Me @ ISTE 2010

Less than a week to go, and I’m off to ISTE in Denver. I don’t make many conferences, but ISTE has so much imagination and diversity that it’s a real power-up for the next 12 months. This year, I’m running two formal sessions and perhaps some informal ones.

Designing Scenario Based Learning with Web2.0 (Saturday, 6/26/2010,  12:30pm–3:30pm CCC 107/109 ) and Games, MMOS, and Virtual Worlds: Where Do They Fit in the Curricula? Tuesday, 6/29/2010,  4:45pm–6:15pm CCC 20.

Scenario Based Learning is a 3 hour trip in which teachers will develop an online game based, from which I hope they (and others) will add and use in the classroom. It will be a very busy workshop, in which teachers will create the solution collaboratively – so don’t expect me to be Power Pointing messages of hope and verbose one liners to tweet. Games and MMOs is a facilitated discussion – where I’ll be showing some of Animal Farm 3D that I’ve been working on with Jo Kay on the JGrid – as a talking point of how to embed story, questing and gaming in a standards focused curricula.

Aside from that, please look me up in the Bloggers Cafe, where I’m going to be showing and talking about developing iPhone, iPad and Android apps in the classroom, and perhaps running some small group sessions at the Unconference in the morning.

I am really looking forward to catching up with all those who’s inspired me again this year – and especially those in Cognitive Dissonance and ISTE’s Second Lifers – not to mention those on the ACCE study tour again.

In the week prior I’m in St. Louis working with teachers about creating Project Based Learning classrooms, and have to thanks Elizabeth at MICDS for making all and any of this possible – via their impressive Summer Professional Development Institute. Especially spending time with Andrew Churches and Jenny Luca in St. Louis and of course wandering the halls in Denver with Judy O’Connell. Thanks to Jeff Agamenoni for agreeing to help out in my SBL workshop.

Please come and say Hai, I’ll be the one lurking in the corner of the Bloggers Cafe not really looking at people who are kind of scary in crowds.


NECC Pre-Conference

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SINGULARITY of idea and thought in the metaverse is a very fragile thing. When discovered, it will  be shared, remixed and re-purposed almost immediately. The people however – are unique and to me this is why I want to be here.

It’s only the day before the great floor of commercial education-ness opens and the grand opening ceremony has been given. At NECC you can buy a Scantron or set about destroying them.


Is the day before the day before NECC begins. It’s a day in which the un-bureaucrats, un-official technology leaders and un-pioneers gather to share ideas and stories about everything from the latest Twitter client (like the world needs another visualiser) to the motivators of networked students. For many newcomers; its a chance for affirmation and discovery – and a big influence on what we see on the main NECC agenda.

It’s fast moving, combative, collegial, scary and supportive all at the same time. Its small, almost family like, where the newcomer shares a power outlet with a seasoned campaigner. There is a place here for the iPhone fanboi, the application junkie and the policy makers – its rough around the edges and driven by provocative conversation.

A clearing house of ideas, offering some resolution and clarity on the thousands of on line conversations and ideas shared online. A chance to dump, vent, engage, laugh and recharge by connecting to people.

The amazingly uber Sheryl Nusbaumm Beach

Thanks especially to Sheryl for driving over from Virginia Beach for the afternoon and leaving here guests hanging. I learn so much from you all the time, and really enjoyed the opportunity to deliver my first NECC workshop with such a well respected and influencial educator.

Here’s my initial brain dump on the first few days;

ISTE Leadership forum

I was really pleased to take part in the discussion sessions that form a part of ISTE’s future thinking and strategic planning – and always amased that I’m even asked. I look around and think ‘wow’ that’s so and so over there. It’s almost surreal at times. The group session I worked on consisted of US, Australia, Germany, Brazil, India and Portugese educational leaders – including ISTE’s CEO, Don Knezek. The session was aming to focus the big ideas, big priorities around how can we leverage technology to ensure all students have access to high quality, rigorous learning experiences.

It was a tremendous honour to be involved, and really put into perspective the recent Education AU symposium. I saw familiar faces driving some of the most insightful discussions. Australia without doubt, helps shape a great deal of educational technology leadership thinking, and are warmly welcomed – we need far greater internationalization at all levels in Australia too – and not at the government cop-opt level either. ISTE lobbys, not reports to.

Opening Keynote – Malcom Gladwell

To me, this remains one of the big problems with large conferences; the idea of the grand-show, the entry event to frame the following few days. The Twitterati were out in force; and generally I think it was a 50/50 split on good or ‘meh’. There’s no doubt he’s a good speaker and well regarded – but not at all sure about this role at NECC. To me it embedded the idea of difficulty and challenge as a deficit message that is getting old – and does not reflect the growing maturity of educational technology – in practice.

