Monthly Archives: October 2009

The Rules of the Game

cc licensed flickr photo shared by unloveablesteve

A traditional favourite game of mine was always “Mousetrap”. I’m fairly certain I never actually played it according to the instructions, but thoroughly enjoyed building it again and again – even improvising with homemade pieces when original pieces went missing. This week I’ve been challenged to think about games – specifically, electronic games (computer and video). I rarely play these types of games, but after experiencing an excellent presentation from Sylvia Martinez I realized I needed to give some serious thought to the importance of gaming.

So what makes a good game and do these attributes extend to electronic games – whether officially deemed educational or not?

Some attributes of good games:
– they are fresh and feel original, but can be played again and again.
– they involve learning and mastering a range of skills.
– they are able to adapt and include new levels or challenges.
– they are complex enough to be challenging.
– they are built considering uniformity and consistency.
– at the same time they allow for some interpretation of the rules (anyone that’s ever played Monopoly and argued about the “money in the middle” and “Free Parking” knows what I mean). Sometimes the ability to change the rules is part of the fun and an important part of the experiential learning.
– they might contain an element of surprise.
– they allow for tension to build.

When I considered my list, I realized it was universal (no matter what the age of the player, the type of game – board game or electronic, or the use – for education or strictly for fun) the attributes still seemed to apply. One question that emerged for me is “do computer games allow for flexibility and spontaneity”? I’m hoping the answer is, yes – assuming it’s a high quality game, but appreciate any feedback on this question (since I’m not really a gamer).

Another thing I thought about was when I created video production for my school district back in the early 1990s, my main motivation was to put the tools in the hands of my students. (Yes, I am a constructivist!)  I figured that one of the best way for students to become media literate was to construct media themselves. They would discover the power of shot choices, post-production manipulation and so on.  And that’s exactly what happened. As such, my interest was piqued when Sylvia Martinez brought up sites such as Scratch where students can build their own games. So much so that I intend to explore this option with the students in my media arts courses. My film students have been able to become quality creators and critical consumers of media, and this seems like a natural extension using today’s tools.

The last thing I thought about came from an article written by University of Wisconsin professor Kurt Squire entitled

Changing the Game:
What Happens When Video Games Enter the Classroom?

I found the following quote from the article powerful stuff (and I couldn’t say it any better so have left it in Professor Squire’s own words.)

“Indeed, just as no one game appeals to all students, neither does any one curriculum, and games challenge us to ask to whom traditional curricula appeals and whom it leaves behind. Our traditional secondary curriculum is largely an
experience of mastering a pre-defined set of objectives, mostly through listening or participating in structured activities with well-defined, pre-determined outcomes. In post-secondary schools, the activities are more open-ended, but mostly mediated through secondary accounts of phenomena through the use of textbooks and lectures. College students mostly listen to lectures, read texts, and if they are lucky, discuss them with peers or an instructor. Those who prefer to develop understandings through building, tinkering, or more direct experience are left behind.Educators hoping that digital games will be a “silver bullet” because they are exciting and motivating will be disappointed. The real challenge is not so much in bringing games—or any technology—into our schools but rather changing the cultures of our schools to be organized around learning instead of the current form of social control.”

The evidence:

cc licensed flickr photo shared by adventuresinlibraryscho ol

cc licensed flickr photo shared by circulating


The Story

In the spirit of digital storytelling I decided to create a short film for this post.


cc licensed flickr photo shared by Jim Blob Blann


The truth is out and and I am exposed.

I’m a newcomer to blogging and have mostly experimented with ideas in my blog through trial and error. I’ve been pretending to know what I’m doing, and hoping for the best. I have experimented with the look and feel of my blog and, as a visual thinker, I have tried to incorporate images to support my ideas. And I knew even then it was just – well, okay.

Some of the struggles I’ve had include:

•Topics – Figuring out what to say and how to say it. Justifying that anybody should or will care. Balancing between making the blog  ‘mine’ or extending class discussions and assigned responses.

•Layout and Graphic Design – I care about how things look, and get frustrated when I can’t get a post looking quite right. I have also struggled with how Google Reader sometimes handles the formatting. (I always check, but haven’t always been able to do something about it.)

•Comments – Apologies to all –I was completely oblivious on what to do with them (mostly because I hadn’t figured out how to subscribe to them using RSS). To anyone that’s commented on my blog in the past, I promise I’ll do better (I have nowhere to go but up)!

