{Year 3} [Games] The White Cloak (meditation)

Journey, flow and philosophy in the classroom

What video games should you be playing with your pupils?

There is an influential, authoritative, and thoroughly persuasive academic book about the use of video games in the classroom. It has a catchy title: What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. It is written by an American university professor and specialist in linguistics and literacy, James Paul Gee. He begins his book with the words “I want to talk about video games – yes, even violent video games – and say some positive things about them.”

When a Stanford professor of linguistics hits that kind of stride, you know you’ve found something special. So, with apologies to Professor Gee, I want to talk to you about video games – OK, not necessarily violent games – and how they can transform the learning in your classroom. They can. I would like to tell you about all the games I love; but for now I will talk about only one. The one. A very important new game that is changing the game (so to speak) and needs to be experienced in your classroom.

Journey Traveller

Why play games?

Video games are not only useful devices for deep and meaningful learning in your classroom, they are essential. I would like to persuade you to use them in the classroom in all manner of ways. In fact, when you finish reading I want you to order a Sony PlayStation 3 (or two) for your school. It will cost less than 10% of what you pay for your phonics programme (on a good day) and it will deliver ten times the benefits. Let me explain. I am a player of games – not just video games. I love chess and backgammon, both master-classes of applied mathematics. We don’t teach chess in primary school. Why not? I am a trainee teacher and as a convinced video gamer, I have always believed in the rich potential of video games in the classroom, but I didn’t believe I could just walk in and do it. The plausibility of video games in your classroom depends largely on your school’s philosophy of teaching. And if they don’t value gaming as the highest form of pedagogy, it’s the wrong school, or the wrong philosophy.

The Rylands Effect

As for myself, I did not feel that I had the necessary experience or credibility to champion the video game as intellectual artefact in a serious and robust academic or scholastic context until I was introduced to the work of Tim Rylands on my Creativity and Computing in the Primary School module, run by Miles Berry at Roehampton University. That was a Eureka moment, even if I am not a great fan of Myst. Mr. Rylands the go-to guy for video games in the classroom. He is famous for using Myst – a classic of the philosophical quest-game genre – to get some very interesting and satisfying work in literacy (and more) from his pupils. The Rylands Effect means that video gaming in the classroom has academic and pedagogic punch. Gaming is good. It works.

The best video game ever

Now I will tell you about the best video game I have ever played. It was released last month, and next week my pupils will be transformed by it. It will break their hearts and open their minds. It will make them want to study computer science at Cambridge. It will make them want to save the world.

Journey Undersea

Not for children

Before I do this, I would like to comment on violent video games and why we should not use them in the classroom. You might think the answer is obvious. It is, kind of. The problem with violent video games is that many of them are very, very good. Too good. Some are so good that you might want to buy them for the headmaster’s birthday and have an Xbox party in the staffroom. But you should not. They do not belong in primary school. Games like Red Dead Redemption, the Grand Theft Auto series, Assassin’s Creed, God Of War and BioShock are classics of the new generation of “big video games” and have a lot to teach us about history, society, health, philosophy, Greek mythology, language, ethics, morals, and science, but they deal with adult themes. The violence, while problematic, is incidental. It is the content which matters. A Year 6 pupil might know and love the story of Prometheus, but the tale about a guy who is punished by the gods for giving fire to mankind and has to have his liver ripped out of his body by harpies and vultures for ever and ever is not suitable in a video game for children. The story, yes, the video game, no. So God of War is a beautiful game but not on my list. Godfather I and II are shockingly violent movies – but masterpieces too. Jacobean Tragedy is a mean business and not for primary school, and Shakespeare is not far from this neighbourhood. There are few good games which aren’t violent, unfortunately.

War and Peace? Not yet

We should understand that not all games will work in the classroom – even the best ones – and I would like to tell you how we can choose the right games from the best, most appropriate ones, and make the most of them to enhance our pupils’ learning across the curriculum. So Grand Theft Auto is a NO – but you don’t need me to tell you that. In fact, most of the best video games, while having amazing potential in the classroom are simply not suitable, to my great dismay. Consider, for example, the Assassin’s Creed series of games, which have the most stunning, realistic and thoroughly educational depictions of Renaissance Florence or the Jerusalem and Damascus of the Crusades. What a shame we can’t immerse our pupils in an extended narrative about political conspiracies and Popes and noble families in Medici Florence through a tapestry of beautifully realised virtual worlds, oozing historical detail and Da Vincian luminosity. Going around assassinating Borgias and Gonfalonieris in gruesome ways would change the focus of the lesson; it would not work. I wrote a letter to Ubisoft (the producers) asking them to consider releasing the code for the game-world as a walkthrough engine but they have not replied. Why would they? Good, violent games are fun, but no good in class. Tim Bissell, writing in the Guardian, referred to Grand Theft Auto IV as the War and Peace of video games. And it is that. But we don’t teach War and Peace in primary school – for good reason.

