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Assess the Past Year and Plan for the New One

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I’ll leave  predictions and trend reporting to others, but I can assess my activity and plan for what I hope to learn and do this coming year.  Perhaps it will be helpful for teachers with ambitions in innovation for teaching … Continue reading

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Digitally Amplified Literature in the Virtual World

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Rod Humble of Linden Labs recently described the Virtual World as “creative space”.  Jeddin’s Underground City sim on Second Life is a creative space melding the ideas of Descending Road author/creator with 3D artistry and SL scripting to make what the artist … Continue reading

Student Machinima at ISTE 2011

Almost half (17 out of 40) of the entries in the ISTE 2011 Machinima competition are student created and range from a 5-year-old working in Minecraft to university students working in Second Life to demonstrate their learning. Attendees in Philadelphia as well as those attending virtually can view the machinima at the iste Wikispaces .  Machinima was created in a number of virtual worlds, including Second Life, Reaction Grid, MineCraft, World of Warcraft and WolfQuest and covered a variety of curriculum areas including history, social issues, creative writing and science..  Be sure to access the ballot at http://bit.ly/j8Amyj  and vote for your favorite student created machinima.

Middle School Students Build A Virtual World

The students in “Norma Underwood’s” class in an Arizona public school are building and scripting in a 3D environment, sculpting in Rokuro, collaborating on projects, and communicating with their peers and interested visitors.  I had the opportunity to visit Norma’s  virtual class space on Reaction Grid,  never having to leave my home state over 2000 miles away.  What a treat  to see 12 and 13 year olds assembling, communicating and cooperating in a medium that many are completely unaware of.

The class is an art class, lucky for these students they have a teacher who acknowledges and has taken the time to learn an art medium for the future.  The young architects and 3D artisans have used floor-plans to build 3D homes, decorated them and added items like video games and chess sets. Learning objectives  focus primarily  on standards in the area of art and mathematics. Additionally, Norma is incorporating 21st Century objectives like collaboration, communication and problem solving.  These are not as easily tested in the traditional assessments required by the state but obvious in the products the students have created and obvious as well when you watch them engaged in their work.

Virtual Worlds as Part of a Transmedia Literacy Experience

Transmedia Storytelling is a strategy that uses current and emerging technologies along with traditional strategies to enable the participant to become immersed in a story to increase engagement and understanding.  Henry Jenkins, Professor of Communications, Journalism, Cinematic Arts, and Education at the University of Southern California, explains that “In transmedia, elements of a story are dispersed systematically across multiple media platforms, each making their own unique contribution to the whole.” It is a strategy that is used in the world of marketing and entertainment, still lagging in the education sector.

Telling stories across multiple platforms and formats addresses multiple learning modalities, encourages participation and motivates participants.  Stories are used to teach a wide variety of concepts at all levels of education.  A virtual world with a sim designed to draw students into a “game”  could potentially result in a high level of learning of a literary work, historical event, or scientific phenomenon.  The compelling attributes of transmedia storytelling are the capacity to engage participants and the capacity to promote creativity among the participants.  Engagement is crucial to meaningful learning and creativity is identified as a 21st Century skill necessary to solve problems and be competitive in a global environment.  As we look into school reform and teacher preparation for 21st Century schools it may be beneficial to ensure that teachers have some knowledge and skills in the the use of Transmedia storytelling.

Teaching and Learning Options in the Virtual World

The virtual environment offers students alternative ways of learning concepts.  Educators understand that differentiating instruction is important and that we should not limit ourselves to telling and explaining.  The information in a lecture or demonstration is magnified when students are given an opportunity to actively engage in an activity that provides a way for students to practice, apply or even play with the new content.  A community college professor demonstrates a virtual world activity designed to follow a lecture and provide  students a chance to “build a molecule” in virtual space.

3 Days (53 hours) of Virtual Education Sharing

The VWBPE (Virtual World Best Practices in Education) Conference will be held in Second Life and other grids on March 17-19.  The Conference offers:

  • Theoretical and research presentations
  • Content-based describing the use of VW for teaching and learning
  • Workshops  offering technical guidance
  • Tours of virtual spaces used for education
  • Panel and roundtable discussions
  • Tools for both newcomers and experienced virtual world users
  • Game and simulation demonstrations
  • Poster presentations
  • Machinima screening and competition

Experienced virtual world participants will have the opportunity to learn and share with a global community of educators. This is also an opportunity for experienced users to introduce more reticent colleagues  to an environment that offers an alternative format for teaching and learning.

