Second Life – using, not exploring possibilities

mqsl4_002I took part in the end of year ISTE Presenter fire-side chats on Friday (Thursday SL time). To me, some of the most thought provoking inputs come from informal discussions in Second Life, and this was no exception.

For a while now, I’ve been talking with Judy O’Connell, Jo Kay and Konrad Glogowski about developing a Second Life curriculum, that will allow teachers to use a ‘toolkit’ approach to developing work for students to undertake virtual Worlds.

At ISTE, I was engaged in a fantastic discussion with Peggy Sheehy about ‘negotiated curriculum’ – an approach to learning where students are asking more of the questions than the teachers. We also talked about how Second Life allows for a distributed classroom model – where it would be possible for that to be ‘facilitated’ by multiple teachers around the world. We thought it was possible to find some ‘third space’ for learning using virtual worlds – which has been highly successful in Quest Atlantis – because it has curriculum and measurable goals, facilitated by technology, students and teachers. Second Life still does not do this, though a range of TSL projects obviously do. In short, the efforts of us all are driven to similar goals, yet atomised.

We also thought that the model would suit some definition of 21st Century capabilities. All those things we know are important – yet are not on the test.

In a very recent NMC report, educators are actually increasing activity in Second Life. The NMC survey suggests

Educators are moving from exploration to use of Second Life for teaching and learning. More respondents report being involved in an educational-related activity in Second Life (increasing from 54% in 2007 to 71% in 2008). More than half report that the organization they are affiliated with owns a sim (up from 36% in 2007) and 74 individuals report in 2008 they own their own sim. This year 29% of survey participants report holding virtual office hours in SL; 37 of them (12%) have taught a class entirely in SL (up from 14 or 8% in 2007).

In 2007, Judy and I started SecondClassroom and TeenSecondClassroom, a place for teachers to talk and work on Virtual Classrooms and TeenSecondClassroom, a reflective space in which students of those teachers can form groups to talk about and evidence work. Now with over 100 members, perhaps there it is time to start meeting in Second Life and talking more about this idea. I would assume that this, like most ‘community’ approaches will suffer the Long Tail, however even if 10% of the group actively participate – then in 2009, we could develop this to a point where we could also deliver it.

I don’t get Twitter!

How important is networked knowledge? Why should you learn about personal learning networks? You’re doing just fine as you are, why is it important?

As information communication technology expands, the amount of documentation, reports, papers and internet content an organisation generates also expands. This plays out in the atomised chatter of emails that it generates in the organisation.

We talk about information overload – but the process of creating information seems to create more information communication. A 1000 word report realistically means you will read 5×1000 words and get 50 emails.

Comparatively  ‘web-enabled’ common interest groups that share a common goal are able to solve problems, often with hundreds of people involved who never meet face to face.

Organising your organisation can be a crippling task. The odds of 30 people reaching a consensus, based on face to face discussion, is low. Conversely ‘web’ groups intrinsically understand participation and collaboration. They generate self-regulating organisations to solve problems (or try to) so don’t concern themselves with hierarchy or worry about failure – if enough people participate, even once, it will succeed. This is the story of Wikipedia.

Think about that. The process of trying to ‘get organised’ inhibits performance and marginalises people in the organisational process. If you don’t agree with the direction – you have to convince a critical mass to change. You are all in the one organisation, so you can’t leave and at the same time can’t progress. It’s the tragedy of the commons played out in meetings around the world every day.

I think that getting 50 people working to solve a common problem is actually quite easy. I only know it is easy because I’ve learned how to do it. We do this inside groups on Facebook, Ning and Twitter.  Its amazing how much you learn in 140 characters that you can’t from 100,000 word publication.

Academics and corporations are talking about this is as ‘cloud networking’. The goal is achieved through the people in the network. We succeed by learning how to succeed (I know, it’s bizarre).

This has a direct impact on the organisation that you work in. You have access to networked knowledge and can do more than you could without it.

What is a Personal Learning Network (PLN)

Say you are in a meeting with 10 people, all trying to figure out a problem. No one knows (or agrees on) the answer. You orbit the problem for an hour, and agree to meet again after you go and read up on it.

What if you were in the same meeting, with the same problem, and 5 of those people had access to networked knowledge instantly via the internet. 5 people ask 5000 the same question. The odds of getting traction on your problem are massively increased – as the people who reply have already read up on it, and they are not stuck in your meeting for 2 hours, more like 2 minutes.

The chances of failure are reduced as your network grows. You don’t need to know all the answers, you just need to know how to connect the question to the right networks. As a whole network, then it can take on governments. That was obvious in the Obama Election Campaign.

You have to put back into the network, but that time is offset by the amount of time you save.

The reply I give to the ‘I’m too busy, I don’t know how you find the time’ statement is “It’s easy, I don’t have to know it all, I know where and who to go to and create new knowledge from what they have.”

