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Filtering by Tag: game-based learning

The Hunger Games & Critical Literacy, Post 4 of 4.

Part 4, Conclusion – The Hunger Games

(Navigation: Part 1, Part 2Part 3)

I've defined critical literacy as the ability to both:

#1 observe, analyse, deconstruct a system (aka the observer’s perspective, from without), and

#2 engage with the system, complicitly but seeking agency.

Now then, The Hunger Games, in a long line of texts where the protagonist seeks an exit sign from a curated system. 

The Hunger Games is a critical literacy lolly-shop. It is metacognitive bliss. It goes to the heart of reality and representation. Katniss Everdeen’s first-person journey switches frame and context throughout the series, each context deconstructed around dilemma-questions amounting to “In whose interest is it that I see reality this way?” aka “who is exploiting me here?” The actual Hunger Games at the centre of the books is a metaphor for the wider game being played across the districts and the Capitol.

The Hunger Games in The Hunger Games is, of course, no game at all, but a political apparatus. The distinction between 'game' and 'system' collapses. It is an invitation to the reader to deconstruct their own contexts, and ask “Whose game am I playing here?”

Hence my obsession with game-language being applied to schooling. Schooling is a system. Game-language helps us recognise systems as systems, drawing attention to artifice, implying the quesion: "How might this be redesigned?"

Collins’ grotesque portrayal of the media, especially reality TV, diagnoses Mode #2 disguised as Mode #1, i.e. I engage the media as if in the shoes of an outside observer, but am in fact, without knowing, complicit in a Mode #2 system. This is the worst possible scenario: I think I’m observing, but I’m participating. It may indeed be a critique of my very distinction between Mode #1 and #2.

For instance, refusing to play ball, is still playing ball on a wider playing field.

You can quit your job, and live in the desert in a shack, but this still constitutes a legitimate game move, employed by many others in the past, and many to come. It’s a clichéd move, not original at all. It amounts to participation, albeit with the illusion of pure Mode #1 detachment. Many escape strategies turn out not to be escape strategies. Observation is participation. Even not-observing is participation. 

Annnnyway, Katniss:

Katniss finds herself at the nexus of an epistemological and ontological crisis. Who is she? How does the system define her? She can't not participate. No neutral moves for her. A context she does not want is defining her. Her actions, and words, are repurposed by others, come to mean something new. What makes her such an interesting character is the messiness of her engagement with messy dystopic systems.

Superior to the mythic simplicity of the Twilight series in every way.

Katniss Everdeen by ~graysee on deviantART

There are no easy answers, fortunately. Yet the books offer wisdom in the form of functional processes. I mean to say: practical wisdom. Some rough words I would put to these, from The Hunger Games, are:

-          Watch out, someone’s playing you.

-          Don’t get cocky about WHO is playing you, and why. You might be wrong.

-          Even people who play the system are themselves played by the system.

-          Suspect and deconstruct your own actions, even as you engage with them.

-          Be prepared for frame-shifts, be ready to reinterpret your story-so-far based on new evidence.

-          Above all: suspect ideologies that define in-groups and out-groups.

-          Others are looking out for you. You’re blessed. Recognise this, it’s precious, at the heart of everything: acts of kindness, self-sacrifice for others.

-          At your best you’re looking out for others in the same way.

-          At your worst you’re complicit in systems that marginalise. Kindness between two individuals crosses all boundaries. Suspect the boundaries, embrace kindness.

I found the series surprising didactic, surprisingly direct with a surprisingly clear message, considering the utter ambiguity around Katniss’ navigation of systems. That is to say: the system is ambiguous, but the rules of engagement are straightforward, if painful: doubt, deconstruct, love.

Doubt, deconstruct, and love. We would do well to apply these lessons to schooling.

They feed into critical literacy. We’re not duped, but we don’t disconnect either. Or, we’re duped, but suspect that we’re duped, and look to minimise the harm. All this an antidote to hubris.

