Relevance of Gaming and Game Theory

In a recent blog post by Saul Kaplan he observes:

“Everywhere we turn, it seems there are experts claiming that the best path forward is to engage people with elements of competitive play.”

The article is a good overview and summary of some of the emerging conversations around the area of worker motivation and productivity.

Anybody who doesn’t think this has huge significance in education is asleep at the wheel. Just the thought of gaming, both video and paper/board based, bring back fond adolescent memories of every from D&D, Sonic the Hedgehog, BattleTech, Street Fighter, etc… I can actually see how many of the games I played as youth shaped my critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Most importantly this goes beyond merit badges and silly point boards. There is an honor and prestige to being the first solve a difficult game or find an unexpected hack/bug. This should and can be transferred to learning and exploring.

I think we all need to go read, “Reality is Broken“.

Lawsuits and Web 2.0

Will Richardson seems a bit concerned about the “Tops” lack of understanding, when it comes to high level officials. I wonder though if Brad Jupp isn’t correct. I mean there are two major undiscussed issues here.

The first is, “What Lawsuits?” Can anybody actually find a lawsuit related to blogging or the use of wikis? I couldn’t upon a 5 minute Google search. All I could find is a student suing their old principal for discipline related to cyberbullying on Facebook. It seems like every reference to a pending lawsuit had to do with social networking…interesting.It would seem to me that the bigger problem is two-fold. First, in most cases schools have a ineffective or outdated policies for dealing with students/staff use of the web. Second, there is a major generational gap between how adults and teens/kids view the use of the Internet and what constitutes public.

Now is the time that school districts should update their AUP policies. Most important is that these policies are updated with a group of students, teachers, parents, and administrators. Each group looks at Web 2.0 applications through a different lens and it is a chance to set expectations for their use by all interested parties. Having a defined set of policies related to these technologies makes it much easier to handle the occasional problem that may come up from their use.

Now is also time to do some work to bridge the generational gap. It is important that educators using these tools understand how they are preceived by youth. Of course this is a two way street and using these tools is also a great time for educators to share important information about why privacy is important, the permanacy of the web, and the web is not as anonymous as you may think.

Finally, I think that teachers, administrators, and school IT departments need to look at the “free” Web 2.0 applications and decide why do we actually want this tool? What is the pedagogy driving instruction with these tools?

Part two of this issue is whether or not you need to use public Web 2.0 apps at all. There are some many incredibly easy to setup and use open source Web apps out there today. Any IT director worth a dime can have these systems up and running in no time. Most importantly these tools can almost always be tied to a directory server which makes user management a snap.

Using these tools a district can host it’s own social networking (Elgg or Buddypress), wikis (Deki Wiki), and blogs (WordPress or Moveable Type). Educators get the advantage of these powerful tools, while administrators and IT directors get to have the control they need. Give you students some training wheels before they set off on the information superhighway.

Basically, it comes down to the basic issue of control and accountability. In a K-12 school environment you have to have both and the only way to do this is keep you Web 2.0 services in house.

Cognitive Surplus and “Truthiness”

There have been two posts in the blogs I read that have been creating a lot of thought.

The first article is from Will Richardson at Weblogg-ed. The basic premise of the post is a review of a book, “True Enough”, by Farhad Manjoo. Manjoo suggests that Stephen Colbert’s ideas about “truthiness” have some merit, and that technologies are making it easier than ever for individuals to connect with others whom share views. This has the paradoxical effect of narrowing our world view, because it is easier than ever to narrow our information stream to just others who think like us.

This is scary and has a huge negative potential. It also helps explain why our society has such a fragmented feeling these days. I also can’t help but notice how this book as not been mentioned on any of the other blog sites that I normally read. It would seem that edubloggers are ignoring an important ethical conversation that is lingering in the wings.

The next article appeared in some form in nearly every blog I read, the Gin, Television, and Social Surplus talk by Clay Shirky. The catch phrase of “Cognitive Surplus” is the talk of the town. Personally, I think it is a brilliantly simple idea to explain a complex event. And while a agree with everything he said about TV, I can’t help but wonder about the societal ramifications when you think about Manjoo’s paradoxical effect. TV, while a colossal waste of time gives many people something in common. Of course, this is kinda sad but the truth never the less.

I worry that the majority of “cognitive surplus” will be squandered in activities that are no better than television and in some cases worse (i.e. the search for “truthiness”).

