What makes a virtual world happy?

An implicit assumption of the objective indicators approach to ‘social indicators’ is that one’s health, physical environment, quality of housing and other material circumstances are valid indicators of the quality of life. We are assuming that quality of life here relates to the single ‘real’ identity alone. As cyborgs – which you probably are with your iphones, augmented reality apps and mmorpg toons – I wonder how we begin to look at cyber-social indicators.

How do we work out if the metaverse is happy? How can we tell if an avatar is feeling a bit low – apart from their mana or health bar?  What are the social indicators needed to measure the social-media landscape, and what questions would provide more insight than of ‘how many users have xyz’ blah.

Do RTs make you happy? If we all get our RT quota, does it make us less or more snarky. Why do we change our avatar appearance … does the metaverse make use actually feel better.

If so, would kids feel happier at school if they brought their avatars?

I am the sum of the total parts I control

There are some places that I would not take teachers. Virtual worlds are one of them. The overhead is too high, the distance too far and the experience too abstract.

Before pressing ‘enter world’ there has to be a clear understanding of what that means. Didactically, it’s simple, but any virtual world is not what it seems. Virtual worlds are a cognitive technology; they change the way you perceive space, time, people and capability.

A virtual world is not an information appliance in the way a website or web-tool appears. To quote a brighter mind than mine, an avatar has a plastic brain, but is hybrid mind.

We can get deeper – another quote I like is “your own body is a phantom, one that your brain has temporarily constructed purely for convenience”.

I would not take teachers into a virtual world, any more than I could seek to take you into a web-browser . A virtual world is all about interweaving human-centredness into our lives, identities by constantly trying to construct a mental sense of place, presence and self. This might sound very odd, from someone who spends a lot of time ‘in world’, but to take a teacher into a world and attempt to train them is like asking them to use a wiki with a blindfold.

I cannot take teachers into a virtual world, I could only hope to meet them there. Everyone who maintains a sustained immersion in a virtual world has in some way re-wired their brain to accept a post-humanist reality. Every teacher I meet in virtual world, has a deep understanding of self organising knowledge structures, and how to balance multiple persona in which they interact, network, explore and experience a fundamentally different, perhaps cybernetic form of human intelligence.

A virtual world, unlike a website – has not been created from print culture and cannot support brains that mundanely perform acts of functional literacy in order to create ‘knowledge’. Teachers can enter virtual worlds, they can run lessons, they might even learn something new for a while; but to persist requires a deeper connection and get past the belief that entering a virtual world is to be an isolated key-tapper using an information appliance as a novelty or worse because they fail to connect to the real world. If we hope to teach kids in virtual worlds, then we must be residents in mind and body, and give away conscious thoughts about what is real and artificial.

Virtual worlds, are the sanctuary of childish minds. The one place they can go without being subjected to artificial boundaries – that I am afraid to say are mandated as soon as you ‘put’ people in-world. We are dabbling on the edge. Without question – those in virtual worlds, those who lead students into experiences, not activities are rare. To quote another favourite line “I am the sum of the total parts I control directly” – In a virtual world, the point is not to seek direct control over your avatar, but to use it as an extension of your mind – to change it.

Try creating a lesson plan to do that (unless you’re already there).

Amazing tech or Amazing environments?

I read Betch’s post about being AMAZING – or rather what is AMAZING technology. He observed …

The teacher was all effusive, gushed about the Ning’s “amazing” features and wanting to show the students all the “amazing” things it could do… “Look! You can use it to leave messages for each other!”, she said excitedly.

So what is AMAZING? I have to say STORYTELLING and writing. But it means getting out the comfy chair again.

Increasingly virtual worlds and games offer tools that are more engaging than those Chris mentions — and even pre-schoolers are using them. Transmedia is now the norm in publishing. You can’t seriously leave the reader – just a reader. They want to participate. Check out http://fairygodmotheracademy.com/ for a nice example of this in action.

STORYTELLING and more specifically — digital narrative — plays out in the lives of young people though their use of consoles and games. The development of the story, the realisation through images, sounds and immersion in ‘open’ worlds will be more familiar to kids than anything else.

Call of Duty $3billion dollar game — a significant reason for games/entertainment to find increasing synergies between telling stories and being immersed in stories. They are skipping past he blogs and portals — and putting their audience in world, not on the web. Developers have learned that we don’t just want to play — we want to connect, share and customise ourselves and the environment.

Sony PS3 Little Big Planet is about to offer online creation and other games such as Spore have already discovered that creating a character is more engaging that just choosing one and even separated the character tools from the game itself. Pre-schoolers love to create Mii’s as much as play the Wii – and no MMO would dare show itself unless you could dress up your avatar.

What has this got to do with school? — Literacy. We like to create and visualise outside of the reading. We want to combine characterisation with avatars and we want to experience the worlds and situations that we create. This is what made Peggy Sheehy’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird” sim on the Teen Grid so brilliant – way ahead of its time – kids could be part of the book, not just observers.

Schools right now have multiple options to use virtual worlds. The AU RRP of PS3 is under $500 — and of course will play DVDs — so why not replace the DVD player with a console? OSGrid, HyperGrid, ReactionGrid all offer affordable, reliable and safe places for students to create content.