I think we need to be paranoid about getting duped. That's The Hunger Games: watch out, lest you become a pawn in someone else's game.

What to do, where to go from here?

I, for one, am explicitly and deliberately on the lookout for texts and mindsets that mesh Mode #1 and #2, and suggest this mode of engagement to others. Game based learning is one avenue: I play the game, but I am not the game. Texts like The Hunger Games are of great value at exploring what critical literacy looks like in action, in all its rawness.

For our own perception of school:

Meta-language is always helpful. Stand back, observe, analyse.

But afterwards, into the fray! There’s a system to reinvent, so let’s get cracking on it.

Beware the lessons of the French revolution (a sidetrack, a whole new post).

For our younglings:

We need to draw attention to the artificial nature of the school system, and teach kids to see beyond it. Gaming language provides an excellent way of doing this. 

I'd love to think that many young people are intuitively 'wised-up' and become at least somewhat systems-literate by virtue of computer games, and texts like The Hunger Games. I wouldn't want to leave it to chance. 

Teacher readers, I ask you as I ask myself: while we establish learning environments, do we also promote a second thread, a deconstruction process, to wise up our students to its arbitrary nature? They need Mode #1 as much as Mode #2. Do we teach them to flick between the two? They need Mode #2 as much as Mode #1 (we're not trying to breed smarmy Bachelor of Arts students here! Doers, not observers!)

Does this all sound too theoretical (I've did a B.A.)

What I mean is, when the teacher is in teacher mode, student in student mode, playing out their roles, locking horns, in the pressure-cooker classroom, dehumanised by a relic system of the industrial era, SNAP OUT OF IT. These are two human beings, who'd get along great in any other context. The snapping out happens via a shift into Mode #1 disinvestment. The shift can be as easy as a laugh. A moment of humour. But it can go much deeper than that. The de-fusion process can be embedded in business-as-usual.

Critical literacy for the win! 

(Navigation: Part 1Part 2Part 3)

The Hunger Games & Critical Literacy, Post 3 of 4.

Part #3 – Game Thinking Promotes De-Fusion from the System

(Navigation: Part 1, Part 2, Part 4 tomorrow)

I've defined critical literacy as the ability to both:

#1 observe, analyse, deconstruct a system (aka the observer’s perspective, from without), and

#2 engage with the system, complicitly but seeking agency.

My earnest interest in game-based learning is entirely to do with the perspective switching between Modes #1 and #2. When we engage in a game, we recognise the system as arbitrary, curated, as this way, yes, but it could be that way instead. The system is a technology, artificial, artifice. Mode #1. But, hey, let’s play along (Mode #2).

Modes #1 and #2 come together wonderfully in games. We are complicit in the system, yes, but deliberately so.

The dynamic is similar when we read fiction or watch films. The term is “suspension of disbelief”. I suspend my disbelief, laughing, crying, engaging. My heart is in it. I’m not the cynical observer. And yet, simultaneously, on some level, I am aware it is a fiction.

Schooling is a fiction. Systems are fictions.

This is necessarily so. Narratives approximate reality. That’s the whole point of them. They give us a lens to assist our sense-making. Mode #1 allows us to recognise narratives as narratives, separate the map from the landscape, opening up a myriad of new possibilities: rewriting, mashing up, switching, tinkering. Mode #2 allows us to wear them like clothing, participate in others’ fictions, contribute to culture, meaning, community.

When we employ game-based learning structures at my school, we mesh Modes #1 and #2. Students have a language for identifying the system as arbitrary, malleable, even while engaging deliberately (or resisting deliberately, knowingly). That the games are episodic only intensifies the benefits. Students learn to frame-shift, but also to describe their own frame-shifting.

