Another dot in the blogosphere?

I was tickled by this piece by Martin Weller, Let’s think inside the box. In it he challenged the assumptions behind the rhetoric to disrupt university education.

I do not agree fully that universities need to operate inside the box because that ignores some very real problems, e.g., research taking precedence over teaching, research benefitting journal publishers and little else, lecturing being the dominant form of teaching.

Weller’s piece reminded me of an image quote I created a while ago.

Do not ask questions you do not want answers to.

Weller’s perspective might very well be: Do not say disrupt if you do not want to deal with the consequences. Now that is something I would stand behind and work toward. The rhetoric might pluck at heartstrings and create cognitive buy-in. But change rides on the backs of those applying the elbow grease.

Most technology companies that manufacture computers and phones typically focus on hardware and have little or no say on software development.

There are exceptions like Apple that create and control both, i.e., Macs and macOS, iPhones and iOS.

Google used to only be in the online software business. Then it partnered hardware companies to create Chromebooks, and Nexus (and now Pixel) phones.

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So I was not surprised to read about Google’s new TV-sized interactive whiteboard (IWB) called the Jamboard. This device is designed for blended and creative boardroom meetings. It takes advantage of G Suite and Google tools to connect, share, and store artefacts.

I was disappointed actually. Or rather, I am going to be disappointed because this might be another round of IWB snake oil vendors selling to schools and education institutions.

I hope that schools and other education institutions have learnt the painful lesson that IWB means Irrelevant White-Elephant Board because it is largely a teacher’s tool.

If tools like IWBs allow teachers to just teach the way they were taught, the teachers do not get pushed out of their comfort zones.

If the technology is not in the hands, minds, and hearts of the learners, it will do little to change teaching. When this happens, the technology ceases to be mere tools and become instruments instead. When this happens, the rhetoric of paradigm shifts, 21st century learning, and empowered students becomes real.

There are very few things that bring me to Facebook (FB). One of those things is Pokémon Go (PoGo).

There is a local FB group where PoGo gamers share their thoughts and conquests. The group is one of several resources I visit to learn how to play the game better.

I found that group to be a microcosm of the larger gaming world. In practically any online discussion of games, you might find:

  • Sharing: Of new articles, opinions, photos, videos, and other artefacts of the game.
  • The asking of questions: People who need help ask the community for tips, advice, and solutions to problems.
  • The answering of questions: People respond to those questions and some replies are more helpful than others. In the case of Pokémon Go, a few curate lists and markup maps of spawn nests.
  • The asking of questions without reading first: There will always be some who do not bother to find out the history of the group or to scroll down and read what was shared in the feed moments earlier.
  • Curt answers: Someone will invariably tell off those that do not do their legwork or homework.
  • Negativity: Examples might include some form of complaining, trolling, or insulting.
  • Self-policing: If there is a moderator, he or she might have stern words with offenders or ban them from the group. Moderators of groups in FB and Google+ might also leave the group to police itself.

Such a microcosm is self-supporting and self-sustaining. Membership is loose, but roles might eventually develop among those that stay.

For me, this is a perfect example of personal learning, not the artificial effort to personalise or tailor “learning” that vendors push.

The current offerings and rhetoric on “personalised learning” are often more about differentiated instruction than about learning. This is a closed and expensive affair that is tied to LMS, learner analytics, and anything else that can be packaged to make money. Pedagogy is removed as much as possible in favour of automatic and rudimentary algorithms.

In the PoGo group, the platform open and free, and the participants self-organise around a common passion. They teach and learn from one another as co-learners. Involvement is personal as is the learning. While this approach does not suit every context and circumstance, it can account for a sizeable portion. So why turn to personalised learning solutions when personal learning can happen more organically?

In my Presentations page I share the more recent keynotes and talks I have done. I prefer workshops, but these are not as straightforward to conduct and present as a portfolio of work.

I have had to do talks for about ten years as a former university professor and especially now as a consultant. During this time my process has evolved and refined.