Which video games are best? Let us begin with the best one

Let us now consider non-violent video games; games which are just as plausible, elegant, beautifully designed – realised with talent, genius and creativity, and about as literate and erudite as any work of literature you could beg your pupils to read. Now we will discuss the video game that you will, that you must, use in the classroom. Journey, released on the PlayStation Network, is the best video game I have ever played. Bar none. Its emotional effect, its fun and speed, its inducement of Csíkszentmihályian flow, its art design, story, and gameplay, its masterful and subtle exploration of meaningful multiplayer interaction all contribute to make something which is more than a just a game. Journey is a learning experience of the best kind; with your pupils, you will break new ground while playing it. As an amateur philosopher, I find the metaphysics of game-worlds a deeply fascinating subject, but because I play a lot of video games and spend time thinking about how they work and how they are designed, I find it difficult to suspend disbelief for extend periods when playing. But Journey pulled me in immediately and did not let me go until I had learnt some very important lessons about life. Yes, that’s still possible for all of us, even teachers.

flOw, Flower and Journey

Journey is the game you must play in the classroom. It’s the only one that matters. Journey is the best video game ever made. It was created by a small developer, thatgamecompany, in California. thatgamecompany is led by a very intelligent, sensitive soul called Jenova Chen. He probably wouldn’t like me using the word ‘led’ because the team is just that kind of team. Chen and his team are inventing a new type of game: non-violent, emotionally rewarding, risk-free, positivistic, and pedagogically beneficial in ways which make me happy I’m a teacher. While on the subject of teams, you should know that flOw, Flower and Journey, the three games created by these gifted and talented people are released by a Sony studio called Santa Monica. The games are Sony exclusives, which mean you cannot buy them for the PC, the Xbox or any Apple products. So you must sell your Xbox and get PlayStation 3 instead. These three games alone make this a worthwhile proposition. And you get Blu-ray, but that’s another story. Yes, please switch to the PlayStation Network. Many good, pedagogically sound, affordable and optimistic games for children are available there. This could be one of the most important things you ever do for your pupils. No more Xbox. flOw, Flower and Journey are distinct, different and each unique but all connected by mysterious clues, themes and evolutionary histories. A thematic, cross-curricular trilogy. Each is a wonderful tool for exploring different curriculum areas.


But for now, I will concentrate on Journey. Journey is the most important game of the year. It may well be the game of the decade. Who knows? Tomorrow everything might be different – but for today, Journey is where it’s at and the sooner you play it with your pupils the better. Games, like novels, have a social half-life. They burn brightly at the start, when everyone is talking about them. And there is no better video game you could use in your classroom with your pupils (and yourselves) than Journey. It was released about a month ago and it’s a very important game, the fastest-ever selling game on the PlayStation network, so it needs no advertising from me. Its popularity speaks for itself. In fact, it’s a bona fide modern classic. You may be reading about it the newspapers soon.

How do I use Journey with my class?

thatgamescompany’s trilogy of masterpieces are designed for the Sony PlayStation 3 system, which will connect to your school’s media server and interactive whiteboards and speaker systems with no fuss. Now you are ready for Journey. Let us consider only one subject area I have been thinking about: Religious Education. When we teach RE in the primary classroom (although I prefer to call it philosophy or cosmology) we discuss the “about” and “from” of religion. Attainment target 1 is to learn about religion, and attainment target 2 is to learn from it. This puts it rather simply but that’s the essence. When we use convincing and inspiring religious artefacts as a stimulus for discussion and constructivist exploration of our social and personal knowledge, we are bridging AT1 and AT2. Journey, and many other good video games – which I hope to discuss with you in the future – will help you bridge these attainment targets, or satisfy any number of National Curriculum objectives. I daresay the New Curriculum will have Journey as programme of study in itself (I hope!). The RE approach to using Journey will crack the concepts of dharma, impermanence, right living, the eightfold path, and many other tenets of other religions if you plan it that way. If Journey has a religious identity, it could be said to be Buddhist, although that doesn’t begin to explain the game’s rich and powerful, yet subtle and delicate, multi-denominational iconography. It will trigger the right associations. You’ll know it when you see it.

How does the Journey begin?

The game begins with a cute little cloaked figure in what might be the dunes of Namibia, but again, this is only my interpretation. My pupils will have to figure it out for themselves; they will have to work at it. It ends somewhere that might be Tibet, but might not be. There is no dialogue in the game, so children with EAL will communicate directly with it, with no intermediary to confuse them. There is no written text of any kind at any point in the game to stall a struggling reader. The game expects you to understand what to do through its environmental clues, which is a lesson in problem solving (early computational thinking), but not the focus of the game. Jenova Chen is a leading figure in dynamic difficulty adjustment so the game will never bore your pupils; it will stretch them and tease them but never frustrate them. Imagine a constantly shifting ZPD and your pupils are sprinting toward it waving pencils and flags. Journey gives you this. They will want to see how you play, too. I have the subject of RE as a context for framing the activity of video gaming in the classroom, but Journey can be used in any curriculum area to stimulate discussion, generate objectives for written responses, or even to inspire derivative multimedia interpretations. This is where things get very challenging and deeply pedagogic. Journey is perfect in any subject setting: English (the literary and literacy aspects of the game story, the metaphors, the personification, the poetry, the anthropomorphism… for starters), ICT of course, Art, History, Geography, and Music…the music… don’t get me started on the music. The game’s composer, Austin Wintory, has made a sublime piece of video game symphonic that is neither obtrusive nor faint, but haunting and captivating. The man is a future Oscar winner. Guaranteed.

