehensive list of educational chats, visit Cybrary Man.

Purpos/edAs if all of this was not enough (regarding possible time spent, it’s much more than enough, rest assured), another marvelous initiative has recently been launched; purpos/ed. As clearly indicated, this project is about purposes. More accurately, it’s about trying to explore the purpose of education. If this in itself sounds ambitious, how about nailing this immensely difficult question in 140 characters?

Follow me on TwitterPlease, don’t just take my word for any of this; go, sign up, and immediately take part in the multifarious and dynamic discussions taking place all the time. If you’d like, follow me (If not, don’t).

…but do start sharing.

Context is everything

I can’t stop thinking about context.

I mean; context is really-really important.
Pause

Pause.

Rewind!

Rewind.

Think!
Think.

Do you ever do anything meaningful without it being embedded in a proper context?

Perhaps I need to rewind even more, and take a brief look at definitions. What am I talking about when talking about context? Turning to Princeton WordNet, I am supplied with two interrelated and appropriate interpretations:

DefinitionsDiscourse that surrounds a language unit and helps to determine its interpretation

The set of facts or circumstances that surround a situation or event: “the historical context”

Context is that which surrounds, that which adds depth and imbues our decisions and actions with meaning.

Contextual learning

Turning to education, learning in educational settings has for way too long been confined to a life in isolation within the boundaries of the individual institution – and this to an extent, where students’ attempts to break the isolation are frequently considered “cheating“.

In the most dystopic of scenarios, schools “teach to the test“, as it’s (un)popularly expressed.

That’s terrible.

It’s as futile and meaningless as it gets, really.

Teaching to fulfil a very specific purpose internal to education without paying attention to the needs of the world. In addition, each topic is isolated from one another, effectively creating an artificial situation which in no way mirrors the interdisciplinary complexity of the world outside school. At the assembly line...

What it does mirror, unfortunately, is the industrial paradigm of the early twentieth century. When content is isolated from context, and the same goes for the different subjects taught, I can’t help but think of the tayloristic idea of scientific management.

Any distraction is removed in order to increase efficiency within a closed system, where each worker contributes only to one small part of the whole process. That worker probably doesn’t have any idea as to why she is doing what she does, or how her effort fits in a larger context.

It shouldn’t be like that.

Learning should be relevant, and ideally it should always connect to the world and the life of the students. It should be clear to the students why we want them to learn this or that, and how said learning could be applied in the larger context of society. This is not just me rambling, as many learning theorists have proposed similar ideas, most prominently probably Jean Lave & Etienne Wenger in “Situated Learning” and Wenger later in “Communities of Practice“.

In short; education always needs to build on contextual awareness. I’ve already labelled educators “designers”, but perhaps a more precise label would be “contextual designers”?

Mediated context?

So. We should not practice education without contextualising said education.

Fortunately, we may actively appropriate media as tools for building relevant contexts for learning. All kinds of media are imbued with the potential to bridge the gap between the classroom and the world outside.

Social education

Social MediaTake the wide array of freely available social media.

Traditionally, written communication remains in a closed circuit including only teachers and students. This has some serious negative implications for the experienced relevance of written assignments, as students see no value in their work, except as yet another possibility for the teacher to assess their current level.

Why not embed those assignments in the dynamic ecosystem of online media?

Whether you choose to let students write blogposts or Wikipedia entries, discuss topics on Facebook, produce videos for YouTube, engage in communication on Twitter, perform intervues – or all of the above – is less important. What really matters, though, is that you challenge the traditional borders of the classroom. Break them down with a sledgehammer. Set the students’ work free – but don’t let them off entirely on their own. They still need support, guidance, sparring.

If you doubt the value of this, think about your own motivation to do things, which have no clear purpose or which contributes in no way to the world.

I, for one, don’t care much about doing such things.

Playful contexts

Games, analogue as well as digital, make for another important example.

Every single good game in the world creates a framework – a context – within which the player takes certain actions in order to beat the game. Whatever these actions may be, they merely consist of pressing buttons, moving sticks, swinging a controller or jumping in front of the screen. This again leads to a variety of consequences – shooting russians, fighting dragons, managing resources, racing cars or solving puzzles – which seem relevant to the player, but only because of the context, in which they are embedded.

