Don’t blog – Rez!

WE CONSTANTLY seem to hear about ‘leaks’ and ‘errors’ when personal information appears online – and powerless to retract, control or predict it’s impact.

The ‘culture of participation’ is not an opt-in experience as there is no opt-out.  We are tagged, poked, @’ted, linked, referenced and befriended to the point where the representation of ourselves is fractured, atomized and abstract. We don’t even need to decide to put a footprint down – by making a blog, often – as my Director pointed out today – the employer lists an enormous amount of information online for you.

Do we really need to put students into this environment?

We are as liberal with information today as hippies were with flowers in the sixties – we love to freely express our experiences, creations and opinions with often little regard for ourselves or others – we justify this as being ‘virtual’ – when in fact nothing is virtual – it is connected to us all the time – even when we move on.

We create virtual worlds and avatars into which we project ourselves.  Those busy stomping their foot prints in the digital landscape often place virtual worlds such as Second Life or Quest Atlantis as marginal learning spaces – where games, fantasy and user generated content is immature or facile. I beg to differ. Having an avatar in a virtual world is an excellent idea for students and teachers – your avatar is you. You own it in safe fail environment, where you control the IP, where you decide what happens, where you decide who to talk to, who to work with and what you then leave behind. This, to me is a lot safer and sustainable than blogging.

Its not about ‘publishing’, its about ‘learning’ – and social media is not an idyllic environment – though a virtual one can be. I can only wish I was going to GLS5.0 – as some of the ideas and work there is not only inspirational, but also some of the most meta-cognitive, most enquiry driven, most motivating and Safe Fail places to learn for students – not just K12 – but TAFE and Higher Education.

I am not saying avoid online media and collaboration – just that places like Skoolaborate, Ramapo Islands, Edmodo, Moodle, Elgg etc.,  seem to me to be a lot safer than the real one right now – especially when schools start pushing hundreds of kids ‘online’. Joining a virtual world project and using that – still seems to me to a very wise move – and in terms of motivation – ask them what they’d rather do.

Image : Don Hosho

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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.

EdTech that gets kids excited about learning

There are so many things I love about having a truely (not just talking about it) Classroom2.0 enabled school.

One of the most enjoyable things I do is to take a group of students for their first workshop with me, and start to show them how creating hyper-media digital stories says much more about their learning than “I was here today”.

In this situation, kids are very much in ‘teacher talking’ – defense mode, so you are not going to get every kid to start displaying visible signs of excitement or re-engagement. But the Classroom2.0 teacher knows that this is perfectly fine.

Some kids simply prefer to communicate with you via the internet, as it is a neutral physical territory. Its when you start to support those kids, and see them re-engage with learning and start to show you what they really are capable of that is a huge reward. And this is an activity that Teacher1.0 misses out on. Classroom2.0 gives you a multi-dimensional conversation.

So here’s my list of activities that I find work with students.

Exciting#1 – Working as an individual inside a supportive online social network to develop creative and critical literacies. (Blogs, Wikis, Social Bookmarking).

Exciting#2 – Getting feedback from people outside the school and reflecting on what they are saying. Putting ‘dots’ on your map shows them that they have an audience – and people are listening to them. They love AUDIO feedback especially.

Exciting#3 – Making – making anything with technology in a group – Animoto, iMovie, Podcast, Digitial Camera, Cartoon Strip – kids love to be hands on with technology and to SANDBOX their ideas – let them – just because you thought of the theme (like how many kids are doing ‘Olympic’ projects right now as they are still 2 days from closing) – then let them justify and explore their own – its all CRITICAL thinking.

Exciting#4 – VoiceThread – using VoiceThread as a visual flipbook in which they record their work. This is blogging out loud or writing out loud. Makes it so much easier for kids FINE MOTOR development issues

Exciting#5ReadingEggs – Early reading online. Kids love the back story! Hatch your egg and learn to read. The are rewarded with toys, allowed to dress their avatar and the animation and audio is first class. The follow up well designed and presented ‘printed’ material is perfectly balanced for young readers.

Exciting#6 – Interactive Wipe Boards – Every primary classroom should have one and every kids should be able to use one. Gives an interactive context that kids love and builds collaboration – they all love to get involved and love to help each other.

Exciting#7 – Games and MUVES – Myst III, Warcraft, Runescape, Tribal Wars, Mathletics, Quest Atlantis, Teen Second Life, The Sims – there are a gazillion ways to build all sorts of excting classroom activities around these things. It really is okay for kids to sandbox and have fun – playing is how they learned what they learned before teachers game them worksheets. Play was more rewarding as it has a greater sense of personal achievement.

