Challenged by Seductive Technology

Technology can still be so inviting to teachers, it can often damage the potential for learning. I recently trialled the app Floors by Pixelpress, planning it to be a fun and creative exercise in computer game design. After introducing the app and explaining the activity, I realised I had missed an opportunity to plan a much more thought provoking exercise. It made me realise that even now, I can succumb to the seductive ‘cool’ of an app and design a shallow learning experience. Here’s the trailer for the app:

The app is really impressive and scans pencil game designs immediately into real playable iPad games. This sounds so good, it was easy to consider it as a just a fantastic blend of tactile and tech learning. What I missed was an opportunity to raise the level of both thinking and collaboration. Like me, many teachers are falling for the modern teaching trap to think “the app does all the work.” On most occasions, if you think an app does the job for a lesson, you’re more likely just killing time rather than ensuring true learning is taking place.

IMG_0008 (1)The next lesson gave me a chance to reflect and act on this mistake. The type of game the activity produces is a platform game of 3 levels. Before they started, I reminded them of the Design Thinking process we’d used before and asked them to consider what makes games addictive and why their level design would be considered better than another design. This had groups discussing designs being too easy or too hard and what made them so. It also introduced situations where students challenged each other’s assumptions. This does not happen if you allow them to simply play with the app as presented in the trailer.

There are enough options within the app to make very complex game challenges but it’s the job of the teacher to plan how the opportunities presented by the app can enhance the type of activity in the classroom. We must remember that it’s what takes place in the mind of the student that is most important. I have mentioned before that in New Zealand we generally grade students on their ability to collaborate and generate new knowledge, rather than learn a fixed curriculum. This means, it’s my job to make students generate connections between elements and concepts they come across. The collaboration & communication is important as it adds depth to their understanding.

FloorsThe app encouraged me to focus on skill competency and open ended creativity:

“This app is fantastic! It will have them be creative with non-tech and the technology allows them test and reiterate the process to improve the outcome.”

I redesigned it as collaborative Design Thinking to ensure a more robust learning outcome:

“Before you open the app, collaborate in considering how this activity might be more successful in producing a game people will not want to put down. There are too many games in the App Store to only be producing yet another one. Every student in the class has the potential to create the best game in the room but what makes one better than another?”

The Floors app is a technology that allows for rapid testing of ideas but its ensuring the students take a considered approach that’s important rather than adding elements randomly without any particular reason. This teaching situation is common for many apps and I’m always keen to remind teachers to not underestimate children in their ability to handle more complex thinking.

App designers often consider the functional activity over the learning experience. It’s our job as teachers to not succumb to this and consider first what’s being developed in the minds of our students.

Here’s a presentation I did on this story fro #AppShareLive with Mark Anderson:

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