As educators, we are doing a lousy job at preparing students to leverage the power of social technologies. In most cases it is feared and downright banned (i.e. MySpace). So, I just wonder what are the new literacies or ethics we need to acknowledge so students are cognizant of developing a balanced information? Are we (educators) developing a balanced informational stream for ourselves? And finally, as Web 2.0 technologies diminish the expert in favor of the folksonomy, how do we judge what if true and what is “truthiness”?

NAU Peak Conference 2007

I’ve been churning over the words of Dr. Tim Tyson, who I recently saw at the NAU Peak Conference. There were several things that he said that really stood out to me:

  1. Childhood as we now it today, did not exist until the last 10-20 years. His point was that until fairly recently, children were given responsibility and right to be a contributing member of their family and community. Now children have very little responsibility or rights.I’ve been watching the students at my middle school for the last few days looking for students doing something beyond themselves. Not surprisingly, I was unable to find a student with any exciting going on. The majority of students that I have had the chance to speak with want to do or be something, but don’t have the tools to be active in their community or family.
  2. Another point was that students are not asked to help solve world problems. He talks about how an overwhelming majority of teachers believe students could change the world, but an overwhelming majority of students are not doing anything.I think that anybody who has been in education for at least five years feels like something major is missing. I remember my teachers telling me about the hole in the ozone and we did projects about the deforestation of the rain-forests, now all students do is the basics. Instead, teachers are reverting back to worksheets and direct instruction. Why do we keep trying to make our schools into factories?
  3. Finally, Dr. Tyson pointed out something that we all know deep down, but may not always been fully aware. State standards are minimum expectations.There seems a perverse paradox that in the process of meeting minimum standards we are destroying amazing educational opportunities for students. We keep lowering the bar and dragging students down, instead of giving them the world that is so easily accessible with cheap, readily available technologies.

    California State professor, Art Costa, recently said: “What was once educationally significant, but difficult to measure, has been replaced by what is insignificant and easy to measure. So now we test how well we have taught what we do not value.”

    from Dr. Tyson’s blog

I also got the chance to present for the first time. It was not great, but my audience was wonderful and we had a great conversation about WordPressMU.

Making It Matter

I think I’ve reach a turning point in my view of educational technology.

I’m finding myself rolling my eyes each time I hear about another cool gadget or gizmo that makes things easier to do. Put best by Gary Stager when discussing a recently unveiled digital video product:

“Animoto is undoubtedly a cool piece of programming, but my head will explode if someone tells me that it has educational value…”

Call me old fashion, but I like figuring out how to do hard things. Figuring out how to do hard things teaches you a lot of things. It demands that you focus your attention. Maybe it is just the way I’m programmed, but if something is to easy there is no reward. I feel that as we strip away the need for expert knowledge, we are left with a system devoid of accomplishment.

Ultimately, I think kids are missing out on the discovery of how “cool” things are actually created. Instead they drop a few pics they stole from Google images or Flickr into a template and call it good. Students miss out on critical production ideas such as layering, cueing, masking, and sound-tracking. Without all of the prior knowledge how can students hope to be able to create anything original?

An even bigger concern is that these programs change the way we think. Just look at effect of PowerPoint on instruction. In many cases, content has been reduced to a series of 3-5 factoids per slide. We change our instruction to fit the program, instead of changing the program to fit good instructional practices.

I think I’ll try to focus more on developing applications guided by theory, instead of instruction guided by application.

How About Education 2.0?

David Warlick’s “Teacher Technology Rant” and rebuttal “Why Teachers Don’t Use Web 2.0 – an historical perspective” by Gary Stager really got me thinking about the difference between Web 2.0, as a cultural phenomenon, and Web 2.0, as a set of innovative technologies.

As a culture, Web 2.0:

  • is thrives on user created content
  • holds freedom/democratization of information in high regard
  • is inherently anti-authoritarian
  • gives equal voice to anybody with a computer
  • holds social networks in  high regard

As technology, Web 2.0:

  • allows your Internet browser to become a collaborative tool
  • permits the sharing of nearly all types of digital media
  • allows for the Internet to become nearly any computer application you can think of

Most educators I have talked with see the inherit value of Web 2.0 technologies, but they do not see the value of Web 2.0 culture. This is interesting to consider. Can you have Web 2.0 technology without having also embracing Web 2.0 culture?

I’m not sure what I think yet.