Playing for focus, flow and purpose

I realise I may have been gushing about this game a bit. That’s OK. Really, this is how you want your pupils in the classroom to respond. Children learn for their purposes only, no-one else’s. Frank Smith said this. He probably knows more than anyone I have read about children’s literacy and communication. As a psycholinguist Smith is up there with Chomsky. And as an educator, his ideas on purposeful, authentic learning through communication with absolute and genuine (not programmatic and synthetic) meaning and content he is peerless. And I know that he would get Journey, really get it. Smith is with it. In fact I’m going to write to him about Journey when I am finished here. Journey is a lesson with purpose; the children will see it immediately. Yes, it’s nice to dream about learning fluent Italian and wandering through the market towns of Tuscany discussing Chianti and Pecorino, but children have a functional approach. They want to know the point. This is why my pupils ask me, “Why do I need to learn French?” I love teaching French, but I can’t give them an answer suitable for their age that really clinches it for them. Instead of purposeless learning, the creativity and spark engendered by a shared adventure in Journey’s metaphysical gamespace, are exactly what we need. Tuscany can wait, but Journey will bring our pupils to the understanding of “foreignness” that is so important to get them asking questions about other places, Tuscany included. Journey is purposeful learning that will lead to hours of worthwhile cognition and reflection, about not only RE, but all the big questions. If I am still gushing, it is to give you an idea about how your children will be inspired to get up and draw something amazing or do a podcast or blog or paint or read about Tibet once they have come back from the mountains. And you will need to be ready for that energy. You had better get those lesson plans ready!

What is Journey really about?

I was going to tell you a little bit about Journey’s story, themes, ideas and educational content, but I won’t because I want you to experience it without what the French call prévoyance. Please don’t go to YouTube looking for clips. I did at first, and it doesn’t enhance the mystery and beauty of the game. Play it as it is meant to be played, as a life lesson with no social networking.

From playing games to making games in the classroom, and beyond

Some children will want to make their own games when they are done with Journey. That’s the best thing that could happen. This makes me realise that there is another aspect of video gaming in the classroom that I should mention for the computer scientists reading. I am paraphrasing, but Eric Schmidt was clear in his words when he said that we need a new generation of British boffins and our current system is not making the boffins. The last time I read about any rock and roll computer scientists in British magazines I was reading about David Braben and Ian Bell, Cambridge boffins and game gods of Elite for the BBC micro, and Peter Molyneux in the 90s with Bullfrog, a few others… I checked the Wikipedia entry on categories filter for British video game designers versus American video game designers and the result was a little embarrassing. The future boffins in our classrooms: if we nudge them only slightly in the right direction, we may spark the right fire. We do need more boffins. Miles Berry has drummed this into us again and again: we need to get them building games as well as playing them. We need to do more work with Scratch and App-building. So let’s nurture them, play games with them, ask them to make a better game than Journey; dare them to.

The point

Journey can be completed in less than two hours, but it can be played in episodes, and replayed many times over. You should play it through at least once, completely undisturbed (no social networking or fiddling with smartphones) – and do try playing online. It’s really quite magical. I don’t generally enjoy online mayhem, but Journey is something completely new in social gaming. It’s kind, gentle and utterly mysterious. Something else you can discuss with your pupils. What it means to help someone. Teachers are good at this. I have realised that I have not really tackled a solid lesson plan around Journey. I’m sorry, I’m not much of a planner. I can’t explain in detail how you should use Journey in your classroom, only that you must.

No one can be told what Journey is. You and your pupils will have to play it for yourselves.



This post is reproduced from an article originally published over a year ago in Ictopus.
I am still playing Journey and my opinions about it have not changed. I should acknowledge Heather Govier and Miles Berry for getting that particular ball rolling.
Ictopus, requiescat in pace.


{Year 3} [Seminar] Monday 22 Oktober (notice)

On Monday 22 October at 0900 I will deliver my seminar,

The Very Image of A Book*a computational approach to the class novel.”

I regret that I cannot provide a specific summary of my presentation at this time, but I do hope that it will prove a worthwhile stimulus for debate and discussion (time permitting).

Those who wish to participate in short practical activities will require the use of a basic mobile phone or other BYOD-type appliance and a Google account. For those who do not use Google or Gmail (I Salute You) – or do not wish to use their personal accounts – several temporary Google logins will be provided.

Interested parties, peripheral lurkers, and fellow travellers are welcome to attend and participate.

{Year 2} [Session End] Surviving Fronter; and Harris Burdick: The Trail Ends Here (reflection)

This penultimate post about my Fronter project is a continuation of my progress report on Fronter, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, and pupil feedback. I hope to revisit this discussion after the next part of my placement.

Here, I will discuss iterative development of my VLE room based on reflective thoughts about the school and the pupils; peer feedback and formative feedback from our tutor.


Containers Are Go

The first thing I did based on Helen’s feedback was to remove any containers and modules that had no existing purpose and make sure that every container in the welcome area led somewhere. My original idea of have a couple of mysterious blank modules (Another Mystery… but not yet) as a way of inviting pupils to create new modules themselves (a podcast was one possibility that the group was excited about) is something I might return to when I go back to the school next term.


Emergent Learning Forums

I created a new module called Pixels Talk, which is an open forum for the pupils to discuss all things related and unrelated to the project. Helen had noticed that one of the pupils had asked another about how to import images (emergent learning?), and this type of exchange would be more noticeable to other pupils in a forum designed for open communication unrelated to a particular learning outcome. So I did that.


The Disappearance of Google

I also created a new module called The Disappearance, again based on Helen’s advice to add some extra challenge for gifted and talented pupils as an extension activity. I have attempted to integrate Google Maps into Fronter without much success so I have temporarily inserted an image as a stimulus to enable my pupils and I to leave Fronter (yes, we’re leaving!) and explore Google Maps as a resource to support my visual literacy lesson.


