VWBPE: OMG it worked.

Last week Mr.9 leveled up to be Mr.10 and due to a spot of good fortune we spent the week on Hamilton Island. In case you’re not sure, this is one of those paradise looking places with perfect white sandy beaches and more infinity pools that Gorden Ramsey’s got F-words. Big white yachts, the barrier reef, Nemo and old people clad in garish togas and bling. It’s not a technology zone.

This week was also the annual Best Practices in Virtual World Education extravaganza, at which I was really pleased to be asked to give a talk about gaming.

Hotel internet connectivity is generally expensive and usually rubbish. 3G is your friend – or so I was hoping. The next, more serious problem – this is a family holiday (not an excuse to geek-out in front of a screen).

At the appointed time, I connected my iPony to my Macbook which I placed inside a circle of pure white sea-salt surrounded by several vanilla smelling candles marking the compass points. To my absolute amazement, I logged into Imprudence, rezzed my avatar. Even more amazing, the genius minds at the Centre for Edupunx had hot-wired my podcast back-up recording to halo of virtual butterflies, which floated around my avatar – and the talk rolled out without a hitch.

Feeling very smug and pleased with myself I took a photo, then because I’m addicted to photo apps, give it a kind of Elvis Hawaii look. Then something struck me.

I remember when Mr10 was Mr OMG it’s a boy.

At the time, I had this Apple QuickTake camera, a Blueberry iMac hooked into a modem and a crappy webspace at OzEmail. I spent a day sticking .JPGS on the Internet and attempting to explain what the Internet was to my parents, before giving up.

Back then, most people were still amazed at txting and drooling over the idea that WAP phones could connect us to the Internet (somehow) and few people we’re using the Internet like the IV drip it has become today.

It struck me just how far we can push technology with this kind of cyborg-network today – not just to send and receive, but to be be part of the mechanic itself, because of the people that you are connecting to and through. A podcast, made with GarageBand, uploaded to DropBox and shared into a virtual world, streamed though butterflies to people from around the real world, from a virtual one – by 3G on a tiny island.

How do we even begin to describe this kind of thing to people who are still claiming they are too busy to learn to share something as basic as a Google Document. How are these people possibly going to deal with the next decade inside bricks and mortar caves.

People often say it’s not the tools, its what you do with them

I say its neither anymore – it’s the people who understand the tools your connecting with that creates the most powerful learning practice ever imagined. It seems if we can do all this from a dot of an island – it begs the question, why can’t we do it in places that are supposedly designed for it – and why are we still listening to the yeah-buts.


If the shoe fits #1

DUTY OF CARE, the age old topic that is rolled out whenever the conversation about changing a culture of learning starts to get a little uncomfortable – when something new might disrupt the status-quo once again floated to the top of the turd bowl this week.

Private education has to comply with the same legal duty. Yet public policy sees Bob the Builder banned. More seriously, this potentially creates a second class experience for public schools using technology – some 70% of our children.

Yes we are critical – we have to be because the system is in a nice safe orbit. Failure to adequately address local policy adaptation and provide local school autonomy in ICT over a long period of time, though successive governments has resulted in a lock-stepped public system that is unable to cope.

Its a cultural problem! – bureaucrats unwilling and unable to create effective public policy, waving the ‘duty of care’ banner on any occasion that feels uncomfortable. The internet brings a macro level of scrutiny that has simply got out of hand. School leaders do not check every book or resource that a teacher brings to class or get it ratified by some faceless womble in head office. Yet the internet does.
I think I might move to Sweden – where I could either choose a school that will work for my kids (not against them), or I could set up my own, with 100% government funding. Could I do that here – absolutely – would I need to talk to DET, probably not – I need to talk to DET teachers – as our school would be different and better.
Now there’s an idea – a Free Virtual School for all Australian Kids online. Jeez why didn’t I think of that and tell someone earlier this year. Oh wait … you get the point – DET is not the only scenario on offer – and there is global research and evidence to suggest that the patriarchal model we have – is not guaranteed to continue. *Puts hand up for Virtual School! A school needs community – and that does not mean locking kids in a room day in and day out for several years anymore.

Creativity Strikes Back

THANKS to Lauren O’Grady via Twitter for this tip-off about the creative use of familiar favourites in new context – to sell a message. An image from the promotion of the Star Wars Weekends at Disney, Florida. What this got to do with ‘teachers’ – plenty.

