Virtual Worlds Best Practices 2012

There’s one event that is the highlight for me on the calendar. Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education. There isn’t a conference in the actual or virtual world where you can see and interact with such a diverse group of educators and designers in my view. There are always things to uncover that kick you out of your chair. This year will be no exception – with demonstrations, game-tours, playgrounds, social events and plenty of well researched papers presented from people who have been developing immersive, blended learning for a very long time. Some projects are well funded and others run off the smell of an oily rag – but if you are remotely interested in game based learning, virtual worlds – or are working in any area of Educational Technology, the quality of the ideas, research and innovation will keep you awake for 48 hours.

We are delighted to say that the kids of #massivelyminecraft are not only keynoting, but have constructed an entire world and curriculum to demonstrate to adults what game based learning should look like. This isn’t kids placing blocks to pass time, these are kids who have developed everything from the back-end server to negotiating how their game fits into their school system (not just a school, that would be too easy) – and let’s not forget these are kids who are working together remotely  in Massively Minecraft, where we don’t have lessons. There’s no teacher-scripting of what to say, everything is their idea, their creation. We could not be more proud of their achievement – and to be quite frank, they put plenty of other well funded and perhaps more high profile educational efforts into perspective and they did it on weekends and after school, not because they we’re paid.

But I would say that, I’m biased. However I am yet to see anyone else pull off such an achievement, no matter how many educational technology conferences they’ve been to or spoken at. And that to us is the point. Not only do they learn, but they have a deep understanding of how learning works, and the technical skill to build it. So don’t expect a cute demonstration, these kids are every bit as talented and innovative as anyone else at the conference. From zero to keynote in 10 months.

It will be a great weekend for them, not least as they’ll be hanging out with the people that have pioneered these things and I’m sure that they’ll learn a whole heap of new tricks. Anyone who’s using Virtual Worlds or Games should attend VWBPE – as this for me is the mecca for new ideas and thinking. is our presentation – check the website for the rest. It’s all free and you can be sure Captain Obvious won’t show up … FTW.


VWBPE: OMG it worked.

Last week Mr.9 leveled up to be Mr.10 and due to a spot of good fortune we spent the week on Hamilton Island. In case you’re not sure, this is one of those paradise looking places with perfect white sandy beaches and more infinity pools that Gorden Ramsey’s got F-words. Big white yachts, the barrier reef, Nemo and old people clad in garish togas and bling. It’s not a technology zone.

This week was also the annual Best Practices in Virtual World Education extravaganza, at which I was really pleased to be asked to give a talk about gaming.

Hotel internet connectivity is generally expensive and usually rubbish. 3G is your friend – or so I was hoping. The next, more serious problem – this is a family holiday (not an excuse to geek-out in front of a screen).

At the appointed time, I connected my iPony to my Macbook which I placed inside a circle of pure white sea-salt surrounded by several vanilla smelling candles marking the compass points. To my absolute amazement, I logged into Imprudence, rezzed my avatar. Even more amazing, the genius minds at the Centre for Edupunx had hot-wired my podcast back-up recording to halo of virtual butterflies, which floated around my avatar – and the talk rolled out without a hitch.

Feeling very smug and pleased with myself I took a photo, then because I’m addicted to photo apps, give it a kind of Elvis Hawaii look. Then something struck me.

I remember when Mr10 was Mr OMG it’s a boy.

At the time, I had this Apple QuickTake camera, a Blueberry iMac hooked into a modem and a crappy webspace at OzEmail. I spent a day sticking .JPGS on the Internet and attempting to explain what the Internet was to my parents, before giving up.

Back then, most people were still amazed at txting and drooling over the idea that WAP phones could connect us to the Internet (somehow) and few people we’re using the Internet like the IV drip it has become today.

It struck me just how far we can push technology with this kind of cyborg-network today – not just to send and receive, but to be be part of the mechanic itself, because of the people that you are connecting to and through. A podcast, made with GarageBand, uploaded to DropBox and shared into a virtual world, streamed though butterflies to people from around the real world, from a virtual one – by 3G on a tiny island.

How do we even begin to describe this kind of thing to people who are still claiming they are too busy to learn to share something as basic as a Google Document. How are these people possibly going to deal with the next decade inside bricks and mortar caves.