I don’t need to re-invent the wheel over and over. I will get help more often than I strike out . This to me is the critical thinking and network literacy skills I want my own kids to have – and I hope that they will have teachers who understand that.

It’s an almost ‘Borg’ like scenario, and I can appreciate why it seems so un-imaginable to people on the outside. “I don’t get Twitter! – What do I do?” – It’s not Twitter you don’t get, it’s the value of instant connectedness that you don’t get. Why would you?

Personal Learning Networks are cyclic. As you learn more, you build a capacity to share and do more – and there’s always someone new to help. You are not a time-lord, but it can feel like it – as there are moments where you see a problem and get an instant solution, saving your hours of ‘research’ or ‘trial an error’.

The groundswell that is seeing massive growth in educational ‘activism’ has the ability to tackle governments can also solve your ‘how do I convert a jpg file to a gif’ file questions.

PLNs don’t care about FAQs, because they can deal with CAQs (constantly asked questions). They don’t care about how they are organised because they don’t need to have anything more than and IP address to act as powerful learning nodes.

The knowledge is the network and that belongs to all of us – it’s there if you want it. Just ask.


picture-72Meetsee is a 2.5D virtual office built on Adobe Flash platform (so maybe it won’t be banned). It is a pretty simple idea.

I set up my panel discussion room, and have been fiddling with using a pair of web-cam screens and using ‘live’ audio broadcasting to the room. It takes minutes to set up. One neat feature is that you can upload a presentation to it. People in the room don’t have to just use the 2.5D view – they can click the presentation and see the slides in 2D, and they can do that with the webcam too.

Build and customise an office, then invite people to visit you and have a meeting. It has a 2.5D view with chat, webcam, Twitter feed, file sharing, Polls, RSS feeds, virtual wipe board and a clever video feeder from YouTube. Of course you can fiddle with your avatar (though one niggle, I hit the girl button by mistake and can’t switch it). You can upload a photo of your own head, which is cool too.

Meetsee also has a 2D chat and videoconference mode, so in may ways operates just like a simple Elluminate, Wimba Live Classroom or Flash Meeting. I really liked the way you can load up YouTube in your entertainment centre, or select a Twitter feed too –

It is also really simple to move around by just clicking on objects, or clicking chairs, filing cabinets and TVs to interact with them. Meetsee is highly functional, looks great and will appeal to kids and adults alike.

picture-81As the owner of the room, you can of course move the furniture around and choose the interactive items that you need and well as change the décor. Meetsee has a good ‘owner’ interface that lets you track activity in your room and it also lets you download that as a report, so in a classroom setting, it has an audit trail. The applications for its use could be from simple interaction and communication to live blogging. You could use the poll function to give a quick test – and use YouTube to give them the context for that test. Students could upload files or download them from your cabinet.

MeetSee has a flash based webcam feature, so you can broadcast on one of the interactive screens. You could use it in competency tasks for ‘interacting with clients’ or as a role-play. Meetsee could be used in school, or perhaps as distance or out of school tutor groups.

There are a range of ‘settings’, the corner office, the video conference, panel discussion etc., and at the click of a button you can launch a different setting. I think that there is sufficient 2.5D ‘engagement’ to make it fun to use – but backed up with some great features that are really simple to use.

Capacity through intervention strategy

What do we mean by capacity building in Educational Technology. Perhaps right up front, it is advisable to remind people that you are working with that you don’t mean ‘learning computer skills’.

That is often the assumption that people attending workshops make as that has largely their prior experience. PD + Computers = Mastery Challenge.

Capacity should be addressing critical areas such as participatory planning, curriculum, units of work, lesson design, implementation, evaluation, research, information, advocacy, networking and financial planning.

Building capacity in yourself is far easier than attempting to do this at the whole school level. All that knowledge and connectedness that comes with the acquisition of capacity in yourself – is not easily replicated.

Often in our eagerness to see reflections of our own advocacy and practice in others, it is easy to forget just how confusing, frustrating and massive it was to climb out of the 20th Century teaching norms and look towards the horizons of what could be possible.

Flash was easier to learn when it was version 1, Photoshop was far less complicated in version 7, and RSS was far easier to deal with when there was less information flooding in. The capacity of all of us to generate information that we think helps the rest of ‘them’ – means that early adopters are critical to any educational institution to interpret and lead.

To me, it is an ongoing tragedy that these people are often not empowered to ‘lead’ – hence the perpetual question ‘how do we effect sustainable change’ that senior educational leaders orbit. It is hard to plan your future, if your point of reference is the past – specifically, time served is preferable over capacity to lead change.

