Using Digital Gaming with Special Needs Learning

Recently I met Adam Scanlon. Adam is a gamer, designer and father amongst many other things. What peaked my interest in what he was talking to me about was the way Adam was using gaming to assist his sons learning.

His son has autism. As Adam explained to me that brings its own series of unique challenges. Children with autism often don’t learn in the same methods as we would associate traditional learners and therefore new ways of teaching and learning need to be investigated.

As a commitment to finding these new innovative ways Adam has been using the game Disney Infinity.

Let me give you a little background on Disney Infinity. It is essentially a sandbox game. To me sandbox games are of great interest to education. Sandbox games are extremely open in nature and their lack of narrative is what set them apart from most other digital games. Most digital games operate in a linear fashion with a predetermined narrative, which the player must follow, and a set of ever more complicated tasks that the player must successfully complete in order to progress in the game. In contrast to this, sandbox games have no sense of progression, linear narrative or completion. Game play is entirely up to the creativity and imagination of the player/players. These games are providing a framework for the player to enter and then leaving it up to the individual’s creativity to do whatever they want.

The genre include games like Minecraft and Gary’s Mod and to a certain extent Disney’s Infinity.

When recently watching a collection of students playing Gary’s Mod they were collectively interacting and communicating with each other, they were building their own characters, they were inventing their own games within the game and more so they were inventing their own narrative within the games they were playing – that is narrative within narrative.  This is an example of the game makers understanding this generation of learners and providing them with autonomy, the ability to be self-directed and beyond that providing them the ability to be highly web connected. These three concepts are important to our current western education system especially as it grapples with relevancy and what place technology plays.

So back to Adam, why is he attracted to Disney Infinity and how does it help him teach his son? disney infinity

Firstly, as Adam explained, to work with children with autism you need to find the space they are interested in. It is highly unlikely they will come to the space you think they should be in. Adam’s son loves this game and will play it for hours. So rather than pull his son away from this environment, Adam went the other way and embraced it. How could he use the environment his son loves being in to help his son learn? Isn’t this a great lesson for all educators not just those working with special needs, where can you position yourself within the child’s life to give that child the best opportunity to hear you in the first place. As Disney Infinity is a sandbox game, Adam and his son can build there own universe in there, a universe of their collective imaginations that might replicate their current one or develop new ways of seeing the world.

Children with autism need a lot of repetition to grasp certain concepts. Adam explained that to teach a certain task he would have to say it over and over. They require and demand routines and so to teach them a new one, potentially means a changing of an old one. This can be difficult and require a lot of repetition. Again, as Disney Infinity is a sandbox game Adam can now build games inside the game allowing his son to play them, enjoy them and potentially learn from them. garys mod

A couple of very simple examples of the huge range that Adam provided me with might help give context for those unfamiliar with this type of game. To help “potty train” his son Adam built a puzzle game. The task of the game was to get the “brown object” to the toilet, at the end of the game. By playing the game over and over his son also was able to make the real life connections. This demonstrates a great way to instructionally teach something that is going to require a lot of repetition.

Adam provided me with another example of how he uses the game to teach new routines;

The current process for going to a shopping center or supermarket requires Adam and his son to go up and down every single aisle every time they visit a supermarket even if they only need to quickly go in and buy one product. This is a routine Adam’s son knows and is comfortable with and to change this routine causes particular anxiety for Adam’s son, leading to a seemingly uncontrollable outburst of emotion. Adam’s solution, using the game, was to build a supermarket within his Disney Infinity universe, and once again build a task into the game that allowed for his son to enter the supermarket find the object and leave immediately. He is helping form a pattern or predisposition into his son teaching him new ways of doing things.

Communication.

For a long time there was the common misunderstanding that because children with autism weren’t communicating with you in the traditional sense they also were not listening. This is not necessarily so and technology has provided ways for this group to have a voice. Early discoveries came with typing; children who would not necessarily speak out their thoughts when taught to type found this medium an easier way to communicate in.

Adam is interested in taking this concept further. If Disney Infinity is a space where his son feels comfortable and enjoys inhabiting potentially it can be  a means for the two of them to also communicate in. One of Adams concerns for his son is a simple problem that most of us without this experience would not even consider. If his son has  a toothache potentially he will never express this to Adam so how as a father will he handle this situation if he doesn’t even know it exists. While he is still only at early stages Adam is exploring ways through the game that his son might express these every day issues with him and others around him that see.

