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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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.

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.

Student WordPress Documentation of FlowLab.io Designs

The other day I was talking with an educator interested in using FlowLab.io with their fourth grade game design introduction. Fully supporting this, and knowing their students used WordPress in order to document their studies, I put together a quick tutorial walking students through embedding their games on their blogs. If you have suggestions for improving this tutorial be sure to comment!

I always appreciate when a company makes embedding easy and FlowLab does a great jobs of this.

 

You can see the embed code at the bottom.

You can see the embed code at the bottom.

As you can see, the game above was built at a square. I copied the code directly from FlowLab’s embed code. as pictured. After copying the code, head on over to your WordPress site.

Create a new post!

Create a new post!

First off, after logging into your WordPress blog, create a new post.

Your new post should appear as below. Make sure to title the post first so that you can find it easily if you have to interrupt the posts due to the bell ringing or some other interruption!

New Post Edit Screen

Tabs for visual editing versus text editing.Once you have your new post look for the tabs in the upper right corner. On says visual and the other says text. Click on the text tab. You cannot paste embed code in the visual editor. If you are learning how to use HTML you can really refine the look and feel of your posts using the text tab.

Note that this tab does not have the same what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) tools as the visual editing tab. If you are uncomfortable editing in HTML you can go back to the visual editor after pasting the embed code. The game will not appear normally in the visual editor, be sure to preview your post several times!
Picture of the text editing tools
Image of the embed code in the text editor.Paste the embed code from FlowLab as shown to the right. You can further edit the embed code to center the game on your post, change the width and height, and increase the frame. Play around with these settings in text editing and visual editing. Experiment!

If you enjoyed embedding your FlowLab.io game into your blog, try experimenting with other embeddable objects – like YouTube Videos!

LGBTQ Youth Threatened by Indiana RFPA?

First, the frustrations:

Governor, as of this writing, still has not provided a solid answer regarding the impact of the Religious Freedom Bill’s application to LGBTQ people. Watching the interview below, he actively dodged the question. All of the political maneuvering leaves me feeling sick to the stomach. The people of Indiana will eventually correct their errant politicians. Especially with folks trying out new hashtags like #INsupportsLGBT.

Meanwhile, we get to learn painful factoids like Governor Pence used to serve on IFI, the anti-LGBT organization in Indiana.

 

Also, despite Pence refusing to identify the lobbyists in the photo, we have that tidbit. (He does realize this is the 21st century right?)

Lobbyists at Pence signing of Religious Freedom biill: Micah Clark, Curt Smith, Eric Miller Now to my worry:

What does all this mean for LGBTQ youth in Indiana? This was my worry in yesterday’s post. Luckily, part of my answer came from GLSEN.

Dr. Eliza Byard, of GLSEN, also provided this interview neatly summarizing my worries and what needs to happen to rebuild trust and security for LGBTQ youth in Indiana:


Twitter was full of support as well:



Utah’s LGBT Anti-Discrimination & Schools: Questions, Questions, Questions

LGBT Brick Road

I think Murrur’s “Russian Embassy in Helsinki, LGBT pavement” makes a poignant reminder of the threat to civil liberty that continues to harm LGBT folks all over the globe.

This essay describes my thoughts after reading the Utah LGBT inclusive anti-discrimination bill and Oklahoma’s Religious Freedom Act that has since gone defunct. I kept looking for articles describing how these acts impact education. My research references, so heavily focussed on game design, the student experience, and increasing minority representation in the educator body, have not prepared me to understand how legislation impacts policy and the embodied experience in schools. If anyone wants to share resources I should look into I would appreciate it. What follows are my initial thoughts peppered with experiences that might better describe my concerns.

Following the passage of the Utah LGBT anti-discrimination bill I have a lot of questions about how this will play out in education: public, private, charter, higher education, and early childhood education. The bill makes it illegal to base employment, housing, or loans decisions on LGBT status. It makes an exemption for religious affiliated organizations like schools and hospitals. It also allows people to express religious beliefs in the workplace without retribution.

In education there are ethical and legal considerations around what a teacher says to their captive audience. Still would an educator see the provision for expression of belief as a loop hole? Probably not, after all that would interfere with the running of the school, right? The policies by the Utah State Board of Education as codified in this legislation protect the rights of parents with children in public schools to know about and consent or withhold consent on topics of “human sexuality”. I think any educator who wanted to share religious views relating to sexuality would need to consider this provision. By expressing religious beliefs about the nature of human sexuality they would require both informing parents about the nature of the discourse and obtain consent.

It does mean that openly LGBT educators who serve as valued community outreach agents and role models for LGBT students and families may have to put up with religiously-based homophobic discussions in the staff room. Even if no one is specifically targeted or even in the room I have observed the rumor sieve that the faculty lounge provides the entire school population.

In terms of bathrooms I am curious how the gender-specific restrooms and other facilities section with play out in schools. The wording for the rules and policies on this section was “reasonable” but sometimes what a school sees as reasonable can place an undo burden on students who identify outside the gender binary. Use of a private bathroom that also serves as administrative bathroom accommodation or a facility in the health room carries a stigma that may potentially be harmful or simply inconvenient in larger schools.

I remember one student who, on an average day, had no problem accessing the staff bathroom. However, when the secretary was out sick her replacement forbid the student from accessing the appropriate facility. The student, unable to use other facilities, spent several hours in discomfort as well as enduring verbal harassment from the substitute. Eventually, after the young student gained access to a faculty advocate, the situation reached resolution.

Is this reasonable?

This brings me to other legislation that includes religious exemptions. Oklahoma’s Religious Freedom Act would allow business owners to refuse service to people in the LGBT community. In a sly twist Rep. Emily Virgin added an amendment that would require business owners who refuse service to the gay community to post their refusal publicly on websites and their front door.

“If you want to discriminate under this law if it passes, then you’re legally allowed to do that, but you need to own it. You need to fess up to it,” Rep. Virgin said.

Of course I decided to imagine what this might look like if teachers were required to post their bias on their classroom doors. As a student I would never have stepped inside a couple classrooms that it took me months to see the extent of an educators racism, sexism, and a host of other prejudices. As an educator I am curious how millennials would react to this system. The ability to clearly see and avoid places refusing to serve diverse communities would definitely impact and drive home the economic repercussions of such discrimination.

Last I heard the bill had been pulled. If another bill arises, and other similar bills in other states go forward, I hope to see similar amendments. I like the juxtaposition of legislation providing acknowledgement of religious freedom but actually highlighting the hypocrisy and prejudice underlining the reason for its creation. Yes you are free to practice a religion that encourages prejudice – but no skulking around feigning tolerance.

I want to see what this would do in education. I expect something messy and scary. Almost a year ago I interviewed an administrator who spoke positively about a diverse educational communities. Later data collection revealed this same administrator consistently denied students access to programs or the ability to form students organizations that supported diversity. If they were required to post their bias before denying these programs the community would have them out of their position immediately. Instead, because they are allowed to operate obscurely, they continue to marginalize diverse members of the student body.

These are complicated issues and I am probably simplifying ideas and not quoting the theorists who could support or refute my statements. Instead this essay has allowed me, in a semi-critical way, to think through current scenarios in education. While the laws tend to focus on domestic and business interactions they impact the culture of school in more ways than I have expressed. I am curious how this will all play out.