Mr. Khan’s Academy – teaching ‘virtually’ anything

I think I had a sort of epiphany upon listening to Salman Khan… I mean… really…and  drama apart, I just love what this guy is doing…

Khan, has indeed founded the Khan Academy, and notwithstanding the fact that there is a humongous amount of resources which can be accessed and downloaded freely from the site, this guy is indeed revolutionising the whole notion of learning as being encapsulated within the classroom walls.

I look around me and I see educators, teachers, academics and other people involved in the great institution of Education (with a capital E) who are nothing but pessimisting, deluded and cynical bureaucrats concerned with all the petty issues, getting lost on the way, and forgetting what the true notion of providing education is. To me, education and educating is about freedom – everyone’s right to and duty towards freedom… it is the freedom to know, the freedom to learn, the freedom to live actually, because to my mind learning is like breathing…we breathe without being all the time conscious that we’re breathing but we definitely need it to survive. In the same manner, we need to learn, otherwise we would not be better than a cabbage (with all due respect to the cabbage) in a vegetable patch.

So what excited me about Mr Khan, is this idea, that he is not really concerned with the petty nuts and bolts of the institution or of the curriculum for that matter. He can’t seem to be bothered with classifying students as ‘A’ or ‘D’ students, or anywhere in between for all it matters. He is only bothered with providing an insight of a particular concept and he has found the video as his most preferred medium – which is fine. I mean I don’t necessarily think that all the videos are brilliant for all the classrooms we have or that video is the only resource that one should use from this day onwards… far from it… I am sure that there are more and better resources… but it is the concept of it which is thrilling.

If only teachers, teaching specific classes could make use of this concept. This is not saying a lot, it is saying… listen, let the students do the learning elsewhere… when they come to class – they will carry a luggage, and your role then (as teacher) is that of helping them pack, (add or remove) items to their luggage. It’s easy, yes? However I wonder, if this can indeed happen in our classrooms… well at least not until we change the way we teach, assess and THINK…

Second Wednesday – E-Learning Innovation: A vision for future learning

Serious Games Institute

Last week I attended the Second Wednesday event organised by the Serious Games Institute at the Coventry University Campus in London.

I must say that it was great and that unfortunately attendance was very poor. It was well managed, well organised, the speakers gave some interesting talks, but seeing that this was held in central London, one would have expected a larger audience.

Anyhow, I did jot down some notes taken from the speakers, who tried to do their best with such a low turnout and here it goes:

The first speaker to take the stage was Dr. Chris Yapp, a technology and policy futurologist… who you can also follow on Twitter. His presentation looked at the personalised world and how this is indeed impinging on learning in HE contexts. Through his presentation he traced a route for learning and for technology bringing these together in one essential question – ” What skills set do you need to create a world-class learning environment? ” He thus spoke at length about organisational culture and how the need to re-engineer the whole Education infrastructure drives the need towards learning which is “Lifelong, Life-wide, and Life-deep” – (I loved the use of those three words to characterise learning).

The second person was Chris Kempt of Kempt Ltd who according to their site are “one of the UK’s leading specialists in creating playful, engaging advertising creative – largely in the form of games. We strategize, develop, design and promote – all in house. Using viral, mobile and social media we create engagement with a global audience of millions and have been responsible for some of the most successful campaigns ever produced in our space.” You can also follow Chris Kempt on Twitter . Chris largely spoke about the role of play in learning, and how at Kempt they try to exploit this whole play issue to target and stimulate forms of learning. One very interesting concept which they ‘play’ around with (pun intended) is this: Would you prefer to pass on a serious message to people or would you prefer to inject a serious message into a possibly trivial situation and have it spread amongst people like wildfire? So basically their take is – do not try to sell learning as a package in an invasive way… do it subtly… in a very cool analogy, he spoke about imagining two people sitting at a bar having a beer and a salesman comes along, interrupts their easy conversation trying to sell them a product… he’d be completely ignored or sent off… now see this same situation happening inside the classroom. And therefore in comes the ‘informal level of teaching’ to the rescue. At Kempt they are working on some great projects. One is the Manshead’s School Link-Up Project which interestingly links up school, digital solutions and the community.

Dr. Julia Gaimster from the London College of Fashion, University of the Arts, London was on as the next speaker, with her very interesting illustration about the potential of virtual worlds for developing real life skills. With some 468m users registered on virtual worlds in 2010, and an estimated number of virtual worlds to rise up to 900 by the year 2012, one can really say that the world is indeed moving towards a more virtual space. One very important aspect which Dr Gaimster, emphasised was that virtual worlds should not be seen as the ‘next technology project, one needs to embark upon.’ Indeed virtual worlds are not meant to and should never be used to replicate the classroom. (I have to say that this argument stands for all uses of social networking tools, and technology in general). If such tools are made to replicate the real world classroom modalities, then they will fail… and with a big F. She also showed some interesting projects which they, (as the College of Fashion) are carrying out in OpenSim. (Very nice talk and also insightful).

