The things we do as teachers eh? I remember spending hours upon hours in 1997 locked away in my classroom and study room at home learning how to use Adobe PageMill teaching myself how to create webpages so that I could then teach my P.5/6 class how to do the very same (poetry example). I also remember taking the school Archimedes home one weekend so that I could practise and in doing so enhance my ability to use Fireworkz spreadsheet and database. My commitment to this was such that I didn’t go with my friends to see my team Dundee United play Hearts in Edinburgh. What made it worse was that we one for the first time in years at Tynecastle that day, 2-1!
What’s the point of this you may ask? Well, I was just thinking about the nature of some teachers in terms of the commitment that they bring in terms of developing their own skill set with new technologies. There will also be a very keen and committed minority of teachers who will, out of their own interest in many ways, take the time to engage with new ideas, news approaches and new technologies. These folks will no doubt always take care of themselves and will continue to push the barriers of what they do in their particular classroom or local authority contexts. The ones who are reading this blog post are probably identifying themselves as members of this group.
In relation to games and learning I have been thinking about this very issue, particularly in relation to games design contexts. When I was a teacher and a lecturer at Dundee University I used the branching stories books by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone as the context through which we could create a dynamic, multimedia laden branching adventure story. This task had a low technical skills threshold and every pupil and student managed to create a finished artefact that could be shared, played and enjoyed by others. The beauty of this approach was that it developed technical skills but the real focus was on the imaginative writing. I often hear PowerPoint being talked about in disparaging terms but I feel that it has the facility to support imaginative and dynamic learning contexts…if you used appropriately and I’d like to say that I like it. (That’s better I’ve said it, this is may become a forum for PowerPointers Anonymous) The important point here is that there was low threshold level in terms of technical skill development that allowed the real focus on the writing to occur.
- How low are the technical skill thresholds here?
- What training is required to support teachers in their ability to learn how to use software like this?
- How can we identify teachers who will run with and be committed to spending time outwith allocated training time to develop the necessary skill set to support teaching and learning with games design software?
- Where do class teachers include time to develop pupil skills in the use of games design software?
- What do we do when the expert trainer goes home….?
I recently held a training day for one of these games design applications and even after that day I still needed to spend quite a bit of time going over the rules so that I could make a series of basic things happen within my game. I am maybe one of the perceived ‘nerdy’ guys that would be prepared to invest the time necessary to make this work for me but what about the wider teaching body? How do we impact on them in terms of taking low to medium through to high threshold new technology applications? Shouldn't we first focus on low threshold ideas/approaches that will enable a wider group of teachers to engage with particualr contexts such as the idea of creating a games based multimedia artefact?
I hope that this does not sound like defeatist post because I am really up for trying out these new games design applications within a variety of educational contexts in Scotland but I think that this is a question we must address. Yes we must be aspirational and aim for excellence but our dreams must also be attainable by the many and not just the few…
Mind you, we can't not support a small community of nerdy guys (I mean this cross gender and affectionately) who will really run with applications such as this and make it work in their classrooms.