Category Archives: Digital skills

#TRICdigifest – Are you ready for this jelly?!

Raspberry! My favourite!

Thank you for coming along to my Makey Makey workshop at the Tayside Regional Collaborative’s #TRICDigifest conference. I hope that you have an enjoyable and informative time with me and that you will feel inspired and enabled to take your learning from the workshop into your own setting.


Some time ago I was lucky enough to attend the Mozilla Festival in London and at this I saw a young man called Eric Rosenbaum demoing his new invention the Makey Makey. I was in awe of this device, what it could do and the opportunities for learning that this brought to the table for me. I followed this up some time later when my initial interest and playing about with it was sent in to the stratosphere when I saw Le Frutophone on the Makey Makey gallery. This led me to find out a out a piece of software called Soundplant which then led to my Are you ready for this jelly workshop idea that I use.  I planned to use the Makey Makey as the context to explore Interdisciplinary Learning (IDL) in my Learning Beyond Subject Boundaries with a focus on Science (circuits, conductivity), the Design Process and Digital Learning.  For some reason I thought I could do a similar thing to Le Frutophone but by using samples from classic Destiny’s Child and Beyonce tracks. Connecting the Makey Makey to the jellies would then allow me to inhabit my DJ Jelly persona by DJing by touching the jellies to trigger/play the samples!

Use with students

I use this with my students and you can see this year’s student responses for some inspiration:

Our taster video to promote the Makey Makey makes from MA3:

Video examples 1 from MA3

Video examples 2 from MA3

Informed by

In terms of reading to support your thinking in this area I suggest these articles as sources for you to spend some time reading/engaging with:

  1. NESTA Digital Makers
  2. NESTA Young Digital Makers report (2015)
  3. Screen time? What about creativity time? Mitch Resnick
  4. The maker movement in education
  5. What do we mean by digital making? Oliver Quinlan

Today’s workshop

In our 50 minute workshop we will address a couple of relatively simple and accessible design challenges that will allow you to start to make sense of how the Makey Makey works which will then allow you to begin to think about how you can extend the complexity and challenge for yourself and your learners:

1. Game Controller: Use the materials provided to create a joypad that will allow you to control a computer game such as PacmanDance Dance Revolution or Space Invaders.

2. Scratch Piano: Use the materials (fruits) available to create a playable keyboard that will allow you to play a digital Scratch piano.

Please feel free to take photos/videos of today’s workshop and to tweet using the hashtags #makeymakey and #TRICdigifest

Further inspiration

  1. The Makey Makey gallery
  2. The Makey Makey Labz
  3. My Makey Makey beauties list on Twitter
  4. Makey Makey on Pinterest

Keeping the Dream Alive

I was asked to write a response to Tom Bennett’s comment piece in the TES about how he thought that the use of computer games such as Minecraft in Education was ‘gimmicky‘. My response was written in early December 2016 however it was published in the TESS today. Here is the unedited version:

My Christmas playlist will soon be pulled out and its number two track (you can’t top Mario Lanza’s command of vibrato in It Came Upon a Midnight Clear) is the 12 inch version of Keeping the Dream Alive by Freiheit. Twitter can be a most useful place to share ideas, resources and perspectives and it was through Tom Bennett’s sharing of the extended version of this song last year that I came to love it even more. Don’t pretend you don’t know the chorus!:

The hopes we had were much too high;
Way out of reach, but we have to try.
The game will never be over,
Because we’re keeping the dream alive.

In view of the recent storm around Tom’s critical observations of what he describes as the ‘gimmicky use of games’, and in particular Minecraft in schools, I thought that this lyric was most apposite. Let me channel the spirit of Freiheit in to the debate; is it wrong to have dreams in education, to have high hopes for ourselves as teachers and for our learners? Aren’t there those of us in education who also add rigour and realism to the dreams we have about ensuring better outcomes for our learners? Can we not be trusted to make appropriate professional judgements about new ideas we may want to explore without the need for an established research base to affirm and validate it? Is it really, as Tom says, Game Over for the debate or can we keep the Minecraft dream alive?

