Happy Steve

Innovation and Learning

Start with clarity of intent.

Now build it out with an evocative vision. Improvise progress by tinkering: with lots of trial and lots of error. The not knowing is the best bit: the mysteries the surprises, and from time to time the windfalls! 

Hello there, I'm Steve Collis! 

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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.