Book Notes & Thoughts: A New Literacies Sampler (2007)

a new literacies

Edited by Michele Knobel and Colin Lankshear, Free PDF here

Like reading Communities of Practice, this work is a foray into new perspectives for me – always interesting and usually completely disruptive to my current, constructed understanding of the world. I have read bits and pieces (and reflected here and Discourses here), but I wanted to read the entire compilation this summer. This reflection is after reading the first three chapters.

The works in this book are firmly in the constructivist paradigm and use a sociocultural perspective on literacy. This latter parts means that “reading and writing can only be understood in the contexts of social, cultural, political, economic, historical practices to which they are integral, of which they are a part.” (p.1) Understanding literacies in this way is the foundation of calling them “new.” It is more than just reading and writing (i.e. encoding and decoding print), but it is the “relationship between human practice and the production, distribution, exchange, refinement, negotiation and contestation of meanings.” (p.2) It is seeing the acts of reading and writing encompass norms, attitudes, values, meaning-making – all of which are as social practices. Continue reading

GLS11 – Reflections

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I FINALLY made it to the Games+Learning+Society Conference! I heard about it probably 4 or 5 years ago and it was always held right at the end of the school year. GLS was a big reason that I wanted to come to Madison to graduate school.

My takeaways:

  • I love the people and the ideas and discussions they have. Game designers, academics, teachers, and lots who bridge all three communities. That said, games are not a core piece of my research, so I was able to do the “slow conference” thing: not rushing to every session, picking sessions at the last minute, not furiously taking notes to remember everything that was said.
  • My reading list just got longer. First, Seymour Papert’s Connected Family. Also, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (on audiobook narrated by Wil Wheaton???). And maybe, The Game Believes in You, by Greg Toppo.
  • Definitely a thread running through the conference about whether schools are the answer or the problem. Clearly some have given up on schools as a place to create change, which is disheartening. (Someone said: “[It’s] such a pain to get technology in the classroom.”) My question to them: If you don’t think schools, then who? You? The game design companies? Maybe schools aren’t universally where we want them to be, and goodness knows change is hard, but I still think they are a critical player (pun intended) worth paying attention to in making society better.
  • The keynotes were great – Sean Dikkers on Tuesday, Nichole Pinkard on Wednesday, and Brenda Romero on Thursday:
    • Seann‘s presentation reminded me that I really need to start crafting my personal story that translates the importance and drive of my professional work. The most compelling talks always seem to come through these personal stories (“When I was a kid…”). I also need to dig out some good (read: embarrassing) pictures of me as a kid.
    • Nichole spoke about her work with YouMedia in Chicago. As I’ve become more interested in the Cities of Learning initiatives, it was exciting to hear her take on using informal learning spaces to create pathways for learning across content and sites. She proposed three questions:
      – How do we follow the opportunities, follow the kids, and try to connect them?
      – How do we understand organizations and how they connect? Because kids can only go to things that exist.
      – How do we know what kids are doing, particularly in out of school time? Digital badges?
    • Brenda was funny, serious, and real. She talked about being a game designer and being a woman. The most interesting part, though, was sitting behind three white guys clearly uncomfortable with how to react or process the (sometimes) rant, particularly when she mentioned breastfeeding, pregnancy, or reproductive parts. There were eye rolls and sideways glances to each other while they read their email and surfed the web.

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My first Wikipedia edits!

For one of my classes this semester, we are writing a wikipedia page. Although I’ve read about how Wikipedia works, I’ve never actually done this. Very excited to learn how to contribute.

Turns out, it’s pretty simple. While in a class yesterday, I was looking up different labels for types of jobs, blue-, white-, and pink-collar, and found out that there is also green- and grey-collar jobs. On wikipedia, however, some link to each other but not to all. This seemed like a perfect first step!

I started with the blue-collar page, went down to the “see also” section, and added some links. Toute simple.

My first Wikipedia edit

My first Wikipedia edit

I got excited and started searching through how to add content. I found a video that I’d taken while in Florida this January from our trip to the Everglades. So I uploaded it to the Wikimedia Commons and put it on the American Alligator page.

Actually, I accidentally put it on the American CROCODILE page, and as I was blogging it, realized my mistake. I learned how to find how to UNDO a change!

Reaction 10: Questions of behaviorism and identity in ed-tech

Reading this week:

Bailey, J., Carter, S. C., Schneider, C., & Vander Ark, T. (2012). Data Backpacks: Digital learning now!.

U.S. Department of Education. (2012). Enhancing Teaching and Learning Through Educational Data Mining and Learning Analytics: An Issue Brief.

Hill, P. T. (n.d.). Finance in the Digital-Learning Era. Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning: A Working Paper Series from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

What problems are we trying to solve?