A few years back I talked at a number of international events and conferences about the game based learning initiatives that I was leading in Scotland in which we partnered a large number of schools in the use of commercial off the shelf (COTS) games such as Nintendogs, Guitar Hero, Mario Kart and Professor Layton.  Our methodology was to position COTS games as a ‘contextual hub’ around which a skilled teacher would appropriately craft and structure the learning. To inform this methodology we established a rationale that was embedded in theoretical perspectives such as Gee’s semiotic domains and situated learning, Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow and Shulman’s Signature Pedagogies.  At these conferences I would always be asked, “Do you think Nintendo will ever make an educational game?” My response was that they already did and that what was at the heart of the matter was that we as educators were so set in a dynamic that positioned us as the dominant partner in the learning relationship in such a way that we looked on learners’ digital interests as frivolous and trivial, as Tom stated. I feel that this is the very same with Minecraft. Minecraft was already educational so why do we feel the need to add the EDU or Education tag to such resources? You know, learners of all abilities have owned this domain for years now and therein have been building the Taj Mahal, Minas Tirith and Hogwarts in breathtaking detail. The low-floor and high-ceiling level of complexity in this trivial game is quite extraordinary but the associated learning culture that seems to have grown from Minecraft is what interests me most as an educator. We are seeing primary aged children utilising the web to connect and learn with and from their peers, hosting their own servers, learning how to mod and to programme redstone; they are using video capture cards to create their own tutorials and managing their own YouTube channels. This rich learning culture that has grown over the past few years, independent of the intervention or guidance of the teacher, is what we should really be focusing on, not teaching teachers to last the first night in survival mode!

Secondly, the recent colonisation of the Minecraft domain by the, well- meaning, ed tech adult and edupreneur consultant is, in my view changing the nature of what Minecraft is. Although there are some really interesting and dare I say good uses of Minecraft out there such as our recent Massively Minecraft inspired Minecraft On the Waterfront project in Dundee, the BBC Build It Scotland initiative and the Mindrising project in Ireland I do think that Tom has a point about ‘gimmicky’ uses. For example, have you seen the 1940s London terraced street Minecraft Education download that asks learners to build an Anderson shelter or the 100 number square download that would have learners fly to the answer of 6 x 8? Or to ask children to write out their times tables in blocks or to use blocks to show what 2/3s of a whole looks like. For me, such examples are not just gimmicky but evidence of how we can’t help but culturally appropriate and possibly denature such learner owned digital spaces in our hard wired desire to reframe and assimilate them into our established expectations of learning. In this regard, I do sometimes wonder if Minecraft, brilliant as it is, will ever fit the paradigm of learning in school.

Tom asks for the research evidence to support games such as Minecraft’s use in schools but surely he will acknowledge that the nature of educational research can be slow and when you consider the pace of change with technology and how resources can come into and out of vogue pretty quickly it does mean that there might not specifically be a research base to validate and affirm your choice to use a game such as Pokémon Go or Minecraft. What teachers can and will do though is establish, as we did, a theoretical frame that helps inform their skilled crafting and appropriate use of a game.

Tom also asks for the research evidence for those Brain Training games that ‘were all the rage a few years back and that were meant to keep your brain healthy or something’. Well to help him in this regard I ask that he read the two papers from myself and Professor David Miller about our interventions with Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training that were published in the British Journal of Educational Technology.  The second one was a randomised-control-trial that we did in an effort to explore the scalability issue he raised. We did this work in schools that were mostly in areas of multiple deprivation because we too, like Tom, believe that our children are priceless and we want to do what we can to contribute to better outcomes for all of our children. 

I don’t think that the hopes the education community has for the use of games like Minecraft are too high. Maybe the most effective practice is out of reach for many us, at this time, but we have to try to get there and I’m sure many teachers will. Critical engagement in the debate around how we do this is fundamental to our growth as a collegiate education community and the questions raised by Tom, in my view, are a much valued and important part of this.