Friere (1973) Pedagogy of the Oppressed argues

“the process of learning to read and the act of reading are deeply political: our reading of the word is shaped by our reading of the world”

Student’s own experience of technology combined with teacher interventions are mutually reinforcing in building capacity – for change. We simply don’t need to know ‘everything’ anymore. Mastery ICT skills are less important that understanding how technology changes learning.

“We are going to blog” or ”We are using Web2.0 tools in the classroom” and other statements are unlikely to improve learning outcomes for students.

I say unlikely, unless they are seen as interventions essential in strengthening teaching practice. To say you are working to build capacity is

“Meaningless unless you insist on using language and terms that have precise meanings.” (Moore, 1995).

While we are talking about promoting change, the interventions that teachers are doing right now in their solo-classrooms are part of a wider social transformation.

“We are going to blog” – is an output of increased capacity not mastery skills – writing a blog is no harder than writing an email in that regard.

Capacity comes through understanding how using blogs is an intervention within wider social change. In education it directly relevant to renewing pedagogical approaches, developing media literacy skills, reflective learning over passive learning etc.,

In fact web2.0 is part of the digital-soup of Learning Objects within curriculum.

Chiappe defined Learning Objects as:

“A digital self-contained and reusable entity, with a clear educational purpose, with at least three internal and editable components: content, learning activities and elements of context. The learning objects must have an external structure of information to facilitate their identification, storage and retrieval: the metadata. ” (Chiappe, Segovia, & Rincon, 2007).

Any professional development seminar, workshop or in-service – that promotes ‘learning about Web2.0’ – has to address ‘capacity.

It must clearly explain the wide reaching implications that it has to have to become sustainable, and that on their own, Web2.0 applications – such as blogging are unlikely to improve learning outcomes for students.

Once you done that, you are in a much better position to understand which Web2.0 tools could be used in ‘capacity building’. And it may be that you shortlist a relatively short, but considered list.

What are the interventions? What are the learning objects? What are your criteria for capacity building? – The tools are easy in comparison.

Student Strikes Back

Wow, this was fantastic to read. One of the students at my old school. He’s been lurking around blogging for a few months I suspect and its fantastic to see him jump in an write such a great reflection – from the student viewpoint.

Teachers at our school are really starting to blossom as 21 century tutors. A major part of being such a group of talented teachers, undertaking PBL( problem/project based learning) for first time in entire Australia, is that they to are learning alongside students.

It’s intresting that he’s calling them ‘tutors’ not teachers for one and also that he reflects on the student experience of the recent Animal Farm project. I highly recommend this post as a read. I am not sure that I would have previously expected a 9th grade student to write something like this in any context, let alone in reflecting on his learning, in what has fast become a benchmark in collaborative learning. Meeting grade expectation is one thing – but to find a track-back like this is quite another.

Digital Reputation – Look back in anger.

This is a very interesting story in regard to digital reputation.

Gary Rego, 16, told students and parents at the Sunday night ceremony  that it was “really sad” — following a crash that killed three students in August — that Principal Vaughan Sadler was not at the graduation dinner, but was “holidaying and watching cricket in a far away land”.

The article has a video, which was posted from the audio from a mobile phone to YouTube.

To me the video demonstrates just how important Digital Repulation is in our schools. Rather than making a ‘statement’ – which is the tragedy of youth that at some point many teens do – this one, poorly articulated and bumbling, demonstrates to me not how easy it is for some kids to give his teacher a serve via the internet, but more that the student is obvioulsly unaware of the the long term impact of it. He will move on in life, however, will be a marker in the metaverse as how to make a complete ass of yourself. I have no view on what he says, and not aware of the validity of his comments but I would think impact on the entire college negatively.

Everyone is damaged, there is nothing positive here. Sending him to sit his exams somewhere else is the physical consequence – the digital one, is that he is now part of history – judged by all of us. No matter how annoyed, ego-centric this young man is, it seems a graphic demonstration – that if he understood the potential implications as he moves from school to ‘real life’ he may have made a better choice – his statements will fade, yet the folly of posting this on the internet will be the memory. The video to me, would make a great resource for class discussion – but then perhaps that means I would be sustaining the poor kids suffering. Maybe the media story here is the fact it’s on YouTube – the issue is the critical nature of teaching students ‘media literacy’ and ‘digital repulation’ – and developing personal repulation through poisitive digital porfolios – All we see here is a kid with 20,000 Google Hits – all bad. It does not however excuse his actions – Welcome to the metaverse Gary.

Graphic-A-Day#8 – Printers

Give a teacher a printer and make a friend for life. Todays poster is for all those teachers who love a printed worksheet. Some just love to print out ‘content’. Last year I did a study with year 12 students in the lead up to the HSC. Most said they were getting well over 100 sheets of paper a week. Most also said that they didn’t read it. The sheets they read were the ones that had ‘work’ on them, and even so, the majority said that it was easier to use the internet to get the answer than it was the paper.

