Sydney EdTech Unconference Sept 25th


The MQUncon 09 is a FREE event for educators to connect and share ideas and solutions around using educational technology in learning and teaching. It is being hosted by Macquarie University and the Islands of jokaydia in Second Life.

An unconference is a facilitated, participant-driven conference. During the day, people are free to present, share and participate in a range of activities – sharing tips, stories and examples of using technology to enhance, augment and facilitate more effective learning and teaching.
The agenda for the day is organised largely by the attendees and will be faciliated by the Learning and Teaching Centre.
The event will be held around the U@MQ venue from 9am to 3pm AEST (check local time here), and in on the Islands of jokaydia in Second Life (SLurl:, as part of their weekend long Unconference 09. MQUncon 09 offers participants an inclusive opportunity to discuss, share and connect with leading educators and technologists about 21st century learning at the practical level, as well as listen to people who might be on a similar journey.

About the unconference day.

The unconference is for educators, academics, researchers, policy makers, curriculum designers,  IT industry,  digital media developers, students and anyone interested in diverse views and approaches to learning and teaching to build and stregthen their personal learning networks through shared interests. The day seeks to offer a broad range of activities driven by the community and participants. It is a BYOL event (bring your own laptop).

Please Register to Attend!

In order to attend you must register by 24th September for the on campus event, in order for us to comply with a range of practical issues and ensure everyone has a great day. The conference will be split between physical space and virtual space through the islands of Jokaydia, home to the Macquarie Second Life campus. You only need to do this if you are intending to come on campus. Register here online

For more information, or to suggest a session you want to run/talk about – just visit the wiki – hope to see you there.


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.

Write a book in a day

04112008561Day 1 of the ‘Book in a Day’ creative writing project with 9th graders ended in an almost party like atmosphere from the 60 students who took part today. The final hour had 60 students in one big room, furiously working in groups to finalise their work and publish it.

The scene reminded me of the buzz that advertising studios generate in the final moments before some suited up account representative takes the creative thoughts of the writers and designers to pitch for the account.

What also stuck me was the organisational skills and co-operative skills that the students have.

04112008558No teacher was pushing them along or giving motivational speeches. From the moment Lucy Gresser posted the days work groups, the kids threw everything at it. Even the students that tend to lurk on the very brink of engagement usually, were sucked into the vortex of creative writing that was going on.

We presented a short video montage of themes from Orwell’s Animal Farm – spliced between images taken in Second Life from Tempura Island (a recent field trip with the Jokaydians). This was the visual base from which they had to produce a book – on a given theme – 8000 words. The students almost fell off their seats when seeing that – 8 0 0 0 words? – it looked impossible – and in a single day – madness, but we are  giving them a summative writing test in a day. We thought they could do it, now they had to believe it too.

We didn’t want them to start getting into graphic design, so the supplied material negated them spending time there. The end product would be a simple 5.5″ x 8.5″ book, with a title cover and about 12 pages in which 6 students developed their storyline – and each took equal share of creative writing – 1000 words each, or approximately 2 pages of writing.

04112008556Two pages of creative writing might now sound too much, but to get 9th grade boys to undertake such a thing is, in my experience, a rare thing.

We are so used to seeing students produce reports and recounts – using crutches like Google and Wikipedia, that the work done recently in community blogging in their Green Up project – gave them the confidence to engage with the task.

The way in which we’re designing projects and lessons is delivering confidence, engagement and a sense of adventure in learning – or at least that is the feedback that students are giving us. They bail staff up and talk about ‘learning’ and Gavin Hayes reported last week how he overheard kids at the cricket nets discussing teaching approaches between classes, and which worked best.

The students are very aware of what good teaching and learning is, and that accountability fuels the enthusiasm of the teacher. 9th grade is often a difficult grade, and our school used to be a proof of that. Now, we have learners, not issues.

They are reflective writers now, so this project is pushing them into being creative too. The year long skills that they have developed, under the project leadership of their teachers, especially Lucy Gresser in English was paid back in a single day it seems.

The boys know how to collaborate and share information and ideas and the groups took several different approaches to the task.

One, for example, decided that they would co-operatively create the first ‘chapter’ of a thousand words. From that they each took a subsequent chapter individually. This approach they thought would give them some common unity and style, so the remainder of the writing would be much more connected.

These are decisions that they can now make as they are experienced in what makes collaboration work. They are now a long way from the prior norms where a few do the majority of the work and the other coast along for the ride. They all WANT to contribute – and support each other using the critial friends process that they have been taught all year.

The know how to use a GoogleDoc and share it to speed up their effectiveness – they can throw 8000 words into InDesign in half an hour and format a publication. Their fluency between technologies now affords them methods of collaboration to manage time, pace and delivery.

