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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Virtual Learning

Today I had the chance to try out some ‘technologies’ in Macquarie University’s lecture theatres.

This presentation was mashed over an hour with a ‘virtual’ hook up with Annabel Astbury and Jokay. Its always hard to know how to ‘pitch’ virtual worlds, but I see them as highly motivating and engaging spaces that students find ‘enjoyable’. The degree of ‘fun’ that they offer I think gives me some latitude to explore more challenging questions of pre-teachers.

The invitation to ‘live comment’ using Tinychat was met with blank looks as the opened their highly decorated ring-binders and set out their ball point pens. This presentation is also online, so ask questions, don’t write alone. But of course, no one was used to the idea of live note taking, but that was a message not something I thought would happen.

I think you have to have a serious message, but with mixed media presentation when talking about Web2.0 or virtual worlds. It’s a style thing. I like to use Apples ‘spaces’ to bounce around screens, but also like to have a lot of fast-paced slides, mixed with a few videos to allow a break from the onslaught.

Other like to run off a wiki or a set of bookmarks – I like pictures.

I don’t expect students will take specific ‘facts’ from the presentation, and indeed, I don’t want them too. All too often technical presentations for ICT get bogged down in ‘details’ and ‘yeah buts’. What I want them to do is take away one simple question – as “What I am doing motivating for students”, and then perhaps to start thinking of reasons to think about other things. Today I used World of Warcraft and Second Life – to demonstrate how we can use narratives and motivation to develop a range of ‘soft skills’, contrasted against the freedom of virtual worlds such as Second Life and Open Sim. I am sure that the students are not about to explore this stuff deeply. It’s just one hour in their course, but I’d like them to feel is that it is not okay to dismiss it.

The next step is to mix Second Life ‘live’ with a lecture, having students in-room and in-world. As the lecture is delivered, the backchannel should light up. All I have to do now is find an academic mad-enough to try this – or even better try and hook our theatre with another class. And to me, that is the hard part of EdTech – getting someone to take a ‘risk’ – a one hour ‘risk’. The technology itself is a piece of cake … the saga continues. A lot of work for an hour I grant you. But no matter how hard it was, it won’t be again … and there is always a next time.

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