Wednesday, September 28, 2005

summing up

Tonight I've reread the whole of my blog.

One theme that emerges is the ongoing very rapid evolution of digital media and the concurrent development of new ideas and culture arising out of that media.

By saying the media is evolving rapidly I mean the hardware (mobile phones, PSP), software (web apps, games, open source) and infoware (google, wikipedia, amazon, delicious and the blogosphere) are powering along at a staggering rate. This is best summarised by the Four Funerals and a Wedding post.

By saying that new ideas and culture are emerging I'm referring to posts about PressThink, Beyond Print Literacy, Space, Time and Socrates.

Blogging has been very worthwhile for monitoring and sharing my efforts to understand these changes. It's enabled more self reflection and sharing than otherwise would have happened.

Socrates didn't like it

I'm not talking about the hemlock.
Socrates complained about writing. He felt it forced one to follow an argument rather than participate in it, and he disliked both its alienation and it persistence. He was unsettled by the idea that a manuscript travelled without the author, with whom no argument was possible. Worse, the author could die and never be talked away from the position taken in the writing.
Alan Kay: Computer, Networks and Education. Scientific American September 1991
In our digital, web enabled post Socratic world we can have our cake and eat it. Print is no longer static. In wikis editing someone elses work is as easy as writing. Through email lists and forums the author can post his manuscript for all to see and invite argument. For me, the media transformation accompanying the growth of the web makes Socrates complaint more meaningful and brings history alive.

Saturday, September 24, 2005


Modern games are complex and multifaceted, including such things as taking on a new identity, solving many different problems, multiple skills and ability to research. They can require hundreds of hours of game play.

In most cases, my generation does not understand this because such games did not exist when we were young. There are only a very few complex games from my generation such as chess and Go but they are quite different from the modern games like World of Warcraft or EverQuest.

For this reason most of my generation sees all computer games as trivial and becomes concerned about the younger generation wasting their time on trivial pursuits.

This idea is explained very clearly by Marc Prensky in his article 'In Educational Games COMPLEXITY MATTERS'. This is available as a pdf at

Friday, September 23, 2005

Marc Prensky

Marc Prensky has made available a video and power point slides of a talk he gave about games, engagement and learning available at

Scroll down to and download

It's very inspirational and useful. I could show these files to interested teachers and they would be persuaded by his material. I think there's a good chance of that.

I've also downloaded a collection of his pdf files from the same place. At the moment I'm looking at his papers on Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants and his plea to incorporate cell phones into education.

Also check out his social impact of games site at

In the Political and Social Games section, there is even a link to a game called "Escape from Woomera", about a refugee center in Australia.

There's an educational section as well. One of his current projects is to teach whole algebra curriculum using games.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

game making conference reflection

This conference was held on September 9th in Melbourne and organised by an educational Game Making cluster of which I am a member.

The emerging theme for me was that of scope – there are more positive forces that we identified for expanding, developing the scope of using games (both making and playing) in schools than there are forces for restricting the scope of games in schools.

We can now marshal several arguments for the expansion of the role of games in education.


Literacy: (Catherine Beavis) Games have actually been a powerful force in helping us redefine literacy, to see it in a new way.

My thoughts about this:
For example, there is a computer program which enables students to create a hero from various selectable options. Language teachers can then ask students to write a reflection about this experience.

But that is only the beginning of a thought process. The whole way of thinking about literacy in terms of the written word being the most important end product is out of date. This is a contentious issue no doubt but an argument that can be developed further. I’ve been reading James Gee’s book on this issue.

Asperger's Disorder - a Case Study (Margaret Meijers):
Margaret’s presentation was compelling and totally convincing. Game Making can open a pathway to assists certain students more powerfully than any other way we currently know of.

Templates (Al Upton): By the use of templates Al has extended the scope of game construction to a new, younger strata of students. But it seems to me that his technique has applicability across the whole spectrum and Al has theorised that too.

Computer Club (Tony Forster): Tony’s successful computer club offers another pathway for either teacher or parent/ other volunteers to offer game making to students.

Game Design (Vincent Trundle): The original game Vincent showed us of the man flying into the sky and space highlighted to need for us to move our students beyond making clones of existing commercial games

I think the point could be made that game development is still in its infancy and also distorted by commercial interest (Grand Theft Auto). There will be many amazing and original games in the future that have not been thought of or developed yet.

Something is making me do it (Bill Kerr): What I tried to show in my presentation was that Game Maker offered unique opportunities to engage certain students with ability or curiosity in programming and 3D presentation (not shown due to technical glitch). And that this particular medium (games) presented challenges to all involved due to the combination of computer culture and generational change.

Many students would do game making if the opportunity was offered to them. But not many schools or teachers offer that opportunity.

Margaret Meijers has suggested as a partial solution to this problem that we offer game making courses to teachers and students through on line distance learning.


Issues that I still see as problematic include girls, career pathways and teachers.

Girls: We can make efforts to put a spin on this issue but to me it is a real problem

Bernard Holkner made an interesting comment about this in the panel discussion – that real time chat, handhelds and mp3 players are what girls want and they are often banned in schools

Career pathways: Many students will not choose game making in the senior school because it is perceived as not relevant to their career pathways. This is important because senior school curriculum is a big determiner of what happens earlier

Teachers: I agree with the comments by David Patreo in the afternoon panel discussion that we have a long term fundamental problem with teachers – most teachers don’t have the skills to teach good cross curricular IT. And I also agree with another comment he made that learning objects is a passive form of IT / multimedia instruction (dumbing down approach)

interviews about game making

I've been interviewing some of my year 12 students about game making. This has helped to crystallise some new thoughts.

One successful student, pseudonym dannydig, described himself as a logical thinker and someone who liked "hands on" learning. He went on to say that game making was creative but in a different sense from English (the subject) being creative. Later on he described the process of choosing his sprites as difficult and important but then went on to say that getting the game play right was also a protracted, creative process.

This response highlighted for me the complexity and diversity of the game making process. Students have to make artistic choices about their sprites, backgrounds and music. They have to design a new game. They have to learn to program in Game Maker language. They go through the difficult process of trying to turn their design idea into a satisfying creation.

This involves artistic, logical, creative, hands on and reflective activity in a complex mix. It is also difficult for me, the teacher, to keep up with the diversity of it all.

All the students interviewed spoke with some pride about the games they have made. All of them have experienced difficulties along the way and their products at this stage may not match what they had hoped to achieve. Nevertheless, the feeling expressed is strongly that the process has been worthwhile.