Virtual Worlds Provide Opportunity to Participate in Global Events

On December 10, the anniversary of John Lennon’s death, an event was held in his memory.  This particular event took place in the virtual world at the Second Life Imagine Peace Tower and attended by an international group of avatars.  Chat reflected languages from around the globe both in the language used and in the content.  Despite the fact that the event was held in the evening SL time, people from  the Americas, Europe and Asia attended.  No airfare, no hotel stay – we all teleported onto the sim – sat and watched as the lights of the Peace tower went on, listened to the beautiful music, chatted with our global neighbors and then danced for peace.

The Second Life Imagine Peace Tower has a daily lighting schedule – 15 minutes after SL Sundown each day – so if you cannot get to the real one in Iceland, consider a visit on SL.  There is a short machinima depicting the event this past week posted on Metacafe.

VW – What’s the Point? Would a score help?

I have been in a cloud – in a trough of disillusionment.  As I encourage colleagues and superiors of the potential in using VW for teaching and learning – and actually get some to register and spend some (limited) time in a virtual world, I get the questions “So what is the point?”  or  “Ok I kinda get it – but is this the best way to…?”  Both are valid questions and questions like these require a thoughtful response.  Some people get it right away, others need guidance, support and demonstrations.  Many need proof – yes metrics.  A hunch is great, a description of happy children makes for good feelings but nothing works like data.

Rubrics are an effective way to capture observations and quantify what participants accomplish and the way in which they do so.  A simple rubric design may look something like this:

Communication Collaboration Problem Solving Use of Information Points
Objective: Participants will work together in teams of … to …..
Participant has minimal communication with other participants Participant works alone Participant has no unique contribution Participant includes only known information 1Points

each

Participant uses voice to effectively communicate with peers Participant demonstrates ability to work with 1 to 2 individuals primarily as a follower Participant participates in solving problems in a unique way Participant contributes to information by completing some research 2points

each

Participant uses both text and voice to collaborate with peers Participant collaborates with peers as a follower as well as a leader Participant provides unique contributions to solve problems Participant contributes with both known and newly researched information 3points

each

Participants would benefit knowing how well they are doing and the objective in the use of the environment needed to succeed. Success depends on the process. So points are awarded when students

  • work with others to accomplish a task
  • communicate effectively
  • locate and use information effectively

Evidence vs Adult Intervention

Remember the clubhouse in the woods you built with your friends.  It was your clubhouse.  You and your friends thought of it, planned it, gathered materials, constructed it, fought about it, fought in it, plotted in it, pretended to be super-heros or knights in it, and then probably tore it down because it seemed like a good idea and it was yours to tear down.  Remember the playhouse that the little girl down the street had.  Her father built it for her.  It was a beauty; A door with hinges and a door knob, heart-shaped shutters, flower-boxes, shingles, matching curtains and furnishings.  She had a birthday party and everyone got to go into it but you couldn’t “mess it up”. Nobody really played there much, it collected spiderwebs.  It sat forever – a monument to adult intervention.

As I listened to the ISTE Speaker Series on SL Tuesday night, Knowclue’s message was most profound.  She said she is a stickler on students building and making their own environment in SL Teen Grid and now on Reaction Grid where she provides instruction.  I sat in the audience and asked “what evidence do you have of student achievement?”  My thoughts were focused on what so many educators are thinking about:  test scores, numbers, Adequate Yearly Progress, achievement data, standards.  Of course these are important quantifiable data points and so is the remarkable build that her students created.

A student build in a virtual world - minimal adult intervention.

The evidence is that children built a community based on a unit of study.  The student Build required the use of communication, collaboration and problem solving (those 21st Century Skills).  It required the use of mathematics and integration of an artistic sensibility.  The students had to read/research and take notes, write, and compute.  Knowclue has a clue and she also has evidence.  The student product is the evidence.  The students will be tested in the standards at the end of the year and those scores too will be reviewed – together they form the picture of evidence.  My hunch is the students who build will demonstrate more learning gains than the students who have it built for them,  look to the evidence.

Gallery

The Value of Play

This gallery contains 4 photos.

Play connects us to others, fosters creativity, helps with social skills, motivates and increases cognitive growth, according to Vygotsky’s research on play.    We like to play and we learn from playing, so playing in a virtual setting seems to be logical enhancement … Continue reading

Virtual Visuals add to Authentic Engagement

The difference between participating in a cyber educational event via a webinar and one via a virtual world  is dramatic.  When I first started to explore the use of virtual worlds to determine potential use in education I asked, “why not just use an online meeting software package? A webinar allows voice, is in real-time, allows sharing and collaborating, includes chat and sidebar conversations as well as the benefits of not having to waste time in travel and logistics of a F-t-F event”.  The use of an avatar and mechanics of having to find the right outfit for her to wear, to have her transport, walk and sit in a virtual auditorium seemed a little silly.

Avatars attending a building Class at NCI on SL. Snoopy was a classmate.

Having participated in both types of events I can now say that, for me, the Virtual World experience is much more connected.  Even a ‘talking head’ presentation with a Powerpoint is more active in the 3D virtual world than participating in a 2D webinar.  I have observed that in a 3D environment the audience seems more likely to ask questions and provide commentary which adds to the information and addresses adult learning principles.  The chat texts I have saved from regular ISTE sessions are much longer and more interesting than the ones I have from Elluminate and Meeting-Place sessions I have attended.  They are also less formal, more natural.

