Edu Labelling of Commercial Games…?

Teachers: EDU On Games Does Not Make Everything Okay

Mario-GameMy friend, Knowclue, aka Marianne Malmstrom of FollowTheLearning.com, recently published a much longer article discussing her struggles with ‘EDU’ labelled games. We spent a couple days debating some of the points she was making together. During this discussion I found myself drawn to the following metaphor for describing ‘EDU’ in educational business:

The ‘EDU’ stamp on games currently acts as a clearinghouse. Knowclue and I agree on this. A game with ‘EDU’ clears the screening process for use in schools. Games lacking ‘EDU’, like vegetables not labeled Organic, get tossed aside regardless of value. A stalk of celery labeled Organic, according to my local farmer, may have been exposed to as many chemicals as the celery next to it, without the organic label. ‘EDU’ means little in reality but shoppers willingly pick up the labeled item over the unlabeled item without research the relevance.

‘EDU’ does not mean the item offers substance over another product. Careful research, just like my farmer friend encouraged me to engage in, is needed to see if the product actually meets my requirements as a consumer. Engaged educators evaluate their curricular artifacts through the lens of their pedagogical views. If they find something not labelled ‘EDU’ that task becomes more onerous. Projects to use an artifact not associated with ‘EDU’ face rigorous review and bureaucratic obstacles. ‘EDU’ labels clear many of these hurdles with alacrity. Policy makers view ‘EDU’ as a rating scale of acceptability.

Due to this, as educators, we limit our scope to those tools that we do not need to drag through the firewall of bureaucracy. Within this smaller shop of items marketed to education there are some gems and some lumps of coal. Often, after careful research on an ‘EDU’ title I find that it completely lacks any pedagogical value. I then have to fight off policy-makers and well-meaning individuals who want me to adopt something that I can not put into practice. My praxis is viewed as radical when I reject an ‘EDU’ title while confessing to an interest in something beyond the shop of ‘EDU’. The ‘EDU’ marketing undermines my well-reasoned professional judgements.

This misuse of ‘EDU’ leads to an information-starved teacher-as-consumer. Game designers alter their games to fit their assumptions about the educational market. They create “curriculum” filled with worksheets and rubrics. These are the trappings of an outdated mode of teaching rather than learning. I celebrate when I see game designers sharing their praxis. How they build games to teach the player how to do something. How game design theory relates to the pedagogy of education. Game designers and ‘EDU’ companies that sit down and evaluate their games for the intrinsic learning already embedded in their games exceed all expectations. Other companies see a market niche and slap ‘EDU’ on a discounted version of their product and sell a companion “curriculum”. Thusly ‘EDU’ label does not guarantee value.

Value, returning to the metaphor of grocery store labels, does not exist in the labels on the front of the box. Flip the box over, read the detailed ingredients. The product may or may not have relevance for education. Or the specific curricular goals specified. The label ‘EDU’ acts like a product stamp that says, “Reduced Fat!” How reduced? What was reduced? Teachers need the opportunity to delve deeply into these tools like they do during new textbook adoptions. Instead of believing the ‘EDU’ label, game-using-educators need to exist in a culture of careful ingredient reading rather than buying into the rather thin ‘EDU’ marketing campaign. We all need to dig in and (to leap to a gardening metaphor) till the soil ourselves a bit.

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Virtual Reality Hackathon Mini

 What could be better than a room full of tech enthusiasts and tech experts from 11 to 14 years old? Not muc according to the technology mentors who enthusiastically embrace this crowd of eager problems solvers at the middle grades level Hackathon dubbed #VRHackMini. 

  Competing teams, White House Tour vs New Arrivals Mondo, both collaborating with resources while picking the brain of one of our mentors.  New Arrivals Mondo could potentially compete for both a Futuristas prize as an all women coding group AND the Playing Mondo sponsored prize. White House Tour is using Minecraft, not a sponsored category, to create an exploratory experience using command blocks.
  Mentors and organizers conspire to make sure everyone stays fed. This event was a long time coming and we weren’t about to let a shortage of donations derail an epic event. First run of snacks may have ended but food already on the way!