People often say it’s not the tools, its what you do with them

I say its neither anymore – it’s the people who understand the tools your connecting with that creates the most powerful learning practice ever imagined. It seems if we can do all this from a dot of an island – it begs the question, why can’t we do it in places that are supposedly designed for it – and why are we still listening to the yeah-buts.

Virtual Worlds Best Practices In Education

I was so stunned to be asked to present at Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education this year, it’s hard to say how much without using CAPS.  I’ve been to the previous years, and have to say that it’s not the virtual world that is amazing (though you can see the presenter stage is epic) – its the diversity of ideas and information. The international sessions are again so dripping with ideas and more importantly evidence that virtual worlds and games kick ass.

As I’m heading away for a week, I was in a panic about this keynote – called “Game and Learn”.

What if I don’t get wifi? … so opted to record it as a podcast. I’ve never made one before, but it wasn’t much harder to use than any car-door handle, though very confronting to actually hear yourself not being as awesome sounding as I might have liked. Life have a way of constantly reminding me of such things it seems. But I think that I’ll make the effort to try my hand in the next few months.

This is an extract of my talk, and I think hints at why the set really worked for me.

“That which is too big, too expensive and impossible to create in real spaces can be found and shared with others virtual ones. The body remains in the physical, but the mind is free to learn, explore and roam rich environments in ways that even the dark-rides could never hope to achieve. But unlike Disneyland – virtual worlds and games don’t make us riders and never ask us to keep our arms inside the carriage.

We are as part of the ride and the mechanics that create it – we are as much of the machine as we care to be.”

It seems that in Steampunk, no one ever made a PowerPoint Presenter either – great joy!

I was glad I made the effort to write the talk, and that I’d recorded it. The space, from all angles is nothing short of perfect. I love the idea of people actually listening, and presenters not just reading out slides. When I asked Kavon about what might happen should I encounter wifi fail, the response was “we’ll work with whatever rezzes”.  So Jo is, as ever playing back-up, which is still great as I’m in part talking about our work on creating a model game mechanic for Open Sim for the History Grid project.

I can’t urge you enough to check out the line-up and make time to listen and meet some amazing educators over two days. Even if you don’t ‘like’ Second Life or Games, you will still be in for a treat. It’s not the world it’s the ideas and the stories. You can fly 10,000 miles and not get this IV-drip of goodness.

Check out the schedule of locations and accessibility, get a browser … and lurch beyond the familiar to come to experience the stellar line up of speakers and topics.

Then, just for fun – compare that physical tech conferences.

VWBPE – Designing for Virtual Worlds

Kate gave a fantastic insight into how she engages and demonstrates Second Life. She talked about how she approaches the design; based on outcomes – but also how she engages teachers in the visualisation and design of spaces to suit not just the outcomes, but the style of the teacher and varied needs of students. Most interestingly, she spoke about how she blends Blackboard with Second Life, enrolling avatars as course participants; with associated assessment and learning management. The the session I attended before that; where someone had an atrocious approach to using Active Worlds with schools; where clearly the focus what on the research project, not student outcomes had left me a bit cranky. Kate rounded off the day brilliantly. Have a look at here slidedeck or catch her on Twitter. @kateboardman or visit her blog.

VWBPE – Cybergogy

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This morning’s discussion about Cybergogy was very interesting by Lesley Scopes, MSc (University of Southampton). The archetype was immersive adaption from Andrew Church’s work in the Digital Taxonomy, and Andrew has perhaps published the most influential of since Bloom himself. Many Higher Ed developed frameworks now use it.

Lesley has developed her ideas and delivered them in Second Life – based on her evolving archetype model. She made a number of interesting points; and was peppered with questions from the audience, constantly. “How are you rethinking semiotics, ontology, transmedia, social constructavism etc” – VWBPE is no place for bubble-gum presenters. These questions were expertly handled by the floor and chair. More importantly; all her voice speak was translated into text – live, as language and accessibility is valued in this conference.