  • “The current way student records and transcripts are managed is insufficient to meet the evolving needs of teachers, students, and parents” (Bailey et al.).
  • “Our system doesn’t fund schools, and certainly doesn’t fund students” (Hill).
  • Policymakers and administrators need to understand “how analytics and data mining have been—and can be—applied for educational improvement” (Data Mining and Learning Analytics).

What vision of education are we working towards?

  • “Each student’s account would, in a sense, constitute a ‘backpack’ of funding that the student would carry with her to any eligible school or instructional programs in which she enrolls. The contents of the backpack would be flexible dollars, not coupons whose use is restricted to a particular course or service” (Hill).
  • “The most important [adantage] is individualization and rapid adaptation to what a student is learning, leading to the possibility of more rapid and consistent student growth” (Bailey et al.).
  • “Making visible students’ learning and assessment activities opens up the possibility for students to develop skills in monitoring their own learning and to see directly how their effort improves their success” (Data Mining and Learning Analytics).
  • “A study contrasting the performance of students randomly assigned to the OLI statistics course with those in conventional classroom instruction found that the former achieved better learning outcomes in half the time (Lovett, Meyer, and Thille 2008)” (Data Mining and Learning Analytics).

What limitations might there be or what questions should we ask?

  • Who are the designers of the platforms and how are their biases in them? This is not a new question for educational materials, but still one worth considering.
  • “What children learn would then depend on the quality of their parents’ choices” (Hill). How would kids fare whose parents were not able, for various reasons, to keep up with choices?
  • Programs could be prevented from use “only after some children had been demonstrably hurt by them” (Hill).
  • “All such investments are meant to benefit children but they also benefit private parties—the teachers who use new skills to make higher salaries, the vendors who sell professional devel-opment services, etc.” (Bailey et al.).
  • “Unlike educational data mining, learning analytics generally does not emphasize reducing learning into components but instead seeks to understand entire systems and to support human decision making” (Data Mining and Learning Analytics).

How might the changes in personalization, finance, and data foster a participatory culture of learning?

I recently watched and blogged about Audrey Watters’ keynote from the C-Alt conference, titled Ed-Tech, Frankenstein’s Monsters, and Teacher Machines. She talked about how ed-tech is full of behaviorist technologies, citing notifications, nudges, gamification, which is built in to many of the platforms written about in this week’s readings. She tells the story of Alan Turing asking if a computer could think, but that he really meant asking whether a computer could exhibit behaviors that could fool a human into thinking it was human “enough.” I see learning more from a constructivist point of view, where students build their knowledge on what they already know, as we read about in “How People Learn.” Are behaviorism and constructivism at odds in a learning ecosystem or could they coexist for building different skills? I see a participatory culture as being fundamentally constructivist, where learners’ own interests and experiences drive affiliations and personal expressions. Does a system based on behavioralism preclude authentic participation?

The idea of authenticity also brought me to questions of identity. This infographic compares “team transparency,” led by Mark Zuckerberg, and “team anonymity,” led by Christopher “Moot” Poole, founder of 4chan. How does having your identity (or a notion of a fixed identity) as a learner tracked from birth affect a person’s own identity formation? How does the platform reward or require a certain identity? (Kimmons, 2014) In working with middle schoolers, I saw the importance of kids trying on different identities as a way to understand their world. A learner profile that follows them year to year and school to school may smooth learning opportunties but it may also lock kids into always being “that kid.” Furthermore, if we have take a post-modern understanding of identity as one that is never fixed but is created in relation to others and situations, what impact (good or bad) will this big data mediated, educational enviroment mean? How will the designers be training certain identities? How will this impact divergent thinking? Will these redesigns mean more creative thinkers? These are geniune questions, not meant to be particularly optimistic or pessimistic, though I think people will see them in one way or the other based on their own inclinations.

Kimmons, R. (2014). Social Networking Sites, Literacy, and the Authentic Identity Problem. TechTrends, 58(2), 93–98.

Reaction 8: Computational Thinking

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Articles this week:

Grover, S.; Pea, R. (2013). Computational Thinking in K-12: A Review of the State of the Field. Educational Researcher. 42(38): 38-43.

Berland, M., & Lee, V. R. (2011). Collaborative strategic board games as a site for distributed computational thinking. International Journal of Game-Based Learning, 1(2), 65-81.

Resnick, M. (2012). Reviving Papert’s Dream. Educational Technology. 52(4): 42-46.

 

Since I’m familiar with computational thinking, I also read Berland & Lee’s article about students playing the board game Pandemic, and I went back to a Scratch project I haven’t worked on in awhile and attempted a little debugging.

