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.

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.

Metaplace – Virtual Word to Go!

Metaplace is not out yet, but is in private beta, so it won’t be too long. It is a very interesting idea which has grabbed millions of dollars of investment. Watch the YouTube video for a visual explanation of the technology. What is allows us or students to do is to create a world in which all the programming is done for you, all you need to do is choose what you want to pull into it.

Students for example, could create a world in which they pull in webpage content as part of an assignment. They could then invite other students. They could discuss content or add content. The virtual world itself simply pulls in ‘media’. It is another great example of how exisiting content and read/write feeds are mashing with 3D environments. Rather than creating new places, this kind of technology is bringing social network media into three dimentional representations. It is not the fact that these are ‘virtual worlds’ – more that the distance between 2D content browsing, and 3D immersive experiences are merging.

The advent of printing, really changed the way we learned. Before that, learning was not text and image based, nor did it start of page one. We learned in 3D spaces in which language, sound, movement and multiple inputs formed the whole. Almost all of what we did to commit learning to some sort of retained storage media was, and still is, 2D. Gaming is now almost entirely 3D – But by that I mean it’s still 2D, but simulates ‘first person’ with sound and images being artificially manufactured to give the impression of immersion in a 3D space. As the cost of creating and delivering this, using tools like Metaplace, are reduced – effectively to almost zero, then the human, who is by nature built to learn in 3D space – is more able to do so. This to me is one of the reasons to at least be aware of how virtual worlds are/can/might be used in education. It is evevitable that the 2D nature of ‘the internet’ will continue to move towards 3D experiences – based on social interaction. Right now the internet is busy ‘linking people’ – the future is moving towareds linking shared experience.

Audio for example. Sharing the performance with friends is a different experience to listening alone. Why do we go to see performances? Because we want to ‘see’ not just hear, and we want to share that experience with people we know – or who we think are like us. To me it seems natural that this is what we are seeing happen. The question is – how does this affect student learning in the next five years. Will we still be asking students to represent their learning and creativity – in 2D ways.