Learning Without Frontiers 2012 Day Two


Here we are again, we’ve packed our suitcases (I had to sit on mine to close it, and while I am sure it now weighs more than I do, I am assured that it doesn’t) so that we can go to the airport after the last presentation of the day.

Morning Session – 21st Century Learning


21st century learning is the theme, and Lord David Puttnam is kicking off the day by chairing a panel. Lord Putnam presented at last year’s LWF, and was one of my favourite presenters. Many of those in ps are likely to spend their working lives predominantly dominated by voice recognition technology. The technology in Apple’s Siri is 3-4 years old, and what they are working on now is remarkably more advanced. Lord Puttnam believes that voice and gesture recognition technology is going to play a big role in our lives and the lives of our students as they enter the workforce.

Puttnam mentions a book he read over the Christmas period called The Culture of Military Innovation. He discusses the idea that technology, along with new forms of instruction and assessment, is having a positive effect on education, and that the UK is in a great position to lead this.

The first panel speaker is Mitchel Resnick, director of the Lifelong Kindergarten at the MIT Media Lab. He is talking about how Kindergartens came about, and the power of the learning that occurs through play, specifically the process of creativity. “We need to think about how new technologies to extend the kinder approach.” He shared a video about a 2 week camp for girls in Boston aged 11-13 run by MIT in conjunction with the Girl Scouts. The girls had created amazing thins with Lego and other technologies. One group created a speedometer for her roller blades, another built an huge house for her pet gerbil with doors that opened when the gerbil stood on a button. The best one was a diary security system, which took a photo of anyone who tried to open the lock. He went on to talk about the use of Scratch in schools all over the world, and the projects that gave been shared on the Scratch website, including some lovely little Mother’s Day animations children had made, and a lot of creations and remixes related to a set of books I haven’t heard of called Warrior Cats (great website!). I must have my finger off the pulse, because I’ve never seen these books on the shelves in book/ebook stores or on the desks of my students, so I’ll be searching one out when I get home. Resnick tells us that he thinks of ICT as Information Creativity Technology.


We sneak out of the Main Theatre to attend the Games Based Learning breakout in another inflatable dome. There is a video playing about the games industry, where one guy states that the schools and universities are “failing the programming industry”. On a friendlier note, the video goes on to show how different games and programming software is being used in schools. It looks like Andrew Goff is running this. It’s nice to put a name to the sender of the emails I have gotten every couple of days since I visited his booth at BETT last year. Goff introduces himself as a teacher of 20 years and a person who wants to try to link schools with industry.

He then introduces Don Passey, who works in educational research at Lancaster University, and he is talking about GBL and the project using LBP2 in Wolverhampton schools and it’s interim findings. 193 students and 10 teachers over 18 weeks, “results indicated significant improvement of the mathematical achievement of the experimental group versus the control group. No significant improvement was found in the motivation of the groups.” Really??? Interesting… “Females enjoyed the activities as much as males, and were as successful.”

Passey notes that future studies into GBL need to “pick up longer term skills as well as shorter term skills”,  and that it would be useful to have longer term studies to see how transfer occurs. “Games vary, which makes GBL a difficult concept”.

When talking about LittleBig Planet 2 Passy says “you can play it but also it is to do with construction of games and levels, which was a focus of this research”. Some skills required are technical, artistic, team working, logical thinking and planning. He suggests the research needs to look at whether each student gains all skills or it different students develop different skills and why this occurs. The student teams were found to be quite important in this study. Students’ experience with LBP2 far outweighed the knowledge of the teacher, and teachers saw this as an opportunity, and took on the role of facilitator, providing the technology and the space to students. Research was based on pre/post questionnaire and interviews – the interim findings suggest big improvements in team work and communication.

At this point, GBL is tending to engage students who might not be otherwise engaged at school – comment by one of the teachers involved in the study. The skills being developed Merlin John has reported on it. Website.

The next speaker is Kristian Still (@kristianstill), a teacher, presenting about Interactive Fiction and Literacy. I have used interactive fiction with my grade 5/6 students with the text adventure Sorcerer for literacy and geography. Lil Red is a text adventure that Kristian co-designed with some of his students. Students created games around topics that interested them, with themselves as the main characters.  “Reading becomes playing and writing becomes game design” when creating text adventures (interactive fiction).

Now Tom Cole (@thesynapseuk), who is a part time teacher, part time games design student is sharing the story line of the interactive fiction he created, which required players to have some knowledge of KS3 science. I had a chat with him after a fabulous comment he made in response to the audience question of “why use LBP2, why not use educational games?”, the answer being “because more often than not they are absolute rubbish”. SO TRUE. Edutainment is not GBL.

Alex Warren shared how he has been working with interactive fiction also. This tent is a great place to be, it’s great to see some real Games-Based Learning stuff here at LWF12.


