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.

Realism, Relevance, Retention

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This is a bit of a passion piece, but I think it’s important to say. I listened to some of the audience’s questions during Will Richardson’s presentation in Sydney last Friday. As ever Will was pulling out the main issues that face parents and teachers. As ever, some questions were very specific ‘which blog do I use’ or system-damming ‘but it’s blocked’ and ‘but I don’t have time’.

The Industrialist 3Rs (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic), are still being cited as the capstones of learning –  when learning is cited as ‘failing’-  the call is to go back to basics - as if technology is somehow disconnected from these things. Learning with technology is part of the ‘digitial’ 3Rs – realism, relevance and retention. These are things to strive for in relation to a broader array of classroom activities. They are enhancing the capabilities of gifted teachers, not displacing them. But even motivated teachers find it difficult to access professional learning that is going to allow them to learn to do it. We have the ability to transform learning  and increase motivation though technology, and still address traditional ‘values’.

Imagine a global virtual world in which students have to negotiate through the complex politics surrounding a wildlife habitat construction project in the developing world, making the case for its economic and environmental benefits. Students take on the ‘role’ of diverse stakeholders, and though classroom research – the can role-play, using exploratory and explicit learning to put forward their solution for a negotiated outcome. They interact in a virtual world, develop models and ideas – blended these with reflection and discussion in other online media such as a blog or wiki to collect and justify their collective action.

picture-11We now have 6Rs, Reading; Writing; Arithmetic; Realism; Relevance and Retention. The above experience can be created using a range of technologies; MeetSee, Edublogs; Skype; Google Docs etc., and easily blended into the classroom. Teachers can connect with other schools (see Jenny Luca’s recent presentation), and can easily ‘chat’ using very low bandwidth, low-tech web tools such as Tiny Chat. In primary years, this can be created with Quest Atlantis, or ever the excellent eKidnaworld (an Australian parent developed virtual world – that needs your support!).

What is critical is that teachers have access to ongoing ‘mentors’ that can show them how to create this – though adaptation of existing, readily available technologies.

To be effective, teachers need to learn about more than Bloom’s taxonomy, but to learn how to develop learning frameworks that contructively align outcomes (what do we want them to learn), activities (how to be create motivating classrooms) and assessment (how to we know they did it). Teachers also need to learn about ‘communication’ with digital media. More often that not, they focus on ‘marking’, and not ‘talking with’ students using more informal strategies.

So before teachers begin to utilize new laptops and faster networks, there remains a huge need to help schools develop goal-orientated, achievable learning frameworks to renew curricula, and will place valid, relevant arguments to the Department of Education as to why students need to access curricula that motivates. Duty of care relates to a physical state, not a virtual one.

The current policy of ‘banning’ sites is at best inconsistent. Are schools breaching Google’s AUP in schools?. If a child is bullied on their way home on a mobile phone – does the school breach it’s duty of care? If someone complains about a ‘blog’ then, despite following policy,are teachers are left at the mercy of the legal system? In short, unless ‘we’ move to a  position where we have effective policy, effective leadership, professional learning and on the ground ‘help’ for teachers, we might as well return to the 3Rs of the 1950s. We will fail and continue to orbit the issues and not end the digital winter. The best professional learning is happening inside personal networks, not systemic ones – and I don’t see any movement forward in public schools.

The DET needs to be brave, it needs to release teachers to mentor based professional learning, and link that with clear assessment via the NSW Institute of Teachers, in co-operation with the Teaching Unions to ensure equity. Instead we find Queensland and Western Australia blocking Quest Atlantis (as the data is held off-shore) and the DET using Twitter to make announcements, but blocks it in school. In short it is a mess and the debate over laptops and school intrastructure is meaningless unless clear policy and action is taken at DET level. I’d love to have that conversation.

Will’s session was another demonstration that teachers want to learn, but lack access to people who can help curriculum leaders, libraries and classroom teachers renew curricula and develop 21st Century pedagogy. There is no preparation for the introduction of fibre connectivity or laptops in the classroom, and well over a decade since the DET ‘re-trained’ teachers.

Realism is not present; what we are doing is no longer realistic. Relevance; current professional learning is limited to policy implementation. Retention; motivated teachers are ‘expelled’ by systems unable to recognise the significance of what they are trying to do. In our desire to be equitable, we fail students. Access to powerful professional learning and therefore powerful schools is increasingly limited by geography and social capital. Bringing any scale to what is a massive problem is difficult in Australia, imagine how much more complex it is in the UK or USA.

However, I wonder at what point someone (maybe me?) form some organisation to deliver 21st Century Learning in whole school, public access level in Australia. PLNs are great, but I think that we need to start something far more significant, that is recognised as professional learning and in some way aligned to recognition and motivation, and in such a way that it transcends the organic and provides constructive advice, policy and lobby for change.

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Moshi Monsters

The PR blurb says : Moshi Monsters is a virtual world for children that allows users to adopt and care for their own pet monsters. Users create a home for their pet monster in Monstro City, play games and make friends, and show off their monster. It is not ‘new’ as such – but new to me. It was nominated for a Childrens BAFTA Award in December 2008.

picture-21The blogger says: Moshi Monsters is slick and well able to align it’s product offering with big brands to fish in the same markets – such as a current tie in competition with the up coming Ben 10 movie. It also got a whopping US$10million as a start up. It’s a 2D flash based site, in which children solve puzzles, earn points, and do the usual social stuff. However, one of the sticky points – a little neo-pets like – is that the monster has a quite clever behavior engine. You have to try and keep it happy. It has in effect an emotional literacy – how to keep your avatar pet alive. Being social is one way – the site allows messages and connections between other Moshi owners.

