From computer games to world peace – learner voice powers Education Fast Forward 5
Education Fast Forward (EFF), the global think tank for learning created by Promethean with support from Cisco, whose TelePresence technology it uses for its 360º-media education debates, is stepping up the pace.
EFF4, which featured computer games and innovation with research expert Dr Paul Howard-Jones, brought in classroom experts like Derek Robertson and Dawn Hallybone to build relationships between academics and teachers. EFF5, “From Learner Voice to Global Peace”, on July 10 (3pm GMT) will up the ante by bringing in students with Peace One Day and the 500,000-strong learner organisation TakingITGlobal.
EFF5 will feature a presentation from Peace One Day founder and evangelist Jeremy Gilley whose “crazy idea” of a world day of peace on September 21 has won support from an astonishing range of people – from the United Nations to the Taliban (see him on TED Talks, below). His co-presenters will be three students and Michael Furdyk, technology director of the 500,000-strong TakingITGlobal youth organisation (TIG’s Kate Gatto and Deanna Del Vecchio were also present at EFF4).
Peace One Day’s achievements are remarkable, and include creating a day of peace to immunise 1.6 million Afghani children against polio, a day which reduced violence in the country by 70 per cent on a previous September. TakingITGlobal (TiG) is billed as “the largest online community of youth interested in global issues and creating positive change”. So the potential of EFF5 for engagement is massive as it brings in student voice for the first time.
EFF debate widened and continued through use of social media
EFF has extended its reach through using social networking to widen the debate taking place on Cisco's video network and streamed live from the Promethean Planet portal. The use of Twitter came into its own for EFF4 and will be further developed for EFF5, and Promethean has just created an EFF page on Facebook for teachers and learners to express their thoughts on world peace – and share their work – before, during and after the EFF5 debate.
Promethean has been working with 25 students to prepare for the debate, and three of them – one a former boy soldier – will be presenting on the importance and the role of student voice. Canada-based TakingITGlobal put out a call for volunteers and had an immediate response from 450. Only a relatively small number of these will be on the video debate but the others will be active on social media too. The students involved come from all over the world.
The EFF organisers have also brought in getideas.org, the transformational leadership organisation sponsored by Cisco, to extend the debate. Getideas.org will work on EFF5 though its blogger network and will also use the online round-table discussions that it organises with the help of facilitators like Ewan McIntosh for follow-up work and to continue the conversation.
Meanwhile, EFF4 – “Is this the year of the games? Innovation, learning and uncertainty” – featured video contributions from educators across 11 countries and helped develop the network’s possibilities further. Conducting a global debate over a high-quality video network that is simultaneously streamed to whoever checks in at the Promethean Planet link while co-ordinating responses over Twitter is no simple task. It’s combining synchronous and asynchronous media to ensure the debate goes further than just an academic talking shop.
Promethean’s director of education Jim Wynn is delighted with progress: “This was the fourth EFF debate and we think it was the best one yet! The multi-platform debate on gaming brought people together from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Hungary, Kenya, Norway, Portugal, UK and USA and challenged some long held beliefs about gaming during a truly stimulating discussion. The fact that record numbers interacted through social media just shows how emotive the conversation was.”
The power of gaming lies in the uncertainty of rewards
Bristol University researcher Dr Paul Howard-Jones has become an expert on the effects of computer gaming on the human brain. His messages are simple and profound. For good or bad, computer gaming has very powerful effects on the brain. Games can definitely support learning, but, used unwisely, they can also be associated with negative attributes like disruption of sleep, exercise and learning.
“Games are very powerful magic,” he said. “They are powerful magic because they affect the brain in a very unusual way that most other environmental stimuli do not.” The effects on the brain register in a similar way to serious drugs like amphetamines and Ritalin: “That gives you some idea why games engage but it's more important than just getting children's attention.”
The key to the power of games lies in their underlying mechanisms and their relationship with the dynamic uncertainties of the brain’s rewards systems. “The types of rewards they provide are often uncertain ones," he said. "They involve a lot of chance, and what we know is that when a reward is offered that is involved with chance (so you're uncertain, through some chance-based action, whether you’re going to receive it or not) that increases the response to the brain's reward system. Academic uncertainty of the classroom doesn't seem to work so well, probably because it impacts on self esteem and the esteem in which other people hold you.”
He termed this heightened brain activity, from increased reward uncertainty, “synaptic plasticity” and added, "Stimulating the brain's reward system can also stimulate learning." Apparently boys respond more to 'reward uncertainty' than girls which might be why they under-perform in school environments where “We have done everything we can... to remove uncertainty from the achievement-reward relationship.”
Even the computer games the media were fond of blaming for anti-social behaviour, like Grand Theft Auto, were exceptional teachers, he pointed out. They could develop users’ visual motor skills better than anything designed by scientists. In fact the Israeli Defence Force used them to develop skills for pilots. Some ‘keyhole” surgeons use Wii games.
The big challenge was to bring all the “players” together – the game designers, game players and teachers – to exploit the opportunities. He concluded: “We have to find a way of developing games that are content-free if you like, that can actually be added to and developed by teachers themselves. That is the challenge that I think we now face.”
Teachers can use off-the-shelf games and ‘gamify’ their classrooms too
The debate was started by London primary teacher Dawn Hallybone who has been using games in class for four years. She credited the work of Derek Robertson and his Consolarium project in Scotland in pioneering the use of “off the shelf” computer games in class. Teachers can use games in two ways, she said. They can use commercial packages for regular curriculum work with children – she uses Mario Cart, Endless Ocean, Professor Layton, Night in the Museum – and they can think about the “gamification” of their classrooms. By this she meant adopting and adapting the dynamics of the reward systems used in games to heighten the engagement and achievements of learners.
While the debate continued on the TelePresence video screens, it also sparked across Twitter where it was joined by a range of educators, including Scotland’s Derek Robertson. A key point to emerge, unsurprisingly, was the gulf between those at the cutting edge and the policy makers who have the potential to support system change but really need evidence and energy from the grassroots.
And that was what EFF4 started to provide. Promethean will continue to focus on using this potent media to make “fast forward” real by bringing in leading classroom practitioners and sharing their work on its million-strong Promethean Planet portal to further the impact. Need a worksheet to help you use Nintendo's Professor Layton in a primary classroom? Check out Dawn Hallybone’s worksheet contribution (requires simple sign-in). And watch out for new developments with Derek Robertson. Work also continues with Dr Paul Howard-Jones.
Right now though, the focus is on getting maximum impact for EFF5 and continuing the discussion and activities up to Peace One Day's global event on September 21. Teachers and learners will also be asked to share their contributions after the event on the EFF Facebook page and on Promethean Planet where they will find specially created resources from both Peace One Day and MakingITGlobal.
"We are maturing," concluded Promethean's Jim Wynn. "This is only the fifth debate and we are now maturing into something where action is part of what we are doing, and I think that is very important because there are already too many talking shops on the planet."
Education Fast Forward 5, “From Learner Voice to Global Peace”, takes place on July 10 (3-5pm GMT)
EFF home on Promethean Planet, and home to the EFF5 live feed.
The Twitter hashtag for EFF5 is #EFF5
Follow EFF on Twitter (and use for questions) at @effdebate
EFF Facebook page
Peace One Day
Dr Paul Howard-Jones at the Learning Without Frontiers event (video)
The work of Dr Paul Howard-Jones at www.neuroeducational.net