It was the anti-experience of the informed discussions I’d had had earlier with Don Knezek’s round-table.

I have real issues in putting non-edua types in front of the edu-crowd; they are entertaining; but so is Doctor Who – who is also on the telly. Stephen Heppell does not appear on light entertainment show panels, so please let’s make sure that the messages are authentic and relevant – Just show some K12 repeats, it makes better viewing.

There were a few issues I had too – Firstly, that all the teachers sit in rows and passively listen; that there are no kids involved (are they unable to tell us anything new?) and thirdly – ISTE is a BIG deal and demands singularity and new ideas as much as any TED talk.

There was a distinct lack of focus and mis-alignment with reality probably because this speech was appears to be an adaptation by the speaker. Gary Stager was quick as ever to notice and Tweet accordingly as the assembled rows chuckled and nodded in the auditorium (which could only seat half the attendees, the others were put in an overflow room to watch giant tellys and play with their finger on a stick gifts).

The Fleetwood Mac thing didn’t work for me, and lots of peolple had never heard of them. It showed a spectacular disconnect with how todays music artists (property) use advertising, branding, marketing and networks to speak to ‘true fans’  and for them reply – this is digital profile management, and not education. Godin makes a better point in Tribes about the Greatful Dead, we could just have easily watched them on the telly.

I didn’t like the references to ‘smart’ and ‘intelligence’ and much of his theory seemed very suspect in this context – which seems adaptive. We have questions to understand your audience – that’s smart and what David Warlick is doing.

You are dealing with very skilled people at NECC, and really, it’s not sufficient to re-peddle a message – as TED talks insists. Bring new ideas, new conviction – there are were many in the ‘crowd’ that could have easily delivered this level of message; why out-source not power-source.

The keynote didn’t add anything for me – apart from drive some affirmation discussion with Dean Shareski and Angela Maiers (who I’ve not talked to before, but want to again). The plus side, I got to spend some more time with Cognitive Dissonance – who are a fantastic group of educators and a stick with a plastic finger on it from the sponsor. Yey!

I regret that I could not attend the Constructavist Connection Day as well as ISTE Leadership. Timing at NECC is a huge problem for everyone. You can’t be everywhere you want to be. Right now I’m just plain tired. NECC is a mind-melt and not for the passive.

Peggy Sheehy has been saying all week “don’t rock the boat, sink it.” She’s talking about sinking it will better ideas, better ways to connect and learn. Australia really, really needs to get Peggy to ACEC 2010. Seriously.

Half the trouble with classroom 2.0

picture-6A year or two ago, listening to anyone talk about ‘Second Life’ was more about ideology and futurism than curriculum. Consoles were still un-wired and online play was still the domain of the PC, not hand-held or mobile. In the same time period teachers have been launching new ICTs in classrooms, and orbiting the ‘Web2.o’ toolbox. The conversation still largely revolves around ‘activities’ using these tools, which is seeing classrooms move (slowly) away from the idea that students need to learn office automation processes and searching. Implementing more open ended classroom approaches and scaling renewed curricula remains challenging for school leaders – but progress is being made in many schools. Teachers who talk about and use second life, still face negativity and suspicion.Voices from the quarter who are advocating current, relevant technologies (other teachers) still largely regard virtual worlds and games as ‘interesting’, but not as important or as relevant as blogs and wikis.

A recent report from Pew says “By a large margin, teen internet users’ favorite online activity is game playing; 78% of 12-17 year-old internet users play games online, compared with 73% of online teens who email, the second most popular activity for this age group. Online teens are also significantly more likely to play games than any other generation, including Generation Y, only half (50%) of whom play online games.”

There are hundreds of virtual worlds, with millions of users and subscribers . Much of the ‘edu’ debate is still around safety and security in Second Life, which seems facile in contrast to the ease and access students have online to spaces such as Disney’s Club Penguin (though Disney does have a lot of safety advice online) It is better to teach them, as you can’t prevent them – and in many cases what looks to a parent like a ‘game’ is in fact a 3D social network – and requires a whole new understanding.

There is a depth of professional detail on how to teach with MMOs, much the same as there is in ‘Web2.0’. There are options to run a virtual world over your school LAN, or use a browser based world such as Metaplace. There simply is something to everyone in MMOs – and at the heart of it is the game industries ability to embed new learning processes and motivation into their product offerings.