•Privacy and Freedom – My blog is simply where I’m at in a given place and time, yet the internet is unforgiving and forever. This doesn’t scare me, but makes me wary. As someone who works primarily in the Arts this can feel rigid at times. And as somehow who teaches high school it can feel limiting as I’m always aware of the boundaries.

These struggles have lead to the following questions:

1) I spend most of my day exploring creativity. How does blogging help or hinder creative exploration? The arts involve lots of experimentation – can you (or to what degree should you) experiment when your audience is potentially anyone and everyone?

2) Are there examples of bloggers who create using different types of text (visual, audio, written…)?

3) Are there good sources for improving the look or design of a blog? Many of my students are visual artists and I would like to show them some possibilities.

4) I appreciate the guidance, encouragement and wisdom Sue Waters shares, and I would like to extend this to my high school students. However, this guidance may not necessarily be connected with a specific class I teach (think the arty crowd). Instead, I’m sometimes approached by the type of student who seeks out unique opportunities and wants to connect with others. Specifically, how do I help these students begin to safely create their PLN?  Is this even  appropriate if it’s not directly part of a class?

In the spirit of support (calling on creative writers and visual artists) – a creative writing student I taught last year (she’s in 1st year university now) – has created her own blog and is attempting to establish her own PLN through Twitter and a Facebook group, but I know she’s finding it challenging. Luckily she is patient and tenacious.

I realize that’s exactly what I need to be, too.

A Virtual Bridge

cc licensed flickr photo shared by Thomas Hawk

Exploring the theory of connectivism and the concept of networking requires a great deal of insight. Indeed, a forward thinking school district (and IT services) would change the red light to green and start to say “why not?” rather than “I’ll get back to you”, “fill out these forms, “maybe” or just plain “no”. Schools would (and I believe should) be challenged to embrace and teach the challenging skill set necessary to put connectivism theory into networked practice. This skill set, as highlighted by Drexler, includes finding, accessing and evaluating information, managing this information, creating a type of virtual textbook out of it, reflecting, responding, and sharing ideas that emerge from this, and virtually communicating appropriately with others. All of this is done with a wide variety of evolving web tools from blogs to wikis to readers to podcasts, and includes live chats, video sharing, social bookmarking, presentation applications (written, video, slides, etc…), and social media of many types. An on-line identity is created and shaped and shared in this brave new world. Currently bits and pieces of the tools of connectedness are addressed at school, but much of this is done within optional courses. Complicating this is the fact that many students are not strong readers and writers, and struggle with basic literacy skills (a crucial underpinning of any learning –  networked or not). Other students may not have the needed access to a computer (and a good internet connection), while still others may not have the interest or desire to seek connections no matter how much their friends talk about it or how exciting a teacher can make it seem.

So what might this mean for a high school student in Canada today?  In reality, I see many of my students exploring connectedness already (although it’s difficult to know what the degree and quality of this exploration may or may not be) . Too often I sense that the method students use is simply to muddle ahead, try stuff out, ask friends and hope for the best. Well it is admirable for students to do this, they often do so without the benefit of experience and the development of judgment. This is where I see connected educators and learners playing a pivotal role. They can bridge the ideals of the networked student with the reality of high school. They can help students to see the relationship between the media they already have appropriated and demonstrate to them how it might be better and more meaningfully used. And this is where creative thinking can help extend the typical classroom boundaries. This year I have included my students in much of what I’m doing for my various Masters courses specifically so they can see me as a learner (and not just the teacher). They watch as I try out new web tools, communicate with people from all over the world (they particularly like the comment I received from the Greek photographer whose Flickr picture I used to illustrate a point in my August 4th blog – an “amazing story” moment) and share, post, and extend my ideas. I’m absolutely not the expert (more like a willing volunteer and learner) who has managed to connect and dialogue with people who know more things about the topics I’m trying to explore and who provide valuable insight and feedback. I’m fine if they see me stumble along the way. In a very real sense my classroom has become a window into this world and as the trickier issues of the K-12 world and the virtual world merge I hope we can bridge the gaps even more.

Like the moving stairs Harry Potter navigates at Hogwart’s we have to be prepared as not only the on and off points change, but the destinations we arrive at have changed as well. I have no doubt, as 21st learners, that my students are more than up to that challenge.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by herbstkind