Re-inventing the Computer

I’ve spent a long time now, looking at different ways that psychology might be applied to improve education. I’ve learned about networked learning; how knowledge is stored more intelligently across groups. I’ve researched motivation; the ways in which student empowerment and student directed learning creates a more whole educational experience in the individual. I’ve read about the flow state of mind, being captured by the moment in a most pure state of intrinsic motivation. I’ve found out about the dangers of carelessly deployed technology, which only teaches students to accrue points, or merely provides a virtual alternative to what worked perfectly well with paper.

Indeed, I would say that not many of the present classroom applications of technology are really hitting the nail on the head. There is, however, one computer game, which seems to apply these ideas exceedingly well: Minecraft.

This retro style indie game has risen to be the best selling PC game of all time. It is an open ended, sandbox style game, in which plays build things through placing and removing blocks. The game has developed over several years, giving users items such as switches, power sources and hoppers, allowing for some quite smart mechanisms to be created. It began with the automation of ‘crafting’ (putting several raw materials together to create a new item), however as peoples ingenuity has developed, so have their creations. Right now, they’ve advanced as far as having built 16-bit computers. In a very real way, the entirety of the enlightenment and the industrial revolution have now repeated themselves – in a cult computer game!

The Analytical Engine, the mechanical computer proposed by Charles Babbage.

The Analytical Engine, the mechanical computer proposed by Charles Babbage.

Now, you need to think about that for a second. Think about what a computer is, and how they have developed. What is now done in a microprocessor, was originally done through a contraption which filled a whole room. Furthermore, before even that, the first computer ever to be invented was entirely mechanical. Now, we have an army of young people replicating these archaic structures using Minecraft.

This community incredibly well networked. Take a look at the number of examples and tutorials that come up with you search ‘minecraft redstone computer‘ on Youtube. When one learns, the wealth is shared. And when the one shares their understanding with the many, that individuals own understanding is strengthened. Ideas bounce serendipitously, and the evolution of these systems has been rapid. The bottom line of it is this: young adults, teenagers and children even, within this community, can master the very fundamentals of modern day computing. I don’t even understand that, and I have been a computer enthusiast since I had my baby teeth.

This is the type of educating that is fun, motivating and above all, highly effective. Each and every learner within the Minecraft community is participating in a race to the top. These skills and this understanding are the very thing that will drive knowledge economies to excellence. To this I would ask what parallels can be drawn, to make an educational model as resonant as the Minecraft community.

It would be very different. It would challenge all convention. It would likely be chaotic. However these things have all been recognised as attributes contributing to a successful knowledge economy.

It would be a brave teacher to set up a Minecraft lab inside their classroom, but hey! Here’s to the crazy ones right?


Social Media in the Workplace

networkI have spent a lot of time studying the use of social media in relation to education, and I have concluded that it is very useful. Evidence suggests that crowd sourced projects (such as Wikipedia) actually work, and contain a lot of depth in their articles. The manor of empowering individuals to connect with experts and peers, to share and to discuss, leads learners to enter the flow experience and benefit from intrinsic motivation.

But where does that fit in with employers? Surely it would be a significant turn off to a recruiter when Jimmy the graduate enters and starts lobbying colleagues to use twitter, or to blog on a public forum about day to day operations? It might be fair to say that while academic can benefit from tearing down walls, an element of business success surely comes from keeping them up.

An article by Rachel Happe (2013) provides a good synopsis of the ‘what’ social media can do. And it needs to be noted that social media is merely the vehicle through which it is delivered. Too many people have seen the ‘like us on Facebook’ ads on the back of the breakfast cereal box, or have seen someone on Facebook repost some meme and equated that with social media’s benefits. But the real benefit (and this is why SM is only the vehicle) is in the human relationships that it quickens.

Building relationships is the essence of a dynamic organisation. Experiential learning is essential, but cannot be transmitted via lecture or writ. What you need is the person. Not only do you need the person, but the person needs to be empowered to share. Now think about the reasons they might not share? They might be dissatisfied with their job, they might have fear of becoming dispensable, or they might feel animosity to the person needing the information. Trust and unity are the principles behind the networked organisation for which SM is the vehicle. As I said before, the university benefits from taking down its walls to the wider world. The business could benefit from at least taking down walls within.

Empower the employees to make their own connections. Let them have fun and communicate over their areas of expertise. Regardless of the medium used (email often still suffices) it is the intrinsically motivated and connected workers who have the flexibility and connections that let the organisation solve problems dynamically – in a whole new way.

I don’t even think this is a surprise for a lot of businesses. People have been talking about networking for years. But often it is still an uneasy topic to approach. Still, for motivation and new solutions let these principles be born in mind. The work in education, and according to Harold Jarche (2013), learning is the work!

One iPad Per Child

This is my talk on 1:1 iPad policies and social learning that I gave as part of my Science of Education class of my undergraduate psychology degree.

Of the many movements seeking to comission 1:1 computer access in education, I review the arguments for and against, specifically relating to the recent ‘hull report’.

I talk about how the mere distribution of iPads to students without pedagogical change has key shortcomings, yet when looked at through an autonomy supportive social paradigm, they can be a real enabling force for students.
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One iPad Per Child by Chris James Barker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.