Lesley hasn’t really been looking into MMOs, and focused on teaching and learning in Second Life. This didn’t stop me hanging on every slide – and more significantly the three dimensional objects she put in front of her to augment the lecture. These things really hammer home just how lame Powerpoint is. At the same time I read a Tweet “Experiencing Death by PPT” at a curriculum development conference – which made me smile to see just how wide the thinking-gap is these days.

Effective professional development means being online. There were at least 4 conferences with back-channels this morning … all of which kicked great ideas.

In particular, I was learning about her archetype, which included domains for learning that I hadn’t consciously thought about: Dexterous and Peregrination; and explained how important these are in the instruction design phase of curriculum development.

I wondered though; to what extent are these two domains were already present in MMOs and implicit in today’s PC and Console gamers; and if they are important – why are they not important to the ‘minkies’ loading applications on netbooks. Are they not reading the literature; thinking ahead – or just bolstering the barricades foolishly.

In that light; I started to think how (and which) out-of-the box games could provide these element of her archetype in schools that dismiss or ignore Second Life or Open Sim — perhaps they could be substituted if the teacher takes a more transitional approach?

This would also serve to combat the loafing problem that Steve Wheeler talked about this week (I suspect Steve isn’t using virtual worlds or MMOs) – as both of these do present different motivations in youth online.I recommend his series of posts to anyone using social construct-based approaches with technology too.

Many academics; trained to research, use  literature reviews and not learning by being immersed in game-culture.

I can understand that, to really understand the complexities of Warcraft – prepare to sink 200 hours – and it is no less with virtual worlds such as Second Life.

The result is that we see well considered and researched work like this at #vwbpe, not gut-feeling, hope and discussions about ‘the problem’.

The irony is of course you need the two domains was talking about – and if you are prepared to do that – here is the schedule of events to come this weekend.

This presentation shifted the notion of how people learn – not just from analogue to digital; solo to social – but to effective virtual world frameworks and archetypes and new potential.

Lesley demonstrated how critical and integrated instructional design and learning objects are in meeting outcomes and assessment.

Her full paper is available at She also has a ONE HOUR video on Blip TV about her work. It is applicable to anyone using immersive or transmedia approaches to learning. I have the session recorded; and will see if Lesley would be okay with publishing it.

Best Practices Virtual Worlds Education

The 2010 Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education is on this weekend!.

I’ve been asked to take part in a discussion on March 12 at 6:00 AM SLT. “Connectivism, Distributed Cognition and PLN” with @sdownes and @kzenovka – Steven Downes and Kae Novak.

I met Kae last year and immediately joined the Centre4Edupunx. Her ideas and creativity around using games and virtual worlds was amazing – as they put it ‘Bootstrapping Our Way Across the Curriculum’.

Many of my webby-contacts in Twitter etc., offer great ideas and advice; however … this conference slices though the web-app-fest of many conferences and will have extensive examples, strategies and stories to share that for me, makes it a highlight of they year. Almost all of it operates at a highly researched and academically evidenced level – apart from the social stuff – which is just good fun.

With sessions dripping ideas such as Learning archetypes as tools of Cybergogy for a 3D educational landscape: a structure for eTeaching in Second Life”; there are some big ideas, and big stories to share – not just in Second Life, but OpenSim, Reaction Grid, Blue Mars, Wonderland, Quest-Atlantis too.

Don’t be fooled by the Virtual World part – there are some amazing people in this event, who will lead you to rethink even GoogleDocs in the classroom. Of course you do have to make the effort, get passed the Great Dismal and probably stay up all night. But seriously – this is the epicenter of ideas, innovation and connections. It is great to see so many Australians speaking, presenting and helping too.

I look forward to meeting as many as I can – I am especially interested to attended: First World War Poetry Digital Archive in Second Life; GAME KIT Version 2: Now Anyone Can Easily Create Engaging Educational Adventure Sims; Lessons on Lessons – How changing paradigms influence knowledge; For the Horde – teaching under-grad accounting in World of Warcraft.

This event is not for those who like to orbit the ‘problem’ or gaze at ‘what things could be’ – you will find this weekend a highly engaging and academic experience – with people that you might otherwise never know – or pay a hell of a lot of money to hear speak. You won’t find any bubble-gum-EdTech here … this is the real deal. I just hope I can stay awake!

Here is the event calendar, now go download Second Life and take a leap into a bigger pond.