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World Shaker is a book by Richard Harland, set in an age of steam-punk when vast mechanical monsters roll across the continents, competing for trade and power amongst rust, iron and imperial ideology. It’s supposed to be for 13+ audience, but don’t let that fool you. I’ve started reading it with my kids (8 and 4), who listen and at the same time like to flick though steam-punk images with Cool Iris. This has led to scrounging junk and a trip to the shops to buy lots of gold paint.

World Shaker is a tale of rebellion in a dark, steam driven age. It has all the elements that game story-telling oozes, and utterly enjoyable. Judy O’Connell put me onto the book, and has her own tale to tell about having the author work with her students. It really made me think just how perfect this books would be within Teen Second Life.

Second Life has a big steam-punk sub culture and many visual artists and designers have been able to explore the amazing mechanical and romantic ideas. These objects can be purchased in Second Life and immediately allow students to create shared reality to do all sorts of tasks around the novels narrative, using a range of online tools. They can use the ‘set’ to create alternate plot lines; characters; inventions; conversations … without having to create them.

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At times I am asked, why Teen Second Life and not some other virtual world (in high school). Resources and maturity seem to be the obvious reasons. These images from Second Life scream quality and investigation – just as Myst (enjoying classroom revival) did to Gen X.

The difference today is that we can shape learning outcomes to adapt and change the resource AND share the immersive experience. The quality of the images, interaction and storytelling is critical to motivation and engagement. This can be achieved in Teen Second Life, though instructional design and learning objects – though game-based-activities.

It seems utterly facile for anyone to deny this approach and attempt to convince teens that ‘virtual worlds’ are cool; with a shared reality any less. This is what makes Ramapo so outstanding – Peggy understands how to lift the experience and motivation – while at the same time align it’s use to outcomes and assessment. Similarly with Quest Atlantis; the narratives and activities are purposeful from the outset – with a clear vision and passion. Other attempts often fall flat, as they are an idea, looking for a purpose. Content may be king, but motivation is God. This is why Quake was always such a great game and why Warcraft has a subscriber base greater than the population of NSW. (sorry I probably lost a few on that last sentence).

World Shaker, in my view is a sim worth creating for high school as a pilot. Rather than try to create a world and find a purpose, World Shaker is a book seeking further augmentation with technology. It would be great to see an instance created where students could undertake a series of activities both in the classroom and online. The online simulation would see students interacting specifically with a role-play, perhaps including a collaboration between University drama students and pre-teachers, where the author plays a key role in dropping in new narrative or tweeking the experience. We have to think about virtual worlds as story telling – and forget seeing them as places to complete ‘units’ of work. They are a place to immerse yourself in a new kind of learning experience.

Inside the sim, we can provide ‘teacher areas’ – perhaps in the officers quarters, we can cast students as Filthies or Menials. Students can take rooms on the Upper Decks. Teachers can request students to present themselves to the Northumberland Rooms for a briefing. We can crate virtual school – inside the novel and do what we like. That’s the point to me for a High School Virtual World – to take a compelling back story and use it to motivate curricula in multiple directions.

The problem with Virtual Worlds in the hands of bureaucrats and pilots is that the reason they are there is to explore a technology to which a purpose is added. It is completely the WRONG approach to engaging students and teachers with technology in today’s Xbox live world. Story Telling is the BIG DEAL and is reshaping narratives. Ask the games industry what the ‘hot job’ is going to be in the next decade – writers.

What the World Shaker Sim needs is a Librarian, a Virtual World facilitator, an instructional designer, creativity and an author willing to turn the book into an experience though curriculum. There will be some minor ‘Lindeness’, but rest assured the World Shaker sim would make a fantastic basis for some ‘brave’ Australian Educational System to develop in conjunction with a certain University and a Virtual World Community.

But you can’t own it … as World Shaker would be owned by the inhabitants. In fact it would be more than Wonderwall. :) and really, if kids access it outside the bubble; are teachers not already working at night? I must go talk to the Jokaydians.

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