Was it not for this context, figuring out how to do those things would probably seem as irrelevant as figuring out how to do social sciences, math or chemistry.

Now, context in relation to games can consist of many different components. The fictional world is one such context, providing us with a more or less satisfactory narrative to explain our actions.

Another context infusing a sense of meaning and relevance to our in-game actions is rooted in the human need to be social. If our actions turn into interactions and in one way or another become meaningful for someone else as well, allowing us to build and nurture relationships, then we have a deep, meaningful and valuable social context.

This understanding of context lies at the core of the reasoning behind game based learning, as described by Shaffer, Squire, Halverson & Gee:

More than a multibillion-dollar industry, more than a compelling toy for both children and adults, more than a route to computer literacy, video games are important because they let people participate in new worlds. They let players think, talk, and act in new ways. [...] These rich virtual worlds are what make video games such powerful contexts for learning. In game worlds, learning no longer means confronting words and symbols that are separated from the things those words and symbols refer to. [...] In virtual worlds, learners experience the concrete realities that words and symbols describe. Through these and similar experiences in multiple contexts, learners can understand complex concepts without losing the connection between abstract ideas and the real problems they can be used to solve. In other words, the virtual worlds of games are powerful because they make it possible to develop situated understanding.

David W. Shaffer is himself pursuing the directions outlined in the above, when he is doing research in the “Epistemic Games Group“. They create games, where players take on the roles and the epistemologies of engineers, city planners, journalists, graphic artists or negotiators. They work within the context of the professions.

Serious Games Interactive have been trying to achieve something similar with their Global Conflicts-series. Here you take on the role of a journalist trying to uncover and potentially resolve a range of issues across the globe. As in any game, you have to learn something to win, and it is the context of the game that imbues this “something” with meaning, making it more than distant, isolated facts and fragments of information.

A very fine Twitter companion, Alex Moseley, is having yet another take on this. He’s “Educational Designer at the University of Leicester” and very interested in the importance of context, and he maintains that “games can engage learners through the creation of authentic contexts“. Alex has written several papers on this topic, and recently he discussed the importance of narrative context to solving problems in games:

Induction, research skills, key skills, work-based learning, assessment, activities… use any of these within a course without designing them with the subject/course context in mind, and you’re setting yourself up for unengaged, poor performing and complaining students.

One final mention this time around should be Simon Brookes, with who’m I’ve also had valuable discussions on Twitter (where he’s @pompeysie). Simon is working intensively with entrepreneurship education, and he’s using “alternate reality games” (ARG’s) to bridge the “reality gap” between education and “authentic experiences”.

Here’s a quite elaborate webinar talk he recently did on the topic (if you just want the presentation, it’s similar to this one):

What all of these examples goes to show, is that games can provide authentic contexts approximating real-life situations, where students/players are working with meaningful, situated problems instead of learning abstract “content”.

As the examples also illustrate, there’s not one right way to design proper contexts. On the contrary, there’s a multitude of inspiring and creative approaches. As a consequence, I’m obviously unable to supply any one simple solution.

Whichever kind of education (also the corporate kind) one is engaged in, context is invaluable. We’ll probably never become good enough at designing relevant contexts, but we should never stop trying. We should always strive towards embedding any kind of learning in a context, where said learning actually makes sense.

I’m a cheater

Smartphones - making cheating easier?I just read this post, where it is stated, that “smartphones are the next classroom computers”.

I definitely agree that using smartphones in education is one of the viable paths we should currently be exploring. These tiny, yet powerful “pocketable computers” provide us with a wide array of possibilities, which, if used cleverly, can obviously contribute to more dynamic, authentic learning scenarios. This presupposes a willingness to challenge existing structures, though. If we just cram smartphones in the classroom in support of current practice, little will be achieved.

Technology is not the ultimate saviour of education.

People, using available tools in creative and reflected ways, are.

The above was not, however, what said post really made me think about.

No cheating?No, it inspired me to think about cheating, by promoting this as one major problem in using smartphones:

Because of the negative ways students use cell phones in class, like cheating or texting, some teachers say they’re wary of the idea.

We all know of this concern.

When the walls of the classroom are broken down, ignored as they are by especially digital media, the traditional ways of thinking about and assessing student progression is fundamentally challenged.