Look at the language my colleague Chantelle Morrison uses in her planning for our Year 5/6 Science simulation unit:  “The disparity between academics will become evident in the simulation as students try to improve their employment.” And an outcome, “Students will: Experience the social hierarchy and imbalances of power of the various groups.” This simulation, of one term’s duration, involves explicit cues to the students that they are entering a parallel universe, a curated system. For 75 minutes a day, they don lab coats, take on the fictional roles of employees in the “Ministry of Science”, able to climb the greasy poll by earning DNA and Amoeba points, or gamble currency on Chance cards, all the while navigating a rigorously curated and sophisticated curriculum. The game structure is an external layer on top of core learning activities.

They’re learning Science as they go (complicit, Mode #2), but Chantelle has gone one better, using gaming to embed Mode #1 thought in the meta-language surrounding the experience. Debriefing with the students regarding the unit has been nothing short of fascinating. They have the words to deconstruct the context of their learning in a way that would be much more difficult if we started discussing ‘school’.

A game-design mindset can help teachers think in non-linear ways about learning pathways. When I play “Lord of the Rings Online” I can head in any direction through a curated landscape. With game thinking, Chantelle can map out a veritable learning landscape. Every child takes a different path. It’s all mapped to outcomes, the inspectors will be glad to see, but it is not linear.

Linear programming is dead, as is the piece of paper with a linear learning sequence plus some lip-service to the two ends of the fictional bell curve. A technology for three different groups? With game-based structures, Chantelle curated a learning landscape where 180 students completed 180 different programs, AND developed Mode#1 Mode#2 critical literacy at the same time. 

Some detailed (if rough notes) on design language around this sort of unit is here.

The possibilities when you align physical space, virtual space, learning culture and team teaching are endless. You can allow freedom on three axis: space, time, activity, without chaos. Harness initiative, cure endemic passivity. Systems design is an artform. Systems make us. We're often asked by visitors how students who can't self-direct cope with our learning structures. The question is in danger of presupposing that passive reliance on authority is inherent rather than trained/encouraged by teacher-centric pedagogy. 

In the modern factory era, hierarchical structures meant that schooling successfully spat out Mode #2 kids ready for Mode #2 jobs. Is that too harsh a generalisation?

I can read, write, rithmetic, and do what I’m told. I can haz job? You can haz! 

Yet businesses don’t want that anymore, they want better. They want Mode #1/Mode #2 employees; creative agents to turn a company from is to becoming. Perpetual re-invention, innovation. This is process AND content, becoming AND being.

No room for Platonic essentialism if you want to be around in 5 years. Working within the system, without expending effort in the alienation/reinvention process of Mode #1, means you stay the same. Kodak did that and it killed them

A game-design approach to schooling is a framework that can promotes complicity and critical agency at the same time: Modes #1 and #2. 

Part 4 - The Hunger Games, tomorrow.

The Hunger Games & Critical Literacy, Post 2 of 4.

Part #2 – Schooling is an Arbitrary System

(Navigation: Part 1, Parts 3 & 4 tomorrow)

I've defined critical literacy as the ability to both:

#1 observe, analyse, deconstruct a system (aka the observer’s perspective, from without), and

#2 engage with the system, complicitly but seeking agency.

So much of my thinking in recent months has been about schooling as a highly particular and arbitrary system. The great harm of schooling comes from the fusion of its agents, in mode #2. I mean that the agents of the system (the players: teachers, students, etc) fuse with the system à la Mode #2.

Many adults are haunted by internal wiring, social roles, raw nerves, and other wounds inflicted in their tender years navigating the school-universe. The adolescent might become the resistant reader, kicking against the system, but this does not necessarily imply thought mode #1. I can rebel against a system I am fused with. I am a rebel. Schooling allows rebels. The rebel is on the map. We know what to do with you. Let’s play out the script: the argument door is third on the left.

Ask an adult about their schooling years. This is often like peering under a rock, and the grubs come out. The distortions from their formative years. Saturday night at dinner, a very close friend told me how, as a tiny thing, he had an anxiety attack at his 'Quartile 1' on his report card, thinking the higher the number the better. This is his early years, right? Doesn't matter that he interpreted it wrong. He's coming up against the game, but doesn't have language to identify it as a game. It's reality. These moments stay with people. It's so meaningless.

