Jumping from one work to the next can be tricky if you are an Avatar. This great video by BotGirl explores Evolver, which allows you to move your avatar between worlds. There are plenty of ways to use this to dream up classroom literacy activities using it — even if your bubble is stuck in >text >based >learning >.*.* and can’t get in world.

Integrating 3D into English Stage 4

Integrating virtual worlds and games into Stage 4 English isn’t technically hard — although they syllabus only mentions CD-Roms and Websites due to it’s age.

So lets start simply and work through an idea. I’ll add some examples and leave you to explore them later. The point of the post is to clearly illustrate that todays reading list should include things that students find more compelling that websites and CD-Roms. In doing so I’m using just three technologies. It would allow an entire unit of work over a term for US$100.00 and provide an opportunity for team-teaching.

Let’s take FICTION – The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins being a great story, brilliantly plotted with tremendous pace. In order to be used “students must study examples of spoken, print and visual texts”. Okay so we can cover the print; but lets look at how games and virtual worlds fit in this. Spoken — well virtual worlds afford role-play in which students play characters, audio readings of the books and streaming of both video and audio into scripted objects and land parcels. Yes Katniss can be visualised as an avatar — allowing students to visualise the texts. All of which meet the need for students to present students with “a range of social, gender and cultural perspectives”. Tick, tick, tick.

The texts on the ‘list’ (why and English teacher can’t align a text without a list seems weird)  have to “challenge the reader, texts that have layered and multiple meanings, and that provoke thought”. Hunger Games does that on many levels, adding a virtual world allows them to rise beyond that – to create and make. Another tick.

Now lets look at what is on the list for a moment in this rough area – Animal Farm, Lord of the flies, The cry of the wolf — all great books — but I’m still sticking with Hunger Games. As one reviewer in said

“I am a young adult media specialist. I read a lot of young adult literature. I read all summer long, looking for the next IT book. I didn’t find one. Though I enjoyed “The Glass Castle,” “The Host,” and others there was nothing that I thought could match the “Twilight” fever. Suddenly this fall, I have read two books that I think are absolutely outstanding. One of them is “The Hunger Games.

Ah I slipped in – This is where I’d be putting the class to journal the book as they read it. The syllabus asks us to provision “composing extended imaginative, interpretive and critical texts based on their own investigations and their wider reading”. Hunger Games has wider reading in Fan Fiction for a beginning, so already I am thinking about getting them to reflect using one tool, read the authorised text and compare other texts to it online. We’re already cooking and no-one’s set foot in a virtual world yet.

I’m thinking about how we can not only look at the story, but also at the way we construct stories … with an eye on working towards creating a story narrative in a virtual world. There are numerous examples on Fan Fiction – but I’d choose something like this — so we can pull apart the construction of the writing itself, and compare it to the author’s work. The quarter quell is the topic of the second book. I would not make direct reference to Catching Fire, but allow students to look beyond the ‘task’. There are also stories mashing vampires with Hunger Games, so really what I would like to encourage is that students would find something of personal interest to read from Fan Fiction, as well as the book itself. So now I’m using Fan Fiction and Good Reads as my learning management tools. Nice and simple.

Now lets look more specifically at an outcome

2.1 use a range of listening, reading and viewing strategies, including skimming, scanning, predicting and speculating, reading and viewing in depth and rereading and re-viewing, according to the purpose and complexity of the texts

I am going to meet that by using comments and discussion in Good Reads and by looking at other reviews.

2.15 processes of representation including the use of symbols, images, icons, clichés, stereotypes, connotations, inference and particular visual and aural techniques including those of camera, design and sound.

Here’s the kicker – the easy way to meet this outcome is to create a Power Point, grab a few images off Google, watch a DVD and then get them to respond to some directed questions. But let’s use a virtual world instead — Reaction Grid. This is the place to be in Virtual World Education right now, and I’ll leave you to explore what it is all about except to say, get your IT people to unlock a couple of ports and install Meercat browser, and grab a sim for a term for about US$100.00. Now you are ready to LET THE STUDENTS go nuts in a private, safe, virtual space.

Rule#1 – the sim is only open when a teacher is present. Rule#2, get Reaction Grid people to give you a chat-logger for the island. Rule#3, explain the rules of virtual space – they are the same as any other space — an opportunity to side track for a while to look at digital citizenship and cyber-behaviour that is syllabus-missing anyway. So now you’re adding value and the kids are pumped with ideas around your project. You might go and look at other school-sim rules too, but in the initial phase — you have to keep it simple. Being in-world of course is not a right. I would set in-world time as a reward for completing task milestones. That is significant – it creates group responsibility and encourages the teacher to design learning well enough from the outset to manage computer time. A good habit of mind.

