Young at heart…

photo credit: social media via photopin (license)

photo credit: social media via photopin (license)

I love social media. But not in the sense that I am on it 24 hours a day, rather the connections that I have with people that I just didn’t have even ten years ago.

I was having a conversation with one of my uncles on the weekend and it came up that I was still in touch with friends with whom I went to University. He was amazed that I was still communicating with them and that he had lost touch with his school mates because he had moved cities. Now, I secretly know (from my aunty) that he is staunchly opposed to Facebook (FB) and other social media, so much so that my aunt has not told him that she has a FB account. I saw my opportunity to help my aunty out by singing the praises of how FB has even enabled me to reconnect with childhood friends.

It is interesting how people can be so opposed to things, that they cannot see any worth in them at all. Here was my uncle almost complaining that he did not have the same connections with people, where if he was open to the possibility that everything new is not necessarily bad, then he could be exploring a whole new world. I’d also like to add that he believes that libraries are throwing out all the good books and replacing them with eBooks. He may represent a more extreme view, but I remember clearly a conversation I had with my mother about FB, where she wanted “nothing to do with that”. However, as a 70 year old grandmother she is now a regular user.

Over the years, there have been many moral panics around new technology and of course there is not a day which goes by where we aren’t told something is bad for us. It makes me wonder what I will be like when I am 70 and faced with new technology. Will I blindly accept it, staunchly reject it or be willing to investigate it with an open mind?

Does Gaming have a place in education?

Throughout history, there have been many advancements in technology particularly over the past couple of centuries. Who would have thought that Alexander Bell’s invention of the telephone would lead to the creation of the mobile phone and Skyping? Of course there have been many other famous inventors who have built on his knowledge and dared to dream further and farther. But what about gaming and virtual worlds?

Jane McGonigal believes that ‘gaming can make a better world’. If this is truly the case then maybe we should be taking a closer look at its inclusion in education. Jane explains that gaming gives people an insight into the best version of themselves, in real life things such as the fear of failure, anxiety, frustration and cynicism hold people back. However, in gaming people are willing to help at a moment’s notice, pick themselves up when they fail and stick at a problem until a solution is found. In fact she believes gaming can solve world issues such as hunger, poverty, climate change, global conflict and obesity.

I am not entirely convinced by McGonigal’s theory, however I do believe that gaming can be used to teach our children. Popular culture is a powerful tool for engaging students in learning and should be explored by educators. I’m not just talking about the ‘educational’ games such as Mathletics, GarageBand and Dr. Frankenstein’s Body Lab. I’m talking about the games children want to play out-side of school homework such as World of Warcraft and Minecraft.

The PBS Idea Channel has produced a clip which justifies why Minecraft can be the ultimate educational tool because it is able to teach ‘computer science, art history, engineering, civics, mathematics, world history, and maybe most things’. In fact there are hundreds of websites with educational Minecraft activities but just because there is a plethora of support for Minecraft, that does not necessarily warrant its inclusion into the classroom. Darlol’s comment below is a common school of thought about the results of gaming. “minecraft in education is a terrible idea: a lot of people will lose their jobs. everyone will become extremely stupid because nobody reads books. people forget that real life exist too and play too many games and starve to death because they wanted to craft a diamond pickaxe. everyone gets hand injuries because they play too much and there art no doctors because they want to brew a healing potion in minecraft.” There are also people who are concerned that young people are passive and impressionable to the point that there is a moral panic around violence in popular games which could lead to the Columbine Effect. However, as Bradford discovered when working with young people, players do not lose their critical capacities once they enter gameplay. They do not enter into a trance state, in-fact they are involved in activites such as narrative, problem solving, socialisation and collaboration.

In summary, I am a fan of Henry Jenkins’ proposal, that educators need to discuss how young people are engaging in the world around them and this includes gaming. Jenkins does not dismiss the challenges and health risks involved in too much gaming, but encourages us to see the merit in them  where new skills and knowledge may be found as a consequence of this new media.

References

Bradford, C. (2010). Looking for my corpse: Video games and player positioning. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy 33(1), 54- 64

Are we having fun yet?

I find it interesting that in an age of having access to such a wide range of texts, schools are reluctant to use popular culture material to engage students. Recently my daughter came to me and exclaimed that the text they were reading for English was the first book she has actually enjoyed reading for an assignment. She is currently in Year 10 and an avid reader, who enjoys many different genres. Not all bookworms enjoy English as a subject, but my daughter is one who lives for her English lessons, therefore this revelation shocked me.

The research which I conducted for my analytical essay Popular Culture: alive and kicking in the Australian Curriculum, led me to the conclusion that not only is there a place for popular culture in the Australian Curriculum, but indeed it is already there. So why is it that my teenage daughter has gone through 10 years of schooling without having her interests ignited by a class novel? Of course I’m realistic to acknowledge that she may be exaggerating and that there were some texts that she did enjoy – but still, why aren’t her teachers using youth popular culture texts to teach themes and content? Especially, when at every Year Level Description within the Australian Curriculum, the second sentence states “Students engage with a variety of texts for enjoyment.” Surely this is a catalyst for the inclusion of youth popular culture texts.