From the teacher’s perspective, in mode #2, homework, compliance, ‘management’, programs, assessment, outcomes, are the circuits of the CPU. Hey, teacher, leave those kids alone! All in all you’re just another brick in the wall. My hand is straight up in the air admitting culpability, letting the cultural DNA, the great archetype, the Toxic Myth, that hideous platonic form “SCHOOLING” brutalise myself and my students over the years. I relate to the proposition “every teacher feels guilty”.

I cannot tell you how much it bugs me that when our school is inspected, the inspectors sit in a room and examine bits of paper called programs. What are these bits of paper? They would appear to be crucially so important! In fact, the most relevant, telling, information-yielding element in a school would appear to be its paper-work. The litmus-test! Therefore, the summun bonum! The students are a means to an end?Functionally, is this not how it plays out? I have a precious hour to invest. The inspectors are coming. I had better tidy up those bits of paper!

What use that hour could be put to, otherwise! Count the wasted hours! The French K to 10 syllabus, for instance, has 8 quite workable outcomes, but then they go spoil it with 50 substatements. Try mapping them! Some Mode #1ers got carried away, is what happened. Lovely system on paper.

Ye God of Bureaucracy, all yield!

The paper is irrelevant, because this child missed breakfast, or is sleepy, or already knows long division, or cares not to learn it, or doesn’t get it.

The bit of paper is “the violence inherent in the system”. Outcomes? <shakes fist> OUTCOMES!? Gamified schooling: teachers affirmed for pristine paperwork.

Watch out what you incentivise!

Part #3 – Gaming Promotes De-Fusion from the System, tomorrow.

The Hunger Games & Critical Literacy, Post 1 of 4.

Part #1, Introduction – A Definition of Critical Literacy (Parts #2, #3 & #4 TBA)

I’ll define critical literacy as the ability to both:

#1 observe, analyse, deconstruct a system (aka the observer’s perspective, from without), and

#2 engage with the system, complicitly but seeking agency.

The more you’re #1 without #2, the more academic and functionally useless you are. Such wisdom! Such rags! Your insights are very likely too clean for the messiness of reality. You’re well armed with exquisite simulations of a world that does not exist. Arm-chair commentator! Critic! Voyeur! All perspective, no action.

The more you’re #2 without #1, the more functionally blind you are. You’re subsumed into the system. You’re an oblivious component part of something bigger. Cog in the machine. Blissfully unaware; your brain belongs, functionally, to another circuit. The very words you use to think are given to you. Your thoughts are musical riffs by another composer. You sing with the choir. Pawn in the game! Such unison!

But tragically, it feels to you like you’re calling the shots.

Indignant I may be, this is MY choice. But it ain’t.

I guess we all straddle both, but both can be intensified, cultivated, without cancelling each other out. The learning process is disconcerting, painful, disorientating. Self is context, domain-dependent: take the escalator to the gym. To call out others’ contradictions, easy. To call out yourself, and then be the contradiction, harder.

To what extent does ‘SCHOOLING’ (capitalised, mythic, archetypal, writ large) position its players in Mode #2? 

Post #2, tomorrow. 

Landscape/Frame/Gateway Design Model

Update: Here is the Prezi itself: 

My Notes - 'Making it Mobile' Conference 

Here are my summary notes for my session at the 'Making it Mobile' conference on site at my school tomorrow and Friday.

If you're not in attendance, and you're up for a bit of hard work, reading on will give you an outline of a learning-design model. 

If you are in attendance at the conference, you can bookmark this link to be reminded of the core principles. 

Key Proposition: approaching schooling with a 'game' mindset helps us see its arbitrary design parameters as arbitrary design parameters.

Proposed Model: I propose a "landscape, frame, gateway, tracking systems" model and present a detailed case study with Ms Chantelle Morrison (architect of learning in our 'Zone' space, see www.anarchyinlearning.com


 Games are curated systems.