  

Bye Bye AERA, Hello Games for Change!

  Thank you Chicago & AERA. It has been indescribable. Looking forward to DC next year! Hopefully the weather will hold out just a titch longer & I can extend my stay next year to include Smithsonian days. Unfortunately I barely viewed Chicago’s wonders beyond a comic book store, a few queer bars, & the park with the giant metal bean. 

Currently I am warming myself in a Chinatown cafe before boarding my bus back to New York City. Games for Change begins on the morrow & I know I am ill prepared. Hopefully the bus ride provides sufficient time to process the wonderful research I was exposed to over the last week. Special thanks to Dr. De La Vega, Vanessa Folds, GLSEN researchers Emily Greytak & Joe Kosciw, Dr. Meyer, Jake McWilliams, Dr. Stevens, James GambrellCatherine Kemeny Gambrell, and all the others that I can’t seem to hold in my head. You made this a great event.

My Vlogging broke down and I have yet to edit today’s video (yesterday did not happen) but feel free to check out my vlogs listed below:

Playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLNxw7WAV0HqB6F6ExiXlSIgn5OwtRrPG6

Day One: https://youtu.be/rMhnao46nDU

Day Two: https://youtu.be/lY9EHfYFieo

Day Three: https://youtu.be/ZZY19Emi5MA

 

Also – photos…

       

Writing is Important-er-er

Importanter-er

Spelling and Grammar: Important, Writing: Important-er-er

Many of my blog posts and LinkedIn writings contain spelling errors or grammatical mistakes. I love these little gems of reality. I need an editor of course. When I worked with an educational team or at the university I relied on a group of colleagues for peer feedback. Sometimes students volunteered to help with my less than fluent writing. The thing is, I love writing and I love writing wildly.

I love writing, not for the act of writing itself, but for the expression. Writing, like my digital art endeavors and videos, provides an opportunity to say something. Let a thought out into the wilderness. Unfortunately writing comes with a cost. It is not pure expression.

Too many short sentences in a row breaks a readers concentration. Too many long sentences slow down the pace too much. Repetitiously using the same sentence style drives folks batty. Referencing obscure puns while starting each sentence off with the same sound does not help the reader echo-locate their way through a passage. You said the the same article twice. An article in a sentence makes the writer a bat without flight…..

These are sneaky grammatical and spelling issues. Well, “the the” is really a typo. Typos and spelling errors are actually the sneakiest of writing stumps. Especially with spellcheck. Or is it spell check? Who knows? Spellcheck doesn’t spell check or check the spelling of spell and check. Does it matter? In a recent letter of interest to a position in equity education advocacy that I would dearly love to have – “the the” happened. It was supposed to be “to the”. I only noticed after my nerves calmed down post-application submission. Hopefully the-the reader “to the” letter will give-give me-me a break-break. Now I sound like juvenile. This letter mattered to me. So spellcheck or spell check – it does matter. Except on my blog and on my personal social media. Here I write for the wilderness.

Why do I love to write if my product is full of errors and open to so much criticism? Why do I love to write when my colleagues and friends have become inhibited in their writing? I think, in part, this was due to a teacher of English I met as a sign language interpreter. To them writing was artwork. Make mistakes. Discover gems in mistakes. Let students write wildly. Let the writing roam the wilderness for a few months. We can peer edit later, once the wilderness starts to pale.

I loved this philosophy and yet I hear friends state that they loathe writing. My belief is that this comes from the systematic education of our industrial age education system. Writing became, less art, more system. Education targets perfection in writing over art. Since when did perfection, grammatical soundness, or correct (and arbitrary) spelling have anything to do with expression?

Real English used by native speakers does not exist within the idealized written form. So why do we strive, and beat ourselves up for failing to achieve, the idealized form of English? “Standard Written English” is a consensus form of English. Over the years folks at the upper echelons of academic society (publishers, writers, educators and others) developed this consensus agreement of what is clear and proper for English writing. The idea is that a uniform standard of communication can be understood by all speakers and users of English regardless of differences in dialect, pronunciation, and usage.