I’m still in the GBL dome; what started as one excellent session has extended into three excellent sessions, as I’m not going anywhere. I’ve even missed morning tea! Andy Goff is back, recapping the main points he mention in his introduction about his company Interactive Opportunities and what they are doing with schools. Changing the Game and Hack to the Future (to be run next month) are events run by iO, and they are wanting to assist students with using GBL in their after-school clubs.

Goff talks about Algodoo, and how teachers can get started on this with their students straight away, with support from iO. With that, the session is over, and everyone clumps together to swap business cards.

Oh, and the guy with the question about educational games walked out more than half an hour ago. Not his thing.


After the GBL breakout I spent some time wandering around the domes. I revisited the Nintendo Dome and and spied on the expo section from the floor above.


Jesse Schell is on stage. He is a games designer and is discussing the trends of beauty (beautiful phones, buildings), customisation (avatars/Miis in gaming, and did you know you can customised M&Ms and Coca-Cola brands – this is a FB app –  in the US???) and sharing (Wikipedia, social media) in the 21st century. Schell says “and that’s what you see in the classroom, right? …Right?? No. That’s not what you see. The classroom is freakin’ ugly”. He asks why school seem to be immune from these trends, and attributes this to schools being slow to adopt things. He talks about customised learning being a sign of respect towards the learner, and states that curious children have an “insane advantage” because anything they want to learn, they can, “just like that”, but “developing curiosity is not in the curriculum, and standardised testing punishes curiosity”. He suggests we use simulations to get close to reality where we are hindered by location.


Got a good sandwich for lunch today, again with a salad but no fork. Sadly the salad had olives in it, so I didn’t bother with the location of cutlery. Stephen Heppell is on stage setting up as the room fills. I’d say it seats about 400 people. Don’t you hate it when 2 people sit on each end of a row of chairs so it’s difficult to get to the seats in the middle? Luckily, as we are experienced conference-goers, we get in early. We’ve formed a small group of Aussies, as I’m sitting with Adrian Camm (@AdrianCamm) and Louise Duncan (@LouiseEDuncan). Happy Australia Day, by the way!


Afternoon Session – Leading a Learning Revolution

Graham introduces Stephen Heppell by saying “I’m not going to read you the bio that his mum sent me, because it’s pages and pages. And if you don’t know who Stephen Heppell is, then you bloody well should”.

Stephen Heppell is well known in the ed tech community and is a consultant with some really great ideas about teaching and learning. The education projects that really worked were “the ones that were properly scary, really frightening”. He talks about the shoes-off learning environment and surfaces such as walls and tables being writing surfaces where students can take a photo of their writing to record their thinking and their work. He showed a video featuring him interviewing 2 students about what they think university will be like. The students said that because universities are experienced with education and learning that they will be able to learn in a style that suits their needs “Schools are the intellectual powerhouses of our communities”. “We need to trust our students to do amazing things, we need to trust ourselves to let them”, and “we need to trust our systems to get out of the way”.

Francis Gilbert currently teaches part time and has published a book called I’m a teacher, get me out of here. He runs a website which celebrates the achievement of local schools. He starts by saying “welcome to the Matrix”, referring to the educational matrix he says teachers and students work in today. He shares an experience where a student came to him and asked him what the definition of impartial was. Gilbert says that this student didn’t do a Google search for the word definition because, he assumes, the students didn’t know how to. I have had a similar experience to the one he describes, and I disagree with his assumption. I found that students knew exactly how to search for a word definition on Google – they are just in the habit of going to the teacher to get the answer, as a lot of the time their experience of education is still the transfer of knowledge from teacher to student, and that the teacher has all the answers.

Gibert mentions the book Regulatory Discourses in Education: A Lacanian Approach, in which the authors look at teacher training which they suggest creates oppression and anxiety in schools.

He talks about the construction of teacher identity through Ofsted (UK), “how quiet is your classroom?”, and “your” results, and he states that “the assessment tail is wagging the dog”. This leads into his stance on standardised testing, which he makes clear is detrimental to student self-esteem and attitudes to learning and clouds teacher understanding of student capabilities and misconceptions. He says we need to have a system much more focussed on experiential learning and personal student response and has much more awareness that emotions construct who we are. He adds that embracing new discourses is the way to achieve this goal, and with the teacher in the role of facilitator, not someone who imposes learning on students – an educational Matrix where “everyone is a creator”.


Anthony Salcito, vice president of education for Microsoft Corp.’s Worldwide Public Sector organization, works with education institutions and partners globally to embrace technology to optimize learning environments and student achievement. He states that students participate in learning experiences using technology to enhance them, and then are assessed in an environment where devices are forbidden. He quotes an article he read recently that claims that devices improve student results by 20% (I also saw this pop up on Twitter, and agree with Salcito’s next statement: “The students improved their learning, the devices just helped along the journey”. The role of the teacher is changing with the fundamental shift in the availability of information. Salcito touches on GBL, saying it is often discussed in connection with personalising learning. He says that when he himself plays a game he knows nothing about the game world, how to move around, the currency, the characters etc, but as he plays that game he is becoming an expert. He touches on multiple examples of the positive effects of games-based learning but is talking so fast that I can’t keep up with my typing and will have to watch the video when it is published. Wow. My brain hurts.

