From Entertainment To Learning

There are many factors that weigh into how quickly change of cultural mindset can occur. And as I've said before, at a school as complex as the one I work at, these factors are not easily or quickly countered. My school is considered as catering for a disadvantaged community but that does not mean universal neediness. It just means the range of what kids have access to in their home life is stretched out far wider than the average school. We have students who come to school hungry so teachers give them breakfast but also have kids who get dropped in Mercedes or BMWs. We have students whose parents never come for parent teacher interviews or avoid answering on their mobile if they see the school is calling, and we have kids who go to Kumon, and Saturday morning "Maths Wizard School" and then top it off with ethnic language school in the afternoon. We have kids who have no internet or computers and maybe a second hand parent owned mobile phone to kids who have laptops, iPads, Minecraft accounts, X Boxes and Playstation 4's. We have kids who use phones and the web totally unsupervised and with free reign to kids who are strictly supervised during homework time to ensure that the internet is only being used for studious purposes.

It's a different sort of disadvantage to the one described by Sugata Mitra in his "hole in the wall" research, where the kids involved had no access to education, had no access to social services and no technology of this kind in their world of poverty. When I heard him speak I kept thinking about our students and how regardless of social circumstance and simply because they live in an urban, Australian environment, are not as devoid of the infiltration of the commercial world of entertainment as those kids in rural India. I kept thinking that it was more likely that the "hole in the wall" kids would be self-learning, while the emotional influence of entertainment-heavy culture would have my students making different choices if the roles were reversed. And that culture is all pervasive - game shops, Foxtel, billboards, fun apps, fast food tie-ins, Snapchatting, Facebook games - it seems to be all about gratification dressed up as fun, and that combination is a hard way to combat.

I am convinced that for a sizeable section of my school student population, digital technology is simply about access to entertainment and socialising. It is a default mindset. It is the mindset that makes teachers wary about having personal mobile phones in the classroom, that keeps the most liberal minded technology leader cautious about taking off the web filtering. It affects teacher's headspace about giving up control - the fear that by allowing access to technology, students will default to what entertains rather than what will challenge and educate. We willingly concede to the "fun factor" when teachers push Mathletics and similar online learning platforms as being good use of technology time. It is harder to push through to meaningful and targetted use of technology for learning, to move up from the lower rungs of Bloom's Taxonomy and ensure that students are engaging in challenge and purpose. I'm not saying that games can't be challenging and purposeful - but without skillful learning design scaffolding the process, the entertainment gratification urge pushes itself to the forefront.

So this is a issue that I struggle with a lot. How to move use of technology from entertainment to learning. To get teacher headspace in a place where laptops and iPads are not "free time" rewards but valuable tools for documenting and constructing learning. Is anyone out there feel like they are winning this battle in similar circumstances to me? I'd love to have a conversation - here or anywhere online.

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6 thoughts on “From Entertainment To Learning

  1. Leigh Newton

    Hi, Graham,
    In our 4/5 grades we don’t allow play time on ict. Computers are only used for learning tasks and no one expects to play games so there’s never any grumbling. That sits alongside students signing an ict agreement on responsible use of ict. Another thing we disallow is access to images or movies – well, we require that they have a good reason, but we usually indicate that they should find the necessary images through other websites.
    Most students have ample ict play at home and many have access to kids’ social media (maybe called ‘kick’). Haven’t had anyone indicate that they’re on Facebook. There are a few who don’t get computer access at home but they probably have DSs and Gameboys. I don’t have a sense that anyone is missing out by not getting ict game time at school.
    My suggestion: for playtime get some Lego or something.

    1. Graham Wegner

      G’day Leigh,
      Thanks for dropping by and sharing what you have happening at your school. Look, if I was just running my own classroom, then everything that you suggest would be part of how I would do things. But I am now in a leadership role, and I am talking about how to change the headspace of teachers so that they change their approach for their students’ sake. I don’t like to use dictatorial approaches across the school so I have to work hard at conversing and challenging teachers to look at how technology fits in with their pedagogy. It is definitely the case at my school that a sizeable number of students don’t have access to technology at home – it explains why some of our stuff has been stolen and generally saying “you are not allowed” is not going to go unchallenged by our savvy and streetwise kids. Teachers have a lot of sway. I often say if teachers model, then students will follow suit. Of course, kids will not look after laptops if the teachers leave stuff uncharged and never give equipment a clean. Of course, kids will think iPads and laptops are for free time when they have finished “the real work” if technology is never included as an integral and meaningful part of what they do. And as a leader in using that technology, I can come in and co-teach with the teachers if they want me to but I can’t have the teaching outsourced to me only or the message the students get is that we only do cool learning with technology with Mr Wegner, not with our regular teachers. It is about change, and change is never easy, especially when mainstream society does sit around waiting for schools to catch up!

      1. Leigh Newton

        I reckon that there are so many great learning activities online that there is not enough time in the school day to play any old game. Perhaps the issue is that teachers are not aware of all the learning opportunities in every subject.
        I wonder if the teachers developed their own blog or communal website of links to their favourite student learning sites, whether teachers might develop a sense of ownership of their children’s learning online and the exciting possibilities that it holds.
        What about holding a teachmeet – maybe in staff meeting time (teachers obliged to be there) – even if you invite a few teachers from outside who are exploring interesting possibilities.
        Enthusiasm is infectious, especially if a peer can be consulted on how they did something.
        Just a few thoughts.

        1. Graham Wegner

          They are good thoughts too. A couple of our JP teachers have created a wiki which acts as a jumping off site for their students and that works really well. I also think that the frustrations I am airing on this blog can be attributed to the lack of awareness issue that you raise. In which case, I then hold myself accountable as I would think that raising that awareness is part of my job description. But you are right about enthusiasm…


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