Game over? I don’t think it is, and to paraphrase Freiheit, the game can never be over because there are far too many teachers out there keeping their informed dreams for the use of digital tools such as Minecraft alive.



Arcade Fire, Deserted Islands and Chrome Experiments

I teach on a 3rd year module on the teacher education programme at the University of Dundee. Entitled, Developing Effective Teaching and Learning, it aims to explore how learning can go beyond subject boundaries and in doing so make rich, cohesive, purposeful and relevant links between and across the subject areas. There is a focus on what Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland calls Interdisciplinary learning and we also look at what the IB programme calls Transdisciplinary learning.

I am preparing to teach the inputs that are expressly focused on digital tools and spaces where I will be looking to develop and extend learners digital literacy skills and awareness but in doing so look to explore where other subject areas can naturally sit alongside ICTs so that learning in and across these areas can be enhanced and enriched.

Part of our input explores the potential and benefit of situating learning, in what we may refer to as topic or project work, in the local context. We also look at the power that context can play in helping to suspend learner’s disbelief so that a process of enquiry or a collaborative story might be developed. With this in mind I decided to build on last year’s input where we looked at telling, via the digital medium, the story of yet another iteration in the development and use of the city of Dundee, in Scotland’s, waterfront. A major focus of this has been the use of Google Maps as a context to develop digital literacy skills but also to use it as the means through which researched stories can be dynamically presented and shared. We also touch on how Minecraft can be used in a focused and open-ended way to explore ideas of renewal, change and impact on the places where we live.

A few years back I came across an incredible resource called The Wilderness Downtown. This resource was part of the promotional material for the Arcade Fire’s latest release at that time, The Suburbs. Using HTML5 and the skill, vision and imagination of those at Chrome Experiments an experience was created that asked the ‘player’ to type the postcode of where they grew up into the site and press play. What happened then was breathtaking and actually quite emotional.

Image from The Guardian. Accessed 30 September 2016

The song We Used to Wait from the album played and as it did various screens appeared to frame the scene of a hooded young person running through unknown streets. Silhouetted images of a flock of birds swooped in and out of the scene until near the end of the song the streets where I grew up appeared on screen and as if a drone was flying around them showed exactly where I grew up. As the momentum gathered digital trees smashed through the pavements of the very streets of my childhood and in some way immediately conveyed to me the transient nature of youth, time and memory – hairs up on the back of my neck and goosebumps time! At the end I had to then send a message to my young self to advise about what my future held for me. It really was an incredible experience. Go try it…

From then on not only were Arcade Fire a new favourite band but so was this world of the Chrome Experiment…

In order to further share and extend my teacher education students awareness of what is available I plan to add some of the Chrome Experiments to our inputs on digital mapping and how this can play its part in enabling learning to go beyond subject boundaries. Here are just some of the ones that I think are pretty impressive and useful:

1. Globe Viewer
globe-viewerThis chrome experiment by Kevin James is one that I think can be used to help learners gain a greater understanding of the shape of planet Earth. When we see visual representations of it the image of the smooth sphere is presented without any bumps or contours. Now as we know our planet goes from the oxygen deprived heights of Mt. Everest to the crushing pressured depths of the Mariana Trench. When you zoom in to the globe on this site you actually see the irregular shape of the Earth and can see the landmass of the Himalaya and other mountain ranges as you spin the globe around. You can also see the depths of the oceans and just how many countries such as Japan sit on edge of the tectonic plates.

2. Ancient Earth Globe


Can you see the distance between South America & Africa?

