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Steve Wheeler

Steve Wheeler is a Learning Innovations Consultant and former Associate Professor of Learning Technologies at the Plymouth Institute of Education where he chaired the Learning Futures group and led the Computing and science education teams. He continues to research into technology supported learning and distance education, with particular emphasis on the pedagogy underlying the use of social media and Web 2.0 technologies, and also has research interests in mobile learning and cybercultures. He has given keynotes to audiences in more than 35 countries and is author of more than 150 scholarly articles, with over 6000 academic citations. An active and prolific edublogger, his blog Learning with ‘e’s is a regular online commentary on the social and cultural impact of disruptive technologies, and the application of digital media in education, learning and development. In the last few years it has attracted in excess of seven million unique visitors.


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Publications by Steve Wheeler

Learning with ‘e’s

In an age where young people seem to have a…

Don’t Change the Light Bulbs

Curated by Rachel Jones, Don’t Change the Light Bulbs offers…

Author Blog

All in the game

October 14 2018

Photo by Nestor Galina
I have written many times about game based learning and its place in education. Here's a revisit to a post I published several years ago. It examines the long game and strategy elements of learning through game playing. I am, as ever, interested in your views.

Games playing is not always viewed as a serious pedagogical method. Some teachers dismiss it as time wasting, or as a frivolous activity that is best employed at the end of term, when the serious business of teaching has started to wind down. For those teachers, games fulfil a similar function to 'sticking on a video'. It's a convenient time filler, keeps the kids quiet and isn't too taxing on the mind. And yet many teachers are coming to the realisation that playing games is more than a time filler, and actually has many positive benefits for students.

Most games playing in schools is confined to a single classroom, and applied to a single subject. But with a little planning and resourcing, we can go a lot farther than this. We could conceivably apply a grand strategy to games that could play out across entire schools.

I remember an elaborate game we played when I was in school in the 1970s. All of my teachers were involved. The context is important for this story. I was in school on a military base in Holland, and my father was in the armed forces. We were living on a forward base in Western Europe during the height of tensions in the 'Cold War'. At this time, all children and their families lived in a time when nuclear war was a very real possibility. Although the threat hung continually over us and no doubt exercised our parents' minds, most of the time we kids simply got on with our lives.

The school set up a 'long game' which lasted several days, in which all of our British year group, along with the American, Canadian and German sections of the school, were assigned tables to sit at. Each table had a flag and name representing a country, and those of us on each table had to decide who would act as our head of state, foreign and finance ministers, diplomats, armed forces chiefs and so on. During the long game, scenarios were imposed upon us which we had to negotiate, in order to avert hostilities that might otherwise lead to a worldwide nuclear holocaust. It was engaging, thrilling and compelling, and we learnt a lot not only about politics, but also curriculum subjects such as mathematics (economic decisions), languages (negotiation through translation), communication skills, history and geography. We also practised a lot of transferable skills including leadership and teamwork (collaboration and co-operation), problem solving, critical thinking and decision making. This was learning by stealth, and we had a lot of fun during it. Pedagogically, it was a stroke of genius. Oh, and you'll be pleased to hear that between us, we managed to avoid destroying the world in a nuclear war.

One games theorist, - Bernie DeKoven - has something profound to say about games: "... whatever it is that you're playing, there are two things you have to take seriously: being together, and the sheer fun of it all. No game is more important than the experience of being together, being joined, being equal - governed by the same rules, playing for the same purpose. And no purpose is more uniting and freeing than the purpose of being fun with each other."

How often do we apply games on such a grand scale in schools? How often do we tap into the incredibly powerful method of engaging learners? Probably not that often, because it takes a lot of work on the part of the teacher(s) to conceive it, design it and then implement it in real learning contexts. And yet the pay off can be immense. And there are plenty of ready made games and gaming strategies already available for free. I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has done work with games across the curriculum at this level. If you have any games for teachers to use freely, then please share the links in the comments box below.

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All in the game by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Posted by Steve Wheeler from Learning with e's

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Connected learning

October 09 2018

Image from PXhere
Connected learning is currently a popular phrase in education. It's the theme of my keynote speech to the EADL conference in Tallinn, Estonia in May 2019. Learning in the digital age involves a lot of technology, but fundamentally the role of the learner is still to explore, discover and acquire knowledge. Through technology, we can connect not only with content but also context - people, resources and ideas, and we can also share our own ideas for discussion and further learning. There are many theories and constructs that can inform us of the nature and potential impact of connected learning. The following some thoughts from a post I originally published in 2015:

From a cognitive constructivist perspective, learning is achieved through the twin processes of assimilation and accommodation. The latter implies that new learning is 'bolted onto', or constructed within, existing cognitive structures known as schemas. Learning relies on the individual construction of reality, according to Jean Piaget. Such construction of meaning is unique to each individual, and therefore centres on each learner's efforts to make sense of the subject.

In a sense, an algorithm has much in common with a schema, particularly because both have rules and sequences of instruction that can be followed to achieve a specific goal. Both are self contained but have the potential to be connected to larger sets of instructions. The computer algorithm is therefore a means of giving instructions to a machine that replicates the way we believe our minds function. Personal schema on the other hand, are often peculiar to the individuals that created them usually through solo exploration and discovery.

Alternatively, social constructivism - in Vygotsky's terms - is the construction of personal meaning within a framework of social experience. Lev Vygotsky stresses the importance of language and culture, and argues that learning is socially mediated. His notion of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is a model to describe the efforts and interaction between a learner and a more knowledgeable other person (MKO) to negotiate meaning within a realistic range of learning. The learner constructs his own meaning with the MKO as a guide in the process. The boundaries of the ZPD can be variable, but in most contexts, it is generally more extensive than learners can achieve on their own.

Jerome Bruner developed ZPD theory to include the concept of scaffolded learning. Scaffolding was a metaphorical representation of the many active ways in which teachers (or MKOs) focus their efforts and expertise to support of learners at the start of their learning, but gradually fade this support as learners become more independent and competent.

The idea of discovery learning also originates with Piaget, and has provided some powerful, but at times contentious pedagogical practices in primary education. It maintains a focus on personal construction of meaning through exploration and experimentation, and relies less on social contexts than ZPD theory.

Hypertext is non-linear and potentially chaotic in nature, drawing the user (learner) down through layers of meaning, to the endless possibilities of learning by discovering. It is ill-defined, driven by the learner, and has no boundaries or limits other than those the learner imposes upon herself. It is exploratory, rule-less and rhizomatic, where the learner discovers for herself any number of divergent nodes of knowledge, and random corridors of travel.

Learners with digital technology can discover for themselves, and drive their own learning, but it will be less structured than formal educational processes. They are able to explore avenues that may or may not be intended by the creators of the content, but in their nomadic exploration of hypermedia, learners discover for themselves the benefits and risks of autonomous learning. The initial digital space acts as a scaffold, but the farther away the learner wanders from this base - and the more mouse clicks he executes - the more vulnerable he may become to misdirection, misunderstanding, and a sense of isolation from his original aims and purposes. And yet this glorious freedom of knowledge excavation and the potential to synthesise disparate and previously dislocated concepts can be compelling.

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Connected learning by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Posted by Steve Wheeler from Learning with e's

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