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End of School

July 26th, 2009 jhagen

In his recent post “End of Web“, Dean Groom explains his thinking behind an alternative reality game as a sandbox for professional development in 21st Century Learning. The essence is this: “if you want teachers to learn about enquiry/technology then use this as something to ground it.”

It’s often struck me that professional development in education ironically reinforces the old chestnut “do as I say, not as I do”. I’ve also observed that despite the importance that educators place on independent learning, they tend to be poor models of it.

In “World Without Walls: Learning Well with Others“, Will Richardson writes: “In our zeal to hold on to the old structures of teaching and learning and to protect students at all costs, we are not just leaving them ill prepared for the future, we are also missing an enormous opportunity for ourselves as learners.” He goes on to exhort teachers to “…engage with these new technologies and their potential to expand our own understanding and methods”.

The potential of alternate reality games as learning platforms is well established. The precedent for the End of Web game that springs to mind is World Without Oil, the massively collaborative imagining of the first 32 weeks of a global oil crisis. Players immersed themselves in an exploration of a world without oil and contributed their own stories to an online archive. The context of the game and the authentic use of social media created a lively learning environment.

The idea of an alternative reality game as a professional development platform has a lot of potential because we learn best by doing and sharing. However a key to the success of a simulation to engage learners is getting the context right. The context of a world without oil resonated deeply and widely because it is an imaginable possibility and the impacts on each of us personally are also not hard to imagine.

I am dubious that the End of Web scenario will engage the average educator because it is so distant (2020) and hypothetical/unimaginable. It just seems too fanciful to me.

A far better scenario in my opinion would be the ‘end of school’. First of all, it is more imaginable and to that extent better scaffolded. There would be no need for additional hypothetical context (Alternet) or other artifice (Cylores). I suspect that it would be far easier for teachers to align the game with content and standards/outcomes under this a scenario as a result. It also offers a certain potential in-built tension because it is a possibility that would be dreaded by many educators but hoped for by many students. The interplay of these perspectives could be insightful. Involving parents in the game could be another interesting and worthwhile possibility.

If the aim of the game is not only for teachers to learn from each other and along side students but to also reflect on their own methods, then I think a more realistic scenario would yield more practical insights into the reality of our present as well as the possibilities for the future.

  1. Dean Groom
    July 27th, 2009 at 20:00 | #1

    Thanks for the comments; please feel absolutely free to improve the idea. The thrust behind the idea is founded in that contextual learning for teachers is more likely to be adopted that abstract ‘training’. The problem in doing this inside exiting curricula is that the new skills and methods need to be aligned into activities and assessment. Co-curriculum, especially in light of lack of ‘definition’ around 21C skills, allows a much more open development approach. So rather than be abstract, in the limited time available a teacher can look at the start point; and then adapt it (a further developmental stage) to suit their context. I guess much how you have suggested, and please feel free to improve it.

    The ‘what if’ game scenario is not new at all and there have been several uses of the ‘world without oil’ approach in computing. The obvious alternative scenario is the ‘prisoners dilemma’.

    I am finding that when providing a scenario in professional learning with teachers; that providing a push-back changes their behavior in a positive way.
    No doubt; this idea – will demonstrate the ‘social media type’ behaviours that Forrester research uses for ‘people’ in read/write media.

    I am no fiction writer; and really my interest is in affecting the behavioural intelligence of teachers to adopting new methods. It will be interesting to see if anyone adds to the idea; or perhaps we suffering from a degree of learned helplessness. I wonder at times if we don’t actually find some comfort in orbiting the problem. This idea simply give me a place to work from in engaging teachers during PD sessions. Thanks so much for your response to it.

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