This week I joined the hype that is Bandersnatch, the critically acclaimed offering from Charlie Brooker, as the newest element of one of my favourite Netflix series of the last few years, Black Mirror. Bandersnatch, in its own blurb, is a whole new genre of films,
“In 1984, a young programmer begins to question reality as he adapts a dark fantasy novel into a video game. A mind-bending tale with multiple endings.” (Netflix)
Now, this film isn’t so enthralling just because it is set in the greatest year of the 20th Century (!) but that does help. What makes it so unique is that it is breaking paradigms of how viewers interact with what they watch. Not content with simply being entertained by being passive spectators, the audience becomes critically involved in how the plot unfolds. It is genius filmmaking.
One might be asking at this point, “What on earth has a film about a dark fantasy novel got to do with educational technology and futurism?”. I hear you but I am spurred on to come to terms with how this technique might indeed be a gamechanger for our classrooms. Humour me if you must, but I am convinced that this ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ (CYOA) element of classroom practice is just what our students might need. In its most raw form, this is a literacy teacher’s dream - students using creative techniques for their story-telling; many-a-time have I sat with English Language educators who tell me that students story-writing is becoming predictable and simplistic. Giving students choices from which to build their stories might just be a winner.
That said, this concept isn’t new in education. In literature too, the futuristic element of Edward Packard in his Choose Your Own Adventure series of children’s books came about as far back as 1969. The second-person narrative genre of writing allows the audience to be made into a character, primarily done with the use of the pronouns "you", "your", and "yours." Examples include the short fiction of Lorrie Moore and Junot Díaz. An example in contemporary literature is Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City, which was adapted for the big screen and starred Michael J. Fox and Kiefer Sutherland.
Indeed, whole websites exist for this very purpose for adults Chooseyourstory.com - you can write and comment on members’ storygames as a source for online fiction, which moves the ‘reader’ from passive through to a fully interactive role.
However, it isn’t just the literature classroom where this genre might be useful. Indeed, I would argue that using Google tools, as well as other modes of interactivity, we might just be on the way to teachers being able to facilitate students to partake in these CYOA. Furrthermore, there could be scope to go further to have this element of choice and differentiation at the highest echelons of the education system.
A guest on the Edufuturists’ podcast, Eric Curts, has showcased this and there is a powerful post and set of templates on his ControlAltAchieve website; in fact, the almost-ethereal, Alice Keeler, featured this on her own website too. Google Slides with the pathways option in clicking images or buttons very much allows a user to specify their own journey through learning; this element of choice is something my students always really enjoy.
Google Forms - Progress Relays
Our very own, Dan Fitzpatrick, showcased his concept of how you can use pathways in his post on Google Forms Progress Relays. He gives
a free template for this too. The focus of this is in allowing students who have made different levels of progress to have differentiated ‘follow-on’ work dependent on how they perform in an assessment: if they are correct, they move onto stretch and challenge; if they are incorrect, they are given re-teach materials and then re-tested. This level of granular interactivity and differentiation is at the heart of Bandersnatch; in truth, it becomes very clear that although there are multiple pathways, if you choose one route, it is very likely to bring you back to make the same choice later in the film and see a different outcome. Netflix admitted there are really only five main endings to the film but the routes can lead to a very long film: the average viewing is 90 minutes but can see how it could become a rabbit-hole! Actually, Brooker has admitted that there may be unlimited endings, all of which he might not have yet seen! It is crazy (the Google Forms Progress Relay doesn’t need to be so complex!)
A much simpler, and perhaps, more applicable way to utilise the CYOA methodology is through Google Photos. If a class or individual students had access to multiple photos in an album, they could build a story to showcase the journey of the characters. These could be stock photos or their own images; all it would need is the option to share these and then a way to create this collage and route-map - Google Slides, Drawings or even a Hyperdoc could fit this purpose easily.
Google Tour Creator
The world of VR and AR has taken the classroom by storm where it has been used. Dee Lanier from EdTechTeam wrote a brilliant piece about how the tool allows users to create their own virtual tours with 360 photos through Tour Builder and Tour Creator. Although not strictly customisable yet to have a fully functioning interactive tour, it is totally foreseeable that students could be given a choice at the end of visiting a place in the text field or the class could vote (in their mandated short break from the headsets) and the students could find that place as their next task. It allows the element of choice in a live environment; teachers could be even more prepared by having a variety of slots pre-prepared and thus limiting the choices!
So, the nature of Flipgrid is that students respond to stimuli in the form of videos. Could it be that students could again follow their own path in terms of how they answer the original stimulus and then could be given peer feedback in order to develop the ideas further? Could the final product not be a collaboration of multiple interpretations of one stimulus that gets progressively more complex as different students add their layers of content? It’s perhaps not the primary function of the tool but I could definitely see how it could become a useful secondary-activity.
However, where I really see this being useful is in the application of CYOA to the student’s whole learning experience. What if schools were brave and gave students (probably in liaison with parents and trusted advisors) choice in how and what they learn? I love this idea from Susan Toohey, who wrote almost twenty years ago,
“Students who make their own choice of units are more likely to take a deep approach to learning because they are choosing to pursue an area in which they already have some interest. Within prescribed units a similar level of motivation can often be achieved by allowing students the choice of topic for a major assignment. Choice helps to promote ownership and responsibility. It is unlikely that students will take responsibility for their own learning when all the decisions about what topics or skills are more relevant, and what evidence of learning might be presented, have already been made by someone else. Where the unit is prescribed, where there is little or no choice in assessable work and all of the assessment requires a similar response, students are more likely to opt for a surface approach in order to meet requirements that they feel little commitment to.”
(Toohey, Susan (1999) Designing courses for Higher Education. Buckingham: SRHE and Open University Press)
Although Toohey writes for Higher Education in this context, I don’t see why the same mantra couldn’t be applied with younger students? If we want our students to engage with the material we deliver, give them some choice in what they study, as far as is permissible within the constraints of curricula and syllabi.
Interactivity in learning is very much a nebulous practice; much has been written about active, engaged and kinaesthetic learning models, not least by Gardner, Favre, Dunn and Vygotsky. I say nebulous practice because much of this theory isn’t evident in our school systems - there is a set curriculum and clear assessment criteria, gateways and attainment measures. That said, I do hold hope that with the emergence of Generation Z and those who come after, affectionately returning to the beginning in their nomenclature as Generation Alpha (how Bandersnatch ironic hey?), I can see how these level of choice is going to be more important than ever before, whether we like it or not!
I chose Frosties if you wondered...