Sunday, June 24, 2012

Gaming for learning

I listened to a spirited talk on the cultural and educational benefits of videogames on Wednesday. Mitu Khandaker (University of Portsmouth) made a solid case for the possibilities for problem-solving and managed to dismiss the moral panics around shooters and 'the dark side'. Perhaps the claim that videogames are 'the culmination of all previous artforms' is a little strong, and certainly premature, but her overall explanations were helpful and delicately shaded with first-hand experience. She had an interesting take on immersion, which resonated with what is often said about fiction-reading - you are both 'in it' and simultaneously aware of the artifice. There was also a welcome acknowledgement that some games are more powerful (better? educational?) than others. The BBC is not supposed to be a platform for advertisement, but the description of her own game Redshirt, set me googling. It looks good, and I now know what a redshirt is! Double whammy.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Method allegory

After spending several hours in a virtual world on Friday I again found myself reflecting on the way in which the virtual provokes me to re-think the actual. Influenced by John Law's 'After Method' I realized, perhaps for the first time, that these reflections are in a sense methodological in character. Law offers 5 assumptions about reality. They are; 1. what he calls out-thereness, 2. independence, 3. anteriority - it was there already, 4. definiteness, and 4. singularity. Well, you can examine each of these assumptions with respect to a virtual world - one like Barnsborough or Second Life. For instance, do such places actually exist 'out there' and in what sense? When we click on the shortcut, does the existence of that world, that point of view in virtual reality precede our experience of it? ....and so on. Well, I can almost see how one might use Second Life as a learning environment for a methodology course - maybe such a course might actually be conducted in Second Life, who knows? Might an investigation of the virtual, then, provide some sort of allegory for other kinds of work: an allegory that we simultaneously create and inhabit?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Do you love your book?

To my mind the main contribution of the multimodal movement has been to turn our attention to the broader terrain of meaning-making and to caution us against becoming obsessed with print and what print literacy can do. Some people have interpreted this as a turn away from print (or alphabetic) literacy, but the more intelligent commentaries accentuate how semiotic systems co-exist and interweave. Although this phenomenon is well-illustrated in digital texts, it has a much longer history. In fact you could argue that multimodal communication must by definition predate the advent of literacy. An interesting thought. But you need a socio-historical perspective to chart the rise of the influence of print literacy and particularly the ways in which this has translated into phrases like 'the power of reading', 'a love of books' and the whole notion of reading for pleasure. That particular configuration of power-love-pleasure is particularly influential in the discourses of literacy learning. Is alphabetic literacy powerful? I think you have to concede that it is, and that is likely to continue being so. Do you have to love books? Well not really. I've been brought up in that way, but I love lots of other things, too. I can think of things that might be a lot more useful and enjoyable on a desert island. And what about reading for pleasure? This is an idea which I find rather irritating. Not because reading isn't pleasurable, but because when I hear people say it, and particularly when I hear people talking about 'getting' children to read for pleasure, it seems to have an evangelical ring to it. It almost sounds as if pleasure in reading is a salvation - a turning away from the grosser pleasures of watching TV, playing videogames, supporting a football team and so on. Watch people reading - trains are good places to do this - they don't look as if they're being transported by pleasure (particularly noticeable on East Midlands trains!). No, I think when people talk about reading for pleasure,what they mean is what I call immersive reading. Immersive reading, like being in the zone in a video game, or 'lost' in a role play game is a rather special phenomenon - a sort of absorption in which one is in-between the narrative and the real world. It is socially and culturally significant (and it may also be psychologically important). It is what hooks us into virtual worlds, into good movies, into WoW, live drama and much more. It is our connection with the narrative universe and it just might be an essential part of being human, a way of imagining how things might be different - at different times, for different people, in different places. So I may just have transplanted narrative pleasure in the place of reading for pleasure....well at least that's a start. Let's acknowledge that the book is just one of many ways to get this absorption in narrative. But let's also keep open the question that narrative immersion may not be universal, too.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Looking forwards, looking backwards

For most of the work I've been involved in over the last ten years, the words 'technology' or 'internet' have seemed far too general. That's what prompted me to settle on the digital, particularly as it seemed to combine as a useful descriptor in such ideas as 'digital practice', 'digital communication', 'digital writing', 'digital media' and yes, of course 'digital literacy', in which familiar ideas - practice, communication and so on - were changed or re-interpreted with digital and connective technologies. Some terminology has a limited shelf-life for me; I notice I have pretty much dispensed with CMC and online communication because they don't seem to me to tell the whole story. Then of course there are terms like 'new media' (which I still like), 'Web 2.0' (which now seems rather old school) and 'social media' (which I use, but don't like - after all media is always social, isn't it?). Along with all this shifting is my own engagement or experimentation with digital spaces - chatrooms, blogs, virtual worlds and, yes, social media! I've written about all of them, and most recently with Julia Gillen on Twitter (here). What drives all this activity? Well I suppose I'm genuinely interested on how we shape and are shaped by our communicative environment - how we mean, and how we might negotiate new meanings about our lives, in the world, in the current context - which after all is a context that is infused with what Latour would call the non-human agents of digital technology. Since this is turning confessional I'd have to concede that this is my overarching interest. And since I happen to have spent most of my working life in educational institutions, I've always had a keen eye for what this might mean for children and young people. Drilling down further into curriculum stuff and the whole tangle of learning, well that regularly slips through my fingers. I feel there is so much in that whole arena that I either don't know or simply can't believe. At each turn, though, I've had an implicit tactic. First I try to understand what's going on in popular practices, and that always seems to work best by immersing myself in them, and then I start asking what that means/or might mean for education. Is that a method? I don't know, but it's what I do. Working on blogging with Julia Davies, the only way we could explain this reflexive insider approach was to call it a 'dual autoethnography', and that rather awkward term crops up again in the Twitter paper. But that's only half the journey; the second half is asking the questions. I suppose that's the buzz in the DefT project: asking those questions with a varied group of colleagues. In a way (and this might sound to them like heresy) I hope there isn't an answer, because that always seems to force premature closure. For me it's the question: what's going on and what does this mean for children and young people that propels us forward.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

The contradictions of Gove

Michael Gove, the Secretary of Sate for Education, is either completely confused about reading and learning to read, or else he is poorly advised. On the one hand he is spear-heading a pointless and inappropriate phonics screening test and on the other publicly claiming that 'the more books we can get in the hands of children, the better'. Yet the more books argument actually means a £370,000 scheme to send copies of the King James Bible to schools. Not very likely to address some of the gaps in reading attainment in our schools I would suggest. Might it have been better to use the money to support a book-gifting scheme one wonders? A scheme liked Booked-Up for example, which has proven worth? Whilst the Gove Bible, with it's gold-lettered inscription, finds its way into schools, the Booktrust are obliged to turn book-gifting into book-buying with Bookbuzz (see the commentary from the Schools Library Association). It's the little details that really grate - in interview Gove denied all knowledge of the inscription: 'I have to confess that I didn't know they were going to say 'presented by the secretary for education' until I actually saw the first Bible' - careless I'd say. And presumably he meant the first of this particular version of the Bible.... Anyway, it could have been worse, think of multiple copies for group reading, or the Big Bible for shared reading. Wake up, this is 2012 in multifaith Britain!