Star Was fanbois aside, this image I thought was the strongest amongst the set. The representation of wonderment that kids display at airports gazing out the obligatory giant windows, is one of those ‘moments’ everyone remembers. Add to this the use of a familiar, but out of content image – and the art director has captured the essence of the message ‘revisit wonder and introduce new wonder’. You want to get on that Fighter!How long did this ad take to make – decades. Conceptually drawn from experience – both intellectual and emotional flows along side the art directors understanding of empathy with the audience. I wonder how damaged the craft has become in the race to capture diminished returns of the once all conquering ‘Ad-men’.

This ad message makes you want that ‘feeling’. It appeals to you in ways the words could never do. It takes the past and recycles it for both a new purpose and to re-ignite interest in adults. This image to me, represents what can be archived, when we creatively use ‘old ideas’ in ways that apply to ‘new ideas’. Great art direction is timeless. yet seems out of fashion in the brawl to ‘be noticed’. Mixed quality, mixed messages, mixed returns in an ever shifting landscape has cause siesmic shifts in required repertoire and understanding of art directors. But a great idea always sells a great idea.

But if all you see in this is Star Wars, then I’ve lost you.

These posters are NOT even seen by the public – they have been designed to be shown ‘internally’ at Disney and the Park – to raise internal emotional interest and motivation in what will probably be ‘more work’ for staff. That is what makes them really clever.

How do we do this in education? What are the icons and capstones of our past, that we can use to enthuse the future? – Do we even want it?

An Intro to Social Media in Education

This is probably a fairly unremarkable ‘power point’ … as an introduction to social media I gave to general staff and students this week. I find it really hard to pitch social media in education as a dry – theory, so have tried to liven it up by having people leave comments during the presentation. I am much more comfortable with learning frameworks and nitty gritty stuff. Part of the process of delivering this kind of message, which is not ‘my’ lens – was to try get them to engage with the idea of a two-way interchange, in what is a passive presentation. I have used Etherpad, and created a live document to accompany the presentation. Sessions like these I think tend to attract ‘digital tourists’, so I am hoping to capture two voices – those attending, and perhaps some more experienced educators. It would be great if you could leave a comment on the Etherpad, to give the ‘next’ bus load of tourists some sense of conversation, as this will be a repeating session. I’ll also be giving this presentation online via Live Classroom next week … May13, 10-11am, you can register FREE here for that. I hope that you can spare some time to participate.

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


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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Tech savvy pre-schoolers

picture-13This Christmas has seen an explosion in pre-school and ‘just in school’ online offerings in 2008 and is significant I think.

Perhaps one of the most high profile playgrounds is from Jumpstart. Plenty of people remember them as developing some of the better CD-Rom pre-school and early learning titles, the types of ICTs that many of today’s high school students started with. Jumpstart has moved online, with a very clever and engaing ‘virtual world’, where kids learn and play as ‘Jumpies’. Then there are commercial offerings such as Build-A-Bear-Ville – a half decent virtual world marred by predicable product up sell. Pre-schoolers are busy enabling their Webkins, looking after their virtual plushy, playing games and dealing in a basic building and financial system. Away from commercial sell are offerings such as Secret Builders – another world of multi-user interaction. These are just three examples of many that my 5 and 3 year old have been giving a workout in the holiday.

While 2008 saw a lot of (mute) debate around MySpace, FaceBook et al in schools, it’s significant that tech-savvy parents are more than happy to have their children extending traditional ‘play’ with virtual ‘play’. While they like to play ‘games’ online – they are increasingly using multi-user environments, and these are getting quite astute in their safety, services and parental feedback mechanisms. The most popular console this Christmas was Nintendo’s Wii – which is again, enabled for multi-player over the internet. Playing with others online is just part of the territory – and not limited to the World of Warcraft.

Many, including my own daughter, start kindergarten this year having learned to read online with sites like Reading Eggs. They have built several avatars in Disney/Barbie websites and are quite fussy about their ‘digital representations’. Pre-schoolers have increasing access to read/write technology and therefore potentially more media literate than even a year ago. The ‘shift’ is heading downwards to pre-schoolers.

The technology they can use has surpassed that the current teen generation cut their ICT teeth on. CD-Roms are thing you put in the Wii, not a computer. What they learn in Kindy – will be applied to technology at home, the two things are blended learning. Playing with others online is just another thing to do – like reading a book, playing with plush toys or running in the park with friends. Giving your Webkin a virtual life simply extends their imagination and increases their ICT skills.

Of course not all parents and kids can do this. People talk about the digital divide getting wider, but it is also starting earlier. I think that the increase in pre and early school read/write websites is something not to be under-estimated. While I’ve heard primary school teachers say that much of the K12 action is happening at the 7-12 – there’s no reason to think that K6 has any less opportunity to blend ICTs into the classroom.