04112008557During the day, it is significant that Google was not a tool that students used. There was no desire to try and ‘find answers’  or short cuts.

I think that the way in which the English projects have been designed and presented to students in the last 6 months have sufficiently promoted individual thinking and writing that to a large extent, students no longer see Googling as the best way to learn. They may hit it for quick facts, but do not rely on it anymore. That to me is a massive shift away from prior ‘norms’ that we saw in 9th Grade ICT based classrooms.

Lucy is writing up the more literacy aspects of today on her blog, so I’ll link there, where she has also posted up some examples of the work the students did today.

All 14 groups posted their work on time, which is 112,000 words. The next step is to work with them to extend the project in terms of design and publishing – and post the combined works on Lulu for purchase and download by their families – and of course the world.

Day 2 will see some 80 students do the same summative task – and I’m really pleased to know that Judy O’Connell will be sparing some time to come and get involved in the afternoon!

I am finding that students work really well in carefully planned tasks that have a sense of urgency and deadlines about them. We’re finding that 2 week projects appear to yeild higher engagement than 4 or even 6 weeks. Lucy is also very adept at using a range of formative methods – this is a critical teaching skill to ensure that her classes are not only meeting outcomes – but also demonstrating sound knowledge of the syllabus content.

If there’s one critisism of project based learning I have – it is in teachers being able to track and evidence syllabus content as well as meeting outcomes. There is a danger that ‘content’ is glossed over in the desire to have a ‘cool end product’. This isn’t something that is happening – and I think that using Web2.0 tools makes the formative work far more transparent, than if students were using more tradtional PBL approaches, but it does take a lot of strategic planning to build that into activities – the results however, are worth it. To see these students work right through recess and lunch, almost oblivious to it, and then to end the day so enthusiastic is amazing.

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.

Learning about teaching in Second Life

Jass Easterman aka Sue Gregory from the University of New England talking about her role in working with a range of students. They were learning how to use Second Life in their future professional teaching career. This is a story of what Sue was doing. The audio is a feed out of the conference, so at time’s shes answering comments and questions in the back channel. I found it facinating to hear some of experience.

Recorded at the 2008 Jokaydia Unconference. Here’s the link to the Sue Gregory Podcast.

Unconference Day#1

Peggy was talking about Ramapo Islands. Not the usual stuff, but sharing a lot about how she sold the idea into administrators, how she has been strategically designing the islands to suit the needs of her learners and some of the projects and outcomes that she has been running.

A fantastic, in depth look at innovation in education.

Jo, Konrad and Al, were touring Newbies around the gardens, and it was great to hear so many new people asking questions and sharing ideas on how they can use virtual worlds in their classrooms.

Chris (aka Gnu) and Jeff did a really engaging session on Microblogging.

Jeff’s off the cuff story telling of his own journey into developing and participating in a personal learning network was a really powerful message. Jeff (aka teacherman79 or Henny) used lots of examples of just how he’s been using it for his personal development as well as digital story telling in his classroom.

He talked about collecting a bunch of old PCs today that we’re being thrown out, so he can use them in his classroom, and shared how he had to take the truck and his dog up there to get them, then his dog chewed through its leash. He used his phone to shoot pictures and upload the event to a microblog – so when the kids get the computers, they’ll get the story of what he did to get them. He said that kids are such visual learners, that he’s trying to capture as much of ‘life’ as he can and then use that for further discussion in the classroom.

He also talked about how Montana is isolated, and how he now feels connected like never before in a personal learning network. Its amazing to think how a passing conversation in a virtual world can lead people to make such powerful and ever changing connections with their learning.

I loved that his story was about TODAY – and so relevant to what he is doing TOMORROW.

That’s the difference I think that many in the Jokadia community offer – far less engaged in ‘gazing at the why’ – which seems to me in perpetual orbit in some online sessions – and more about conversational learning that happens right now. I learned a lot today from Peggy, Jeff, Chris and Leigh Blackall … and it was great to see Sue Waters and Judy O’Connell – whom are a constant source of inspiration.

I’m really looking forward to working with Jo and Konrad in the near future … who needs walls?

Jokaydia Unconference THIS WEEKEND

The Jokaydia Unconference is on this weekend in Second Life. This will be MASSIVE. Jokaydia has become a huge personal learning network, and this weekend there are a huge amount of things happening – and some great people sharing stories of things that are happening in classrooms – not just talking up the need to change – but people who can show you change.

I say this as recently I’ve been to SL events that really are not much more than fireside stories. For some reason I put my hand up for Quest Atlantis If you’ve been thinking about ‘what is SL all about in regard to Education’ then this is the BEST thing you can start with. Check the website for sessions and times!