When everything can be found on Wikipedia, how do we test our students?

Does "helping" equal "cheating"?

For several years, the “solution” has been one of creating artifical borders. We’ve been desperately clinging to our old ways, creating a classroom that is becoming increasingly isolated from the surrounding world, and all in order to be able to test and measure students. We’ve been forced to do so, because of the predominant “if we can’t measure it, it’s worthless”-dogma.

Use appropriate tools!I can’t help but think about how I myself work and learn. I see no borders, no boundaries. I use the tools available to me, find the information I need and solve the problems I’m faced with. I may read a blog post, which I stumbled upon via Twitter, where I afterwards return to discuss said post. I visit Wikipedia to get an overview, before I may even find a relevant book on the shelf. I mail a friend, we talk on Skype and perhaps I write something here.

No problem, no learning process exist in isolation, and I’m thus always involved in an informational ecosystem much, much larger than whichever situation I’m currently finding myself in.

If I were still in school, I would clearly be accused of cheating, as I’m not really adhering to any particular set of rigid rules.

In many ways, what is considered “cheating” in school, is considered “creative, innovative problem solving” outside school.

I don’t have any glorious solution to this problem, yet I’m urgently aware, that we must revise our idea of cheating. When students are “cheating”, they are very often only doing what every single one of us would do; only difference is, they’re in school, we’re not.

They’re using a wide array of “tools” to solve problems.

Instead of our ultimately doomed attempts at preventing this, we should be actively encouraging it. We should be designing learning contexts, where the old notion of cheating is no longer valid, but where the learning process requires students to use tools interactively (after all, that is considered a key competence by OECD and others).

simoncrookWe generally need to shift our focus. That which can easily be googled (by cheating) may not be the most interesting in a learning perspective. On Twitter, simoncrook recently wrote, that “if students can Google the answer, rethink the question”. If we pose questions which can be answered by a simple Google search, we pose the wrong questions. Why not shift the focus from factual knowledge towards using tools to solve interesting, relevant problems, which approximate real world problems? Or better yet, addressing actual real world problems.

But administration demands us to maintain the rigid testing, you say? Let’s be creative within existing structures, but let’s simultaneously work to change those structures.

Nothing is carved in stone; it’s all just a matter of perceptions, and perceptions can change.

Don’t just repeat; rephrase!

I’m doing all kinds of stuff, both when working and when trying not to.

It often proves hard to find a common denominator encapsulating my activities; to briefly explain what I do.

One attempt, however, might emanate from the idea of challenging the “established order of thinking”.

This is not to say that things “established” never work or only work partially. It is just that I consider it important to seek new ways, to explore new grounds, and to attempt to approach problems from different angles.

I would probably offend no-one by stating that traditions and habits die very hard in the world of education. Many processes are carried out as they are because that’s what we’re used to. Again, some habits are valuable and should be maintained. Others, however, are no longer appropriate, and should be substituted by something else. I try to work out what the “substitutes” could be.

Don't just shout it out – recompose the message (credits: view from 5'2"' http://www.flickr.com/photos/viewfrom52/)

Last summer I was talking to this Finnish girl living in Denmark, who complained about a pattern in her communication with Danish people. Now, she’s actually quite good at Danish (for a Finnish girl, that is), yet from time to time, words or sentences got lost in translation, and she naturally asks for a reiteration. The crux of the matter is, that most people just repeat what they already said – the same all over again, even though it’s exactly what caused the confusion in the first place. All right, but faced with the fact, that the message is not yet understood, the most patient of people try again. The same thing, repeated like before – this time only LOUDER.

I’m not making this stuff up. Please, enlighten me, what should it help to shout things that were not understood when spoken?

This conversation made it unmistakably clear to me that the alternative path is the solution. In the specific situation, alternative words, phrases, synonyms; approaching what was not understood from a different angle, combining words in new ways in order to convey the message in a more understandable fashion.

This seems like a valid metaphor to me; when something is broken, or just not working as it’s supposed to, don’t simply do the same thing once more.

Be creative – do something else.

Don’t just repeat yourself; rephrase the entire message, deliver it differently (or stop talking altogether).

Anything else is just a waste of energy.