I am the sum of the total parts I control

There are some places that I would not take teachers. Virtual worlds are one of them. The overhead is too high, the distance too far and the experience too abstract.

Before pressing ‘enter world’ there has to be a clear understanding of what that means. Didactically, it’s simple, but any virtual world is not what it seems. Virtual worlds are a cognitive technology; they change the way you perceive space, time, people and capability.

A virtual world is not an information appliance in the way a website or web-tool appears. To quote a brighter mind than mine, an avatar has a plastic brain, but is hybrid mind.

We can get deeper – another quote I like is “your own body is a phantom, one that your brain has temporarily constructed purely for convenience”.

I would not take teachers into a virtual world, any more than I could seek to take you into a web-browser . A virtual world is all about interweaving human-centredness into our lives, identities by constantly trying to construct a mental sense of place, presence and self. This might sound very odd, from someone who spends a lot of time ‘in world’, but to take a teacher into a world and attempt to train them is like asking them to use a wiki with a blindfold.

I cannot take teachers into a virtual world, I could only hope to meet them there. Everyone who maintains a sustained immersion in a virtual world has in some way re-wired their brain to accept a post-humanist reality. Every teacher I meet in virtual world, has a deep understanding of self organising knowledge structures, and how to balance multiple persona in which they interact, network, explore and experience a fundamentally different, perhaps cybernetic form of human intelligence.

A virtual world, unlike a website – has not been created from print culture and cannot support brains that mundanely perform acts of functional literacy in order to create ‘knowledge’. Teachers can enter virtual worlds, they can run lessons, they might even learn something new for a while; but to persist requires a deeper connection and get past the belief that entering a virtual world is to be an isolated key-tapper using an information appliance as a novelty or worse because they fail to connect to the real world. If we hope to teach kids in virtual worlds, then we must be residents in mind and body, and give away conscious thoughts about what is real and artificial.

Virtual worlds, are the sanctuary of childish minds. The one place they can go without being subjected to artificial boundaries – that I am afraid to say are mandated as soon as you ‘put’ people in-world. We are dabbling on the edge. Without question – those in virtual worlds, those who lead students into experiences, not activities are rare. To quote another favourite line “I am the sum of the total parts I control directly” – In a virtual world, the point is not to seek direct control over your avatar, but to use it as an extension of your mind – to change it.

Try creating a lesson plan to do that (unless you’re already there).

As pointless as cleaning graffiti from a skate park

image: Anthony Theobold

There are somethings that I now consider to be as pointless as cleaning graffiti from a skate park when it comes to Educational Technology.

There are also different types of ‘pointless’ too. Some are pointless as in the very near future they will be so ubiquitous in life that we can hardly call them a mastery skill. Others are pointless as the incumbent hierarchical management frameworks built up over decades, suffering what Clay Shirky calls the ‘tragedy of the commons’. As the tide of teacher-relevance retreats back from incumbent management structures, we are seeing growing and strengthening personal learning networks.

Here are my top 10 pointless activities.

Pointless#1 – Teaching ‘Office’ as a mastery skill. Its a life skill to work the basics, but it is not a value add when leaving school to join the work force.

Pointless#2 – Presenting a Slideshow if the speaker reads any of the sentences in it to you. This is why Beavis and Butthead knew more than anyone what made a great MTV video. Don’t present it – I’m gonna start drifting off within 5 minutes

Pointless#3 – Attempting to explain what Classroom2.0 means, if they have not heard of Web2.0 in the first place

Pointless#4 – Trying to develop anything for which you do not have control. If you’re immediate conduit to success is via someone who fits ‘Pointless#3’, then two things will happen enventually.

  1. Your original idea and effort will be mis-interpreted and not allow you do what it was you thought they understood you were going to do.
  2. It’s mis-understood, but is sufficiently ‘out there’ that anyone that they talk to about it will be impressed enough that they won’t need to talk to you anymore. This is the transference of IP by proxy.

Pointless#5 – The act of reading and writing online must generate a sense of audience for students. If they have no audience beyond thier immediate geographical walls, then publishing online will not develop the skills needed to participate in the global discourse of the future.

Pointless#6 – Seeking (or Googling), then pasting into Office. Bernie Dodge has been telling people this for decades – well before read/write interwebs. Don’t do it – it is low level, boring and repetitive. If you can’t ask questions in a computer room for which the kids Google the answer – then get out the room.

Pointless#7 – Students being made to watching teachers use technology – or watching step-by-step quides in powerpoint. If you can figure it out, then spend more time figuring out how to create interesting activites with it and not worrying about ‘if’ they can use it. If you can, you can be sure they can.

Pointless#8 – Wikis – Unless you know the value of the discussion TAB.

Pointless#9 – Class Blogs – if all they ever do is write in limited text types (report being the obvious). Also pointless if you don’t have an effective model to scaffold the growth of the writer. Pointless if they never comment or get comments. Pointless if they do not reflect activity that can be HEARD, SEEN, LINKED IN. Blogging as a diary is just a glass diary.

Pointless#10 – Claiming to use Web2.0 without also being an active participant in a global Educational Technology community, sharing, learning and willing to deal with the multi-time zone nature of an effective personal learning network. Kids who have no choice but to spend their time with you. However – you have a choice – walk the walk, don’t go through the actions. Make a BIG noise.

Finally, I’d just like to say, that maybe the graffiti is actually beautiful, that it is personal, inspiring and replaces the cold, unfeeling concrete below. I like to look at the local skate park in the morning to see what’s been added. As long as it’s being added I think the day will be good. When I see the guys with the water blasters – I think what a waste of time it was. And that Miss ‘Bel makes me surly too.