Ah, I didn’t mention the project did I? – Well that’s for you to design – suffice to say, you are NOT going to build anything in-world — don’t panic!

In fact the world itself is just one outcome of 4 or more that you are aiming to hit. It is the activity, not necessarily the assessment. It is the motivation, the chat-room and the social space you need to get them reading and writing in other spaces. The project itself should allow students to visualise and make. Reaction Grid does not require any Linden $ in payment to do this – so you’re going to hit some targets with ICT immediately as you add graphics etc.,

Now go and see a computing teacher or maybe an art teacher, there are multiple lines you can draw – the point it DON’T WORK ALONE.

Computer teachers are probably building boring websites (the syllabus tells them to). If so, add a couple of ICT outcomes to your project — this will also buy you some more computer time if you are not 1:1 access – and it will allow them to look at 3D software, different graphic formats, resolution as well as sound and video. So now you can get year 9 to work with year 7.

By now your students are exploring and making and you’re blending learning and subjects — beginning to team-teach in an enquiry driven approach. You have a book, paper tasks, an online community in 2 and 3D accessible quickly and easily. A class of 30 is now in 6 or 7 groups — and you are beginning to act as the pathfinder and guide — not the font of all knowledge.

I have glossed over the project purposely – as learning about instructional design, project based learning or scenario based learning to me is a given in our hyper-connected world — and is indeed a something new to learn in itself.

However, this approach meets the needs of the syllabus and more importantly will create far greater realism and resonance – as right at the centre of it are motivating technologies – that connect students to their friends and their learning.

You could do this with Sims2, which is pretty cheap – the illustration opposite is fan art using it. Personally I think that would cost more and not provide an open-enough environment as Reaction Grid. Also note that I am not suggesting that as a teacher you would learn to ‘build’ either, that would be part of the skills kids need to develop in their PBL project. But as I started out saying games or virtual worlds — it is a viable option if your network admin believes that the a private virtual world is more dangerous than their filtered web. If that’s the case you have some myth-minded matters to attend to – as there is plenty of academic evidence to counter prejudice and fear — if they bothered to look.

In the new year Judy and I are going to provide a workable model of this though Second Classroom – and teachers will be able to come and learn about the design of projects in more detail. Contact me if you or your school are interested.

Tools needed: Private Reaction Grid sim,, Nice to have: Picnik browser plug in, Diigo class library browser plug-in
Pedagogy: Enquiry, Group based learning 8/10 students per group
Duration: Over a term
Swapping Out: Quiet Reading time – for active learning time

Underneath Pearson’s Poptropica

POPTROPICA – the virtual world that is the new black for pre-schoolers and primary age explorers. This isn’t a game review, this is a heads up that Poptropica is the ‘must play’ social game – for now. So quit Farm Town and Cafe World for a moment and lets take an educators look at Poptropica.

Who’s behind it? – Pearson — the mega-publishers who’ve been keeping classrooms knee deep in manuals and text books for a long time.

It is interesting then to see them with largely un-branded game site and trying out micro-payments , social gaming and chat rooms. It claims they are safe, but doesn’t explain how they determine this.

Poptropica is 2D platformer, browser based game using levels, tokens and makes you work harder to unlock and collect stuff. The levels have themes and back-story. Best of all – choose chat or battle with your friends. Its cute, slick and very hip. There is a blog to feed new information to players and of course merchandise, mailing lists and ‘buy credit on your phone‘ – which seems a bit worrying.

The avatar studio is a great place for kids to try out customising their toons. But what irked me was the fact that kids either spend forever playing to earn micro credits (camping in Second Life seems familiar) or pay to look good and play better.

This sends wrong signals. Pay to win, pay to be better and pay to look great. The casual, social nature of this game sees kids getting into peer pressure situations about status and reputation – rather than any real skill development. Mr8 breezes trough it without really thinking.

The images and animation are great. The controls are simple enough for a 4 year old to have fun and achieve things and on a ‘I’m not giving Pearson a cent’ level — Poptropica represents an effective way of combining fun with social-gaming — but its hardly a virtual world. It’s a series of interconnected platform games. Winning is easy, just watch the walk-thoughs on YouTube.

Have a look at the viewed figures on the various videos — kids have made — 500,000 views plus! perhaps that’s the educational value here. The rest of Pearson’s YouTube reputation is somewhat ‘tiny’ in comparison. They seem to have missed out on their largest marketing channel (it’s okay, send me the cheque – that bit of advice was a mere $20,000).

