Integrating virtual worlds and games into Stage 4 English isn’t technically hard — although they syllabus only mentions CD-Roms and Websites due to it’s age.
So lets start simply and work through an idea. I’ll add some examples and leave you to explore them later. The point of the post is to clearly illustrate that todays reading list should include things that students find more compelling that websites and CD-Roms. In doing so I’m using just three technologies. It would allow an entire unit of work over a term for US$100.00 and provide an opportunity for team-teaching.
Let’s take FICTION – The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins being a great story, brilliantly plotted with tremendous pace. In order to be used “students must study examples of spoken, print and visual texts”. Okay so we can cover the print; but lets look at how games and virtual worlds fit in this. Spoken — well virtual worlds afford role-play in which students play characters, audio readings of the books and streaming of both video and audio into scripted objects and land parcels. Yes Katniss can be visualised as an avatar — allowing students to visualise the texts. All of which meet the need for students to present students with “a range of social, gender and cultural perspectives”. Tick, tick, tick.
The texts on the ‘list’ (why and English teacher can’t align a text without a list seems weird) have to “challenge the reader, texts that have layered and multiple meanings, and that provoke thought”. Hunger Games does that on many levels, adding a virtual world allows them to rise beyond that – to create and make. Another tick.
Now lets look at what is on the list for a moment in this rough area – Animal Farm, Lord of the flies, The cry of the wolf — all great books — but I’m still sticking with Hunger Games. As one reviewer in Goodreads.com said
“I am a young adult media specialist. I read a lot of young adult literature. I read all summer long, looking for the next IT book. I didn’t find one. Though I enjoyed “The Glass Castle,” “The Host,” and others there was nothing that I thought could match the “Twilight” fever. Suddenly this fall, I have read two books that I think are absolutely outstanding. One of them is “The Hunger Games.“
Ah I slipped in Goodreads.com – This is where I’d be putting the class to journal the book as they read it. The syllabus asks us to provision “composing extended imaginative, interpretive and critical texts based on their own investigations and their wider reading”. Hunger Games has wider reading in Fan Fiction for a beginning, so already I am thinking about getting them to reflect using one tool, read the authorised text and compare other texts to it online. We’re already cooking and no-one’s set foot in a virtual world yet.
I’m thinking about how we can not only look at the story, but also at the way we construct stories … with an eye on working towards creating a story narrative in a virtual world. There are numerous examples on Fan Fiction – but I’d choose something like this — so we can pull apart the construction of the writing itself, and compare it to the author’s work. The quarter quell is the topic of the second book. I would not make direct reference to Catching Fire, but allow students to look beyond the ‘task’. There are also stories mashing vampires with Hunger Games, so really what I would like to encourage is that students would find something of personal interest to read from Fan Fiction, as well as the book itself. So now I’m using Fan Fiction and Good Reads as my learning management tools. Nice and simple.
Now lets look more specifically at an outcome
2.1 use a range of listening, reading and viewing strategies, including skimming, scanning, predicting and speculating, reading and viewing in depth and rereading and re-viewing, according to the purpose and complexity of the texts
I am going to meet that by using comments and discussion in Good Reads and by looking at other reviews.
2.15 processes of representation including the use of symbols, images, icons, clichés, stereotypes, connotations, inference and particular visual and aural techniques including those of camera, design and sound.
Here’s the kicker – the easy way to meet this outcome is to create a Power Point, grab a few images off Google, watch a DVD and then get them to respond to some directed questions. But let’s use a virtual world instead — Reaction Grid. This is the place to be in Virtual World Education right now, and I’ll leave you to explore what it is all about except to say, get your IT people to unlock a couple of ports and install Meercat browser, and grab a sim for a term for about US$100.00. Now you are ready to LET THE STUDENTS go nuts in a private, safe, virtual space.
Rule#1 – the sim is only open when a teacher is present. Rule#2, get Reaction Grid people to give you a chat-logger for the island. Rule#3, explain the rules of virtual space – they are the same as any other space — an opportunity to side track for a while to look at digital citizenship and cyber-behaviour that is syllabus-missing anyway. So now you’re adding value and the kids are pumped with ideas around your project. You might go and look at other school-sim rules too, but in the initial phase — you have to keep it simple. Being in-world of course is not a right. I would set in-world time as a reward for completing task milestones. That is significant – it creates group responsibility and encourages the teacher to design learning well enough from the outset to manage computer time. A good habit of mind.
Ah, I didn’t mention the project did I? - Well that’s for you to design – suffice to say, you are NOT going to build anything in-world — don’t panic!
In fact the world itself is just one outcome of 4 or more that you are aiming to hit. It is the activity, not necessarily the assessment. It is the motivation, the chat-room and the social space you need to get them reading and writing in other spaces. The project itself should allow students to visualise and make. Reaction Grid does not require any Linden $ in payment to do this – so you’re going to hit some targets with ICT immediately as you add graphics etc.,
Now go and see a computing teacher or maybe an art teacher, there are multiple lines you can draw – the point it DON’T WORK ALONE.
Computer teachers are probably building boring websites (the syllabus tells them to). If so, add a couple of ICT outcomes to your project — this will also buy you some more computer time if you are not 1:1 access – and it will allow them to look at 3D software, different graphic formats, resolution as well as sound and video. So now you can get year 9 to work with year 7.
By now your students are exploring and making and you’re blending learning and subjects — beginning to team-teach in an enquiry driven approach. You have a book, paper tasks, an online community in 2 and 3D accessible quickly and easily. A class of 30 is now in 6 or 7 groups — and you are beginning to act as the pathfinder and guide — not the font of all knowledge.
I have glossed over the project purposely - as learning about instructional design, project based learning or scenario based learning to me is a given in our hyper-connected world — and is indeed a something new to learn in itself.
However, this approach meets the needs of the syllabus and more importantly will create far greater realism and resonance – as right at the centre of it are motivating technologies – that connect students to their friends and their learning.
You could do this with Sims2, which is pretty cheap – the illustration opposite is fan art using it. Personally I think that would cost more and not provide an open-enough environment as Reaction Grid. Also note that I am not suggesting that as a teacher you would learn to ‘build’ either, that would be part of the skills kids need to develop in their PBL project. But as I started out saying games or virtual worlds — it is a viable option if your network admin believes that the a private virtual world is more dangerous than their filtered web. If that’s the case you have some myth-minded matters to attend to – as there is plenty of academic evidence to counter prejudice and fear — if they bothered to look.
In the new year Judy and I are going to provide a workable model of this though Second Classroom – and teachers will be able to come and learn about the design of projects in more detail. Contact me if you or your school are interested.
Tools needed: Private Reaction Grid sim, Goodreads.com, Fanfiction.com. Nice to have: Picnik browser plug in, Diigo class library browser plug-in
Pedagogy: Enquiry, Group based learning 8/10 students per group
Duration: Over a term
Swapping Out: Quiet Reading time – for active learning time