Protecting Children While Instituting Change

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 As technology advances it seems that school firewalls have become more restrictive in blocking sites and web-based tools.  The latest victim in my district is Google Hangout.  Although I had been using Google Hangout to connect and collaborate with educators … Continue reading


Chicken or Egg Dilemma in Using 3D Immersive Environments for Teaching and Learning

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Innovation requires some risk taking, the accountability movement requires the use of proven practices and data to back it up.  Innovation can help drive progress while accountability ensures a level of success.  How do we reconcile the need to use … Continue reading


2013: Engage For Change

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“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Charles Darwin Change is inevitable and the new year brings the mindset and … Continue reading


Firewall to Learning or Shield of Liabilitly

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The Internet is vast, diverse, and can be dangerous just like our physical world.  Helping our youth by imparting information regarding the world and how to deal with it goes back to the beginning of time, I am sure that … Continue reading


Online Teaching and Learning: From Independent Study to Immersive Collaboration

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I come across an article several times a week that describes a K-12 district or a state’s efforts for offering the opportunity  for students to “learn online”.  Higher education has been involved with online/distance learning for a longer period of … Continue reading


Icons, Pseudonyms, and Avatars – Oh My!

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“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” Oscar Wilde Struggling to figure out why a workforce does not actively participate on an Internet-based forum, wiki, … Continue reading

Real Barriers to Virtual World Use in Education

Each time that I attend a professional meeting in a virtual world the question of general adoption of virtual worlds in education always comes up.  Attendees at these events are the early adopters and they struggle with what is so obvious to them.  The barriers are inter-related and will require time, money and effort to overcome.

Barrier Possible Solution
Cost is often cited as a barrier. Linden Lab eliminated educational discounts on Second Life.  Grids on OpenSim are significantly cheaper but do not contain the assets of SL and other more developed worlds, developing these would take time and money.  Cost is a factor in multiple barriers listed. Organizations may host their own virtual worlds, reducing some cost.  OpenSim and self-hosted grids are typically limited in content but advocates contend that much of the learning lies in the development of this content. There is a growing availability of free and shared content for use in virtual worlds.
Access ( Firewall issues) are more commonly an issue with K-12 than in higher education.  This barrier relates to acceptance and perception of virtual Worlds in general.  Districts have concern about both student safety and the potential financial liability associated with legal action. Control systems are necessary to protect students and prevent inappropriate access, teacher supervision coupled with policies and procedures are effective in keeping children and employees on task in an appropriate manner.  Literature is mounting in favor of adjusting firewalls and access to support student learning in the 21st century.
Technology requirements of Virtual worlds, both infrastructure of Internet access (bandwidth) and device capabilities aren’t up to the requirements needed to run virtual worlds effectively. IT and support personnel may need training to adequately support staff needs. Funding for innovation is essential to effectively prepare our students for their future.  Grants may be the best solution, at this time, to fund the necessary equipment, infrastructure and training.
The Learning Curve in using the interface and acquiring the comfort to be able to manipulate an avatar and eventually more complex tasks inherent in virtual world participation can be a challenge. A model of mentoring colleagues, prior to the expectation of working with students, can provide the confidence and skills.  The use of a virtual world for professional development is a possible evolutionary step to use with students.
Change is difficult. Educators need convincing that a virtual world delivery model will be better than what currently exists. Research demonstrating effectiveness could be the most useful in changing minds.  Those who are effectively using virtual worlds for instruction should publish/share their work.
Attitudes towards gaming and virtual worlds can be negative based on some unsavory stories and misconceptions. Marketing of research and positive examples are needed to overcome the impact of negative attitudes.   There is mounting research in the area of games, student engagement and their positive influence on learning.

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Managing a Virtual Environment Classroom

The traditional physical classroom has not changed much in the past hundred years.  It contains desks and chairs for students, a teacher desk and chair, a board on which to write or project and wall space which is often decorated with appropriate curricular materials. The most important instructional resource in the classroom is the teacher. A skilled teacher manages the space, materials, furnishings, and students to ensure that students are engaged and learning.  A virtual learning space has less boundaries and limitations and a skilled teacher is again the most important resource.  The teacher must  manage the three-dimensional virtual space, guide students to navigate and interact with the environment and provide experiences to ensure that learning takes place.