Feedback Automation and Functionality

Going back to my original series of lessons in the VLE, I was very happy with the results I achieved in such a short time with the pupils; all credit is due to them, not to me or my room design. I think the fact that the Mysteries of Harris Burdick is such an excellent children’s book may also have something to with it. I did spend time on the forums giving each child personalised feedback; I enjoyed this very much and the processes epitomised everything I love about teaching. I considered developing automated feedback processes as a way of improving efficiency. One option was to include one or more tests with closed answers that could be marked by Fronter, but I decided against tests simply because of the aesthetic of tests in Fronter.

If you have used tests in your room you will know that the visual feedback you get when you submit your test is very poor indeed. I have completed some tests in rooms created by colleagues and I was disappointed by the way my results were reported back to me. There is no dynamic feedback; answers appear in a bizarre shade of green that you have to squint at to perceive…  — no thanks.

I have found a way of slightly automating feedback though. I can cut and pate standard responses, but I’m not sure my pupils would like that very much! If there was some secret process in Fronter to make feedback and testing more enjoyable, then I’m sorry to say I missed it.


Smart Device Access to Fronter

This raises a question about Fronter’s ability (or lack thereof) to alert the teacher of pupil activity and for pupils to receive immediate updates from the teacher, say, to and from a remote device such as a phone or tablet dashboard. This type of functionality is now becoming the norm, rather than the exceptional bonus. It is something that must be improved by Fronter and Pearson if they expect Fronter to survive.


From Textese to English

The way the children used SMS language and then shifted to standard English for shared writing (while keeping smileys) shows that they were experiencing the tension between their creative impulse (composition) and self-imposed discipline (transcription). I had mentioned this during the lesson. Telling pupils that textese and chatspeak is not appropriate does work if they want to write. But they have to want to write.


It’s All About The Book

Informal learning was assured by the fact that each pupil had their own copy of the book to take home, and the forums were always available for them to enter their responses and homework. Sometimes the forums were buzzing – and that was gratifying to see. But the key artefact in the learning process was the book, not Fronter. Fronter’s role was to support the learning and enhance digital literacy, but the touchstone was the book itself. In that respect, both the book and Fronter did their jobs, but the book went beyond the call of duty. It seems to me that the process of blended learning through VLE and supporting children’s book worked well. One result that I was very happy about is this amazing piece of work, which I feel deserves to be mentioned in support of the blended approach:



Pupils used the brainstorm forum to brainstorm vocabulary they thought went well with the book. But Fronter does not handle the mapping of ideas very well. The idea is surrounded by frames, commands and pictograms. The ideas get lost in Fronter's poor visualisation. I will try to use another mapping tool next term.



Fronter: The Final Analysis

Clicking the back button on Fronter is a little like playing a slot machine. With this essential dilemma in place, using Fronter becomes an exercise in continuous incertitude.

Initially, we see the basic benefits of Fronter:

  • It works very well as a portfolio of evidence for the trainee teacher and school
  • It offers a basically good communication matrix in the form of multiple forum styles
  • Good reporting helps monitor pupil activity and engagement
  • By offering a basic suite of services, it keeps teaching and learning focused and centralised, closed off from much of the weird nonsense on the internet
  • Fronter introduces children to the rigour of a good corporate knowledge management system and in doing so, prepares good little knowledge workers of the future (this may not necessarily be a benefit if you agree with in Ken Robinson about changing paradigms)
  • Fronter works well as a repository of pupil knowledge (knowledge management), but not as a tool for knowledge transfer (learning management)


When we attempt to reconstruct the functionalities we expect from Web 2.0, we run into problems:

  • No batch processing of setups and replications
  • Switching between edit and view is time-consuming and irritating
  • Containers can have a background colour, but no background image
  • You can't see what you're doing… Where's the save button?

  • Inability to move containers to other pages (unless they are archived) in the way Ajax will allow. I found myself trying to drag the container around the desktop or at least right click the container to bring up a menu which might suggest options like archive, move or what have you
  • When using forums, only really workable and graphically sane format is the conversation – the others don’t make sense to me
  • The ‘Fronter metaphors’, that Fronter is a ‘digital school building’ with ‘rooms’ as classrooms is a poorly executed, because the entrance hall does not feel like an entrance hall. It look and feels like a typical ‘Sharepoint’ type user environment. And the room is a box that says ‘Room’ on it. Am I missing something?
  • You could contribute to a forum or someone could respond to one of your forum posts; and it would be days before you notice because Fronter does not offer a basic functionality of most forums the RSS or email alert
  • Fronter does not offer semantic recognition of text, so the tests are purely arithmetic
  • The fact that such a common test an arithmetic test cannot even be created with a methodical layout. The type of multiple choice layout for the questions, answers and results is firstly non-mathematical, and secondly so poorly laid out as to be almost invisible for a child with limited eyesight or poor spatial perception. One might argue that algorithmic or vertical layouts could be created by the teacher,  but isn’t one the supposed qualities of Fronter that it takes way the drudgery and tedium of test-setting? Not only test tedious but they are unattractive. There is no discernable benefit other that the MIS advantage but I would rather enter my own results into spreadsheet than keep using Fronter for arithmetic tests.
  • You cannot expect to teach pupils to a high standard of visual and digital literacy when the very tool that is prescribed for use across the school system is of a poor standard from a visual (aesthetic) and digital (functional) perspective.
  • There are no design template built it, you have to do things over and over again. Why is not possible to copy containers? Fronter is neither powerful enough for experts, nor simple enough for amateurs; it straddles some bizarre netherworld of frustration and obviousness.