When I attend a “flat” webinar I have a tendency to multi-task, to have the webinar on in the background while I do some other work at my desk.  Conversely, when sitting in an audience of avatars there is a feeling of presence.  I look around and see who else is there, I may chat with someone I know, introduce myself to someone I don’t know and contribute to the conversation in local chat for everyone’s benefit or chat privately on the issues being discussed.  I rarely do other work and concentrate on the topic at hand.   I am more engaged.

Virtual events that incorporate instructional strategies such as grouping participants, taking “field trips”, and interacting with content in the environment are even more engaging and push participants to participate.

A class getting ready to go on a field trip

The use of the virtual world medium is still evolving and it seems the majority of decision makers have yet to be convinced of potential educational merits.   I was not convinced until I had mastered some basic avatar communication and mobility skills and had participated several times in sessions that were of particular interest with skilled presenters.  I have paid more attention to the cartoons in virtual worlds than to an unattached voice and a whiteboard on my computer desktop.

NASA STEM Challenge for Grades 9-12 InWorld

A competition from NASA provides a challenge for High school students, in 2 phases. In phase 1 students have an opportunity to work cooperatively, in teams of three-to-five students, as engineers and scientists to solve real-world problems related to the James Webb Space Telescope. Final solutions from this first phase of the challenge are due on Dec. 15, 2010.

Teams who complete Phase 1 are then paired with participating college engineering students for Phase 2, the InWorld phase of the challenge. Each InWorld team will refine designs and create 3-D models of the Webb telescope.

For more information about the challenge, visit http://www.nasarealworldinworld.org/.

Visual Arts in The Virtual World

The virtual world is of course a visual art in and of itself, but there is potential to provide learning experiences in a virtual setting that would otherwise be impossible in the real world.  In my experience, the world of visual arts can be brought to students to consume in 4 ways.

First the traditional way of walking around a museum and looking at the art.  One of the most extensive museums in the virtual world that I have seen is the Dresden Museum on Second Life (Dresden Gallery 120,128,26), which houses 750 masterpieces of European art.  An avatar can walk around the museum  and see the famous art, clicking on it to get information as it is desired. This method of learning about the art mimics a strategy used in the real world.

An avatar floats down Rumsey's Map Museum tower

The second method takes the display and viewing of works to a different level, literally.  Here an avatar can view a large collection of artwork in a “museum”  that can be traversed only in a virtual setting.  A wonderful example of this is the Rumsey Map Museum on Second Life ( Rumsey Maps 2 (193,201,715)).  The avatar visiting this museum  can fly through a tower to view the extensive map collection, stopping to click on any of interest to get additional information.

The third method of  learning about art in a virtual setting involves becoming a part of the art.  Art Box (Klaw 5,21,46) on Second Life has selected pieces of artwork with human subjects.

An avatar becomes a part of a famous piece of art in Art Box.

Participants are provided an opportunity to choose a painting and then click on a poseball to become the subject in the art.  The owners offer props and costumes for some of the art work.  Laguna Beach California has a real life, annual art show reminiscent of this strategy of enjoying art.  Actors dress and pose while backdrops and lighting are used to duplicate a painting in real life.   In the virtual setting the participant gets to make the art selection and become a part of it.  Certainly more immersive than just looking at it.

Sitting in Van Gogh's room. The builder created an elongated room to ensure groups of visitors had a correct view.

Finally, an avatar can visit a location and be completely immersed in the art.  In the case of Arles (168,23,29) on Second Life.  This amazing sim allows avatars to walk around Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings as they may have been seen by the artist.  The paintings are a 3D form and allow complete interaction.  An avatar can climb one of the famous yellow haystacks, sit in a cafe and enjoy the “starry night”, or even sit in Van Gogh’s bedroom.

The many museums in the virtual environment  each have policies regarding the use of the images they display.  It is best to experience them by visiting the location.

The places described here are not available to students under 18 years of age, but the methods may be used to create art locations in the Opensim grids so that students may interact with art and thus learn about it.  Better yet, students may become the producers and create these environments with art work in the public domain or even their own art work.

Which Comes First – Problem Solving or Facts?

Perhaps they can be learned together in a more meaningful way. In a Frontline video James Paul Gee makes a case for using video games with students to teach 21st Century skills of problem solving and innovation.

We typically test students on the facts that they know but are less adept at assessing if they can use the facts to solve problems. We often attempt to ensure students know the vocabulary and facts before we give them experiences in which these words and facts are used. They are both important and require the other in order to be meaningful. You need facts to solve problems. A game or virtual environment has the quality of providing an experience in which a student can solve problems and learn facts and concepts simultaneously, they may even learn vocabulary after concepts are learned.

I watched a 7 year old playing a video game called Spore, the concepts were about evolution and biology and the game required manipulating an organism in varying stages of evolution. This little girl solved a variety of problems including avoiding predators, experimenting with mobility and communication and finding shelter and food. Among the concepts learned were the importance of a brain to a living organism, usefulness of camouflage, and the value of mobility types. She does not yet know all the vocabulary associated with these concepts but the frame of reference allows for a meaningful learning of facts and vocabulary. When told the word “predator” and “camouflage” in relation to the images on the screen that she had played with, it made perfect sense and the words were then used in conversation. Interestingly, none of this took place in a school classroom.

James Paul Gee describes games as being best for “preparation for future learning”, to give a foundation and background for learning that will take place later in another mode. What are the implications for children with limited experiences? Could a virtual environment provide that preparation for future learning effectively enough?