Teaching Strategies for Using Voice and Text in the Virtual World

The Internet is a text-rich environment, smart phone technology and social networking facilitate the use of text,  in a virtual world instruction can be provided in either text or voice mode and each has pros and cons.  Shambles Guru provides a useful video describing the setup of voice in Second Life using Viewer 2.

Text allows you to think about what you are communicating, seeing the written word allows for some processing and editing prior to clicking the send button.  Text can also be saved and referred to at a later time, always beneficial.  Text is the preferred method to communicate when language translation is required and the appropriate communication with hearing impaired students. The downside of text is that it is difficult to simultaneously demonstrate while communicating in text.  Another potential drawback is “text speak” and typos.  Though typically understood there is potential for misunderstanding and it develops a habit of ignoring typos and using abbreviations.  A class participant must be able to read and follow instructions in text.  This has potential for problems depending on the audience and individual capabilities.  Responding to individual questions in IM texting can be confusing (not seeing the message, having too many message boxes open, blocking view of the screen due to message boxes).

Voice allows an instructor to deliver a message the way that an instructor delivers in a real life classroom setting, a clarification is immediate and intonation is clear.  The lack of visual cues requires an instructor to use other methods to engage students and to ensure the message was delivered.  Ideally the students are also using voice so that 2-way communication can take place.  This requires an etiquette system of watching the screen for who is speaking, listening to the spoken text and speaking at a specific pause, so as not to interrupt the speaker.  It requires that the communicators listen more carefully than they may do in a real life classroom.   The teacher must also be watchful of students as they are performing particular tasks in the virtual setting.  The teacher needs to continuously move the camera around and watch students to ensure that students are performing tasks as directed, providing appropriate verbal direction as needed.

The ideal strategy is to use both text and voice.  This addresses various learning styles and takes advantage of the pros of each method, minimizing the cons.  This can be done is several ways.  The instructor can:

  • provide  notecards with vital information, in text, to supplement the spoken instruction.
  • type main ideas as he/she speaks.
  • have an assistant or student type the text as he/she speaks.
  • take advantage of the back channel in local chat to address questions

Teachers should practice the strategies in order to become comfortable and adept at using them, ultimately selecting which is most appropriate.

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Teaching as a Game Designer

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Teaching as a “performing art” has validity.  In the book with that title Seymour Sarason compares teacher preparation to performer preparation,  describing that a teacher must practice, be articulate, know the curriculum (script) and engage the audience. We all remember … Continue reading

Telling isn’t Teaching… in any World

A lecture hall filled with students and an instructor lecturing about a topic he/she knows very well does not guarantee learning is taking place, neither in real life nor in the virtual world.  Good teaching requires that the students do something in order to meet the objectives of the lesson.  Student engagement can range from taking notes and asking questions to discussing and working on an assignment that requires using information and skills. The level of engagement correlates with the learning that takes place.  The video below is one created by students at Elisabeth Morrow School in Englewood NJ.  Students undoubtedly learned more than the significance of Apollo as they interacted, on various levels, to create the video.  Additional work from middle school students at this school is posted on their wiki.

Some videos illustrating the concept of changing our teaching paradigm are Ken Robinson’s Changing Education Paradigms and  Dr Tae’s Building A New Culture of Teaching And Learning .   They are not short videos but definitely worth a watch…. and a share.  The men in these two videos describe eloquently how teaching needs to change in order to impact student learning, I suggest teaching in the virtual world should have a level of engagement similar to what they advocate.

Educators who have ventured into the virtual world have some innovation and sense of adventure to begin with – just by their presence.  Instruction in the virtual world must mirror that innovation by changing the paradigm, making sure that students (whatever their age) do more than “just sit there”.  Getting students to move into groups and perform activities in the real world requires classroom management skills, and an impact on space, time, and sound that could be disruptive if not handled with expertise.  The virtual world has these elements but   it is easier to move and alter the space, it takes less time, and sound can always be mitigated with individual headphones and microphones.  The part that takes some effort is ensuring a student focus. At the lowest level of engagement, the instructor should ask students/participants for feedback and then address the questions.  For more intense interaction and more learning the instructor can:

  • provide students with instructions to complete a task, either as individuals or in a group
  • have students present findings or completed tasks to the group
  • have students develop video clips and/or pictures of concepts to be shared on a common site

In either world,  the person doing the communicating is the person doing the learning.