My objection to this idea is that the consensus version of Standard Written English creates a class barrier. English educators, untrained in taking a social justice approach to sharing Standard Written English, often lay the foundations that inhibit potential writers. Happily, new training and conferences are slowly correcting this issue.

Recently, attending a social justice for teaching English style conference, I listened to presenters urge teachers to follow the critical reflection; six “re-s” of reflecting, reconsidering, refusing, reconceptualizing, rejuvenating, and reengaging as applied to lessons. As APPLIED to lessons! How does your writing assignment (not classroom culture but CURRICLUM!) support the diverse student body culturally? Does your approach to sharing Standard Written English perpetuate class barriers? Or break them down? Teaching for social justice is not just an act of student reflection, acceptance, and respect, but an act of teacher reflection, acceptance, and respect.

Let us not disenfranchise writers. Please do not oppress the writings of diverse people. Let them write into the wild – on blogs, LinkedIn, and other sources. Then, cautiously and with respect for the diverse wild creature of self-expression, show writers how to create and domesticate their works into the docile Standard Written English version of their writing. Grammatically correct sentences are important. Spelling is important. Writing is important-er-er.

But This is 2015…

….has to be my least favorite sentence out of an LGBTQ ally’s mouth. Generally it means they are experiencing a state of disbelief brought on by discovering there continue to be instances of discrimination. Some people follow that up with, “but it can’t be because you are gay!”  In the back of my head I hum “haters gonna hate, hate, hate” but, “Yes my friend, in this time of enlightenment, we fail at human rights.” If they stop at the “but this is 2015” line I usually nod at them knowingly. After all, I have muttered, “but this is the 21st century,” under my breath each time someone exclaims, “I can Google that?!”  Yes, you can Google that and yes, bigotry is still alive and well. Please Google “Ferguson police” or “People of color over-representation in prisons” or something else equally outraging for any human rights activist.

As I sip my cup of privelege, Starbucks hazelnut latte, I realize that the second sentence, “it can’t be because you are gay,” is the upsetting sentence. Yes, until I revealed my interest in LGBTQ activism & clarified their language around dress code that might impact my gender non-conformity, things were going well. My bow tie was endearing. My skills as an educator, researcher, and technologist had evoked an actual squeal of glee from one interviewer. Suggestions I made for meeting the needs of diverse clients went over extremely well. That I might show up to the company picnic with a boyfriend while wearing a lavender frock – that freaked them out.  (To be honest, the lavender frock scares me a little – I am more of a pant suit wearing non-conformist & only own one skirt that I wear with cargo pants). So yes, it was about my identity as a queer individual. If they had checked my social media they would have realized I remain hopelessly single and wear androgynous clothing & wigs. Wigs are fun. “Male” clothing lacks for the diverse vibrant colors I can find in the “Women” section of thrift stores. Yep – these were the factors that led to a sudden shut down in the interview process. No biggie. I do not want to work with bigots.

I do want my friends to realize the pervasive undercurrent of homophobia that invades almost all aspects of my life since I decided to stop “passing” as straight. Try wearing a pride shirt to your local hardware store. If you get the same service as always, awesome! Tell me where they are so I can buy my art supplies there. In the meantime, imagine having to question your qualifications for a position and where to seek to improve your CV when you suffer from an unceasing suspicion that you were looked over for tweeting “#BoycottIndiana until all LGBTQ youth receive equitable treatment”.

In all fairness and full disclosure I have simply stopped applying to any position outside of LGBTQ youth advocacy. Except for EduBlogger, those folks are beyond equitable and I really enjoyed meeting them year after year at ISTE, I am only applying for work that targets improving equity in education. Now when I ask for feedback after an interview or failed application I feel more confidence about the nature of the feedback. “Oh, you think my carelessness with my letter (I swear I thought I correct ‘the the’ to ‘to the’ but apparently my major typing error got me twice) may translate into mistakes? Great feedback, I am aware of my tendency towards that particular error which is why I view working with a team for co-editing as invaluable.” Dang! Next job….at least they did not dislike me because I like androgyny! 

Sadly I know I am a hypocrit.  I’m working on it. 

Gotta think before speaking!