Some things I have learnt while doing this

Many of the Web 2.0 tools we take for granted, such as wikis, blogs, microblogs and mobile apps have demonstrable benefits in the classroom. Fronter could include these tools as part of its toolset, but it does not do so in a persuasive or convincing way.

So the obvious response is to move away from Fronter and work with these tools outside the borders of the school VLE – but then we run into well-documented e-safety problems.

So we can stick with Fronter, and stay ‘safe’ (even though many of our activities will have led our pupils outside Fronter) or we can seriously discuss the need for a new a paradigm: the web itself is bigger and better than any VLE; we just have to be careful about which tool we employ for particular learning objectives. Fronter makes the choice very easy, but the process of excellence and creativity too difficult. I would rather choose a bit more difficultly at the initial choice-stage and have an easier time being creative with the tools that are out there.




Buckingham, D. (2007) Beyond technology: children's learning in the age of digital culture. Oxford: Wiley

Carr N. (2010) The shallows: what the internet is doing to our brains. New York, NY: W. W. Norton

Gillespie et al (2007) Learning and teaching with virtual learning environments. Exeter: Learning Matters

Richardson, W. (2009) Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin

Salmon, G. (2002) E-tivities. London: Kogan




{Year 2} [211 Session 3] Numpty Physics for the Generalist (argument)

Failure is good!

The key to success for an IT generalist who cannot immediately see the benefit of a game (Numpty Physics) is that she needs to experience the frustrations and failures of the in-game physics.

Once she has understood the pedagogic benefits of the problem solving scenarios — and how failure and frustration can be constructive incentives — then she will be hooked. And physics will seem more real.

Being "hooked" is not a negative state of mind. "Hooked" is what allows the gamer to continually reassess the problem (the game) until the problem is solved. Then the reward is the feedback, the next level, the increased difficulty and frustration (how can increased difficulty and frustration be rewarding?). And yet difficulty is what we crave in games, but not necessarily in the classroom.

Even the generalist, who does not have time for games, must acknowledge the the persistence and determination of the gamer as habits she will want to nurture in her pupils.

This is only the beginning of game-based learning. From Numpty Physics we can travel to any number of game universes which can catalyse classroom learning, whether for cross-curricular themes, groupwork, focused creativity, programming and other important "skills of the future".

Play, enjoy, learn, teach. That's the Tao of Gaming.

{Year 2} [Session 13] Granny Cloud, Interdependence, and Video Confidence (2004)

“Teachers need to be aware of potential resistance to video conferencing from pupils and have to be able to provide an environment and preparation that is encouraging and sensitive to this.”

Becta, 2004

This is always the issue. “Gaining stakeholder confidence and assuring buy-in” is what it was called in my project management days.

There are several ways in which video conferencing (VC) could be piloted in a cautious school, risk-free and with benefits that parents and other stakeholders can immediately appreciate.

This would depend on the school and require a certain amount of planning and preparation — for which teachers do not always have time.

Initially, we could rely on institutions like Janet to provide materials and tokens of trust. We could also send out examples of good practice in other countries.

Monika has raised some interesting ideas about pupil buy-in.

The key is to model a successful project like Sugata Mitra’s Granny Cloud. It is simple but smart. It makes the entire idea appealing and personal. This could then be adapted to the needs of our pupils, perhaps by working with schools in North America, where the time difference would allow parents to supervise an evening session in the assembly hall with the pilot class and, say, the Montreal class. Parents seeing the “magic” first-hand would be that much easier to convince of the merits of interschool VC learning.

Finally, the issue comes down to a question of control. A: how much control is actually constructive before the effects become destructive? What are the legalities of a school communicating extramurally with another institutions and individuals? Do the parents have a say or not? B: What is the ethos of the school and the teaching body? If it is not conducive to innovation, then it will not happen on the basis of a lone voice in the wildreness.

Conferencing is, by definition, a social construct and can only be promoted by the group. The final question is:

Are we “with it”?


“The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village.”





{Year 2} [Session 13] The Blue Skype Thinking Conference (reflection)

Are you there, caller?

We have been able to imagine the video call since we became comfortable with the phone, which wasn’t actually that long ago. The history of video conferencing (VC) technology is a complex one and from what I understand a financially vested one. For this reason, the high definition, luxury telepresence systems are prohibitively priced, certainly from the edtech complex perspective. Did anyone see any at BETT?

And yet, basic lo-fi video calling is freely available through Skype, and the “conferencing” functionality is very cheap.

I have had no experience of VC in the classroom. It is not something which is easily proposed, not only due to technological barriers, but because there is an issue of child protection, safeguarding and privacy which makes the prospect rather risky unless it is a guaranteed win.

Infrustructure Enhancement

For this reason, solutions provided by VCFL, Janet, and Mina Patel seem like a good option for schools. The environment is safe, centralised and policy-approved. The methodology is geared toward schools and teachers who are curious but cautious. In this sense, Janet will cater to the needs of a general audience.

How can this benefit our classrooms?

The Skype's The Limit

I can imagine three ways in which VC could be useful and exciting in the classroom. This was reinforced to some extent by Mina’s presentation in this session.

1. Bring other worlds into the classroom

Even a basic VC tool such as Skype is the perfect way to make this happen. A geography lesson about Kenya can be enlivened if a comrade schoolteacher in Kenya is willing to go to the Maasai Mara and Skype-cast it to my classroom. And we could do the same for him or her.