Jim Knight starts his talk with a slide of the picture that was on Apple’s website the day Steve Jobs died. He was a government minister of schools for 5 years, and says that in his 5th year in this role someone brought him a document that he believes is the first thing presented to him that was truly designed, in regards to where words where o the page, the fonts, text size, colour, were are placed for specific effect, as per the design for a purpose. He asks, what would happen if our system was truly designed? And he wants to explore the idea of a truly designed school, taking ideas from the biography of Steve Jobs because of the simplistic and effect designs of Apple products. It’s an unusual talk, and came about when LWF’s founder Graham saw Knight present in Scotland on the day Steve Jobs died, where Knight made a one line comment, wondering out loud what a school designed by Steve Jobs would have been like. He was then invited to speak about that idea today. He’s losing me a bit as he seems to be pausing for a bit to try to read notes off his iPhone, which is too small for this job. Towards the end of his talk he mentions that he and someone else are working o a new school in Portland, so maybe all of the great things he is saying will come to fruition.

Emma Mulqueeny is the founder of Young Rewired State, which is a network of under 18s who have taught themselves how to code. Emma tells us that she suffers from stage fright and so has recruited some of the young people in the network to present their thoughts and some of the work they have been doing. They have had about 24 hours in total to “hack education” – those were the only instructions given – and came onstage to share what they had achieved in that time. One presenter, Michael, shared his frustration about what isn’t and, in his experience, what techs won’t put on school servers. So he created a simple program that is online so that it doesn’t need to be on a school server, and it enables students to use coded to do “stuff”. Another 2 boys talked about edugrid, a tool for teachers to assist them in creating and sharing grids. They mention Beta Fest, an event for young people that they are organising. Then they talk about eduk!nect, which they coded in only a matter of hours. It’s an app for use on the XBox360 using the Kinect, and is a simple maths game which requires players to control it and answer questions using gestures. The last coder who spoke has a future in presenting, and shared his team’s education hack, which is a website for students to share their homework, so that it doesn’t “go to waste” and “gets the audience it deserves”. They were all great presentations by some talented young people, and they said that of the 150 young people involved in the Young Rewired State, none of them learned their coding skills in a school setting. Great stuff.


The last speaker of the day is Sir Ken Robinson, via video link, from San Francisco, where it is 9am and he’s been watching some of the live feed of the conference. If you haven’t heard of him, have a look at these fantastic videos.

He talks about how we already know what needs changing in education, as evidenced by the speakers and the educators attending, and the work they are dong in schools. He discusses that in education, theory, practice and policy are isolated from one another – those who practise literally don’t have time to research theory, theory doesn’t involve much practice, and policy, I guess, is the one to rule them all. Sir Ken suggests that these need to be intertwined in order to create change in education. Inspirational as always. I’ll be rewatching his video when I get home.

So that was day two of LWF12. This conference was really interesting, with presenters from a wide variety of fields. I found that this year, more so than last year, the presenters all tied their talks back to technology and education, regardless of their field. It was great to listen to speakers of such high calibre as Kurzweil, Heppell, Chomsky and Robinson, and the organiser has done an incredible job in bringing all of these speakers together in one conference.

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2 Responses to Learning Without Frontiers 2012 Day Two

  1. That is a fantastic overview of a very comprehensive conference. Thanks very much for the mention and can I say that if anybody in your network would be interested in hearing more about interactive fiction I would be very happy to help. The next six months will be focused on creating resources to support the introduction of interactive fiction into classrooms settings. In the first instance, level 1 as playing/reading and level 2 creating/designing.

    We have a Dropbox folder of all things IF and happy to share.

  2. Yes, this is a really useful overview of the conference, and a pretty accurate account of my talk, which made it sound quite coherent! In reply to your response that children do know how to do Google searches but that they are used to getting the teacher to do things for them, I think that’s could possibly be correct. I suppose my worry is that while children do use some technology/IT very competently, they are often for “lower order” intellectual skills; I’m not sure that the repetitive tasks on a computer game like Call of Duty are involving much evaluation, critiquing, conceptualising, but are more about imitating and repeating. The really “higher-order” intellectual skills that are involved in constructive, inquiring dialogue, meaningful talk are often “cut out” when technology is used; it’s frequently used as a control mechanism in school to get the pupils to behave. I think we need to focus upon the core skill of “oral development” and that technology should employed to facilitate that. The new Framework for the National Curriculum Review looks into this.

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