A typical Sunday. Take the dog to the beach for a round of play catch. Come back read some of the paper, make a quad cappuccino, make breakfast, play with the boys, and spend some time with course work. Near the end of the day, I read the comics from the Sunday funnies and absolutely love this one from Retail:
Why? Specifically, about three hours today I spent playing and creating with the free software called Scratch, from MIT media labs to create a prototype for a game we are designing for ETEC 697, Educational Technology in Informal Learning Environments. I’ve played with Scratch before, but never sat down to really tackle a project that had been defined through a game brief. What struck me was how many ways I could attack the problem to bring in graphics, to create animations, to design interactive elements. The end result of three hours of work was either remarkable or work at a seven-year-old could do, depending upon how you look at. My seven-year-old sat at the table while I designed the project, and understood most of the interface and the feedback in the design and even the programming aspects of the game. Let me say that again: a seven-year-old watched me go through the process of designing a game that had backgrounds, sprites, scripts, imported graphics, audio files, and programming errors and found it engaging to work with me and give feedback into the process. That’s why I found the Retail comic strip so funny. We have reached a point in technologic development that surpasses our ability to appreciate the amazing things we are doing (in this case on my kitchen table wirelessly with a computer more powerful than a 1990s supercomputer) and our generation of young students assumes this is the way the world has always been. It reminds me a lot of the Arthur C. Clarke quote:
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”
I believe we have come to an age where either it is magic or the response is “Meh.”. When go back and look at my Sunday I marvel at the layers of technology that I applied without thinking. I had a iPhone by my bed that both act as a alarm clock and a telephone in case an emergency scheme during the night. When I came back from the beach, I grabbed my iPhone to help finish off a crossword puzzle (six letter word for Island in the Bahamas? Bimini). While I was at it, I scanned my personal learning network, checked out the start times for NFL football games, then check the up-to-date news. A few hours later, I was on my laptop using Skype to connect to my cohorts in Colorado and Honolulu, where we planned through Google docs both a written document and the presentation to give in about 10 days. I then downloaded the latest version of Scratch from MIT media labs, and using the web to look for tutorials, taught myself enough to develop interactive elements in a game in less than three hours. While I was doing that, I was also watching the live New England Patriots game which was being broadcast through a streaming website. Meh.
Let’s look at Scratch a little more closely. A free, cross platform, easy to learn programming environment designed for primarily middle and high school students to design interactive games and media. When you are finished, there is a “share” tab that allows any author to create and publish their idea for free. Think about this… anywhere in the world, Macintosh, Linux, Windows, your creation can be shared via their website for free, or others can look for and enjoy it and give feedback. Meh.
Now, I readily agree that having access to a programming environment is no different than having access to a pen. Without assistance and good mentoring (teachers, facilitators, other means of building knowledge), the product will likely be weak and ineffective. With today’s technology, it is possible to easily find many free tutorials to learn how to do just about all aspects of the program. More importantly, there is a whole community of users who write about their experiences with the program. Think about that — resources that I can reach from my kitchen table, experts that I can find, video tutorials (screen casts) that others put up to help ME. Why? Because that is how users in this new frontier see themselves – as contributing community members for a world of users. Meh.
here is the game, btw (simple, yes – the goal for this prototype is to guide the butterfly to the flower – if you touch the flower and hit the space bar, it increases the energy level of the butterfly)
So where does this take us? Everything we see today is at the bottom of the exponential curve of technological change as we look into the future. What awaits us is even more connectedness, more access, more personalization, more ways that we can look back and wonder about a time that we didn’t have these resources. For educators with the right focus — who really are in the game to help students learn — the opportunity to help students appreciate both where we are, where we have come from, and where we are going makes this a marvelous time to try and drive away the “Meh” culture that surrounds us. Peter Vail in his book “Learning as a Way of Being” talks about Whitewater Learning as a metaphor for a dynamic approach to changing times. In Hawaii, we talk about getting on the wave as a way of dealing with the dynamic of the ocean as a metaphor. All educators need to recognize that the world is changed, and is continuing to change exponentially, and that the only way to stay relevant is to adapt and adopt to the changing frontiers in front of us, lest our classroom experience be regarded as “Meh.”