This Chrome Experiment by Ian Webster is one that I would use when exploring the concept of how the world changes and keeps changing. When the giant earthquake hit japan in 2011 it was said that the whole of the country of Japan moved 8 metres and that the Earth shifted on its axis. The destructive power of the nature of the earth became apparent to human beings at the moment however it was a mere blink of an eye in the ongoing shaping and reshaping of the outer skin of the Earth. This Chrome experiment takes you back to Ediacaran Period and allows you to jump millions of years to the future to present day time. As you jump through you can see Pangaea, the break up of Africa and South America, the movement of Japan as it breaks away from Russia. It is a superb resource that can most certainly illuminate for learners, of any age, this challenging concept.

3. Hashima: Forgotten World

Visit the mysterious and desolate Hashima Island

This Chrome Experiment by Bryan James is one that allows the player to take a digital dip through history and discover the secrets & myths hidden amongst Hashima Island’s mysterious, desolate landscape. Now what you might do is explore the real history if Hashima Island, it’s rise as part of the rapid industrialisation of Japan or its dark history as an enforced labour camp, or…you could use it to create your very own collaborative story. The echoing slightly eerie music along with the desolate empty ruins of this place could be the perfect foil for the creation, by a class, of its very own story about this place:

  • Where is Hashima Island?
  • Who lived there?
  • What happened there?
  • Why are people going back there?
  • Is it really empty?

Just think how writing could be at the heart of such a context for an IDL topic/project!

A creative teacher could easily use other mechanisms to begin to form the a realistic backdrop that would make such a learning experience one that pull learners’ in and then take them, places. Have a wander around Hashima Island to get a feel for it and to formulate in your mind’s eye just how your idiosyncratic thinking could make use of this fantastic resource.

Chrome Experiments is a wonderful resource. I will keep trawling through them and will share some more examples at a later date.

Is video freeing us to learn in the way we are meant to?

As part of our efforts to embed purposeful opportunities to explore and develop digital literacy skills in the on-going professional experiences of our MA students at Dundee University we have introduced the eportfolio via a WordPress blog. I talked about this in an earlier post however what I have done since is create and publish a series of video tutorials on a YouTube playlist on my account. The actual process in the creation of these video tutorials is quite straight forward. In essence, if I can create them – so can you.

The University of Dundee has access to ther suite of software that comes via Microsoft’s Dreamspark initiative. Part of the offerings that come with this is Expression. This allows me to screencast  a screen based video tutorial with an audio commentary. Once this is finished the programme encodes the captured video. I then import that into a free programme called Handbrake and export the movie as an .mp4 file. I then simply upload the videos to a playlist on my YouTube channel. Here is an example of one of the videos that I created from my UoDedu MA ePortfolio playlist:

I find that putting yourself in a  conversational frame of mind allows you to take the time to explain what you are doing in a clear and personable fashion – well I hope so!!! In order to do some learning about techniques and approaches to screencasting I logged in to my account via the University Library’s webpage. There I found some great video tutorials about effective screencasting. Well worth a visit and look.

The rise of the medium of video is of great interest to me as both an educator and a learner. Just the other night I watched a video on how to mine for diamonds in Minecraft and then how to measure the frame of a bike (was selling my daughter’s)!!! Both times I watched and I learned – I could do what I had set out to do. The explosion of the Khan Academy, and the culture of YouTube tutorials (many of the kids I worked with recently on my Minecraft research project have capture cards to create their own video tutorials for their YouTube channels) presents us with questions about how we teach children  to be effective communicators in a contemporary world…

Maybe we are hard-wired to watch and learn from each other? Maybe the brief hiatus of the dominance of the written word has briefly interrupted the learning dynamic of showing, demonstrating and watching each other do things? Maybe the technology has finally found itself in concert with how we really learn? If this were the case just think of the ramifications for schools – unblocking YouTube, resourcing the technology to do this, changing the established cultural framework of the written word to the moving image… challenges, challenges, challenges – but challenges we must reflect on.

Screencasting is quite an easy thing to do and I am finding it helpful to access screencasted tutorials as a learner and I am looking forward to finding out if the ones that I create have any impact on learning with my students.