Stew by jeffk, on Flickr
"Stew" (CC BY 2.0) by jeffk

My main process is to stew, especially when I have months-long lead time. Take my recently concluded keynote, Don’t Play Games with Gamification, for SIM Global Education as an example. I met the organisers in late July and I started outlining, collecting thoughts and ideas, and organising in Evernote on 28 Jul 2016. I delivered the keynote on 22 Oct 2016. That is a three-month slow cook.

A quick scroll down my Presentations page might also reveal how the topics are quite different. Professional speakers can repeat or rehash their talks and get very well paid for them. I often come up with fresh content.

I do rehash some content and ideas to suit context and audience, and I also like reusing Google Presentation templates that are visually pleasing.

My modus operandi: Get as much background information as possible through meetings, interviews, and document analysis; visit the venue to get a feel of the room; conduct a pre-event poll; provide a backchannel and other opportunities for the audience to become participants; provide pitstops or time to reflect on takeaways.

Through all this I stir my stew, blend and extract flavours, remove what does not look right, and reduce content as much as possible. The last part of the reduction is taking out spoon-feeding elements and adding elements that require participants to feed themselves. That is something I cannot write down in a recipe.

Last Saturday, I delivered a keynote and participated in a panel on game-based learning and gamification.

I had questions that I could not address in the limited time during my keynote as well as the panel at the end of the conference. These were from the pre-conference poll.

I wish to address these questions, but I will focus only on questions that I understand.

How to tie in GBL with small-wins or short-term rewards?

I have no idea how to do this with GBL because I have not implemented GBL with this design or intent. Nor will I ever. During the keynote I described how games could be integrated to focus on thinking skills, attitudes, values, and intrinsic motivation. These take time to develop and I would rather invest in these.

How would I use this technique if the University has a set of rules I have to follow and present?

The university (or partner university in your case) is unlikely to have rules about pedagogy. If it did, that is not a university that is looking to serve for today and tomorrow.

You know the content, context, and your learners best. The WHAT of a prescribed curriculum might be very full. The HOW is your responsibility and limited by your creativity.

Must it be IT based?

The “it” could be games or gamification. Both could be enabled with current technology or not. I gave examples of both during the keynote, so I have addressed that part of the question.

Here is the other part: ICT is a more current term than IT since the former is often more interactive and multi-way while the latter is more transmissive and about regulations.

What types of subjects are suitable for game based learning?

Any and all of them are suitable, especially if you do not limit yourself to content-based learning and expand the possibilities to include critical and creative thinking, socio-emotional learning, soft skills, attitudes and values, etc.

Can Gamification ideas be implemented not through a game but just mere teaching activity?

Gamification does not employ games; it uses deconstructed elements of games, e.g., points, levelling up, leaderboards.

Your question seems to hint at game-like instruction. There are strategies like putting the problem (assessment) first or early, and focusing on just-in-time learning instead of just-in-case front loading.

I would like to try this approach but I am afraid it might take up a lot of the class time. How do I go about it without sacrificing too much of the contact time?

Can you have a cake and not eat it?😉

Something has to give and if it comes to that, you might have to use your judgement to see what to push out in order include something else.

How viable would it be to introduce gamification within a primary/secondary school classroom? The aim is to use gaming elements to increase engagement between the students and the teacher.

It is certainly viable, as apparent by the number of vendors and parties outside of schooling and higher education who want to do this.

Unfortunately, these groups sell you on the low-hanging fruit of “increased engagement”. Do not play this game because this is not why any technology-mediated strategy should be used.

Trying to engage is like trying to take control of light switches: You try to flip them on so that your students see the light. But they are just as easy to switch off or learners can move on to something else.

Engagement is something you do to try to help your students; empowerment is something you pass to students so they help everyone. By all means engage, but do not forget to empower. Vendors might tell you how to engage with gamification; I would rather see learners empowered by game-based learning.

how to know which game is appropirate [sic] for teaching when we don’t game?

You do not and cannot know. So play!