There are obvious, earlier comparisons to draw here with ‘pet based’ interaction online – but the site also has a ‘blog’, which contains a lot of information – including discussions about what users have created – and some very subtle marketing and cross promotional activity.

A quick trial with the house hold ‘test monkeys’ – and it was a cinch to figure out, but to get the most out of it, they need cognitive skills of online communication as well as problem solving, so not for pre-schoolers or early learners. I’d say 9-11 year olds might stick with it for a while.

There are lots of puzzle sites around, and indeed puzzle based MUVEs, what I found interesting here was the degree of social media integration done over and above the ‘game’ itself. Blogs, buddy lists, message boards … and avatar management – what looks like a simple site – is actually demanding a high level of literacy. Mindcandy – the creators – seem very aware of parent communication and site monitoring, but I didn’t see active evidence of that in the way that ReadingEggs sends a report of your child’s activity.

But it’s been this weeks ‘hit’ internet ‘time’ toy, though I am not at all sure that it has any ‘educational’ value in it’s games – that you can’t get with less of an overhead elsewhere with Dora or Disney, but makes big leaps into social media territory – which is what I found more interesting.

I do wish these things could be more adaptable. Right now they are almost as frustrating as Computer Aided Instruction software in the 1990s. Sure they look nice, do neat stuff  – but they don’t allow ‘learning’ to be at the centre. Collecting “Rox” in return for puzzles is mearly a means to an end. There is no real ability to put the character into a learning framework, no opportunity to ‘create’ or ‘story tell’, so once again, I think we are heading down the wrong path. This might lead to kids ‘social networking’ but really – what is the point – the age of their development does not require them too, or equip them to. Virtualising it and adding moral pressure didn’t thrill me, or make me want to take kids to it in an educational setting.

I can see merit in MeetSee in school and home – and there are others such as MetaPlace that offer more learning centred opportunities. Games have their place, especially with boys education – maths and science – such as Runescape, but then there are things such as Moshi Monsters. It is much harder to ‘extract’ how you’d add these to a class, so this means they are left to be used at home. It is important that teachers at least ‘know’ what is happening in this growing realm – as the skills being developed are significant – and so is the collaborative, social nature used to aquire them. Moshi Monsters would make an interesting study in comparison to other more adaptive offerings.

Meetsee – Educators add your thoughts!

After my post about Meetsee, I was really pleased to get a response from it’s creator. I thought it is well worth sharing parts of the conversation, as it gives an insight to just how connected users and creators are though the interwebs. Rather than get all the answers from me, please add your voice to the questions! It can only assist the development. Much better than ‘yeah butting’ later.

I can see from his outline of the service, just how effective it would be in education, as the issues are really just the same!

When designing the Meetsee virtual office, I did a good bit of reading and interviewing colleagues to figure out what problems we wanted to solve for remote workers.

  1. Remote workers do not feel connected to their coworkers or managers. They don’t get to know them or build the trust necessary for a cohesive team.
  2. Managers had difficulty knowing what their distributed teams are working on, how they are feeling, etc. Most managers do this by walking around and talking to employees.
  3. Workers had a difficult time finding the documents and people they are looking for. Meetsee was designed to address these issues.

How do you think educators will want to use Meetsee (office hours, classes, study sessions)?

Yes I do, it is flash based and has a neat audit trail. It is low bandwidth and works better than some other ‘flash based’ video conferencing tools I’ve used. I like the positioning between play and work. There are plenty of uses for study and out of school, especially if you are looking at distributed learners – which is often the case in Australia. When I showed the Educational Development Team this week, they all jumped in and stayed all afternoon. It has something about it that is addictive, and therefore interesting to students.

What classes/subjects do you think can be successfully taught inside a Meetsee room?

I think that K12 is ideal for Meetsee, but I also think that student/tutor classes could be run, especially if sudents can drop off or collect assignments. There really isn’t much you can’t ‘teach’ or ‘learn’ online these days.

Are there other university users to consider other than faculty and students?

Yes, HR for one. Having a range of induction materials etc., the IT Helpdesk could be implimented well for technical support. There are also a lot of research academics, though these vary in IT savvyness. I could see a collection of ‘rooms’ representing student services on campus, and staffed by student interns.

How important is privacy to students and faculty (i.e. should students be able to see each other’s full name, email address, virtual location in Meetsee)?

Critical. I would suggest allowing a teacher to sign-up and then allow them to create ‘classes’ and ‘avatars’ within the class. Students and email is always problematic. Most web-savvy teachers set out guidelines for usernames, ie John Smith, becomes JohnSM. I would therefore see a teacher having a classroom, and students attend it, like normal. If anything, you might have a student locker room for their files.

What additional tools are needed in a virtual classroom?

I think an ability to have a transcript of the text chat (just in case of bullying). Most kids are well behaved online, but you’d have to have private rooms for classes – but at the same time, allow teachers to connect their room to others – a little how Open Simulator backs Islands together. I’d also think that you might have a ‘drop box’ for assignments, and maybe a micro-blogging gizmo. A few drag and drop hyperlinks would be nice, so they can connect to their wiki’s, Google etc.,

I hope this helps, and it would be amazing to think that all those EdTech’s out there will add their toughts.

Meetsee is the ‘wow’ of the year for me! Well done!

MeetSee

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.