My favorite quote was this: “None of the groups understood the rules by reading through the guidebooks without attempting to play through the rules” (Berland & Lee, 2011). The idea of “playing through the rules,” I realized, is how I have approached learning with students because it’s how I approach my own learning. If it’s science, I need to see or do something. If it’s Twitter, sign me up and write a few tweets. If it’s Tinkercad, drag and drop a few objects, then ask why or how it works. I learn rules by interacting with them, not by thinking about them.

This low barrier to entry (sign up and start) is the idea of “low floor, high ceiling,” which has been “one of the guiding principles for the creation of programming environments for children … since the days of LOGO.” (Grover & Pea, 2013) Whether it’s Tinkercad or Pixel art, programs or suites of programs have embraced an easy entrance and seemingly unlimited complexity. (As an interesting aside, this might be an interesting antidote to what Sennett negatively describes as our modern passion for consuming incredibly powerful devices that we never use to their full potential. We might Continue reading

Reaction Paper 4: Video Games and Learning

Reading:

Gee, James. (2009) Good Video Games and Good Learning.

Klopfer, Eric; Osterweil, Scot; Salen, Katie. (2009). Moving Learning Games Forward: Obstacles, Opportunities, and Openness. Report from the Education Arcade, MIT.

Squire, Kurt. (2006). From Content to Context: Videogames as Designed Experience, Educational Researcher. 35(8) 19-29.

Video games and learning is something I have thought a lot about (and apparently blogged a lot about! here, here, here, here, herehere, here, and here) in the last 4 years since I began a project integrating SimCity into my 7th grade science classroom. I participated in the Games and Learning MOOC that Squire and Steinkuehler taught last fall, Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal is a favorite, and this spring I finally got a chance to present on the topic of video games and learning to parents and a few teachers at my school. This week’s readings built on this foundation and affirmed a lot that I already believe, but I want to add an analogy that I think is helpful in terms of why games belong in education and one aspect that I think was missed.

First, though, I feel like I need to come clean and admit that I’m a gamer. Whenever I talk about games in education, I almost always preface it with “I’m not really a gamer.” I say it for two reasons. One, because I do regularly play major video games like WoW or Call of Duty, so my gaming does not align with what people stereotypically associate with the label “gamer.” Two, if I did identify myself as a gamer, it might prevent honest conversations with teachers or parents who are skeptical or negative about games, whereas presenting myself as a non-gamer allies me with them. I think this gets at the deep attitudinal barriers that Klopfer et al. (2009) refer to. But when I read the descriptions of the range of what is considered gaming, it’s me. My earliest memories include being allowed to “pick tiles” for my mom’s Scrabble game, I got Yahtzee with 3’s when I was 3 (very exciting), finally beating my older brother at Monopoly (which he contested, of course), and staying up very late playing Tetris against my cousin with our linked Gameboys. I spend and have spent a lot of time playing games; I’m a gamer.

One way that I find is helpful to address the deep skepticism and negative reaction to video games in the classroom is through an analogy. (It is not my own: I credit it completely to the director of educational technology that I worked with at OES, Brad Baugher.) While it’s an easy comparison to talk about how video games are like athletics, he took it one step further. He argued that the way video games are played right now is a lot like pick up games: informal, unsupervised, unregulated, ad hoc, and exclusionary. We believe (and spend a lot of money) on incorporating sports into schools because we see that they teach valuable life skills like grit, persistence, cooperation, and inclusion, and we employ coaches to facilitate this. Incorporating video games into the classroom is a lot like bringing them into a space where teachers can facilitate the game play, such as incorporating reflection on the experience.

The aspect that I think was missed, particularly in the Education Arcade’s report, is involving students in the creation of games. Klopfer et al. (2009) mention this in the example of Gamestar Mechanic, but not really elaborated on: “The Gamestar Mechanic team argues that by participating in and understanding the interactions of multiple complex systems, they are developing skills that are crucial for an increasing collaborative, networked, and high tech society.” This meta-awareness is crucial, and this is what I think needs to be used to create a sense of urgency amongst educators. In my experience with SimCity, and here I will make an unresearched generalization from my anecdotal though professional experience, students rarely asked why the games were designed they way they were. Boys were much more likely to prod the limits of the game and test cheat codes but without asking fundamental questions about the assumptions of the games, whereas girls were more likely to accept the gameplay as they were and seek to optimize their play within the rules, but also without questioning the game itself. I think this says a lot about how gender plays out in the game of school in general. Engaging students in game design will improve their understanding that games are artifacts designed by people who have ideologies, beliefs, and values, in the same way that learning to create movies or use photoshop helps them understand the media they see. By extension, students who learn to identify the rules and ideologies of a game can ultimately learn to question how and why “real life” societies are governed by rules and ideologies. I, perhaps optimistically, see intentional and reflective game play as an exploration and understanding of who we are and the world we live in.