My replies to these questions might have a perceived tone. I assure the askers that my replies come from a good place and with good intent: I want us to collectively change and improve our practice.

Participants of the session observed how the panel and I approached the Q&A. The same tone and concern should be applied here.

I reflect after any talks or workshops I deliver or facilitate. My hour-long keynote yesterday, Don’t Play Games with Gamification, was no exception.

If the unsolicited feedback I received online, during the lunchtime conversations, or even as I tried to use a restroom are any indication, the keynote went well.

I also amazed by the efforts of @Reinventionist2 who made his thinking visual at the conference. He was kind enough to show his work to me and to ask for my signature.

All that said, I am my worst critic because I know what I had planned and what I had to leave out.

I shared what I intended to do here. I took the risk of biting off more than I could chew, and despite telling participants we might only have time to cover two of the three main parts, I had to leave out some more.

In trying to create opportunities for participants to interact with one another during the keynote, I took up more time than I should have. I dislike it when others overshoot their time and I am sorry for throwing the schedule off.

My ‘live’ demo of apps using AirServer went off without a hitch thanks to the efforts of people working in the background to unblock ports. I had my mifi device there just in case, too.

Of the three shared online spaces we used, we under-utilised one, Padlet. I had to push participants for time and I resorted to asking people to share their thoughts verbally instead of reflecting online.

I am glad that I decided to stick with TodaysMeet since it was and still is a proper backchannel. Google Presentation’s Q&A is still not quite there yet. A few took to tweeting with the hashtag #simgeconf. Very few. So I am glad that I had my own backchannel and Q&A area.

I was also able to work in answers to questions raised by folks in the pre-conference Google Forms poll. I hope I managed to answer the pertinent questions and I “hijacked” part of the panel session at the end of the day to bring up a sensitive but critical question that someone asked in the poll.

Speaking of the panel, I thoroughly enjoyed the panel session because all of us, moderator included, were candid and humorous. It was gratifying to see the audience laughing and taking notes well into a Saturday afternoon.

Post-draft note: I just received an updated version of the visual map of all four speakers’ talks. Many thanks to @Reinventionist2, aka Thum Cheng Cheong, for his brilliant work! [Full-sized version]

Keynote for SIM GE 2016 Conference: Don't Play Games with Gamification.

I deliver a keynote this morning and am part of a panel in the afternoon on the broad topics of game-based learning (GBL) and gamification.

My keynote is about an hour long, but the messages, cases, and experiences boil down to these points:

GBL and gamification are not a dichotomy, but distinct.

  • There are overlaps between GBL and gamification, but there are also distinctions. Educators who are thinking of implementing GBL strategies or gamifying experiences should know what these are so that they do this well and do it right.
  • They need to do this because others have gone before them by conducting research and reflecting on critical practice. Not only should they stand on the shoulders of giants by giving credit where it is due, those that do not know their history are also doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.

My keynote will merely skim the surface and probe the waters at strategic points, so I provide some readings in this curated list.

I plan on using a few go-to tools and one infrequent one.

My regular tools are Google Presentation as the main platform with TodaysMeet, AnswerGarden, and Padlet for a backchannel, crowdsourced word cloud, and case studies respectively.

I am opting not to use Google Presentation’s new Q&A tool because I want a more active backchannel. I also have some good questions from participants thanks to a pre-conference poll I conducted with Google Forms.

The tool I use strategically is AirServer. Most institutional wifi systems block it and I resort to bringing my own mifi device. But the room walls are often thick and/or the venues recessed deep enough to prevent good 3G or 4G signals. This time I might have a workaround thanks to some helpful folk at the venue.

I use AirServer only when it is sound to do so. In this case, I want to show real mobile games and a gamification app in real time. I have static screen captures as backups, but these are about as effective as looking at movie stills instead of the movie itself.

I plan on backchannelling the event on Twitter after I am done speaking and the organiser has decided on the hashtag #simgeconf. I almost abandoned TodaysMeet in favour of just using Twitter. But something tells me that the attendees are not quite ready for Twitter.

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