STORY: A GPS-enhanced excursion.

Keeping an entire group of students engaged and active throughout an entire excursion is not always an easy task.  Especially when they’re secondary students.  Especially when it’s a multi-school team building day.  Especially when they have pockets full of smartphones.

At this point, we have a choice.  We can continue to bash our heads against these difficulties and create behaviour management issues every step of the way, or we can accept that culture eats strategy every day of the week, and turn those difficulties into opportunities.

A network of south metropolitan primary and secondary schools faced exactly these challenges for their student leadership development conference this week.  Why not flip that situation around so that the participants are the ones being challenged?  Why not use a mix of tried-and-tested teambuilding strategies drawn together in a social, location-based digital framework?

Punya Mishra, one of the developers of TPACK asserts that there is no such thing as an “educational technology,” as technologies only become educational when purposed or repurposed for learning.  Enter SCVNGR.  SCVNGR is a location-based game mainly designed for businesses to create active marketing games – setting challenges for customers and rewarding them based on increased engagement.  Sound familiar, classroom teachers?

“Builders” (in this case, teachers) set a series of challenges called a Trek.  Participants access these challenges via a free app on their smartphone.  In this case, the location was Murdoch University, and the challenges were a series of cryptic clues that demanded different kinds of solutions – some were text based answers to research or problem solving tasks, some required photos of a physical or practical challenge.

Marianne from Rockingham Senior High School talk about the process of structuring this activity as being part of a broader scheme.

“You hear to people opposed to using digital & social technologies saying that “people aren’t communicating” – in fact, using tools like this they’re communicating more, through a greater number of channels.  The highlight was that when they were doing the challenge, they were literally running between challenges, chasing progress.  When it went back to the pen & paper component, the old dynamics set back in – a small group very engaged, a few satellite groups drifting in and out, and the rest just floating.  Using the digital space levelled the playing field – age, shyness, ability to think on your feet were suddenly not obstacles to participation.

We’re 12 years into the 21st century.  Why are we making students write copious numbers of essays with pen and paper when it’s becoming increasingly redundant?  Not to say it’s completely irrelevant, as everything needs balance.  But we need to recognise and accept that digital communication is not going away.  If we continue to ignore and devalue it, we’re actually ignoring a very real opportunity to make what we do at school relevant and meaningful to our students.

The devices in our students’ hands are complex, multipurpose pieces of equipment that can do pretty much everything.  If we only allow them to use them for a limited range of things, we’re limiting the scope of what they will see as purposeful.  We need to be the ones showing them that there’s more to connectivity than texting and Facebook, and that there’s more to their devices than music and videos.”

What do you think?  Do the tools of marketing and social communication have a place in our teaching and learning programs?

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