This might be something that Adam agendas within the Disney Infinity game space or potentially, his son might find the means of using it to communicate in the way he wants to.

While this piece talks specifically to children with autism the same principles apply to all classroom teaching or education in general. How can we turn the paradigm around from reductionist notions such as “teacher as expert” to “teacher as facilitator”? And if we are truly talking teacher as facilitator what do we want them to facilitate? All children exist as learners nested within their own constructions of identity. They bring their own experiences and mindsets into the classroom.

Learning occurs within a complex interplay of biological, cultural and experiential histories. Learning always occurs within the complex systems of the individual, the social surrounds and the culture within which the individual exists. Knowledge is never isolated within that or separated from it. Rather it is deeply part of the web of interactions – it arises out of it, it is an emergent, evolving phenomenon.

We can never teach the same content to each one in the same manner and expect it to have the same impact. Rather we should be getting to know our students, what are they interested in, what do they love and how do they best communicate. Then we need to adapt our methodologies to come to their worlds, not the other way around. Adam demonstrates wonderfully the powerful learning and connections that can take place when the paradigm is reversed using a technology that his child loves – a digital game.

I would love to hear any of your stories, if you are willing to share them of experiences you might have had or seen in this area.

 

 

 

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Digital literacy, gaming and contemporary narrative writing

What constitutes digital literacies is an interesting topic in contemporary learning environments. When I was teaching in a school I spent much energy trying to convince the “literacy team” that they needed to alter their definition and subsequent approach of literacy to incorporate digital literacies, in this way I was hoping to introduce a more inclusive use of ICT by a method of subterfuge.

At that stage digital literacies was a term that was merely talking about film and early stages of web literacies.

Doug Belshaw an educator who works for Mozilla when trying to answer the question of what constitutes digital literacies recently wrote ;

“My short answer to such a question would be that it is a ‘convenient hypocrisy’. By this I mean that it is a term used ambiguously (both consciously and unconsciously) by people with multitude of different backgrounds and intentions. However, given that it is a term that has entered common parlance, I would hope that this thesis clarifies at least three things. First of all, I have argued that speaking of a plurality of ‘digital literacies’ makes more sense than endless attempts to define ‘one literacy to rule them all’. Secondly, I have suggested the essential elements that should make up any contextualised and emergent definition of digital literacies. Finally, I have attempted to argue that the process of coming up with a definition of what constitutes ‘digital literacies’ is at least as important as the outcome of that process.” http://dmlcentral.net/blog/doug-belshaw/ontology-web-why-i-learned-stop-worrying-and-love-learning-standards

I agree with many of the points Doug raises. The term is now almost undefinable and therefore of so much more importance from an educationalist perspective – particularly to my old literacy team.

If we just talk about films: Peter Greenaway the highly respected British film director recently said that he believed the traditional movie was a dead art form. peter1

It is one based on the narrative structure of the 19th century novel – and this template gets repeated over and over and over again. There has been little to no progression in the format since its beginnings. In this it strongly parallels opera as a story telling devise and a medium of entertainment – it is now viewed as a quant entertainment with sentimental values but of no real importance in regards to its artistic and cultural value.

One of the reasons for this is its inability to adapt rapidly in much the same way as the rest of technology-based art forms have.

For example film is extremely narrative based, generally linear and highly dictatorial in approach – by that I mean it is one way. Everything is imposed upon the audience, from on high. The audience is being told the story, they are told what to think, what to feel, when to cry when to laugh etc. Everything in the movie making process is aimed it this. The music written supports the emotion the director is looking for and further attempts to manipulate the audience into feeling that emotion. The same applies with the lighting, editing, camera angels and so on.

There is no room in for the audience to actively participate in any way rather than just sit and passively go along with what they are being told to do. Now this can be very enjoyable for many people but I would argue that most people have progressed from this form of entertainment/learning and are now looking at the ability to have a say themselves, or be involved in the process.

This is the space that digital games become very, very interesting – especially from a learning perspective.

