Friday, March 03, 2006

Marc Prensky's Adelaide presentation(s)

I was invited to take a group of students to a Marc Prensky workshop on Thursday and also went to his larger presentation to adults at The Grande on Friday.

Student workshop:
Prensky established a really nice rapport with students from a variety of backgrounds and age levels. I especially liked the way he spent some time focusing on the primary students who made up a minority of the group. The students were there because they had some established interest in computer games. Prensky knows his games! He would throw out a title, get a reaction, often enthusiastic and then link that to some aspect of learning. I thought he was really good with the students. There was a sustained interactive conversation. He was encouraging and gave young people confidence that their own ideas and experiences were important.

Adult presentation:
I had previously downloaded a Prensky presentation (video + slides) from his website and have read and commented favourably on some of his articles. So what Prensky was saying wasn't really new for me.

There were 4 themes illustrated with over 250 slides delivered at twitch speed:
  1. Change is accelerating, get used to it. There are digital natives and digital immigrants - I think this distinction is quite useful in the way he developed it, although it probably needs to be theorised more for a more critical analysis.
  2. Engagement (motivation and passion) is the key element, more important than content. Computer games are just one aspect of engagement, he was at pains to stress that. Schools are failing when it comes to engagement. Life long learning is becoming more important and engagement is the key to this.
  3. Mutual respect - thoughtless criticism of innovation is too easy
  4. Sharing success - be open, put it on the web
Prensky is good at what he does. In his own terms his presentation was engaging. No one walked out, he held the attention of the large audience. He fielded some probing questions at the end and established the same sort of easy rapport with the adults that he had done with the students on the previous day. He's a nice guy.

What are we going to do with the ageing teaching workforce (average age 48) who are not digital natives? Prensky put forward a thesis that teachers can still use the new technology (blogs, podcasts, games etc.) without mastering it themselves. He didn't convince me on that point.

Critical thoughts:

Prensky doesn't seem to have developed a strong theoretical base as part of his critique of the current educational practices. He's pragmatic, experiential, a very good communicator but not a theoretician. Others who have developed critiques of the education system have theorised it, for better or for worse. I'm thinking of Papert who developed a theory of constructionism (building on top of Piaget) and more recently George Siemens who has developed a theory of connectivism.

Kerrie Smith asked a good question from the audience about the role of game making as compared to the role of game playing in education. Prensky had focused mainly on game playing. I didn't think he answered that very well. This surprised me because his websites tell me he is a game developer as well. I thought he would have seen an important role for game development by students in schools as well as game playing. Disappointed about this.

Catherine Beavis was brave enough to raise the questions of social class and how are the have nots going to get access to Prensky's educational vision. He didn't really answer this either but that wasn't a big surprise because after all he is an American entrepreneur and most people put social class in the too hard basket. I wouldn't' have expected Prensky to have a good answer to that but was glad that Catherine raised it.


Blogger tarannau20 said...


Some interesting comments, I am meeting with Marc at a conference I have organised in April. I will try and bring up the game making discussion with him there and see where he goes with it.


7:14 AM  
Blogger Bill Kerr said...

Graham Wegner has blogged his initial version with the promise of more to come on the weekend. He has more detail than me.

10:39 AM  
Anonymous Graham Wegner said...

Bill, my posts are more like a splurge of my notes (which I would have scribed straight into my Pocket PC except I got scared when the opening remarks asked to turn all of our technology off. Ironic, huh!)but fine if anyone finds them useful. I have links in my earlier post Prensky, Prensky and More Prensky that have other blogger's notes from their sessions with Prensky. Wesley Fryer's are particularly good.

10:13 PM  
Blogger Bill Kerr said...

The Wesley Fryer comprehensive notes referred to by Graham are here These are not notes to Prensky's Adelaide session but to another similar presentation.

Part 2 of Graham's notes on Prensky's Adelaide presentation are here

I don't think prensky would draw such a crowd if his talk was marketed along the lines of "engagement in education" rather than "games and education"

Games are a newer solution to the older problem of engagement, even though I agree that engagement is becoming a bigger problem for teachers. Everyone is intrigued with games and trying to figure them out including baby boomers such as myself.

This little twist in Prensky's presentation is interesting - he ended up talking just as much about the two way web as games to the adults - but when he talks to students he focuses more on games. Clever, he's really adapting his talk to his audience!

12:46 AM  

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