I have mixed feelings about Poptropica to say the least. Interestingly, Mr8 only played it because his friends did. He just likes to level, the game “is not that interesting” he says. “I just want to keep up”. Games online, are part of the school-reputation cycle it seems. The biggest reason Poptropica is popular in public school – DET have not yet banned it – its accessible. Kids are playing it.

If you have kids in 4-11, then chances are they are playing Poptropica. You might not have noticed – it looks just like another cute platformer, but it is a social-network. Kids connect and communicate here as they do in MSN. I am still trying to see why Pearson, the ‘brand’ heavy publisher offers almost no clue that they are behind it – the only link being to their T&Cs which firmly pass responsibility to the user.

Safe world? probably not — but very interesting that such a good social game – is almost running vanilla branding — Educational? Not really, but has Educational impacts. Obviously Pearson are looking at new markets. As long as you keep away from the micro-payments – it’s not too bad. BUT from a K6 education perspective – the Avatar Studio and looking at micro-payments for ‘looking better’ might (just) make for an interesting discussion about image and society.

But as a classroom-game?NO. It stands apart from their other online games at the Funbrain portal of flash games and I don’t see how it stacks up as being educational, and it’s not well enough explained anywhere on their umpteen portals to cover their ‘family friendly generic happy-making’ parent branding either.

Which is what makes me wonder why Pearson would head down this route, unless it represents a new market. And if that is the case,  I’d have expected far more visibility and explanation of it’s social side . Sneeky one Pearson. Go and buy Puzzle Quest is great, multi-player and under $5.00.

Hulu to the future?

I haven’t done an ‘I wonder’ post for a while, but a few things I’ve read this week lead me to wonder about what creates change, not just in school – but in our beliefs.

Few people will not have heard of the ABC or Disney. But what about Hulu? What if I was to say that Hulu is a TV channel that ABC and Disney have decided is a brand that they cannot effectively compete with, so is negotiating to work with in the future. “Disney made a bet three years ago that the strength of its ABC and Disney brands would be enough to attract online viewers, and so it chose not to participate in Hulu during its launch”. Is there any alignment here with the position that education systems are taking?, are they holding out that they would continue to attract students due to their heritage, should there be some alternate. What is amazing with stories like this is the speed at which millions of people move to new spaces and how powerless traditional media channels are in preventing it. With so much content heading to the web, and even CBBC focusing on their online delivery as a primary activity, with TV secondary, ending long running shows – as “children no longer saw themselves as exclusively schoolchildren”.

Content on mobile phones and netbooks used to be on the lounge room television. Increasing lower costs access to wifi with pre-paid and 3G wifi will sweep away metropolitan broadband ADSL, as more people lower home-consumption in favour of greater mobile. Mobile learning, with high quality content will increase as organisations like the BBC focus their attention on it’s development and delivery.

How will this affect students? Now they won’t need ‘your’ network or ‘your connection’, and will be sharing net access though informal, add-hock networking, using 3G and Bluetooth connectivity. 3G dongles look just like USB drives, but do remarkably more. Once they wanted SMS credit, now they want’web credit’. I see dozens of high school students on my trip from the Central Coast using mobile internet on their phones. They are not just texting, but emailing and chatting in IRC with Skype, and this is a big motivator for teens to have ‘smart phones‘. In fact now you send a txt message to get the URL of internet content. We are seeing TV increasingly interested in ‘virtual worlds’ and ‘online games’. A solo experience or game, as an add on for traditional TV and film marketing, is no longer enough.Advertisers know that we are connecting to each other, more than their messages, and know that social media is where their customers are – online and mobile.

New pre-school entertainment comes with ‘virtual world’ connections.- as they are painfully aware how tomorrows media-consumer is motivated. Anything that was on TV is now on your mobile – and more than likely connected to a massive mutliplayer environment. Few teachers are even beginning to think abut how this is going to impact them in the next 5 years. Much of the operational instruction we used to provide – such as information literacy and ‘computer mastery’ is being taught by online avatars and popular culture websites.



Students in Grange Hill in the late 70s, experienced classrooms and process of learning that has changed little in over 30 years. Yet the students in them are increasingly there because of ‘tenue’, and not motivation. We have more strategic, surface learners that deep, life long learners.

What do we have to do to ensure that ‘schools’ are the best ‘channel’ for learning? It seems entirely possible that something could appear in education from an unconventional quarter. It is happening everywhere else, ask the Mouse, who has several ‘virtual magic kingdoms’. If encumbent, successful, organisations are being unseated from their traditional markets, will they education be seen as an opportunity? Will the slow change and lack of central government investment see schools being commercialised? Well maybe, it’s here already with McDonalds, free online software for schools. The media was fixated with facile ‘McSchool’ jokes, or if burgers would be advertised, once again showing how out of step they are with reality. Of course McDonalds software is FREE – it’s online, and online is predominently ‘free’. A paid model is not how it works anymore. We have Google ‘educators’ already, and Apple have been claiming ‘Apple Schools’ for years.

