ON MEDIA LITERACY

 

WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM FAKE NEWS?

Intelligence agencies, politicians and businesses are using psychological profiling to publish highly targeted messages on social media with the aim of swaying public opinion and persuading people to adopt their views. Often, these messages are not based in fact but designed to provoke emotional responses that serve the agenda of the poster.

The fact that people are susceptible to these kinds of messages shows how easily we can be persuaded of half truths and falsehoods. This has been successfully exploited by the advertising industry for many years but never to such dramatic effect as we have seen over the last two years.

Photos and videos are often used to assert validity but widespread access to image editing technology means that it will become increasingly harder to tell whether they have been altered. We live in a world with abundant opinions and information but limited means of judging their quality.

A recent study on information literacy revealed that the majority of school children cannot tell the difference between a news item and an advertisement. Another asserts that false messages are more likely to be believed than true ones.

But how can we maintain democratic principles if we are unable to make informed decisions? One way to address the problem is by teaching media literacy in schools. Three years ago, I was interviewed on that topic. I am reposting an abridged English translation below. The original German text can be found here.

Why should we still be learning when there is the internet?

The Internet offers knowledge for everyone. A massive library of content with isles and isles of shelves that multiply every second. The problem is no longer availability, but the sheer abundance of information. It is therefore less about finding it but more about learning to evaluate the quality of what there is. Therein lie both possibilities and problems and media literacy should be considered in this context. However, I would like to concretise this term, because studies such as ICILS 2013 [International Computer and Information Literacy Study, editor’s note] show that students must, above all, gain information literacy, which requires like many areas of life reflecting on the own real and digital environment.

So, should we remove textbooks from the classrooms?

One thing is certain: Despite this development, the textbook is still in the classroom is still the undisputed number one source of information. Textbooks are products of professional editorial work and the tasks are adapted to these materials. Once printed however, they can no longer be extended or updated and because the world continues to move, students often feel disconnected from the content.

This often causes young people to feel misunderstood not taken seriously by educational institutions. “What do I have to learn that for,” they often ask. This does not mean that textbooks are obsolete – on the contrary. There is much to be said for the haptic experience of the book. The printed word is not only a valuable cultural asset but they are also reliable. They still work, if the power fails or the computer doesn’t cooperate. I see digital content as a supplement not a substitute to analogue content.

From your point of view, what does this mean for teaching?

There is often a gap between school and the reality of life. The more technology permeates society, the greater this gap becomes. Our task is to continuously assess the objects and methods of learning; to test and compare them with the reality our children are exposed to. The extensive factual knowledge that pupils commit to short-term memory year after year like sizes, names, dates for example can be recalled in seconds, and often more reliably with the use of technology. But the subject of learning should not be limited to the use of computers, but must include the connection between the individual pieces of information. The context is key to understanding the meaning and evaluating the quality of information.

Learning with media and in context – how does it work?

I believe that children – and incidentally also adults – learn best when learning is embedded in an exciting context. In other words, we learn best when we are interested. An original story is a highly motivating context. People love good stories. Why should we not use this passion that is deeply rooted in us? There are many digital offerings that teach children how to handle media correctly; many of which are also fun to use but probably because work at the computer is still considered an exception and therefore partly is not perceived as ‘real’ teaching. Offers that use media in a considered and targeted way are still few and far in between. If children have spend an entire lesson watching a film or using software and at the end can’t tell what it was all about, then what was the purpose of the exercise? There is a lack of products that take content seriously: this is the starting point for the idea of the real world game and its first incarnation “Professor S.”.

I believe that story telling can be a powerful driver of our intellectual development because by creating stories we not only learn to recognise a good yarn but the research that goes into spinning our own helps us to develop critical thinking. One of the most useful skills I learned during my education is the ability to judge the quality of information. Like all things worth having, it doesn’t come over night and requires exercise which is why the sooner we start to teach these skills the better our world will be for all of us.