Prof. Sarah de Freitas, from the Serious Games Institute, was the next speaker. She introduced the term “Gamification” for modern life and she also gave quite an insightful presentation about a new paradigm for learning vis-a-vis the way which games and immersive experiences are indeed shaping how we work, learn and play. So in this way, games become more of a process rather than a technology per se, and a way which offers multimodal possibilities for learning. Prof de Freitas spoke about two projects which the SGI are currently involved in and these included the quite massive scale evaluation study of the massively multiplayer online game ‘Code of Everand‘ [incidentally the URL is not working as on the publication date of this blog] which the Ministry of Transport commissioned for 9-13 year olds to raise more road safety awareness. The second serious game which Prof. de Freitas discussed was the MMORPG still being developed by SGI – RomaNova.

The last speaker for the day was Dr Albena Antonova, from Sofia in Bulgaria. She spoke mostly about the value added precepts of computer games in education. The concepts of active based learning and development of complex competences in an integrated environment is indeed quite appealing and in most cases found to be most effective. When serious games are developed to be used to train learners in a number of complex skills, they need to take into account a number of factors including decision taking, the ability to anticipate future actions, the interactions with other simulated characters, and the complex nature of the choices. She explained that one important challenge which serious games face in order to target the right skills is the codification of knowledge (which I believe is an interesting and vital component of the design of serious games). In the design phase, a suitable method to transfer of knowledge needs to be anticipated in a way which it transparently suits the needs and requirements of both the game and the person immersed inside the game.

The discussion which ensued combined all the aspects of the various keynote addresses and was thus quite lively. I do look forward to another Second Wednesday event but it would be so much more helpful, if 1) there would be a larger set of audience and 2) there would be wifi… my mac air, unfortunately doesn’t take cable connections.

The next event which  will be interesting to follow is one which is held In-world in Second Life (in fact it is called the ‘Virtual World Conference‘ and will be held on the 14th September 2011… so that is a date. More will follow about this on this blog site.

Of games and what we have become…

“Are games and immersive experiences really changing how we work, learn and play?” This was one of the questions which Prof. S. de Freitas, posed yesterday, during the Second Wednesday event entitled – ‘E-Learning Innovation: A vision for future learning?’ and organised by the Serious Games Institute, in London.

I will be writing more on this event, although unfortunately I was unable to tweet about it due to lack of wifi connectivity (??!!! absurd) – however I did take some notes the old-fashioned way… you know… using textedit… 🙂

Anyway back to the question posed by Prof. de Freitas, I actually think that these ‘digital’ experiences are actually changing who we are, inherently. We are becoming a newly-evolved species, we are adapting to the times of change once again and once again we are doing this to survive – as individuals.

What I am also finding though is this… the resistance to change and adapt by schools… and I really don’t mean to fire away silly phrases which might even sound rhetoric, but what I find so fascinating about this phenomenon is this idea of the individual vs. the whole or the collective.

So for example, let’s take teachers – from my experience and the people I actually know … outside the classroom, when they do not actually and physically form part of the school institution, can be extremely persistent in knowledge transfer activities, they are learners as much as teachers (even though very solidly in control of the situation !!). They are also becoming (at least in Malta) avid social network practitioners… they believe in this collective sharing of thoughts, ideals, and even trivia. I wonder how many teachers, do not actually have at least 1 social network account and profile… possibly few. I also wonder, how many of them don’t use digital devices, and the Internet to communicate during and as part of their daily activities… I wonder, how many of them have never ever played any form of game be it digital, virtual, social, casual, etc.? And yet… as soon as they get together and they feel this sense of belonging to the school structure… all this, and I mean their daily life and activities, seem to fly out of the window and they camouflage, wearing a skin, that belonged to other teachers, 20 or 30 years ago. They sort of make it their own but in reality it’s completely alien to the times we live in – to how we are living – to how they are living. So we get this separation in schools between who we really are, as transformed by our digital selves, and who we project to be… dinosaurs stuck in an Education era, which dates  several years back.

So then we have the pupils… other social phenomena. Now I do believe that everyone is a learner, everyone produces and consumes information in this era. The young people who come to school every morning are fantastic learners – even the most challenging and challenged… and yet they do not know it. Maybe that’s what is so fantastic about it. They really dislike the fact that they are known as learners (or pupils) , it’s almost embarrassing to them to be treated like recipients (which is really not akin to learning, and in fact being considered an empty recipient is embarrassing.. ) … and yet  learning is all they do when they play (any form of games), it’s all they do when they communicate, when they produce information for others. So what happens is that once they (as for the teachers) walk into the boundary walls of the school, whatever they do outside, flies out of the window (once again!!) and once again they wear the skins of the others who have preceded them; skins which are unwanted, and which do not really fit them.

So what is the problem and where does it lie? Games are fundamentally changing who we are – how we behave and how we live life, as we play. Games have always changed us and helped us evolve. But digitisation and this overcoming of boundaries, in terms of space, time, immersion, abilities – this almost limitless transcendence, has changed the world – it is still changing it and will continue to change it, its people and how they interact. And yet, the Education collective (the whole) doesn’t want to admit it. Few people are trying to overcome the barricades, few people are trying to trigger the revolution. The problem is that while the individuals have evolved, this ‘creature’ which is Education hasn’t … and that’s where we need to start. Right at the top…