Friday, January 06, 2006

Media and Consumption

David's feedback got me thinking about consumption and production. It's actually a big part of my game idea.

First, I guess I didn't make it clear, but I really think that as the nature of the medium changes, the nature of consumption changes. In fact, more and more of our media consumption is going to get more and more "active" (or at least less passive). Blogs, podcasts, reality shows, etc, all offer the opportunity for feedback and participation. Watch TV and vote on your cellphone. Send and e-mail and have it read on the podcast. The lines between the stage and the audience are gone.

I recall going to Moses Brown School in RI some years ago and listening to Douglas Rushkoff talk about this as it applies to video games. He talked about the importance of encouraging kids (and teachers!) to cross the same line -- to "look behind the curtain":

Think of it from a video game player's perspective. It's as if the first renaissance gave the gamer access to the cheat codes, so she can move about as she wants. The next renaissance gave her access to the programming language of the game, so that she can create her own levels and then share them with other gamers. It's like moving from player, to cheater (or meta-game player), to programmer. -- [full text here]

Second, I want to be platform agnostic, but I chose the PSP as the target platform just to give us the hardest target; the biggest challenge with respect to teacher acceptance. However, I also agree that as more classwork is done with technology, there is going to have to be some kind of 1-to-1, student-to-device relationship. But why does it have to be a traditional computer? Wouldn't it be more cost effective to have many more of a consumption platform that costs $200, and therefore require fewer of a production platform that costs $2000? And keep in mind that this consumption platform will allow feedback, interaction, and, in the case of the PSP, cooperative work (play?). Going forward, by breaking down the psychic barriers to iPods, cellphones, and PSPs, teachers will be free to leverage devices that the kids already have in their backpacks for all kinds of learning experiences.

At Rivers, we already have a less than 2-to-1 student to computer ratio. The thing that kind of skews the cost-math for me, is that we retire our computers in three to five years. If I can reduce the cost of that turn-over, all the better. So, with regard to equality, I was hoping that the PSP would be a more positive force than you (David) suggest.

Finally, let me say that I did not intend this game to "make learning fun". When learning is actually happening, it already is fun -- I could not possibly add anything to it. But I did intend to add some "value" to the "video-game fun", a meme that simply does not exist as far as I can see. Kids are out there buying these devices, playing these games -- let's consider the generic gaming experience: blowing stuff up, shooting demons, winning money. Kids learn they need to be a second-class wizard, with combat clusters, to beat the swap troll at Texas Hold 'em, collect the reward, and score with the newly liberated sex-bot. Sounds like a fun game to me, but I'd love it if there was a point to it all.

I certainly agree that we cannot cast the personal computer aside, but I do want to re-cast it as far as the classroom goes -- because it is often too complicated to be a productive ally for teachers in that setting. Scenario: assuming that a computer is configured, with the latest patches and all the necessary plugins, in order to participate in a Flash-based web project, each student must:
retrieve the computer from storage
boot the computer
login to the network
find and launch the browser
type the appropriate URL
wait for the Flash file to load
Man, that's like five to ten minutes wasted just getting to the learning. With a PSP or other consumption-oriented device, you turn it on, load the game, and go. It might take less than a minute.

We recently finished a round of training with the teachers on a new e-mail system. During our planning for the training, my Network Manager sent me an ambitious proposal for the class, showing-off fancy new capabilities and features. I asked him stick to the basics and make sure to do that well, and I predicted that it would take fifteen minutes just to get them all configured and logged-in. Guess who was right? That's right, the smug jerk with the PSP.

As information and knowledge are commoditized, creativity and imagination will become the only differentiators. I believe that the future of education lies in finding a way to accelerate the creative process by making it a communal process. Cooperative gaming provides a terrific model for that kind of learning. The technology already exists, and the kids are already playing.

David -- thanks for the feedback. Consider the rant "enjoyed". :c)

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