I find it difficult to see how ‘web2.0’ teachers can ignore or marginalize the influence of gameplay, and the narritives they offer. They are not 3D Powerpoint, or virtual ‘classrooms’ – but they can be used as part of ‘good practice’. From Maths and Economics (Football Manager), to student conferencing (MeetSee), games and Teen Second Life – there progressive conversation, resources and pedagogical development in virtual worlds is something that teachers should be ‘exploring’ – as Web2.0 includes immersive environments. Omitting them from “Web2.0” is in effect saying ‘I am going to consider using  50% of what you might be interested in’.

2704191125_6587fe9a74I am not saying that ‘games’ become the center of learning – but they must play a role, as teens are clearly ‘learning’ in these spaces and motivated by them.. They too need to be blended into learning – part inquiry, part exploration, part play and part instruction – this is learning centered design, not student or teacher centered.

We are not measuring the 21C-ness of a school, by the number of Nings or Wikis, but by looking at the alignment of activities, outcomes and assessment – and demonstrating that what we are doing makes a positive difference.

There are unique pedagogical reasons to use virtual worlds, just as there are for other Web2.0 tools. Skype is great, but if you are talking about how an Airship works, why use an airship? If you are trying to understand what life is like in an African village school – why not make one and teach there. As our classrooms beging extend beyond the physical, I can’t imagine that being in a class using a ‘skype call’ to another classroom is as engaging as the two classes working together online. Or if designing a new school, students can’t work to create the virtual school. Both ideas that have proven successful in Skoolaborate.

Teachers don’t need to start from ground zero, there are numerous communities and existing projects – with developed curricula and resources. In many ways, virtual worlds are far more mature in their pedagogical offering that a Web2.0 tool that needs adaption – and alignment with effective measurement. Designing curricula for the 21st century must include recognition of the cognitive power that games and virtual worlds offer classrooms. If we are punching through the walls of our classrooms – to connect to other experiences – it seems logical that we include games. I have to thank Keven Jarrett for his great lead in this weekends PLP Network introduction to Virtual Worlds, and talking about the dept of resources available through ISTE – and it was great to see a healthy number interested in exploring what is fast becomming ‘the other half’ of the story. Look forward to seeing you in Jokaydia next weekend.

Merging virtual and real world learning gets younger!

 This is an interesting article with advice for educators and Linden Labs about the issues in using Second Life in educational settings. I particularly like the advice in general and the specific information on running alternate viewers. The recent manditory update to the Linden Client poses yet another úpdate of the school network.

In another article on Terra Nova, there is some great advice on Protecting Children In Virtual Playgrounds. Anyone with children will have noticed that kids toys in the high street are increasingly connected to some form of virtual world. The ‘pocket”device powered worlds are popping up all over the place which means that there is an marketplace increasinly this is aimed at younger children.

Webkins is an example of the real world of play merging with the virtual word – which is not as much about play, as it is about social interaction and collaboration.

Chat is not ‘open’ but constructed, which Webkinz claim makes it

“The Webkinz Clubhouse is a place for kids to socialize with friends in a fun and safe environment. In the KinzChat area, kids use our pre-constructed chatting system called KinzChat. Members cannot type in their own words in KinzChat; they can only use the phrases and words we’ve created.”

But the point is, that children f this age, are communicating online with avatars, and in tern, children whom they would otherwise probably never meet. Give then pre-school to elementary age of the target market, products such as webkinz are creating a ‘norm’with kids that online communication in virtual spaces is as acceptable as playing a computer game with their friends in their lounge room. Webkinz in making ‘virtual’ learning a norm, though play and social interaction.

Freaky Creatures – targets slightly older kids – and uses Freaky Creatures gives players a toy with a USB key that they then train online for battles . Again signing kids up for online experiences based on a toy, mashing reality play with virtual play – connecting socially. This genre of toy development is firmly focused on leveraging the ‘media age’. Going online to look for ádded information’ as it used to be – buy the toy – then look at the website for éxtras’ was simply a hook to get you to look at more product. Now the product is the online facet, not just an add on.

Plush toys are not missing out either. Zibbies now inhabit their own virtual world – The Zibbie Zone! The “Zone” is a virtual world where children play and interact with the quirky and cute characters created by Play Visions. was created by children’s book author Stephen Cosgrove (Penguin Publishing). The plot involves the imaginative premise that plush toys begin disappearing into the Internet. Zibbiezone is combining traditional toys, virtual worlds and a respected childrens author (who has previously created flash books) to again create a pre-school social network.