Working with Minecraft

Some years ago I became aware of a new game that was virally spreading via the digital jungle drums of our young people – that game was called Minecraft. I had noted that it was creeping through on my Twitter feed quite a lot and when I chatted with my friends’ 12 yr old son about it and what he was doing (he was managing servers and modding the game) I knew that I just had to find out more. When I first saw it I was a little bemused by its ‘blocky’ nature and I wondered why it was that young people who were so used to the most incredible life-like graphics in their modern console games would be interested in a space that looked like the video from Dire Straits – Money for Nothing video from 1986!

After an initial toe-dip into the world I became aware of the Massively Minecraft work done in Australia by Jokay, Dean Groom & Bron Stuckey. This work was incredible and I was lucky enough to host a visit from Dean when he came to the UK on vacation and was even luckier to be able to organise a Minecraft Teachmeet event at which Dean shared the amazing worlds that he and his colleagues were hosting and enabling children to learn in. It was quite simply breathtaking – one project saw learners work together to build the Districts from the Hunger Games books, the worlds were huge, complex and stunningly crafted.

Attempts to initiate a Minecraft project (via Glow Login) when in my last post at Education Scotland fell flat however I always harboured a desire to explore the potential impact on learning and teaching and so I accompanied my daughters on a Minecraft on XBox360 foray and together we learned how to mine, craft, create and survive in this deceptively complex world and as I did so I continued to think

Not long after returning to the University of Dundee I met up with Deepak Gopinath and together we managed to have a bid for some funding accepted from CECHR to help us establish a small scale research project. Although we had two projects the main one that I looked after was called the Minecraft on the Waterfront project. You can read a bit about this via that last link but in essence we were challenging children from Dundee primary schools to reimagine, rebuild and resdesign in Minecrfat how thery think the new waterfront of their city should look like. The current (and agreed design was already built by 4J Studios. This video so inspired the children:

I am currently wrestling with and transcribing the data for this research and will return to this particular topic in the future however this post is about the reach, for now, of the project.

Reach & Impact

The Minecraft on the Waterfront project was reported via my #minecraftOTW hashtag on Twitter and as a result of this I ended up:

I continue to work with my data to help find out a bit more about how games such as Minecraft are framed by both learners and teachers within formal educational settings. More to tell on that later. As for playing Minecraft, well I have decided to move away from the safe world of Creative and Peaceful to testing myself in Survival mode. If I do survive their will be more to share…

Image available at accessed 07/07/15


Glow blogs syndication and a new eportfolio

Today I spent some time with John Johnston from Education Scotland (ES) looking at how we can use the syndication feature of WordPress in Glow Blogs to help set up a central sharing hub that would pull in the posts from our MA students new eportfolios. My motivations for this partnership approach with my colleague from ES was three-fold:

  • To mine the expertise, knowledge and support that is afforded by people, like John, who work at a National Level. Support like this from individuals such as John and Con Morris is very much appreciated;
  • To look to use the tools and spaces available in Glow so that we can purposefully embed them in relevant experiences that enrich and enhance professional learning and pedagogical awareness and in so doing help showcase and frame the benefits as opposed to the deficits of a national intranet such as Glow;
  • To help realise the vision that we have within the management team of the MA programme at the University of Dundee to go beyond a professional learning framework system that does not move with the student once they graduate and that also helps develop their digital literacy skills, their ability to professionally reflect and to become a constructively critical collegiate colleague to others.

Learning about the technical possibilities today via a range of plug-ins, themes and other facilities within WordPress was a most enjoyable and worthwhile experience. I now have a clearer vision of how I am going to manage this eportfolio change (away from Blackboard – our University VLE) and what I will need to do to help frame this strategy in such a way that we will be able to address cultural, behavioural and attitudinal change towards digital collegiality in our next cohort of MA1 teacher education students.

The next step for me is to ensure that I am aware of the help materials for Glow Blogs that are available and to ensure that these are embedded in the support materials that I make available to students. More to learn no doubt…

Developing my digital making skills

Playing about with the Makey Makey. Aiming to embed this in my 3rd year module…