Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Pokemon Go... Tech Vs Policy Maker Results


Over the last few years I have felt that education reform would come from tech companies collaborating with innovative educators and early adopters of technology before it would come from the political classes. This post considers these issues by looking at what Pokemon Go has achieved in comparison to some of our politicians projects and efforts.

Over the last few years I have looked at the way that ideas roll out in education and have argued that one of the biggest challenges is that "Product market Fit" has not been achieved and, in education, cite a main challenge with this being due to the lack of collaboration and co-creation between educators and tech companies.

To test this idea I have focused less on discussing any particular products or services, and more on looking for products, services and ideas that had a culture where I felt ideas had value and a culture that could see things scale. This has included supporting things like the Scottish Independence Referendum, Education Scotland's #DigiLearnScot agenda and Marialice Curran's Digital Citizenship Summit Brand and Declara.

All these projects had an impact in a relatively short period. At the time of my getting involved, I felt all had a promising culture. If and when the cultural conditions disappeared, I became less involved.

Tech Vs Politicians
The phenomenon of Pokemon Go has further demonstrated to me that it's innovative Tech companies that we should be looking towards... as opposed to the political classes. Need some evidence?

  • Tony Blair and New Labour: The "Every Child Matters" initiative had a "Be Healthy" Strand, I wonder if the tweet above is true in that Pokemon Go got people more active in 24 hours than ECM did between 2003-2010. 
  • David Cameron: Scrapped the Healthy Schools initiative as well as Every Child Matters and replaced it with his failed "Big Society," I wonder if he wished that Pokemon Go was around when he launched this initiative. 
My thoughts on "The Big Society" in 2012:
Culture in Edu... A House Divided Cannot Stand
  • The Scottish Independence Referendum and the "Yes Scotland" Campaign: Had a fantastic grass roots movement that I got involved with as I felt it was inspired, but the movement and opportunity was completely squandered (See P1 of this doc to see why I got involved with #IndyRef). 
I am not politically minded but when you work in education you find that you need to deal with the political classes, something I have all but given up on in the UK... especially after seeing how much of a hash they made with Gazelle, FELTAG and how demolarising the culture UK politicians have (and continue to) create in education.

I supported the #VoteYes campaign because the culture was the kind of diversity that Jane Jacobs celebrated... and which Pokemon Go looks set to replicate.

Pokemon Go... User Experience
It's worth highlighting that while I like hanging out with innovative techies, as a user I'm a laggard and need some convincing to try new ideas...we download Pokemon Go the day that it came out in the UK to see what all the fuss is about.

Knowing about all the opportunities that exist in gaming we don't discourage our kids from playing them (Take a look at the jobs on Niantec's Job webpage... wish I'd stuck in at gaming when I was a kid! Lol.). But at the same time I'm rubbish at these new fangled games (And I mean REALLY rubbish!) so don't play them too often... nevertheless I am keen to see what all the fuss is about.

With two teenagers and a 5 year old in the house, it can be difficult to find activities that they all like so it's FANTASTIC! that we all head out together... phone in hand.

We head to a local park, a park that's only a few moments away but that we have not been to for ages. We think that we've been gone for 30mins... it's 2 hours later when we get back.

The next day I take my 5 year old to his drama class, a trip that's made more enjoyable looking for Pokemon... landmarks that we go past every day not only take on a new level of interest, but we learn about statues that we've given a second glance or the history of a building.

When we return the two older boys decide to go out. By then it's 2pm UK time so 9am ET... the servers are down and remain down for the entire Pokemon hunt. There's a bit of a strop about the game not working.

Having worked at a few startups and with an interest in tech and how and why ideas that roll out quickly they, soon get a lecture about patience and a reminder that the game was free... along with asking them why they are getting annoyed about a company that makes something so good that everyone wants to use it... especially when it's the first day and that it didn't cost them anything!

We take a walk anyway and discuss "network effects," "Feedback loops," community management and jobs in the gaming industry and how they could get started... and other things that I discuss in this blog that the boys show absolutely zero interest in normally ;).

On the way home we walk past a girl with a Pokemon hat on and do something that we hardly do, strike up a conversation based on the game, she has not played the game yet as the servers were down.

At 9pm the game is back online and we take a midnight jaunt for a few hours, again we strike up a conversation with someone who's playing the game too.