I wonder how near we really are to the Florida Virtual High School, If the AIS and Catholic Education Offices are talking to McDonalds, and therefore parents are accepting commerical, third party teaching input, then can parents and students opt to study Anchient History in a commerically funded Teen Second Life’ class. Does software have to be ‘linear’, given that some of the most innovative learning environements in Australia are ones in which, as Will Richardson observes “the kids are driving the learning, from the design of the school and the curriculum to the decision making around school policy and more”. Policy is therefore central to the debate. We have ‘outcomes’ prescribed by the Board of Studies, and assessments are guided by policy compliance and the HSC summative examination.

If a parent wants their child to do well, and there is an alternate offering – online, mobile or virtual – then the central issue is about ‘tenure’. Students are required to be at school. I’d like think they ‘attend learning’, through effective activities, guided by outcomes and assessment  (attendance, may be an outcome/assessment btw). This is not so futuristic. In China, thousands of students attend class via mobile phone as well as online webinar.

In an atomised way, the elements of negotiated learning, mobile learning and virtualised learning are there – together with an economic imperative for large organisations to re-position themselves and find new opportunities. It’s not going to happen tomorrow – but at the same time, I wonder if the ‘shifts’ for learning will actually come from the education sector leadership – or from more motivated commercial enterprise.

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Meetsee – Educators add your thoughts!

After my post about Meetsee, I was really pleased to get a response from it’s creator. I thought it is well worth sharing parts of the conversation, as it gives an insight to just how connected users and creators are though the interwebs. Rather than get all the answers from me, please add your voice to the questions! It can only assist the development. Much better than ‘yeah butting’ later.

I can see from his outline of the service, just how effective it would be in education, as the issues are really just the same!

When designing the Meetsee virtual office, I did a good bit of reading and interviewing colleagues to figure out what problems we wanted to solve for remote workers.

  1. Remote workers do not feel connected to their coworkers or managers. They don’t get to know them or build the trust necessary for a cohesive team.
  2. Managers had difficulty knowing what their distributed teams are working on, how they are feeling, etc. Most managers do this by walking around and talking to employees.
  3. Workers had a difficult time finding the documents and people they are looking for. Meetsee was designed to address these issues.

How do you think educators will want to use Meetsee (office hours, classes, study sessions)?

Yes I do, it is flash based and has a neat audit trail. It is low bandwidth and works better than some other ‘flash based’ video conferencing tools I’ve used. I like the positioning between play and work. There are plenty of uses for study and out of school, especially if you are looking at distributed learners – which is often the case in Australia. When I showed the Educational Development Team this week, they all jumped in and stayed all afternoon. It has something about it that is addictive, and therefore interesting to students.

What classes/subjects do you think can be successfully taught inside a Meetsee room?

I think that K12 is ideal for Meetsee, but I also think that student/tutor classes could be run, especially if sudents can drop off or collect assignments. There really isn’t much you can’t ‘teach’ or ‘learn’ online these days.

Are there other university users to consider other than faculty and students?

Yes, HR for one. Having a range of induction materials etc., the IT Helpdesk could be implimented well for technical support. There are also a lot of research academics, though these vary in IT savvyness. I could see a collection of ‘rooms’ representing student services on campus, and staffed by student interns.

How important is privacy to students and faculty (i.e. should students be able to see each other’s full name, email address, virtual location in Meetsee)?

Critical. I would suggest allowing a teacher to sign-up and then allow them to create ‘classes’ and ‘avatars’ within the class. Students and email is always problematic. Most web-savvy teachers set out guidelines for usernames, ie John Smith, becomes JohnSM. I would therefore see a teacher having a classroom, and students attend it, like normal. If anything, you might have a student locker room for their files.

What additional tools are needed in a virtual classroom?

I think an ability to have a transcript of the text chat (just in case of bullying). Most kids are well behaved online, but you’d have to have private rooms for classes – but at the same time, allow teachers to connect their room to others – a little how Open Simulator backs Islands together. I’d also think that you might have a ‘drop box’ for assignments, and maybe a micro-blogging gizmo. A few drag and drop hyperlinks would be nice, so they can connect to their wiki’s, Google etc.,

I hope this helps, and it would be amazing to think that all those EdTech’s out there will add their toughts.

Meetsee is the ‘wow’ of the year for me! Well done!