Teaching in virtual spaces has become more than publishing information for learners to read and respond to. Thankfully, technology advances have made virtual spaces more creative, engaging, and interactive for teachers and learners. Today, there are no tested standards for … Continue reading
Teaching is something of an isolating profession. Teachers close their doors and instruct, at all grade levels and every subject. Teachers work alone, receiving an “observation” compliance visit by the supervising administrator as part of the annual evaluation. The structure of school in the United States makes shared planning time difficult if not impossible, students need supervision at all times so teachers cannot have the same planning time and of course the one hour, or less, of “planning” time is the only time a teacher can use the rest room, take a breather, contact parents, check the mailbox and prepare materials for the rest of the day or the next day. Lunch is typically a half hour, which often includes escorting students to the cafeteria and back to class. Collegiality and collaboration are not easily achieved when you don’t see or have time with your colleagues. A school calendar typically provides a planning day once a quarter or grading period, that’s when grades are due. So when can teachers share, discuss, plan and collaborate? After hours.
I have personally found virtual environments to be a space and time for synchronous collegiality and collaboration. On Tuesday nights I visit ISTE Island on Second Life, sometimes for a planned event and sometimes just to talk to teachers about challenges I’m having and get suggestions. I have met teachers from various states and countries with whom I share struggles and ideas. Periodically I logon to Reaction Grid or Opensim and sometimes find a teacher I have met online to exchange strategies and developments. I visit classes in session and interact with students, the collegiality and trust required of a Professional Learning Community (PLC) exist despite never having actually met my virtual colleagues. PLNs and social/professional networking sites offer a sort of sharing and collegiality, it is not the same as on-the-spot, in world “in-person” communication. I think of it as a cross between face-to-face and online. Much is available about the connections made in virtual settings. The authenticity of virtual friendships becomes evident to anyone who spends any time in this type of environment .
My virtual friends include people who are not teachers, people I may never have met as someone who moves primarily in an educator world. Interactions with these people enrich me both personally and professionally. I have a better idea of trends and realities to discuss with students and peers; jobs in the STEM area, business planning, software and data visualization tools, the music business. A real plus was car buying advice received from a virtual friend, the mechanical engineer and part-time SL space explorer. I have met people from other countries and have conversed with the assistance of an instant translator, picked up a little Italian and improved my Spanish.
Virtual worlds are not the answer to life, but they do offer a relatively easy and inexpensive opportunity to interact with colleagues and professionals that can help you grow.
I was curious about sculpting 3D objects and figured “I am capable, I can do this”. I downloaded Blender, bought a book and made an attempt. The multiple tools and buttons in the software were overwhelming and The first chapter of the book discussed how difficult Blender was to learn. Time for Plan B. I turned to a RL friend who is not a teacher but user of multiple 3D programs and talented artist in multiple mediums. I sat with him for about an hour and watched in amazement as he transformed ordinary spheres and cubes into something more interesting and asymmetrical, still I had no idea how to do it myself. Fast-forward a few months when a friendly avatar invited me to come along to introductory sculpting class at the Danish Visions Class Group (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Danish%20Visions/126/119/24 ) in Second Life. We had to hurry as “the room is locked after the lesson begins”, I was told, “and you can’t get in late”.
What a difference quality instruction makes. Inge Qunhua, the Danish instructor provided the lesson in voice (in English), as well as in text for those who did not have audio capabilities. She began the lesson with a quick reminder of classroom norms and necessary materials with time to download Sculptypaint. She then provided the objectives of the lesson and explained that at the end of the hour we would all have an individually designed comfy chair with rounded edges and a pedestal table. “A lofty goal – I’m a beginner”, I was thinking, “how is this possible?”
With a minimized SL screen of Inge’s presentation and a working screen with Sculptypaint software I followed instructions, using a 15 inch laptop. Inge monitored the students, corrected and provided feedback, and evaluated results. At the end of the hour we had all met the objectives.
Telling and showing is not teaching, though it’s part of the process. Good teaching must include• planning meaningful activities to meet objectives • monitoring students as they practice until they reach a level of success • explaining expectations and what success looks like • evaluating results and providing feedback for improvement
The elements of this virtual world lesson included research-based effective teaching strategies and the results were evidence of capable instruction.