Having spent most of the kids life in startup land, with the various stresses of this lifestyle, the significance of this first day cannot be underestimated. It was a fantastic day of engagement and conversation

Other days since then have been much of the same... lot's of walking chatting, exploring our surroundings in a new and engaged way and striking up conversations with random strangers.

"Which Team?" Asks a young lad as he walks past a Pokemon Gym. A question in Glasgow that you might want to avoid given the Celtic/Rangers rivalry and the trouble it causes... but not on this occasion.

"Team Instinct" we answer, "Boo" comes the reply, "Mystic!!"

A Few Good Men... And Radical, Extreme Collaboration
With a positive user experience and a global phenomenon within a matter of days... thoughts soon turn to "shop," and who created this? How did they do it? What were their aims? Niantic CEO, John Hanke details the three goals they had in mind

The Niantic team had three big goals in mind when building "Pokemon Go," .

Exercise: A lot of fitness apps come with a lot of "baggage" that end up making you feel like "a failed Olympic athlete" when you're just trying to get fit, Hanke says. "Pokemon Go" is designed to get you up and moving by promising you Pokemon as rewards, rather than placing pressure on you.

"To see the world with new eyes:" The game is intended to "give you a little nudge" towards cool and interesting things in your neighborhood by turning real-life landmarks and historical sites into Pokestops and Gyms where players power up and battle. By encouraging exploration, "Pokemon Go" can "make your life better in some small way," Hanke says.

Breaking the ice: All over the world, players are organizing "Pokemon Go" outings, cruising around their area and trawling for Pokemon. At higher levels, players need to team up with fellow players to conquer those Gyms. This is by design: Hanke describes "Pokemon Go" as an "icebreaker" that "gives people a reason to spend time together."

Each and every objective was met with this users experience. According to LinkedIn there are 11-50 employees at Niantic. Think about that for a moment... Look at what 50 people in a massively collaborative environment have achieved in the space of 2 weeks since the game went live in the US.

I wonder if any initiatives out there that policy makers can highlight that have achieved the same results between April 2014 and today? 

I think that the global phenomenon of Pokemon Go demonstrates very well how and why I feel innovative tech companies will solve a lot of issues before the squabbling political classes will. If anyone feels this is an unfair comment, feel free to check out the #Brexit shenanigans. 

Pokemon Go in Education
What about Pokemon Go in education? How will that be received? 

Not only can I tell you how the discussion will go... I can show you..Here's a collection of over 100 education based articles about Pokemon Go: Pokemon Go Edu

As you can see, some people and groups see this augmented reality game as an opportunity... others a risk and a threat. And here's the thing, both perspectives and every viewpoint in between is right and will have merit.

After all, while my experiences have been extremely positive, I'm sure if we were to ask the people who have crashed their cars, fallen off cliffs and stuck in caves will have a very different experience... and quite rightly, any risk assessment of an educator about a new idea that has these examples is going to see the health and safety staff break into a cold sweat.

But if we are not careful the naysayers could win the day, and opportunities be lost. It's much easier for "the experts" to write an authoritative post which is be dismissive of something just because it's new... or worse, for these "experts" and decision makers to have political allegiances, so make a decision based on ensuring that they do not appear to show up our "hard working and right honourable political classes" instead of exploring an idea that has merit?

Maybe this "What Wildlife Scientists can Learn from Pokemon Go" article which cites a 2002 study "Why Conservationists should Heed Pokemon" where a joke is made about designing a game called "Ecomon" to capture children's attention, as they were able to identify Pokemon better than common wildlife.

As I say, I've been highlighting that the issue with EdTech and the search for that all important (but equally elusive) "Product Market fit" is a challenge due to a lack of collaboration between educators and technology companies for quite some time... Something that I also highlighted to FELTAG in 2012... One of the people involved in this government initiative even wrote the Forward in an EdTech Report I wrote:

Whether an early adopter or laggard when it comes to new ideas regarding education technology... #Whatif a website that may well have an icon on your homepage today but was blocked initially was embraced from the outset?

#Whatif... Twitter and Facebook were not blocked when the sites were launched? How much further would the Digital Citizenship agenda be today? How many less trolls would be around if educators fully explored all the risks and benefits instead of making what was clearly a rash decision for any school who blocked social media but have a presence today.

Of course caution and due diligence is required, but to dismiss out of hand doesn't sound much like learning to me.