There are many games that fall into the same category as the traditional movie. The narrative is entirely predetermined and the gamer must merely do as there told, but there are also many games that have moved well away from this.  assasins creed

Games such as L.A Noir or Assassin’s Creed do follow a narrative. The difference is instead of passively watching it unfold; the gamer can become part of it. They adopt a character within the narrative and play out the role, often times being forced to make choices that will influence how the original story plays out – much like a choose your own adventure book but a lot more immersive. Another game that does this and is great for younger kids is Little Big Planet. These narratives or stories are generally very complex and nested within other existing narratives and .can take months to unfold. However there is still a fair amount of control within these games – the settings, places, etc. are all predetermined as they are all set within a particular storyline.

little big planetWhen interviewing a 14 year old boy on why he liked games he said “because I get to choose what I want to do, unlike school where we are constantly told do this or that in games that I play I don’t just have to go a kill everyone to move to the next level, I can decide which way to go, how to deal with it. It’s a lot more fun having a bit of control.” This is also referred to as free roaming within a game. Batman Arkham City is one game that plays in this way – you can do the missions or “simply go in wonder around and play your own thing, play your own story.”

This notion of perceived control is also an interesting one from a teaching perspective. Recently when interviewing a fantastic teacher, Roland Gesthuizen he stated that “ you need to give choice to students but not too much choice…If you give to much choice people inevitably make no choice or the worst one “

To me games using this model are the natural evolution from movies – they have narrative, they have cut scenes using traditional visual techniques but moving on they allow for reediting of the narrative in a controlled fashion.

Beyond that and also of great interest to education is the game that is fully immersive and has almost no predetermined narrative structure. This includes games like Minecraft and Gary’s Mod and to a certain extent Disney’s Infinity..

These games are providing a framework for the player to enter and then leaving it up to the individual’s creativity to do whatever they want.

When recently watching a collection of students playing Gary’s Mod they were collectively interacting and communicating with each other, they were building there own characters, they were inventing there own games within the game and moreso they were inventing their own narrative within the games they were playing – that is narrative within narrative. Look at all the potential literacies learning that could be leveraged off this space.

This is an example of the game makers understanding this generation and providing them with autonomy, the ability to be self-directed and beyond that providing them the ability to be highly web connected. These three concepts are what our education system needs to understand and embrace.

To quote Australian educator –  Richard Olsen  –  How are our education systems to respond to students as autonomous,  self-directed web connected learners?

Demonstrated Learnings in Movie Making

Since uploading the last movie I have been involved in a number of discussions with parents who are concerned that traditional learning methods are being forgotten when we focus on things like movie making.

So I took the trouble to create a list of demonstrated learnings according to VELS that are demonstrated in he movie example I have below. (This follows on from my previous post about film making in the classroom). The areas I looked at where ICT, Literacy and The Arts and while the initial learnings are quite low level skills based learnings it quickly develops into deeper learnings

Here is the list feel free to add or argue against it.

Demonstrated Learning According to VELS  in the areas of Literacy, ICT

Music and the Arts (Up to level 6)

1. Mouse Skills

2. Ability to locate websites (to upload video)

3. Ability to create graphics

4. File Naming and saving

5. Linking and communication between up to three different programs

6. Search engine familiarization

7. Use of Digital Cameras and tripods

8. Rendering

9. Use of concept mapping tools

10. Use of graphic organization program

11. Developing electronic portfolio

12. Understanding Networks

13. In depth use of formatting ideas to suit an audience

14. Demonstrates original ideas

15. Documents original ideas

16. Sharing information with peers

17. Demonstrate an understanding of 2 dimensional art

18. Use of code to imbed data

19. Editing to better represent ideas

20. Script writing with intended audience

21. Demonstrate understanding of narrative

22. Cinematography

23. Apply music and other abstract concepts to add meaning

24. Applying imagery to infer meaning

25. Working collaboratively

26. Student centred learning

27. Demonstrate problem solving skills

28. Storyboarding

29. Character, plot and setting development

30. Note taking

31. Summarizing notes

32. Analysis of a popular genre

33. Synthesis of a popular genre

34. Vocabulary demonstration and spelling strategies

35. Preparing a case

36. Annotated storyboarding

37. Use of visual symbols and camera shots

38. Editing to distinguish core from peripheral ideas

39. Contextual understanding

40. Cohesion

41. Viewpoint

42. Control of linguistic structures and features

43. Appropriate choice of language

44. Use of flashback

45. Resolution of a text

46. Inclusion of complex sentences with embedded clauses and phrases

47. Complex text which may include experimentation with different techniques

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=7384819&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=00adef&fullscreen=1

EYT MOVIE from North Fitzroy Primary School on Vimeo.

This is a movie created by North Fitzroy Primary School grade 6 students as part of a Extend Your Talents program.