 

 

A NEW HOME FOR LUDINC

Today marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter for our company. We have closed our offices in Berlin and found a new home in the city of Bristol in the beautiful south west of England. Why did we leave our beloved Berlin? There are a number of reasons but everything began with Professor S.:

When Professor S. made its debut, it received widespread acclaim and awards both nationally and internationally. Schools and teachers loved the idea and our growth in German primary schools is testament to that. However, we noticed that teachers were often struggling with ageing computers and poor internet connections.

In order to improve the situation, we formed a partnership with Open-Mesh in the US to provide low cost WIFI solutions and improve connectivity in the schools. Still, many schools were struggling to finance and maintain those solutions. But help was at hand: Johanna Wanka, Germany’s minister for education and research announced a five billion euro package to kickstart digital education in Germany.  

Sadly, in the summer of 2017 it became clear that no concrete provisions were made inside the government to secure adequate funding for the initiative and support from the ministry quickly fizzled out. Even though most people agree that progress in digital education needs to be made and Angela Merkel has shown renewed support earlier this year, small companies like ours struggle to survive in a climate of political uncertainty.

But there is a more fundamental, philosophical reason underlying our decision to move to England. In the United States and the United Kingdom, it is easier to create innovations because there is an understanding that to make something new one has to take risks. While in continental Europe – Germany and France in particular – there is a perception that risk is something to be avoided.

Both positions have merit in that the former creates a frequently booming industry based on new ideas while the latter creates an economically more stable environment resting on the foundations of tried and tested concepts.

It is easy to see that LUDINC, as an innovator in education technology would thrive in a climate where entrepreneurship is encouraged and nurtured. Clearly, there are more advantages to being here and I will say more about those in later posts. 

Naturally, we will continue to provide our German customers with the same great products and services they have come to expect from us and we look forward to doing the same for our new friends and partners in the UK.

“Ashta”

It is a great joy for me to announce today that after the success of Professor S. and with the kind support of the Medienboard Berlin Brandenburg and the German Computer Game Award LudInc is now developing a new game for kids between the ages of 6 and 12 called:

 

The story follows the adventures of a little octopus girl called Ashta. She was born in a river at the northernmost tip of Indonesia on a little island called Pulo Aceh together with 51 little brothers and sisters. Ashta likes to swim close to the beach and listen and dance to the music the humans are playing. She loves to sit in the coral trees and watch the world go by. Unlike her fellow octopi, she is very sociable and she has a lot of friends in the lagoon. She loves to scare her friends by hiding and imitating different animals. Her father Bob is Ashta’s favourite relative and mentor. Bob enjoys the little pleasures in life. Ashta’s mum calls him lazy but Ashta loves his easy going attitude. Bob often takes Ashta to the beach to collect shells and candy the humans leave behind.

First character design draft of “Ashta”, the little octopus by Agnieszka Michalska.

One day, a group of sharks are feeding in the bay. Ashta barely manages to escape and gets separated from her family. Followed by the sharks she swims into the open sea. Having lost her way and with the sharks still in pursuit she swims farther into the ocean until she reaches the east coast of India. There, she makes friends with a young bull from Mexico and together they embark on an adventurous journey to reunite “Ashta” with her family.

The idea came to me last summer after I had spent almost every day over a six months period practising the physical exercises of the Ashtanga Yoga primary series. The practise continues to improve my life in many ways and I wish I would have discovered it sooner. Yoga not only promotes physical health and fitness but also emotional well-being, concentration and learning abilities. I believe I would have greatly benefited from being introduced to Yoga while I was still at school. However, when I was a kid, Yoga was virtually unheard of. That is why I am grateful for the opportunity to now introduce a younger audience to the practice using the tools I am most familiar with: storytelling, gaming and music.    

