Unity3D

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There are times, when I see something new and think, oh my god. Game changer. Unity3D is that.

It might not look much here, but go and see how fast it loads, how graphically rich it is, how it deals with sound, runs on a browser, allows flash like interactions, and is already in commercial use on multiple consoles and even iPhone.

Spend 20 minutes playing with it, watching it, using it – then ask yourself – why do I still believe that content and online experience will not move from my computer to my phone, my car, my wall or my console. Here’s a starter world just to get you immersed. As you are looking at this think about all the flash content you’ve used … blend it all together with game-play and instructional design – and you can see why game and content developers are flocking to it. Before you rush off, you may remember playing Timez Attack – the Mathematics Video game … it’s on Unity3D.

Still feeling left out? Not into solo games – how about a serious game, WolfQuest, where multiple players form a wolf pack and explore life – well, as wolf. Why is it serious? – Because it is instructionally designed for a real zoo and real organisation to engage kids in a social game, to learn about the environment. It’s co-produced with an educational developement company – EduWeb – a to me represents a new avenue for educators to explore professionally – designing learning for immersive environments. Taking ‘play’ and wrapping it in ‘learning’ is what games based learning is all about. Unity3D is just another technology changing the role of teachers online and why teachers can ill afford to limit themselves to teaching procedural functions of computer and Internet use.

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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Macquarie University joins Second Life

I’ve been busy this week working with Jo Kay developing a Second Life build for Macquarie University. As part of the ongoing ‘innovation to integration’ research, the MQ teaching and learning centre has joined Jokaydia. An extension to the capability of the learning and teaching centre it will serve as a classroom for educators wishing to explore Second Life. The build will also be used as a practical venue for distributed staff to meet and work.

I arrived at MQ just as the Learning and Teaching Centre was developing its 2009/10 strategic plan, so it’s been a busy few weeks trying to get up to speed and working with so many passionate educators and meet an end of year deadline. I am really impressed that in adding this element to the centre’s operations, that I really didn’t have to go through the ‘why don’t you get a first life’, ‘is it a game?’ conversations. I wasn’t quite expecting that or the depth of understanding already of Virtual Worlds. Everyone recognised these are an important technology in educational development research. It has been fully supported and very easy to deliver (mostly thanks to working with Jo). So in just over a week, the centre is ready for our first professional development session next Monday.

MQ already runs a successful iLecture system in many classrooms, deliverying recorded audio content to students which continues to grow, and will begin testing of video-lectures in 2009. The LTC has Elluminate, Adobe Connect and Elluminate as core technology offerings – Second Life however was missing from the ‘set’. It is interesting that once you talk about Second Life, all sorts of people come out from the shadows and say that they have been investigating or un-officially ‘doing something’, something which was echoed at the recent Open Education Workshops, where many presenters said that their now successful projects started life in-secret.

MQ on Jokaydia has two spaces, a practical resource, information and teaching ‘building’ and a second area, which the University can use, as a collaborative space. The aim is to allow students and staff to have a workable and sizeable space in which to develop anything that supports learning and teaching. We talked about developing an ‘island’, but felt that the nature of Second Life is as an synchronous, interactive first person experience – rather than a visual statement. I have been part of the Jokaydia community for some time, and so know just how engaging and inspirational some of the work has been. The professional development opportunities are created through the community engagement on Jokaydia – so placing MQ students and staff into the community to me is significantly richer than just wandering around your own island or occasionally running a symposium.

In 2009, the MQ space will also be connected with student and staff support mechanisms, together with a series of symposiums that I’m working on as face to face events (open to all), webinars etc., In addition, we are going to explore connecting Podcast content in-world. It will then be possible to ‘stream’ content on demand into the classrooms. This then allows students to meet and discuss the lectures – which is particularly important to MQs on-going focus on student engagement, given the vast number of students that are enrolled in distance education though various study pathways such as Open Education.

This facility will assist staff and students in exploring the multiple opportunities and impacts that ‘first person’ experiences has in learning and teaching – all supported by the amazing Jo Kay.