So while many educators debate the benefits or otherwise of Second Life, Active Worlds, Teen Second Life, the reality is that the is a growing immersion for kids in social-based learning and play – online. And its not all marketing, there are multiple benefits in using something like Webkinz or Freaky Creatures.

For example – boys love Ben 10, they like scary creatures and fantasy books such as Deltora Quest. The ‘flat primary’ internet used to be given over to product promotion. A few slick graphics, flash games, colouring pages and maybe a flash movie. It was all about engaging with the character, buying into the marketing message. It was a pull technology.

Deltora Quest’s website is mearly a reinforcement that there are books. Emily Rodda is one of Australia’s most successful, popular and versatile writers, and has won the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Award  five times. Together with illustrator Marc McBride, their books are hugely popular. The internet presense is quite different from Zibbie. Parents however are used to seeing young kids on the internet sites of their favourite ‘products’, but now those products have a new ‘pull’ factor that parents may not have any reall understanding of.

Webkinz needs you to look after your pet – online. Freaky Creatures wants you to battle online to power up your toy. And Zibbies live in the internet as well as the kids bedroom. Quite simply reality play, imaginative play, and virtual play are fast meshing to just become ‘play’. The humble plush toy are plastic action figure now has a social life – all be it one managed by a commercial interest.

This trend is something that primary teachers can use to their advantage. There are numerous ways in which they can use these emerging technologies to engage kids in their classroom – as now they will be doing it more an more at home. So Media Literacy is important to not just high school (still debating Second Life), but to primary school. Perhaps more significantly, the toy industry is not going to get into such moral debates. They know that social networked based media has fast overtaken the idea of us living in the ínformation age. As kids flocked to online teen plus games such as Age of Empires, World of Warcraft – now the see that technology is now present in the home, to allow even younger kids to ‘get online’.

Club Penguin is now be called Disney’s Club Penguin There have been rumors about another player in the ring ever since Sony backed out of its potential $500 million deal to buy Club Penguin.  PaidContent is reporting the deal was “a cash payment of $350 million and an opportunity to earn out an additional $350 million between now and 2009”. Such is the power of brands, when they move on a social trend.

The shift to virtual play is as sure as the move from trains to space rockets, the moment they landed on the moon. 2D experiences online are less appealing to kids that the integration of a physical toy into a 3D environment with social aspects. Immersive worlds that connect to the real world are here to stay, even if as an educator you cling on tight to the idea that MS Office activities is enough.

The ‘reality’is that hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested in virtual worlds. Toys are connecting to them, and giving kids exposure to immersive media. You can deny it, you are argue against it, but the brand power and marketing machines behind the entertainment industry are not.

They know that their linear, 2D offerings are being downloaded and their market revenue is falling. Music, Videos and Stand Alone games are easily pirated. DRM was not the solution and proved un-popular. There is no doubt that reality play and virtual play will continue to merge. Technology, speed and access to 3D based experiences – outside schools – is now as simple as anything else online.

Yet the use of socially connected devices and worlds in school is still seen as óut there’ which is rediculous. What is not happening is that teachers have the opportunity, desire, awareness or ability to look beyond their ‘training’ and consider how using online virtual worlds should and could be blended with everyday learning – as it now is with our students – informal learning.

Designing Teaching and Learning experiences to take in ‘now’technology – is critical.

PSPs, Nintendo’s, Webkinz and more are all low cost, durable and perfect tools to engage students. It just requires educators to be more ‘media aware’ and to accept that ‘media literacy’ is not limited to 2D websites and books.

The horse is already out the gate … I can’t see much point in denying that immersive learning, 3D environments, games, and mobile devices are not as relevant as rulers, text books and calculators.

At the rate we are going, schools are going to been seen as learning museums in a few years by students. The world does not require approval to re-organise how kids want to learn by educators. It will do it through product and social networks.

I think we are reaching a massive ‘moral and ethical’ watershed in education – and we talk about ‘safety’ – as if that is just a school issue and sufficient to circle the wagons and do almost nothing more.

I think is is firmly a social issue – and personally, I’d rather not leave it to massive commercial brands to set out what is good/bad/safe or educationally beneficial for students. After all, they may get educational consultants in the design process – but focus groups and marketing ultimately has the last word.

Teachers need to be active in the development of these technologies, not deny them. And the best way to do that is to use them – or at the very lest – explore them away from class and make a more informated decision. The established communities of practice, such as ISTE Island or Jokaydia have established learning networks to offer advice. There are regular online events to attend or join. Virtual Professional Development and Seminars are probably the best way to convince ‘nay’ teachers of the educational benefits of what is currently in store now.