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.

Explore Social Media – Non-Educationally

Thinking in text today.Recently I have begun encouraging my students and consultancy to explore social media tools for fun. To use them for the same purposes they imagine their students using social media. One of the major benefits of this exercise is that folks tend to delve more deeply into the features of a tool. Already I am hearing back from individuals about affordances that they did not realize were available. Youtube is a prime example. Now that I have a few students using it socially they are seeing how they might leverage a simple YouTube channel and Google Plus page as their entire portfolio. Sure there are more sophisticated and professional ways to package this material but at this point they are still developing the content. That is another thing, content developed in one form of media can often be easily converted and shared in another format.

I think this all goes back to one of my main tenants regarding using technology. Technology education must be approached with a playful mindset. If the goal is all business you miss the frivolous yet revolutionary possibilities.

Currently Reading….

Kid starts strong to demoralize the competition.A couple weeks ago I went to the AACTE conference in Florida as well as the Intel Teach Summit 2013. Both were interesting but something that remains on my mind is a conversation I had with representatives for Harvard Review. They suggested I write an article about what I am currently reading in relation to Game-Based Learning. Since I work through articles, books, and media regarding this curricular movement on a daily basis I have a hard time even quantifying my reading. On the other hand there are a few professional development activities that include reading which I am currently involved with:

Level Up Gaming: I really need to get my act together and share my first posting here.

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS): I am also taking a workshop series related to the science standards.

Courses at Portland State University:

Doctoral Studies Pro-Seminar – This course provides an interesting springboard for a variety of topics. I never quite know what we will end up with at the end of class.

Ed Policy & Politics – I am extremely excited to start this course. Politics are always interesting if often frustrating. The potential for wild discussions is pretty high considering the make-up of my cohort.

Leadership Seminar – We are going back to working on our research commentaries which means I can continue exploring research and literature; something I haven’t been able to do winter term.

LGBTQ Advocacy K12 – This experimental course for the department offers some interesting possibilities. We only meet three Saturdays but I am sure they are going to involve some interesting conversations and struggles.

Online Learning: Class Size Matters

  In regular classrooms teachers and administrators have long struggled with issues of class size. Teachers feel they can provide better instruction and individualization in smaller class environments and administrators appreciate the efficiency of resource use that occurs in larger classes. Both groups can draw on a variety of research studies to back themselves up but generally smaller class sizes win out in face to face instruction as the preferred learning environment. Feel free to find your own research studies to support your position – my position is this – a class between 10 and 23 students tends to work really well for me.

Recently I posted concerning my view that online learning needs some serious revamping in some cases. Today I picked up the September issue of the International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning and found a study that supports one of the things I argue for in online learning – smaller class sizes.

Check out Mingshu Qiu, Jim Hewitt, and Clare Brett’s research study, “Online class size, note reading, note writing, and collaborative discourse” for more information. This group from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto provides evidence of how class size impact learning online. Their findings suggest 13 to 15 students as the optimal class size for graduate level course work.

While I do not know how this correlates with K12 learning environments I find the numbers extremely appealing as a constructivist online educator. If I worked with even 15 to 20 students per section in a course I can see many opportunities to increase student interactions that would allow for greater social construction of knowledge. As with any group collaborative experience the greater the number the more likely you are to have students who become overwhelmed and quietly hide themselves from participating. On the other hand, 15 students can construct a courteous community of learners much more easily.

Contrast this with courses where I had upwards of 50 students assigned to one section. In one course the quality of student writing and my own responses devolved dramatically from those courses where I worked with twenty students or less. I actually had one course of 160 students, another of 60+ students and four courses of between 25 and 45 students as well as four courses of 18 or fewer students. I should have taken better data on my larger classes but their size alone led to a dramatic reduction in my ability to quantify, even subjectively, their progress.

The study suggested minimizing overload effects by dividing students into small groups for larger classes. This works fairly well but exists as a function of the learning environment (LMS) and whether or not this tool supports discussion groups of this type. Often I found the user-interface confused students and led to even less success though this is a topic for another post. Still – when it worked it really helped positive student outcomes.

The best thing about this study was the pedagogical recommendations at the end. I use many of the items discussed in all my online classes but I feel that a teacher new to online learning would benefit from reviewing these items before planning their course. Of course teachers already teaching online would benefit as well – probably even more than the new-to-online instructors.

Check out the full article: http://rd.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11412-012-9151-2

Online class size, note reading, note writing and collaborative discourse