We know that Skype is now available on most mobile phones and this will only increase as other tools such as Google Talk evolve into video chat and beyond. This will also reduce or dependence on expensive infrastructure-based VC systems.

2. Connect with experts

As Mina pointed out, we are only a phone call away from some very passionate people from the world of art, music, technology, sport. Video-based interviews, question and answer sessions and inspirational speaking would work well in the classroom.

3. Connect with other pupils in the global village

As pupils work with each other on homework, projects, and tasks in micro learning communities, they can also explore the macro community of the global classroom. The idea of scale applies to people as well as things. They could work in a different with different classrooms across the world. These skills are important and will continue to be so.

Toward an open and free platform?

To me, the VC language is weird. Why do we still call it video “conferencing”? A conference, to me, suggests busy people in suits in a large room, which means business deals and money. I feel that the grassroots technologies of Skype and and other VOIP startups will change the landscape radically. When I was living in Bangladesh a few years ago, Skype was banned and blocked for several months because the state-owned system, BTRC, couldn’t accept the idea of free international calls, never mind video calls.

Learning communities and Skype

Since Skype, again, is the language of the youngest learning generation of digital natives, it is logical to assume that the collective will assimilate Skype and authentic and genuine learning communities, like Sugata Mitra’s Granny Cloud, will grow around the available technology. I am trying to find a classroom in Bangladesh that has Skype capability for an eventual field practice experiment. I am hopeful that it will work because the technology is free and available. I will also contact Janet to ask about how I could do this. I will post more updates on this project next year.




{Year 2} [Session 12] There’s a Good App (Inventor) for that (2012)

Enhance 34 to 46

Depending on how accessible the particular app creator software is for the primary schoolchild, the Apps For Good project has enormous potential for transfer into the primary classroom. There is no reason why the audience should be restricted to secondary school and beyond.

Go right

The key is making apps that contribute to the social good. Any small child can socially construct the idea of a greater good, a public good and social justice. Indeed, small children may well have more utopian ideas than older children, informed by the general goodness of the books they read and the media they consume than older children (without wanting to generalise). So the idea of making apps for good stands for younger children. They also like apps and use them. Why not make them?

The idea of moving from using apps to creating them, taking on the role of the App Inventor in a design context and thinking through the entire process in the rational model is a valid and important process for primary school learners (and educators).

Wait a minute

Before we even consider the constructionist theory involved in actually making the app, we can enjoy the benefits of the enquiry (why do we need this app?), the procedure (how will we make this app?) and the result (here is our app – try it!).

Track 45 left

Children can become App Inventors as long as we have develop coding languages that suit the children. With the recent developments in Scratch and Kodu – and this is only scratching the surface (no pun intended) – the language is accessible and fun, and leads into the Papertian territory of acceptable falsity and the risk-free experimentation (psychosocial moratorium) of James Paul Gee.

Apps are not only a good idea for our classroom, they are essential. It doesn’t really matter if the children don’t succeed. There are many intrinsic benefits associated with mathematical thinking, logic, linguistics, and other conventional curriculum concerns. I love this idea. Everybody wins – and this is also a social good.

Now enhance 15 to 23

Of course, as my allegiance to Google grows ever more inexorably toward devotee status, I should point out some of the deeply subtle, intellectual and delightful Easter Eggs of the Google nomenclature.

We know that Google and MIT are involved in the App Inventor project. Miles Berry gave us the definitive demo of MIT/Google’s App Inventor and I cannot see why a young scientist would not get to grips with it. It isn’t that much more complicated than BYOB or StarLogo. The added benefit is the functionality of telecommunication commands (text, tweet) that children will intuitively understand – and as Berry’s Ball-bearing III demo showed, you can be hooked in less than ten minutes.

Nexus-1 Android Intelligence

But I digress. Google is inventing more than apps. It is inventing artificial intelligence. We cannot guarantee Nexus-6 replicants by 2019, but Google is already at Nexus 1 (Nexus One) of its Android portfolio.

It cannot be mere coincidence that the two key words in Google’s mobile intelligence lexicon, NEXUS and ANDROID, are direct connections to the genius of Philip K. Dick, who wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which of course, gave us Blade Runner, the ultimate expression of the cyberpunk future. The Wall Street Journal was impressed enough to pick up the story: Nexus Name Irks Author's Estate, and it also blogged on the topic – both news items are worth reading.

Which of course, is another way of saying that science fiction is at the centre (the nexus, if you will) of the most important source of progress in educational technology: Google and MIT, which will one day be known as the Tyrell Corporation (allegedly, maybe).

Which makes me realise that we are all app inventors for good – a truth so awesome it needs its own soundtrack.






{Year 2} [Session 12] “A Thousand Dreams That Would Awake Me” (reflection)

Parallels between future (Web) and past (Art)

Regrettably, I could not attend this lecture due to my placement at the National Gallery, but I have watched the video (it would be nice to get the slideshow on Slideshare or something!) and found interesting parallels between Darren Savage’s renaissance philosophies of predicting future (where we are going) and exploring past (where we have come from). This made me realise that there were parallels (for me) between this lecture on the future of the Web for schoolchildren and my week exploring the history of art with schoolchildren at the National Gallery.

This parallel can be discussed in the Connectivist style: how the mind connects images and ideas (in the real world, and the digital world, to the internal mind world). The problem is that everyone’s mind is infinitely different and the way Connectivist theory explains neural connections is apt here, because modern man is retribalising and thinking more alike than ever before. I will not attempt to qualify this, but only say that that pupils are individuals with complex and unique thoughts.