Second Life has well established places to gain teacher inspiration — and the fundamentals of writing are no secret online. So why not use them? Here are two photos from Second Life – what story could you build around these? – Of course! – BUT you have to be in world to take the shot — and that seems outside of what even the most Webby teachers like to do.

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I had the good fortune to spend an evening with Dr Larry Johnson, CEO of NMC this week following his trip to VITTA. We talked about the Teen Grid and a lot about Open Grids. At VITTA he was keynoting about the Horizon report. He made several points about Second Life — not least that the ideas founded in virtual worlds are more important that the world itself, saying that if Second Life closed tomorrow, they it would not matter to NMC — Second Life is the now technology which is why they use it to create ideas and generate new directions for learning.

It seems a fundamental issue that Australian attitude among administrators and IT managers is to block the use of virtual worlds, even on a small scale. From a story creation, literacy viewpoint they offer far more than adding Google’d images on a powerpoint blah. But teachers don’t spend time in them, don’t explore them and don’t understand sufficiently that the decline of passive media online is being amplified by games and virtual worlds – it is not blogs and wikis that drive out portals exclusively — it is the multi-billion dollars in games and the millions of people immersed in their story.

Yet, Second Life and Game remain something missing from the PLN – get connected slide-decks that we see presented at conferences. Twitter, FB, Ning et al – but not Blue Mars or MetaPlace, not even Second Life.

Kids don’t need Twitter — they have MSN and Mobile Phones. They need immersive, motivating environments. We need to recognise that teaching story telling and literacy need to happen ‘in world’ – and not just on Ning — that consoles are every bit as valid in class as a DVD. Chris has hit on a big issue. We should be AMAZING when it comes to using technology with students for engagement, assessment, inclusion and most of all – learning to be creative, critical thinkers.

I’ll be running some classes in-world next year via Jokaydia on using Second Life in English … via Second Classroom. If you are interested let me know.

Reaction creates attraction

Harrys_house_004The recent debacle over Jo Kay’s SLEducation wiki has provided a wave of new discussions around Virtual Worlds in Education. It has raises discussions around the idea that Second Life is not THE virtual world for education, just one execution of it – and what if we used something else?

Many of those who have been writing, developing and researching are clearly past the critical flack of the initial beach landing, have overcome the initial ‘yeah but’ barrage from the sand dunes and are confidently aligning virtual worlds and games with learning and assessment.

Unlike a great deal of Web2.0-ness, virtual worlds are long supported by a wealth of academic research to suggest they are extreamly good at motivating students and offer high quality instructional design environments for learning.

Obviously not everyone is going to explore them. The biggest barrier is that in muves the experience has to be instructively designed to create opportunities that extend beyond it and facilitate experiences that cannot be created without it – Who has the time to do that?

Well lots of people actually, not least the students we are teaching and certainly the multi-billion dollar technology industry.

A flood of educators followed Kerry Johnson’s footsteps into Reaction Grid, a community of inter-connected Open Simulators.

The discussions have not been about whether Second Life is better, but how it changes pedagogical opportunities. I am yet to hear from teen-educators that Linden is easy to deal with, or overly keen to help – quite the opposite. But Lindens notice to Jo felt like a wake up call to lots of Second Life Educators.

Maybe it was time to get past what we can’t do and look at what we can. As blog posts appeared online last week over Jo and Sean’s well established (and Linden referenced) wiki there was a flurry of new activity – not about the wiki issue, but in going right around the problem – which was all about ownership and trademarks, not community. We get the idea of trademarks by the way.

The Jokaydia Second Life community flocked into Reaction Grid and Jo Kay has established a new outpost to allow Second Life educators to explore Reaction Grid with the same level of support, resources and expert development you’d expect.


There’s also an ISTE2010 conference proposal via  Judy and Vicki Davis that was put together via iPhones and Google Docs in a few hours this week to meet the call for proposal deadline.

In the next few months, there will be open resources and open spaces in Reaction Grid created for teachers to explore with students – and this will lead to further instances of students read, writing and making things outside of them. Some will be online – and perhaps some will be downloadable – able to run on local machines as stand alone or LAN learning objects. Imagine being able to download a unit of work around Huxley’s Brave New World and run it on your nice new DER laptops using open source resources – offline. Giving students a zip file to unpack and run for homework, where they have to model mathematical problems. Virtual school in a virtual world.

Change comes from places you least expect and creates opportunities you never imagined. You get into Reaction Grid for FREE. Join us at 9pm AEST on Sunday night – because that is where the new curriculum in being crafted. You can google it.

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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Shakespeare’s Second Life

A quick flip-video of students working collaboratively to design and build their ‘sets’ for their current Machinima project, based on modern interpretation of a Shakespeare play. Students also document their design and build here in a blogging community. For teachers who are generally interested in using MUVEs and Video Games in Education you might want to check the educator Ning group here. I’m in the last phase of our intranet being moved to a virtual world, so the kids are going to be the architects and engineers. They have had 1 hour a week this year in Teen Second Life – but at least it is on the time table and in the curriculum!