Reaction Paper #3: New Literacies

This week’s readings were the first chapter of A New Literacies Sampler (2007), edited by Lankshear and Knobel (whole thing is available as a pdf), and a program report from The Campaign for Grade-Level reading called “Pioneering Literacy.”

The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading begins their report on “Pioneering Literacy” with a focus on the importance of the environment and parent-child interactions in teaching reading. I like that they make the distinction between the presence of devices and how the technology is used, though I am often skeptical of reported hours of screen time and what is really meant by “60% of white and hispanic preschoolers … have played video games on a console.” There are a lot of value judgements going on in reporting their statistics, and readers will interpret the numbers as good or bad depending on their own personal bias.

Where I think the Campaign goes astray is that by using an old model of “bookspace” and literacy, they limit both the success of kids and limit the use of an iPad. The first point about “bookspace” points to their desire to find authoritative products or programs that will deliver literacy skills in a textual order that is recognizable to their schema for teaching literacy. The key line from Lankshear and Knobel is that “to bring a model of value that ‘belongs’ to a different kind of space is inappropriate and creates an impediment to actualizing the new space.” In other words, it doesn’t make sense to look to iPad apps and websites to reflect traditional approaches to literacy, and by doing so, it limits what that technology might actually be able to teach. For example, an app that does not explicitly teach reading comprehension as traditionally understood may do very well with new literacies, such as recognizing and adapting interaction based on the context, of which reading and understanding is a part. Further, if we look at the Discourse for being a student in school, language is certainly a part of that coordination, but focusing on that alone may not result in the Campaign’s goal for grade-level reading because there are other factors preventing children from marginalized groups from stretching to a secondary Discourse.

This report reminds me of the early reports on climate change that were trying to convince people that it was a real thing while scientists had already established consensus among themselves long ago. The Campaign may serve a valuable role in helping raise awareness by encouraging intentional use of media by families and educators, but I think they need to reconsider their own understanding of New Media and the “cyberspatial-postindustrial” world to help programs update their mindset, rather than just helping them “technologize.”

Reaction Paper #2: How People Learn & New Media

Readings for this week include the first chapter of How People Learn, by Bransford et al. 1999, and Living and Learning with New Media, by Ito et al. 2008.

(I’m just including my last paragraph, which I think was the most interesting.)

A lot of schools and teachers are threatened by this generation of seemingly empowered, engaged, technology-savvy youth with their “resilient set of questions about adult authority.” (Ito et al. 2008) Further, “our values and norms in education, literacy, and public participation are being challenged by a shifting landscape of media and communications in which youth are central actors. Although complaints about ‘kids these days’ have a familiar ring to them, the contemporary version is somewhat unusual in how strongly it equates generational identity with technology identity, an equation that is reinforced by telecommunications and digital media corporations that hope to capitalize on this close identification.” (Ito et al. 2008) I want to address this very last part: the corporations. All these interfaces, platforms, and services are run by corporations, whose goal is to make money. This capitalistic ethos is built into the web, our children’s playground, and the companies make money when you to come back. They provide dopamine hits by alerts of connections to friends, by the functions of affirmations (“Pokes” or “Likes”), and by presenting solvable problems (such as in games), which is far from true about dilemmas in the teenage world. They provide quantifiable measures of popularity or desirability, which might at first seem like a reflection of content, but it’s not a far leap to being a measure of worth: the most followers, friends, shares, or comments. All this engenders FOMO (fear of missing out) and drama, such as “unfollow me and I’ll unfollow you.” This, naturally, affects actual identity formation and the conception of what it means to be successful in life. I’m not a technological determinist, clinical psychologist, nor anti-capitalist, but as the interfaces becoming increasingly seemless and as a greater percentage of our learning and life is extended on these platforms, I get a little skittish. Like many generations before me, my guiding hope is in education.

Opinions in this last paragraph were influenced by It’s Complicated: The social lives of networked teens, by danah boyd, and by a critique written of the book by Michael Simon, reprinted with permission on ISTE’s Indenpendent School Educator Network’s blog.

Think twice about the research sound bite and keep those perspectacles on, people!

Business Insider

There are a bunch of news stories flying around right now about how “digital technology and tv can inhibit children socially”, but if you actually read the study it’s not that clear, and NO ONE reports and important disclaimer by the authors themselves. As per usual, the news is more sensational than the research…
Here are links to recent news articles:
Methods
Basically the study looked at about 50 6th graders from a Southern California public school before and after an outdoor nature camp and compared their ability to read emotional facial cues to kids who stayed at home going to regular school.
Results
Kids who went to camp showed statistically significant improvement in the test of emotional facial cues.

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