Let me provide an example that makes a connection between this lecture and history. I liked Savage’s use of the Shiny, Shiny, Shiny, Boots of Leather commercial spot from 1993. I haven’t seen it for years (it was huge when it was originally broadcast) and I could not remember the product (which says a lot about advertising), But Venus in Furs by Velvet Underground has the image of a 60s artistic renaissance, not just hippie stuff, but genuine artistic history (connection: Andy Warhol); the film was directed by Tarsem Singh, who makes commercials and motion pictures in what can only be described as a “painterly” way (see The Fall, and Immortals, which connects to paintings, which connects to the National Gallery (and paintings of Venus, not in furs obviously, but still very sexy.) Postscript: I found out it was Tony Kaye, not Tarsem, that did the film, but he also did American History X, which is historical enough for me to justify the neural connection.

In Darren Savage’s idea of using context to provide a platform for enhanced learning, say, in which we “sell” our learning “brand” and offer a “vision” to our pupils, perhaps the history of art is a brand? This works because the children live in a world in which marketing and advertising form a huge part of their sensory input, and we can “capitalise” (to use an apt metaphor) on this by layering this Connectivist network with things we want our pupils to learn.

Making culture sexy for the people (future/past connect 1)

The idea of “liking” and “sharing” and “tweeting” or indeed “retweeting” has an analogy in the way private patrons would ask painters to refer to other works (mashup) to up the ante of the portrayal of the human body, to “compete” (as it were) and gamify paintings: two Florentine merchants may have competed to have the sexiest portrayals of their mistresses within the confines of acceptable taste. Failed paintings were often burnt and great cost and regret. Successful paintings were the talk (the tweet) of the town. This social context of gamification can be paralleled with the modern marketing techniques of placing attractive idea into the hands of patrons — in this world, millions of them – and see immediate benefits and analytic rewards. In the Quattrocento, it might have taken several months before the idea of Merchant A and Merchant B playing a social game around sexy paintings to become part of the cultural language (to “beat the drum”, McLuhan, 1962). In this world, it can take minutes or hours to create a meme such as Mr Splashy Pants (which I have not heard of) or a movement such as the Arab Spring.

With such speed and expediency available to us, Savage correctly points out that as teachers, we can use memetics to cause an idea to spark, the Gilly Salmon wants it to, but much faster and with more palpable results, sooner rather than later. Just as well, because most kids today don’t hang around for tangents.

Super-wide cultural convergence (future/past connect 2)

Everything is available to us right now, immediately. We don’t need to wait for anything anymore. Just looking at the extremely erudite and wide-ranging inputs from Mr Savage’s presentation, we can see just how much cognitive energy is available to modern audiences in less time than you need to digest it.

This super-wide convergence was not always as accessible as it is now (certainly not to the many illiterate and poor people of the time), but take for example, Holbein’s The Ambassadors. There is a wide range of influences, ideas, inputs and contexts in just one paints that measures 2m by 2m. In a sense, the painting is a super-connected artefact. It is cognitively huge. Symbolism and detail (which I do not have the time to go into here) have their own memetic qualities, going viral into the mind of the literary person of the time.

Chomsky on how it just happens by itself

"Most problems of teaching are not problems of growth but helping cultivate growth. As far as I know, and this is only from personal experience in teaching, I think about ninety percent of the problem in teaching, or maybe ninety-eight percent, is just to help the students get interested. Or what it usually amounts to is to not prevent them from being interested. Typically, they come in interested, and the process of education is a way of driving that defect out of their minds. But if children['s] [...] normal interest is maintained or even aroused, they can do all kinds of things in ways we don't understand"

(Chomsky, 1992)

It seems counterintuitive to reliquish control, but I think that we need to seriously consider this. There are many connections to be made: too many to simply “teach”. Mr Savage has shown us a comlex and mystifying future, one in which the pupil will change the rules. Maybe we should listen to Chomsky,  McLuhan and Savage, and let them get on with it, in their own way.




{Year 2} [Session 11] The Future of the Web 2.0 is Dead. Long Live The Web 3.0! (2010)

Are we “with it”? Marshall McLuhan Asked Us Once

It is seductive to agree that the “VLE is dead” (perhaps, in Fronter’s case, it is). The VLE however – and depending on your definition – is not necessarily dead; perhaps it is just sleeping. Even a lowly book is a VLE if you want it to be. And the ultimate VLEspace, the third web, is waiting in the wings. What is Web 3.0 and what does it have to do with games, learning and us? There are many conflicting definitions because like any embryonic idea, it doesn’t know what it is yet. Jane McGonigal might argue that 3.0 is a game: the gameful web, or the ludic web of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I like this idea because I love Jane McGonigal and enjoyed her book very much. Any argument which proposes gamification and video games as a way of saving the world gets +5,000 hope from me. In many ways, Jane McGonigal is perfect. Some experts may disagree with her and point to other definitions and concepts of Web 3.0 (see below).

Marshall McLuhan famously asked us in the early 60s if we were “with it”. Or were we still in the age of the book? Now we are still in the age of Web 2.0, but McLuhan understood, maybe in advance of many of today’s experts, that the web is just a construct of “tribes” (affinity groups or communities of practice) who are “with it” (networked) and “beat drums” (tweet). By claiming there was a difference between an adolescent and a teenager (in terms of media), he glinted and hinted at the idea of a digital native. McLuhan anticipated Web 1.0: maybe we could dedicate Web 0.0 to him. In fact Wired Magazine (in 1992), then a fledgling paper-based product, named Marshall McLuhan as its patron saint. Wired went on to become the go-to place for everything web.