Monopoly -

- various parameters come together (game board, rules, cards, cash, avatars, etc)

- aim of game is very clear, and is a linear progression.

- game is essentially social, and the curated system is secondary to social dimension

'Lord of the Rings Online' -

- immersive world instead of board, rules, components, parameters

- aim of the game is NOT linear, there are countless paths forward and the game is deliberately designed to prevent me mastering every path

- like monopoly the game is social.

Which of these two games does a classroom/school most resemble?

It depends greatly, of course! But all schools are game-systems, with very particular and peculiar designs.

School is a game. We can redesign it. We can redesign it to be non-linear

At NBCS we've done just this, developing a model that is spreading to become common practice around the school.


Ladies and Gentlemen, I unveil the 'Landscape, Frame, Gateway, Tracking' Model. (very welcome to suggest a better name!)

I present now a model that I believe can be translated to other schools and contexts, and successfully implemented providing students are explicitly dis-indoctrinated during an induction phase. 

The model works within single subject areas over single lessons, and scales up to long, complex, cross-curricular units. (Our key example is a 10 week science simulation) 

The core concepts:

Landscape: imagine every learning resource, activity, exercise, challenge, the student could engage with. Picture this on a landscape: everything from broad/open Project Based Learning activities (e.g. from NBCS 'make a stone axe without any technology') to video/audio tutorials, interactive tutorials, simple Word documents, quiz questions, instructions to copy out definitions. Whatever!! This is the landscape: the students will never see it. It is the 'sum of all paths'. It is the 'exhaustive list of possibilities'. 

This concept will take some getting used to if you think in linear programming terms. Linear programming is highly inefficient. Differentiation does not equal catering for both ends of some bell curve. Differentiation can mean every student takes a different path, like free range chickens. The landscape represents all resources/activities/opportunities/experiences on offer. 

Frame: the students never see the raw landscape. They see a 'frame' which is a visual guide, like a monopoly board, or a map - any genre that suits. The frame shows which paths are legitimate through the landscape. If the frame is a 'menu' style frame, the students can jump all over the map. Equally the frame could indicate 2, 3, 4, or many pathways. 

These could be in print. Here is my Year 8 French, Term 4 2011 Frame: 

Notice there is one main path leading to a bridge, but on the way there are two side-paths.

After the bridge there are four different possible pathways.

I repeat: this could be simulated in print, without technology. This is the equivalent of a game-board.

Each icon on this map is hyperlinked to sequences of resources/activities of many different types (see 'Landscape').




Gateway: certain parts of the map can be marked 'Gateways' for the purposes of cross-referencing with mandated outcomes, and standardised assessment. All students must pass through the gateways. This is the equivalent of 'you must pass go', HOWEVER you can also build gateways that span pathways, for instance: 'explore topic X in one of these forms:' or 'demonstrate outcome X in one of these forms, around one of these topics' (or any form, any topic!). 

Tracking System:

This was a huge breakthrough for me when the penny dropped! Many reward mechanisms in game systems can be regarded as tracking systems. Let's say you are managing a project - you may set up various measures to guage your progress, key breakthroughs, etc. Basic tracking systems can include points-tracking systems & badges systems (i.e. you complete this challenge, you're assigned this badge). However, tracking systems can be very sophisticated. 

During this presentation, I'm showing plenty of examples of all of the above. I will get around to blogging some of these. We also run regular workshops where we assist you design your own prototypes: http://scil.com.au/pd

Chantelle Morrison will present the 'Ministry of Science' unit, and we'll look at footage of the 180 students moving through the learning landscape:


Benefits of this Model:

The benefits are considerable.

- no student gets stuck in activities that don't suit their prior learning.

- students learn to self-direct.

- teacher assistance is FAR MORE available.

- teacher-talk is almost entirely shifted to 'just in time' learning, where the teacher perceives a need, and offers an opt-in session for students who wish to participate.

- students have choice, which is best understood in comparison to the savagely limiting paradigm of 'do what the teacher says to do'.