So why then the disparity? I believe that many of our teachers (and parents) are still entrenched in the traditional view of education, where teachers taught the best content from high culture and anything from popular culture was seen to be for enjoyment and had no educational worth (Benson & Chick, 2014). Although there have been advancements in education reform, where most teachers acknowledge the need for student engagement and enjoyment, there has not been a big move to incorporate popular culture texts.

After researching for this post, I have realised that there are indeed teachers out there who are using popular culture texts to engage students. Take for instance the use of the dystopian novel, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. With the release of the final movie in a couple of weeks, students are already engaged. For those who have not already read the novel, they have certainly heard of it and because all their friends will be going to see it, they will too. But it is not just because of its popularity that I would argue for its inclusion within the classroom, but for its literary value as well. It is full of figurative language, where students are presented with examples of metaphors, similes, personification, symbolism, idioms and more. There are numerous interviews with the author on YouTube, in which she explains where her inspiration for the books came from. There are many different themes within the books from government control and oppression, to identity, desensitisation, rebellion and revolution, reality television and the spectacle and societal inequality.

However a word of warning: The determining factor of using popular culture texts within the classroom should not solely be on its popularity. Thoughtful and careful planning needs to take place when using any text, to encourage the exploration and analysis needed to achieve the year level standard outlined in the Australian Curriculum.

References

Benson, P & Chik, A. (2014). Popular Culture, Pedagogy and Teacher Education : International perspectives

 

Forbidden Fruit

Is the internet the forbidden fruit in your house?

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photo credit: Retrato via photopin (license)

It is a mother’s dread – walking past her teenage boy’s room and hearing a girl’s voice behind the door. Upon entering his room, I realise that the girl was not physically there, but on the other end of an online chat about (of all things) Minecraft! The conversation went something like this:

Me –  ‘Hi Bill, who are you talking to?’

Bill –  ‘Sally’

‘I don’t think I know Sally – is she new at school?’

‘No’

What are you talking about?

Minecraft.

Oh, so how do you know Sally?

Through Minecraft.

How old is Sally?

Twelve, she lives in Perth.

At this point, I was calm on the outside, but panicking on the inside. Could this person be an online predator? No, I heard her voice – she was definitely young. But… if he had accepted her as a friend – did he have more online friends who he/we didn’t know and maybe one of those is!! I could feel the stress levels going through the roof. I needed to know more…

Hmmmm, do her parents know that you are talking with her?

Yes, her dad walked by a minute ago and said hi to me!

Oh….. do you have any other friends on Minecraft like Sally?

Yes (my heart skips a beat), but they all go to school with me.

Oh, so Sally is the only one you haven’t met?

Yup!

Relieved, but still concerned, I turned tail and quickly found hubby.

In my son’s eyes this was completely normal behaviour. In mine – it was definitely not!  Why had he not heeded our warnings about cyber safety?

When our children started using the internet, my husband and I decided that we wouldn’t put a ‘net nanny’ on, but we would discuss cyber safety with them. Through keeping the communication lines open and being aware what our children were doing online, they would become responsible internet users. What really surprised me was that he was completely oblivious to the dangers. So where did we/I go wrong??

I remember my mother always saying ‘Just wait until you have kids of your own! Then you will understand why I say no to the things you want to do!’ Should I have been more like her and said “no” to this game ‘Minecraft’ and put the internet under lock and key? But that just made me want to go behind her back and do it anyway! Popular culture and especially the internet seems to draw children in, but with blinkers on so they can’t see all the dangers. But really, is it any different to when I was growing up, or when my parents were in their teenage years?

On reflection, I suppose that my son was doing what any other child would do (in his eyes). Imagine this scenario: I take my son to a park, so he can play on the playground. Here, he finds some other children whom he starts up a conversation with and then they start playing happily. I look on fondly and think “wow isn’t that nice, he’s growing and maturing to a point that he has the confidence to start up conversation with kids he doesn’t know. This is all part of growing up; it’s natural; right?

I hear you say, “But you as the parent can see the children. You are watching and can see everything that is going on. The internet is different – you can’t see who is on the other end of the line”. But I say the scenario is exactly like what happened when my son made his friend online. I as a parent allowed him to access the internet and Minecraft, but all the while I was watching on. Hubby and I were having chats with him about how to behave online (as we do about how to behave appropriately in public ie. The park). Now, if he then decided that he wanted to go and play with one of these friends from the park or for that matter Sally, I as a parent would investigate said friend, want to meet said friend’s parents etc.

The internet is here to stay. It is a part of our culture as well as that of our youth’s. Do we put it under lock and key? Which makes it a forbidden fruit, tempting to our children to take a bite when no one is looking. Or, do we allow them access? Teaching them to be responsible in situations; being a part of their interactions with the internet and being aware of what they are doing and with whom they are chatting with online.

You know what? I’m actually please that I heard my son chatting with Sally – not because I wanted to stop this from occurring. But rather, it provided the perfect opportunity for us to discuss the dangers of having internet friends. Although Sally is a real girl across the other side of the country, there are people out there who pretend to be young girls so that they can meet young boys to do them harm. Believe me there are many things we say no to with our kids, but the internet is not one of them!

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photo credit: Minecraft via photopin (license)