A big thank you goes out to the Medienboard Berlin Brandenburg who continue to believe in us. A special thank you also goes to the German Computer Game Award (DCP) and the Goethe Institute who invited me to Sao Paulo last year for a wonderful opportunity to meet with and learn more about the Brazilian games industry. During my stay in Sao Paulo I also met our Brazilian co-producer Paula Cosenza. Paula’s company, Bossanova Films has recently opened an animation department which produces high quality children’s content and I am very much looking forward to working with her. “Ashta” will be our first international co-production and I am very excited about that.

The people that make “Ashta” possible from left to right: Paula Cosenza (Bossanova Films), Roshanak Behesht Nedjad (LudInc), Jan von Meppen, Ina Göring (Medienboard Berlin Brandenburg), Anja Riedeberger (Goethe Institut Sao Paulo). During the Berlin Film Festival in February we all met at the Brazilian embassy.

Our gratitude also goes to the Arnold Zweig School in Berlin, where we already had an opportunity to try the story and exercise sequence with a third grade class. There will be other opportunities to test the game mechanics later this month but even at this early stage of development, “Ashta” is a big hit with the students and teachers.  

We still have a lot of work ahead of us and you can also help by sharing your thoughts: Do you practise Yoga? Do you think Yoga would be beneficial for your kids? Would you spend money on an app that teaches your kids yoga? Do you think an animated story is a useful teaching tool?

Professor S. is going nationwide

Today we are celebrating a milestone at LudInc and I am very happy to share fantastic news with you: Thanks to our partner Westermann, Professor S. now has a full page feature in the brand new Westermann print catalogue, which is distributed to over 13,000 primary schools in all of Germany.

Every federal region has its own catalogue and Professor S. is featured in every one of them. But this marks only the start of a much larger distribution effort which will continue with the didacta trade fair for education. Professor S. is already played in 70 schools all over Germany and we are set to grow in 2017.

If you are at the didacta please join me on the 17th of February at 10 am for my talk “The Mobile Natives – How Children Learn in the World of New Media”. I will share my experience from developing Professor S. inside primary schools in Berlin. Professor S. is recognised as one of the most innovative and exciting teaching games available today and I can’t wait to show it to you. If you don’t know Professor S. here is a video that explains how it works:

 

Professor S.: Your time travel adventure begins here! from LudInc on Vimeo.

A day at the children’s media conference

Photo-innovation-in-education (1)

Last week I was in Sheffield for the Children’s Media Conference. I was invited to talk about Professor S. as part of a panel called “Innovation in Education”, of which there is a very nice summary report here.

The event was very well organised and it had a cosy and welcoming feel to it. It was encouraging to see how many great projects were presented there. I only stayed for a day but I saw plenty of interesting talks and also made some great contacts.

The keynote speech that evening by cartoonist Chris Riddell was very entertaining. He took us on a journey through his career, working method and his opinions about the recent referendum, which unsurprisingly also featured prominently in the talk about European financing the following morning.

IMG_1933 (1)

Although Creative Europe says in a recent statement that there will be no substantial changes until 2017, the mood among UK producers was sombre. After all, it will be hard to finance future british stories without EU support.

As a UK citizen living in Germany, I am personally affected by the changes that may come out of the referendum. Moreover, I am sad to see the country I call my home now ever more distant.

In recent years my world has shrunk through affordable air travel, free video calls and freedom of movement. Communication is easier than ever in part because English has become a common global language. As a result, I have friends from all over the world who also socialise and do business globally.

In my mind, physical borders have already lost in importance and I doubt I would miss them if they disappeared tomorrow.  After all, we all share one planet and would therefore benefit from sharing resources and growing understanding and tolerance more than we would stand to loose from distancing ourselves from our fellow human beings.

The film industry in particular benefits from the free movement of people and ideas and many projects would be difficult to realise without drawing on talent from other countries.

Time will tell how this decision will affect us in the long run but I have no doubt that interesting times lie ahead.