Exciting#8 – Authentic Writing – Reading a traditional book and blogging about it. Reading FanFiction and blogging about it. Writing your own, and blogging about it. Talking about books and blogging about it. – Blogging when the topic is intrinsically interesting as opposed to a ‘task or chore’.

Exciting#9 – Alice – A great 3D programming environment (free) that appeals to all learners, and teaches the foundations to programming languages.

Exciting#10 – OpenSim/CreativeSuite/SecondLife/FinalCut/StudioMax/Mayer – all the applications that require Mastery skills to achieve a goal – these things are hard but the rewards are also high. Gifted and talented LOVE these things, as they allow them to explore various tangents and new skills.

Please feel to add more …

Setting the stage

A quick snapshot of the sandbox in Skoolaborate where kids are working in their TeenSecondClassroom project. A 2 minute Shakespeare play that they are going to post onto Machinima.com in a few weeks. It’s great to see how they are approaching this. Some building film like sets and other who have been looking at more traditional stages. They are just beginning to consider textures … I just wish we had more than an hour a week, but at least it is in the timetable!

Skoolaborate Kids Congress 2008

“We are keen to encourage this important global collaboration opportunity amongst our communities. The congress will provide a significant boost to the skill levels and understandings of the staff and students who participate. They will make a significant step toward building those skills they need to succeed in a increasingly global workplace.”

Skoolaborate Kids Congress was held in Sydney 31 July to 2nd August 2008. Students and teachers from around the world attended the f2f event at MLC school, and others attended ‘in world’. There were a number of projects, keynotes and speakers broadcast live into Skoolaborate via quicktime. Part of the day, students we’re collaborating to build some furniture, learning the basic contruction methods needed. Our students decided that outdoor furniture was the go (being Australian), and that it should be BIG – due to the Australian love of the ‘BIG’ prawn; pineapple; guitar; cow; sheep etc., which stand besides the road of many Australian country towns.

I won’t be at day 2, but it was great to be involved with Chris’ PBL project in world, and great to see so many kids working to realise their ideas. Here’s a quick animoto of the stuff our kids made.

Virtual Words in the Curriculum

Progress! – the 2007 pilot with year 9 Information Software Technology and Skoolaborate has paid off. Our school has placed Teen Second Life project into the year 9 curriculum.

In introducing virtual worlds and the opportunities, the class was full of enthusiasm, with the usual noise that only a year 9 class of boys can generate.

The Skoolaborate project has been integrated into the schools first year of project based learning time table. There are some 26 students involved at this stage split into groups. The initial work will be in allowing them to research a range of virtual worlds, from Wow to Star Wars Galaxies … and then to consider how this technology could benefit their learning.

We are attempting to allow students to respond to a simple driving statement (to be decided), and then to work on a project which has a final delivery in week 5. We then aim to have this project realised with the Skoolaborate partners by the end of the term.

The new students will be able to talk to those who took part last year, to help them get to grips with TSL.

This is the first ‘official’ new technology that we have mandated as part of the curriculum. The student groups will need to work with a group wiki to develop their project, and in so, pull in a range of other Web2.0 technologies.

This I aim to promote and evaluate in my plot in Jokaydia in SL for other teachers to use.

I have 2 teachers involved, both with no previous SL experience, and its great to see how quickly they see the potential. It is likely that we will drive this through a History/IST focus … but we want our students to select and develop the project in line with the Skoolaborate goals.

I hope to have the API to enroll students directly into the project soon and look forward to a year of development (the pilot was just one term in 2007).

Skoolaborate – Avatar Hunt

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12 students took part in the Avatar Hunt in Skoolaborate today. These students had done some preparation work for this meeting.

Students created an outfit for their avatar and filled out an email with a personal profile. This they emailed to Japanese students.

During the meeting, the students engaged in conversation to find out who is who. There was a huge turn out of students in 3 of the areas we have created. The above shot is from the Japanese students building (of course). Initially, our students rushed into the conversation, which was too fast, too furious for their new ESL friends. By the end of the session they evolved to simplify their language and it was great to see students helping other students ‘in world’ and in our Learning Centre itself, to communicate. We learned a few things. Some students changed their appearance! Confusing the confused … some students bumped into others (so and anti-push) freebie is in order, and students need to stop flying around so much, to allow ESL students to compose their questions and answers.

As this was out first outing, some degree of high spirits was at play, but it is amazing that after just one week, our students are able to navigate, communicate and have begun learning skills in their new virtual world.