- the model handles PBL (Project Based Learning) with ease, non-PBL with ease, and a combination of both with ease.

- it allows multiple pathways to the same learning outcomes, thus catering for diversity in preferred learning styles, multiple intelligences, mood on the day, individual/group work, inspiration (what grabs you) and other variables. 

- gateway tasks allow a balanced measure of 'mandated territory'.


Pre-empting some Questions:

Don't extrinsic rewards wreck learning?

I knew this was wrong before I could explain why. Actually it's not wrong. It can be right. It's a good point. We need to tread cautiously. But it's complex.

Life is FULL of extrinsic rewards, everywhere we look. In some instances they backfire and distort behaviour and motivations in unintended ways. Schooling already falls prey to this with students working hard for marks not learning. 

This tends not to occur when:

- the students are 'wised up' to the nature of intrinsic/extrinsic motivators and reward mechanisms.

- the students have a pre-existing love for the activity.

In "The Nature of Creativity", Robert Sternberg, numerous studies are surveyed.

In particular, where participants ARE wised up, AND are already motivated, the extrinsic reward mechanism correlates with even higher achievement.

In the model I am articulating, tracking mechanisms are used mainly to give students a sense of location, orientation and movement through the learning landscape. 

In conversation and behaviour, students perceive the gaming mechanisms as a light-hearted layer that sits on top of the core learning activities. Furthermore, they are 'savvy' and 'wised-up', because we draw attention to the artificiality of the gaming structures. This is a far better state of affairs than an unquestioned system that exists, perpetuated, taken for granted by students and staff.

How do students who can't self-direct cope?

They CAN self-direct! The only reason you might think they can't is because they are used to a system that trains them into passivity. There is an induction process required, and many students 'kick and scream' about what they are being expected to do, because it's much harder to self-direct. At the other end of this learning curve they emerge with much broader skillsets. When we position students to be passive we rob them of this chance to grow.

What about students who...? (Fill in the blank)

Students who need help get far more help in this model, because the teachers are freed up from micromanaging what the class is doing. In fact, classroom management becomes a non-issue. This time is put into direct, customised assistance just where it is needed. 

Next Steps for Implementation?

If I worked for a school in an old paradigm tomorrow (individual classrooms + teacher out the front, linear programs, teacher-directed), I would immediately shift my classes to this model, just being careful to induct the students into the new way they need to think. I would be confident in the mapping of outcomes to learning activities, confident in the rigor of deep learning.

I would proceed like this:

#1 brainstorm the 'landscape' and populate it with as many learning ideas & resources I can muster around some central aims (& official outcomes)

#2 experiment with concepts for 'frames', and begin to edit out resources/activities that don't seem to fit

#3 devise game mechanics, feedback systems

#4 assemble the resources on our portal, and set up the tracking systems (very likely paper based)

#5 ask a talented student to put together the graphical art needed for my 'frame'.

#6 use www.image-mapper.com to add hyperlinks to my 'frame' that link to the resources as assembled on #4

You need to get your head around the logic and rationale of this model. It sits together beautifully. 

Come and visit us and see it in action: www.scil.com.au With a bit of luck we'll have online tools and resources that will be able to lead you through the design process in easy chunks, in the not-too-distant future. 

In Conclusion:

Schooling is already a curated game system. We need to recognise it as a non-neutral technology. Thinking in this fashion allows us to re-design the system.

I've articulated a model that:

- evolved from grassroots practice at NBCS through experimentation over many years (I first employed a version of this model in 2006)

- is now being used widely in Stages 2, 3, 4, and 6 (with Years 9 and 10 on their way!).

- satisfies all the mapping/rigor/data expectations of any school, but then goes one better.

- puts students back in charge, 'wakes them up', liberates enormous reserves of energy, initiative, creativity.

- wises them up / encourages the growth of metacognition. i.e. students learn to see the system as a system.

I'll post more I promise. This post is mainly for very motivated blog readers, and as a reference for attendees on Thursday.