Often virtual learning spaces are a replica of the traditional, providing a frame of reference for participants and taking advantage of the potential available in a virtual setting with ‘backchannel’ chat and follow-up assignments.  Teachers and students understand the traditional role of  “sage on the stage” and play the respective roles in the virtual setting, with the added benefits of a virtual setting.  Students can be physically in the same room using computers (a lab setting) requiring both real world and a virtual world classroom management strategies or in remote locations which would require more intensive virtual strategies to ensure engagement of students.  The teacher must :

  • Plan
  1. Design experiences which are interesting, relevant and aligned to curriculum objectives
  2. Plan appropriate amount of time for completing of tasks
  3. Provide direction and guidance so that students know expctations
  • Deliver and Guide
  1. Give clear directions
  2. Encourage questions and answer according to the protocol established
  3. Circulate (virtually and/or physically) among students to provide individual support and ensure engagement
  4. Institute a “buddy” policy for peer support
  5. Intervene when necessary

Norma Underwood uses both real-life and virtual world classroom management strategies to ensure learning for 5th - 8th grade art students on her sim in Reaction Grid.

Firewall Content or Teach Digital Citizenship

So I tried to check out a couple of educational sites that would give me information about educational use of virtual worlds and this is what I got.  I made the mistake of doing this from my workplace, an educational facility.

Virtual Pioneers, a site for collaborating educators, is classified as “dating, computing, social networking” and the URL is blocked by my school district.

Jokadia, a site to document the educational uses of a range of virtual worlds and games was classified as “games, reference material” and is also blocked.

This is what educators deal with daily in an attempt to be innovative and meaningful with the students they teach.  The challenge of preparing students with 21st Century skills is daunting enough and made more difficult with the constant battle over what can be accessed.

On June 4, the Online Safety & Technology Working Group sent its 150-page report to Congress. Anne Collier co-chaired the committee and discussed the recommendations at the most recent ISTE Speaker Series on another blocked site, Second Life – I watched it from my home at 8PM.  Anne discussed  “a more intelligent approach”.  She suggested an approach  in which children are given opportunities to practice with social media under adult supervision.  The participants at the ISTE event were educators from around the world and it was obvious that the ones from the United States were having the biggest struggles with the issue of filtering and blocking.  We all agreed that privacy and safety features were essential but that teaching students about good citizenship in an environment where behavior occurs is essential for their futures.  According to Ms. Collier the educational systems in Australia and in the United Kingdom promote helping students to use appropriate filters rather than enforcing strict filtering polices as we do in the United States.  Teaching children to filter prepares them to deal with Internet safety and appropriate behavior,  implementing  a strict filtering policy does not.

There are some school districts who are more progressive and forward thinking, less fearful.  A high school in New Jersey is taking advantage of social networking and using the technology to help students.  A school in Oregon has documented improved student achievement after social networking was embraced.  Teachers do get tired of “the fight” and just go back to an old-fashioned way of doing things.  My suggestion is to keep doing what you know is right to help our students be prepared for a future we are uncertain of.

Social Learning in Immersive Environments

Much is discussed on the topic of Social Networking and the potential use of this technology in education.   Research indicates that individuals benefit from a social approach to learning.  L. Rendell et al. states that “Social learning (learning through observation or interactionwith other individuals) is widespread in nature and is centralto the remarkable success of humanity…” .  Immersive environments have gained acceptance in post-secondary education for the past several  years. VLearning: Is The Future Of Online Education A 3D Virtual Classroom? describes several studies that determined a positive correlation between the increased interaction among classmates and instructors in virtual classrooms and involvement in the course work and comprehension of material.  It states, “… this to be particularly true for students who have a difficult time engaging in face-to-face discussions, but who will ask questions freely and contribute to live debates in a virtual classroom.”

In their book The New Social Learning Bingham and Connor devote a chapter to the topic of social learning in immersive environments, describing the successful uses in multiple corporate training programs.  Social learning involves interaction, engagement and mutual exchange and benefit to participants.

The research on the  successful use of immersive environments in professional development and post-secondary education are certainly reason to consider exploring these strategies in the K-12 sector.