Immersive Games and OAP playgrounds


Old people, especially the millions in the UK who don’t have access to a generous pension fund need playgrounds at least as much as they need retirement homes. More than ever at any previous time in their lives, they need opportunities to socialise widely and make new friends. One of the issues facing our society is the rise of a huge retired population. My mum was discussing the regeneration of our town centre and thinking about how we could place old people at the centre of the new market complex. We thought about how public spaces should have places where old and young can mix freely and cheaply, places that are accessible and right in the centre of the action. We talked about this while we sat in a crowded cafe and the unusual owner seated more people by the simple expedient of asking young people sitting on their own if they could shove up to make space for someone else – an old person. We then watched as the generations started to talk. It worked beautifully. We then attended a meeting where we were asked how we could improve the town centre. We raised the question of communal spaces, but the information gatherers couldn’t – or wouldn’t – get it. They wondered, would the generations want to mingle? What good could it possibly do? Maybe we could use the wonderful benefits of gaming to bring them together physically as well as in the virtual world. Eye Toy, Guitar Hero and Wii Fit could be the way forwards – I’m sure there are some old codgers who could deliver a polished rendition of Smoke On the Water to blow away the opposing 13-year olds.

Does technology mean better learning?


I often agree that technology is leading to massive positive change in the way we learn and teach. The interview with Julian Baggini  reminded me that it isn’t necessarily so. However much the technology allows us to personalise our learning, and disseminate our teaching, fundamental things about learning remain the same and have done since Socrates. We don’t really learn anything until we are motivated to learn. Our motivation can still be destroyed and depressed by bad teaching – of which there have been many examples in elearning, just as there have in traditional learning. I have seen Gradgrind at work with a white board and a set of tablet PCs at least as often as I have seen him with a stick of chalk. And this, as Baggini’s interview reminds us, is because we still bring ourselves along with our technology, so the instinct to rubberneck unashamedly at an accident and then talk about it to our friends can be transformed into taking a picture of an accident on a mobile phone and sending it on to our friends. Our basic instincts remain. Online, just as offline, we see both altruism and mendacity, excellence and mediocrity. The quality of the educator, their ability to scaffold learning and to inspire and motivate is still the key to good elearning. The difference for learners is the possibility of much greater choice of providers, to find the right one for them instead of being tied to a sole provider. The need to be a great teacher is still essential.

Mscapes and drama in role


Mscapes (mobile games, stories and tours triggered by your location) are great ways to develop Dorothy Heathcote’s ‘Drama in role; and ‘Mantle of the Expert’ techniques. 

She taught me that you could teach many areas of the curriculum through drama  – history, science, maths, geography. It is in many ways the antithesis of early online teaching methods with its fragmented bits of factual knowledge and its need to focus on the easily measurable. But role playing games have always had a touch of her wisdom in them, whether I’m beating up an enemy in GTA or remembering I have to play with the kids in Sims, I am choosing to step into the shoes of another character, to inhabit their world and to make the kinds of decisions they would make given the amount of available evidence. She was very keen on ‘available evidence’ as a way of focussing and then developing holistic learning. I think she would have liked the new moves to create Mscapes, where your mobile phone or other handheld device can feed timely information to you as you move through a physical landscape either within a school’s boundaries or on the site of a great historical or geographical event. Based on this incoming information and the developing scenario you can make choices about how to act or you can take that exciting step into interaction with another character in role, committing yourself to go with your instincts until the next piece of information arises, and learning something about why decisions might get made.  Two of the finalists in the BTween Exploding Narrative competition show this possibility. 

Both The Detective and Night Bridge demonstrate how drama in role could be developed using handhelds.

Whiteboard and mobile clips for drama, english, history


The drama of p-ause for thought

An Arts Council initiative at B-Tween is encouraging people to pitch interactive ideas. I like this deceptively simple one by ‘Catra’ for KS2 teachers

The idea seems to be that kids aged 7-11 receive footage and are encouraged to use it as the basis for a KS2 creative writing exercise. So it’s a bit like story starters from Teacher’s TV, a bit of film that can inspire investigation and creativity.

The TTV videos are much more structured as dramatic starters while Catra’s is much looser and purely location based, serving more  to provoke the imagination.

There is no particular reasons why it has to be an age-specific experience. Although it is a good way of generating creative writing or exploring genre or ‘other worlds’ in the primary curriculum it can also have application for all ages and for cross-curricular purposes. 

It could stimulate work in geography, or art. In one sense it’s a postcard propped up on the desk, but the delivery mechanism and its capacity to be moving, developing footage makes it so much more laden with possibility – receiving a random bit of footage, possibly away from your desk turns you into a detective immediately – why this piece of film? what could it mean’

The effect could be generated by teachers sending pictures to mobiles or PDAs, or, in the classroom, by using video on whiteboards or sent to individual workstations. If pupils have access to individual devices, handheld or not, it would be possible to let the pupils send a choice of video to their colleagues. You could have a chain reaction and have each participant sending a picture or video on for exploration. It’s a very simple but powerful idea for generating stories, poetry, or what the proposer calls ‘what-if’ writing.

I would like to use this method for teaching Drama. The late great Dorothy Heathcote’s teaching method was one in which pupils and teacher assumed the ‘mantle of the expert’ and created the story as they went along, with very loose prompts to react to. That teaching method would be enhanced by the ability to play off short video clips that would inspire new possibilities for participants to weave into their dramas.

Nice idea for History – or Geography?

This is a great idea for the teaching of history – it’s only possible if you have access to an existing asset, postcard, footage or graphuc, showing a scene from the past, which pupils can view on their hand held as they walk around a site. Excellent for historical monuments or locality studies but I would like to see this developed for Geography – if you could stand in a spot and see what it looked like last year, twenty years ago, a hundred years ago, five hundred, a thousand you could see both the change over time wrought by events e.g. The Industrial Revolution, and the consequences for the landscape.