Year Zero

This is the year that our beloved Secretary of State for education has called for the deletion of the curriculum for ICT (eduspeak for IT) and a wiki for a new curriculum. Perhaps this is a new phase of eduspeak; or perhaps it is a genuine change in the way we do things, and a possible way of teaching Web 3.0.

Either way, it is an exciting time to be training for schoolteaching. As we prepare to educate “retribalised” human beings, there may also be a shift back to the “literary man”, the human who sits alone with his own point of view. Jimmy Wales, as an objectivist and an individualist, is one of those people. I am excited about using the tools and tactics of Web 2.0 with the children who are about to create Web 3.0. We still do not know exactly what Web 3.0 is yet. An intelligent web? A semantic web? A new hard infrastructure? Tron, Minority Report and Psychohistory?

The calendar has been reconfigured and we are now entering a new age in education, computer-based learning and communications. Web 3.0 is just around the corner and the slate has been wiped clean for us to rewrite the web of learning as we see fit. This is amazingly powerful and exciting.

My feeling is that Web 3.0, as McGonigal so eloquently writes, is a game. I recently began reading Cory Doctorow’s novel about games, communities of practice, digital natives and the economics of the future. In Doctorow’s eyes, McGonigal’s ideas have developed into hard economic reality. Of the 20 largest global economies, 8 of them are games.

It’s only a matter of time before the children we are educating begin to apply for jobs in the future iterations of Warcraft, Second Life (Third Life?) or whatever 3.0 digital economy lies ahead.

It is strange to look back at Marshall McLuhan who was so clear in his ideas about what was in store for us. The spirit of the 60s lives on!



{Year 2} [Session 11] Web 2.0: A Place to Learn, Teach, Meet (reflection)

McLuhan: The Medium is the Message

One essential, basic (jargon-free) definition of Web 2.0 is one in which we talk about the web as a medium, a virtual place where we meet, talk, learn by both consuming and creating knowledge; not just as readers, but as writers (read-write web).

So we can read wikis and write them, watch YouTube videos and create our own, teach lessons and sign up for them.

Web 2.0 is an integral part of the new teaching community, the tribal community that is “with it”, as Marshall McLuhan posited.

I joined the Web 2.0 tribal, "with it" community of Teachmeet is a somewhat unplanned and haphazard way; but that can be a good thing. I saw the information in a blog; read it; thought, “Yeah, why not, I have some cognitive surplus to spare right now”; signed up for it on a PBwiki; got some feedback on Twitter; planned my ideas in a Notepad; created a presentation on Prezi; and met People in the Real World.

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Web 2.0 was not just the medium, it was, in some (McLuhan) way, the message too.

What is Web 2.0? And what does it mean for this community?

Teaching children about the web and information technology is actually about using and creating the web and information technology. They are all intertwined in what can only be described as an actual web.

This, I feel, sums up the message of this module: Web 2.0 is not only a resource, it is a responsibility. When you are supporting learning communities in the web, everything is interconnected, like a spider’s web: how to find things, use them, make them; how to talk to one another, establish policies of acceptable use, courtesies and politeness; how to be safe and responsible; how to learn, how to teach, how to learn by teaching (and vice-versa); how to choose between modes of safety and versatility, openness and privacy.

The Case for Choice

Which toolset would I choose for my classroom? I spend a lot of time thinking about this; it’s one of my pet-ruminations. I have had the benefit of using both modes of provision: the Web 2.0 model (which I will call Google) and the VLE-type model (which I will call Moodle). Google and Moodle are not specifically referenced. Google could just as easily be a non-Google array of web tools such as wikis, blogs, media-sharing sites and pupil-generated sites. Moodle could be Fronter or any prescribed infrastrucuture. It puts the case rather bluntly to throw Google and Moodle into the ring for a smackdown: each has its benefits and drawbacks, and comparing them is like comparing backgammon and chess.

Nevertheless, I have to choose between Google and Moodle. Which would I use for my classroom? Which of them provides the advantages I want for my pupils, and fewer frustrations and disadvantages?

Moodle is tailor-made for teaching and learning. It is safe, free, easy to use. It offer multiple learning tools. Google is perhaps not as safe. It is easy to use but large and complex. It is not designed for education (strictly speaking).

Considering the relative merits, and the risk of using either, I have to choose Google. Why choose Google over Moodle?

Google is what the children are using, They speak Google, in the McLuhan sense. They don’t, or don’t want to, speak Moodle, unless Moodle is all they have, in which case they quickly adopt the language; and then where do they go? Google is as future-proof as any product can be in the fast-moving world of the web. Google will only become safer and more customisable over time, allowing me to protect my pupils’ privacy and safety to my liking, while teaching them to personalise and customise their learning at their own pace. It is infinitely scalable, and allows my pupils to determine their own level of commitment. Nothing is forced on them. Google is synonymous with informal or stealth learning. BYOD is easier with Google than with Moodle.

Ultimately, I want freedom; for myself in how I implement the technology, and for my pupils in how they employ it. This is my model for the self sufficiency which will enable them to become the future citizens of a digital economy, not as consumers, but as creators. Only a worldwide landscape (Google), rather than a provincial landscape (Moodle) can teach them this. Lockdown may be safer, but it is not an education.

Freedom is my most important criterion; I acknowledge that many will disagree with this, and that's fine. Even within communities and tribes, McLuhan discusses the literary man in his own corner.