Online School of Opportunity (OSO)

Why write on the walls, when you can write everywhere?

Mashable posted  “Why Teens Don’t Tweet”, giving a range of data and view on the demographics of a social network growing at +1300% a month. It made me wonder about how effective we are at competing for the attention of students, teachers and educational leaders. Are we too busy pressing the ‘Digg’ button and missing the opportunities presented?

“Twitter’s different than Facebook or MySpace because Twitter is not about your friends … Teens, more than any other age group, care about their friends. It’s the continuation of real-life friendship (and the creation of online ones) that has driven the tremendous growth of MySpace, Facebook, Bebo etc”.

To use these spaces, today’s teens spend increasing amounts of time informally online. They are using informal learning. As formal public education provides almost no spaces for this it is no surprise that teens power down between 9 and 3.30, disconnected from their informal learning networks. And it isn’t a teen sensation; social games and online networks are actively marketed to pre-schoolers. The numbers participating in pre-school social game Webkinz alone dwarfs teen blogging.

McGivney (1999) a decade ago recognised the importance of informal learning pathways.

Informal learning generated by local people themselves often led to wider community involvement and activism, whereas learning arranged by education providers most often led to high rates of educational progression. Informal learning often started people on a continuing learning path by helping them become confident and successful learners. “

Space, time and organisation are cardinal elements of formal learning – which is the inverse of the online educational commons. Informality enables us to be successful learners in playful and social ways that we can take to new situations. Increasingly games and social networks provide this function. It is common to see two teachers talking about education online; but rare to see departmental CEO or Minister add to any authentic open discussion. They have attained their authority by abiding by the rules of formality; where as online authority is now earned through action in informal networks.

Teens use  mobile phones, Bebo, Facebook and MySpace – to successfully strengthen friend networks. What they don’t know how to do is apply it to the discipline needed in obtain life affecting qualifications. There is a clear role for teachers to do this, and students readily work with these teachers – who are not necessarily technocrats – but are adoptive leaders and good communicators. They talk with, not at – which is another characteristic of policy making bureacrats and politicians. You can’t co-opt your way to social change on your terms anymore. Get over it; move on. Stop building walled gardens and ignoring what is there already.

The problem with internalising everything and agreeing with yourself, is that it sustains nothing except yourself.

Seriously – why do we spend millions developing ‘closed’ applications using tax-payer money on things like a blog engine ‘pilot’, when the world is using Edublog Campus? The criteria is less than transparent and hardly going to give any real indication of pedagogical reform; if indeed there is going to be any public release of the findings. Per teacher; what is the investment?

The blog trial involves 20 teachers, each from a different school or TAFE Institute from across the State. Trial participants were selected though a variety of means but all are users of collaborative tools and are keen to use blogs for teaching and learning.

The Centre for Learning Innovation’s website (The public education tech-development arm) says “Connected learning projects allow students to engage with real-life situations, which involve communication, collaboration, self-directed learning, problem solving, researching and publishing findings.” it prompt you to download  a 1997 document which then explains what the internet is, why use it in the classroom and gives an illustration of how to use a website (Netscape 2). The link is dead, and obviously ancient history – yet is on the ‘new’ website.

Do you learn more by skimming last night Tweets than you did at your last technology ‘in-service’?

We don’t need to be at specific time or place to learn – just access the educational network commons that now exists online. We are seeing an effusion of activity in forming and joining new networks that is changing education philopshy, not technology itself. The tragedy is that teachers are often unable to benefit students from this action. It is locked stepped by political orientation to conventional, schematic discernment of the 21st Century itself.

We should be better utilising existing resources such as libraries and teachers, and investigating an ‘Online School of Opportunity (OSO) and not limiting students through long-familiar toothsome approaches to quality improvement (aka “School of Excellence” ). We need centres of opportunity before excellence can be afforded to all –  though investment in public Libraries and community spaces that encourage both teachers and students to get together and transform the way they use technology; not block it.

Ref: McGivney (1999). “Informal Learning in the Community: A Trigger for Change and Development.”  National Institute for Adult Continuing Education, UK.

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.

Second Life – using, not exploring possibilities

mqsl4_002I took part in the end of year ISTE Presenter fire-side chats on Friday (Thursday SL time). To me, some of the most thought provoking inputs come from informal discussions in Second Life, and this was no exception.

For a while now, I’ve been talking with Judy O’Connell, Jo Kay and Konrad Glogowski about developing a Second Life curriculum, that will allow teachers to use a ‘toolkit’ approach to developing work for students to undertake virtual Worlds.

At ISTE, I was engaged in a fantastic discussion with Peggy Sheehy about ‘negotiated curriculum’ – an approach to learning where students are asking more of the questions than the teachers. We also talked about how Second Life allows for a distributed classroom model – where it would be possible for that to be ‘facilitated’ by multiple teachers around the world. We thought it was possible to find some ‘third space’ for learning using virtual worlds – which has been highly successful in Quest Atlantis – because it has curriculum and measurable goals, facilitated by technology, students and teachers. Second Life still does not do this, though a range of TSL projects obviously do. In short, the efforts of us all are driven to similar goals, yet atomised.

We also thought that the model would suit some definition of 21st Century capabilities. All those things we know are important – yet are not on the test.

In a very recent NMC report, educators are actually increasing activity in Second Life. The NMC survey suggests

Educators are moving from exploration to use of Second Life for teaching and learning. More respondents report being involved in an educational-related activity in Second Life (increasing from 54% in 2007 to 71% in 2008). More than half report that the organization they are affiliated with owns a sim (up from 36% in 2007) and 74 individuals report in 2008 they own their own sim. This year 29% of survey participants report holding virtual office hours in SL; 37 of them (12%) have taught a class entirely in SL (up from 14 or 8% in 2007).

In 2007, Judy and I started SecondClassroom and TeenSecondClassroom, a place for teachers to talk and work on Virtual Classrooms and TeenSecondClassroom, a reflective space in which students of those teachers can form groups to talk about and evidence work. Now with over 100 members, perhaps there it is time to start meeting in Second Life and talking more about this idea. I would assume that this, like most ‘community’ approaches will suffer the Long Tail, however even if 10% of the group actively participate – then in 2009, we could develop this to a point where we could also deliver it.