Some teachers love the printer so much that they will come into school during the holidays just to get print outs ready.

To these people, that is what computers are for: Preparing CONTENT or TESTING for content retention.

If you want a rebellion, pull the toner drum out for a day. Teachers will chase the IT department with pitch-forks and torches. If they cannot use the printer – then a computer is like a car without wheels.

The reality is that it takes less effort to save a document and share it via the internet, than it does to print it and get a class set photocopied. Trying to explain the benefits to them – and the students is not something that goes down well. The notion of being parted from their printer it too unthinkable.

It is maybe ironic however, that the paper-pushers also claim Google and Wikipedia use as one of the ‘yeah but’ arguements against using computers in the classroom. The most common other one being lack of time (well printing and photocopying is very time consuming). These teachers do that themselves with technology. When going beyond the class text book, they can be seen preparing ‘content’ sheets. Its almost a cottage industry in some schools. The above poster really tries to sum that activity up – as a satire on process driven learning.

Create the document, and share it with not just your class, but other teachers is more efficient and consistent. Posting that online where kids can get it, is more effective. It saves time and paper. How many paper pushing teachers hear from students ‘I didn’t get the worksheet or I don’t have it here’. This 20C activity is easily improved.

Put that content or worksheet in an online space where students can discuss it, creates conversational learning. Developing a GoogleDoc with collegues, and then sharing that with students is even better. Working on a GoogleDoc with students is engaging and promotes one to one learning.

“Yeah but” … I don’t have that much access to computer classrooms, so I need to print!

Well, yes and no. It’s all about rethinking how you use the time you have. As a teacher, it is possible to take the time you will be in and ICT classroom, and create an activity which promotes improved classroom practice and professional development. In short, it’s not so much about access as it is about building your own capacity to begin changing how you use technology with students.

If you are designing lessons, that are essentially question driven – based on students seeking similar information that you yourself ‘found’, then that is BORING. It is also low level activity, and is not building capacity in the students.

If your printed worksheet contains instructions such as ‘go to and answer the following questions … then that is fairly basic and boring. If you say go to Google and do it, then the kids will be struggle – as you are not teaching the most critical skill – how to select and justify quality information.

A better way would be to ‘tag’ several sources in delicious – and ask why one is more applicable or more authoritative than the other. They will still learn the ‘content’ but the need for learning is to compare and justify it, not just use or identify it. Delicious is the ‘worksheet’. All you had to do was create one ‘tag’ for the students, which is less work that stripping out content and re-packing it for paper delivery.

If you can’t give up paper – then this activity can be done with paper. Students can use the tags and the content in the ICT lesson, make paper notes and then do some offline activity. That is a better use of the time you have – and you are teaching critical literacy.

So thats the rant for today – make the most of the time you have in ICT, and don’t simply make it an electronic search of the classic text book chaper task. Kids can find millions of pages about anything you ask them to look for … there is TOO much information now. A decade ago there was less. It was easier to find it and much more obvious if Site A is better than Site B. That is no longer the case. Think before you print! Finding ‘the’ answer is not as important as choosing the ‘most relevant’ in a context.

Graphic-A-Day#7 – Massive yet tiny.

I was trying to work out how many new ‘edublogger’ posts are made a day. Sue Waters pointed out that most educational bloggers don’t tag with ‘education’ : Guilty. This is from the Technorati 2008 report recently published. At the same time, less than 5% of teachers are bloggers. So in a school, there will be a small number of teachers who are aware of the wealth of professional development and opportunties online – and how supportive, challenging and informed this community is in achieving common goals.

Of course this community has multiple interests and themes, but no matter what your ‘lens’ then you will meet hundreds of teachers and educators who share it. That is massive. That is what people call a ‘personal learning network’. Often, those in the school may see the ‘few’ who are doing all sorts of strange things with technology classrooms – as a minority, or fringe.

The reality is that those teachers are actually connected to a network with a 100x magnification on professional development, so they don’t see themselves as a minority at all. The connected majority is the groundswell that is changing teaching and learning … and thats todays poster.

Animal Farm 2.1 How To Enter a Project

This is the entry video I made for the launch of the Animal Farm / Creative Writing Project.

The images in here are going to be the ‘graphic’ content that the students will include in their 8000 word ‘books’ in about 2 weeks time. Why bother making a video? – because we reinforce the idea of drama and context. A few students will watch it several times, and many more will ask questions. It is a visual aid from which we can talk about creative writing.

It provides boundaries – and presents opportunities to discuss ideas.

We don’t simply introduce a projects as ‘you have to read Animal Farm then write 1000 word creative writing task’. When we open the project – we give them just a small part of the overall task.

The ending text tells them how they have to write 8000 words in one day – the first thing they are going to ask ‘how am I going to do that!’ – which means the ignition light is on to learning.