Professor S. is nominated for the German Computer Game Award!

logo-box_bigger

I’m very happy because today, Professor S. was nominated for the German Computer Game Award! I was at the Arnold Zweig School when the news flickered by and took a moment to celebrate with our friends there; sadly my lovely business partner Roshi flew to Luxemburg for the EAVE workshop this morning so she couldn’t be there. However, here’s a toast to her and everyone who supported us over the years especially our lovely friends and funders at KUBI, Medienboard, IBB and all the schools playing Professor S. today … thank you all!

If you like, you can vote for Professor S. receiving the audience award by clicking this link and entering your name and email address.

Mind the Bridge

Last summer, “Professor S.” was nominated for the European Innovative Games Award. Because of that, we received a lot of attention most notably from ACE Creative, who invited me to present “Professor S.” to a group of investors and game developers at Gamelab in Barcelona. As a result, we were selected to come to San Francisco and present the project to an audience of high profile investors and industry experts in the bay area.

IMG_0666

When I got there, I joined a group of of entrepreneurs from all over Europe who had come to San Francisco to hone their pitching skills and explore opportunities in the Silicon Valley. I can tell you that there are many opportunities and the weather is also pretty good. On top of that, I managed to catch up with old friends in the area and met many new interesting people.

img_0648

Most days were taken up with talks and workshops to help us get our projects ready to pitch to US investors. One day, we were all taken on a tour of different companies around the bay area which was absolutely fascinating. Our visit at Google HQ in Mountain View was definitely a highlight and a great opportunity to have our picture taken with the old logo.

IMG_0670

The week passed very quickly and on the final day, I had a chance to present “Professor S.” at the European Innovation Day in the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. There were many people there and I had my hands full speaking to everyone that was interested in the project. Luckily, my friend Leonard Cetrangolo was also there. Leonard has been helping with “Professor S.” from the very start and I was especially grateful that he was around that day.

IMG_0679

I also managed to catch up with my friend Grant Hosfort, who was in San Francisco working on his very fine Codespark project at the time at Zynga HQ. In the picture, you can see Grant and me in the famous Zynga tunnel.

“Professor S.” captured imaginations in the short time I was there and I know it will not be my last visit to the beautiful Bay Area. The first steps toward the US have been taken and I look forward to my return.

If you would like to check out the other companies in my cohort, you can have a look at this short video:

 

Mind the Bridge Startup School 2015 – September Session from Jan von Meppen on Vimeo.

 

Remembering The Work Bench

Jan von Meppen has rolled up his sleeves and is typing away on his laptop. Warm air mixed with street noise is coming in through the open window. Jan doesn’t seem to notice. He is in the zone. It’s 11.45 on a Friday. The weekend is almost here. Not that a weekend would mean much to Jan anymore.

It’s been a busy week. LudInc has launched a crowdfunding campaign to ensure funds for further development of Professor S., LudInc’s first interactive learning adventure and Jan’s brainchild.

image

Over the past six years, he has watched his idea grow from a seed into a thing. Jan is a modern-day Gepetto. He is helping his creation on its legs and watching it take its first steps.

The LudInc offices in Berlin-Wedding are bright and sunny on a day like this, spacious rooms with a warm feel and wooden herringbone floors. The shelves are filled with remnants from the past, bits and bobs from over the years. Musical instruments, books of sketches and ideas, early technical models. They showcase Jan’s path and the long way his initial idea has come. Between strategy meetings with his team and an increasing number of press appointments, Jan rarely gets to sit back and take it all in these days. New storylines and episode scripts are being developed so that Professor S. will soon be able to played by kids all over the world, at home and on the go.

image

Jan remembers the early days of Professor S. He started exploring the possibilities of story-infused learning models for the classroom back in 2009. At first, he was on his own but with resilience, patience and a bit of luck, the pieces started falling into place.

This is the story of Jan and Professor S., a diary of our work at LudInc over the past six years. We will meet early contributors and loyal companions from along the way, hear funny anecdotes from what it means to bring together a team of maverick thinkers and visionary lunatics and uncover some of the secrets around Professor S. Where did the Time Portal come from? Was Professor S. initially Japanese? Can skeletons talk?

David Lütke, Editor