This post isn’t about using technology for learning. It’s about one of the things that stops us using technology for learning: the technological infrastructure in schools.
Valve now offer a full version of their game Portal 2 for use in schools. I now have access to 30 individual licenses for the game and I’m eager to start using it in the classroom. There’s significant potential for utilising it – along with the accompanying level designer – to develop problem solving and critical thinking skills. There’s also scope for some maths, literacy and science in there too. The accompanying site is here. Brilliant.
Or at least it would be brilliant if I wasn’t currently unable to use it in the classroom due to the frustratingly infrastructure-related issues in schools. Humour me while I explain the boring details in boring detail: To use the game it is necessary to install the gaming platform Steam on each laptop. Installing new software is always time consuming on multiple machines, but do-able. It involves logging in on each computer with the administrator username and password (which I can never remember), then repeating the download, install and login process for each laptop.
The problem is, in this case, Steam won’t fully install through the proxy server. Either that or it is blocked by our broadband provider – I can’t tell which, neither can our technician – it just doesn’t work. Searching the internet for clues I found this US based blog which outlines similar frustrations and a number of forums (largely inhabited by secondary-age children trying to get Steam installed in their school) suggesting that Steam doesn’t play well with Proxies. So the next step is to contact the regional broadband provider to request unblocking the relevant ports to see if that works. And if it doesn’t, I will try bringing the laptops home to install the software using my own broadband and then logging in in offline mode. This isn’t the first piece of software to present problems and it most probably won’t be the last.
There is usually a way – although it is invariably one that requires a boring amount of persistence. And considering the amount of time this all takes, it’s important to re-state the basic process I am trying to achieve: to install and run a piece of software. A free piece of software, aimed at schools. How, in 2013, when computers have been present in educational settings for the last 30 years, are we still in the situation where trying to install a piece of software to use in class feels like climbing a particularly annoying mountain? My aim is not to criticise or complain about anyone in particular but to wonder out loud about what, if anything, can be done?
Shaffer notes, ‘Computers have been in existence for over half a century and have been used in classroom for decades. Yet there has been no wholesale transformation of education as we know it.’ (p8, 2006) The infrastructure in school is perhaps the least intellectually interesting of many influencing factors, but one that surely has a disproportionate impact, particularly in schools or classrooms where teachers are yet to be convinced of the value of tech to ‘enrich’, let alone ‘transform’…
When I have finally got Portal 2 up and running, that’s when I can return to the familiar internalised wrangling over whether the skills taught by the game meet the requirements of a standardised, knowledge based curriculum. Until then, I’ll be developing my own problem solving skills in this less-than-inspiring way.
Burnett, Dickinson, Myers and Merchant (2006) ‘Digital connections: transforming literacy in the primary school’ addresses technology use in terms of ‘enrichment’ and ‘transformation’.
Shaffer, DW. (2006) ‘How Computer Games Help Children Learn’ Palgrave Macmillan, New York.