   

What is Educational Equity Doing?

scales balancing educationEducational Equity AKA Equity in Education:

Defined as fairness, opportunity, and measure of achievement in education according to the indomitable wikipedia. The idea of educational equity is much more nebulous than the wiki definition. According to some scholars equity in education is most significantly influenced by race and class. Others cite gender and socio-economics. Language diversity. Religion. Sexuality. Rural vs metropolitan areas. Regardless of which area viewed as the “most” influential, I think educators can agree that all children deserve the advantages they need to graduate from high school and either succeed in college or find competitive employment opportunities. So what are the resources needed to give all children the opportunities they need to meet this goal?

  • Qualified Teachers, Principals and Other Personnel
  • Suitable, Up-to-Date Curricula
  • Additional Resources for “At-Risk” Youth
  • Resources for Youth with Additional Needs (Disabilities, English Language)
  • Class Size/Group Size
  • Safe Environment
  • Facilities that are Accessible and Adequate
  • Books, Media Center, Technologies and Other Supplies (Desks etc)

How many? What type? The Equity Campaign found deficiencies in 28 out of 33 schools in their study. Those were based on state (NY) minimum requirements. That the state minimum requirements have become the maximum that students can expect in some schools is pretty terrible. And that assumes state minimums actually achieve educational equity. Not only are the minimum violated, but these basic requirements do not sufficiently meet the needs to provide students the opportunity to meet standards for a high school graduation that leads to college or career readiness.

Oregon, my home state, also struggles with how to build an equitable educational system. Senate Bill 253 requires that all adults in Oregon will have a high school diploma or equivalent by 2025. Sounds great. Wait? 2025? The Bill also says that 40% of adults will have an associate’s degree or another postsecondary certificate and another 40% will have a bachelor’s or other advanced degree. Just in case you are worried that the 20% without a college degree will be those who are already treated inequitably – the Bill stipulates a 40-40-20 representation of every student in Oregon. People of color should, if the Bill achieves the goals set out in it, attain 40% bachelor or higher degrees, 40% associates, and 20% high school diploma or the equivalent. Great goal but are they going to achieve all this?

There is still a disportionality in terms of people of color receiving fewer opportunities. Social opportunity plays a big part in educational opportunity. The Oregon Investment Board discusses implementing more culturally responsive teaching practices but how will they provide the educator development to meet these goals. A young person in second-grade today is supposed to graduate high school under this 40-40-20 ratio. Have their teachers received the training they need to make this happen? Have class sizes shrunken appropriately? Is the curricula up to date?

Cornell West said, “A fully functional multiracial society cannot be achieved without a sense of history and open, honest dialogue.” I would love to join the educational equity dialogue world-wide and seek to make the substantive changes within explicit, implicit, and hidden curriculums. Why does the bell ring have more significance than immersion in a learning opportunity? What are the root causes of disparity attributed to race, class, language, and other societal and institutional barriers? How can we make school culture visible so that all stakeholders can look to implement a culturally responsive culture. What needs to happen to help educators adapt their discourse and perspective to the ideal of equitable education?

I think about these issues a lot. Usually in the context of LGBTQ educational equity. Typically people can agree on the need for the big picture to change. As we dive into the specifics, educators, policy makers, parents, and others start to argue about what suitable curricula look like. Whether class size really matters. Financial constraints. What composes a qualified school administrator or teacher. I might say an LGBTQ identified educator provides invaluable mentorship to LGBTQ youth. Another educator immediately disagree and suggest such a member of the educational team is not needed. I have witnessed a faculty agree that hiring more diverse candidates is the priority during a hiring cycle only to discard the resumes of people of color. The discourse, therefore, needs to be reflective and continual.

Whether conflicts center around behavior, work habits, pedagogical ideas, policies, or practices, to attain educational equity for a school requires school leaders and educators to build trust and healthy collaboration. Relationships are critical to the work of schools. Student-teacher, teacher-teacher, teacher-administrator, all the relationships are important for building and maintaining a school climate conducive to equity in education according to the National School Climate Council. In this, questioning the systemic causes of disparities amongst students, schools have the opportunity to attain greater equity.