Sunday, February 19, 2012

Another Step

Once again it has been awhile since I felt like I had much to say on the progress front with getting our Virtual World offerings up and running for kids. My blogs seem to be much like my journals and diaries of the past were...the highs of highs and lows of lows were always what I seemed to record.

Our school continues to focus on finding engaging resources for kids to explore. 

At this point we have determined a few things through surveys and conversations... 
  • Our virtual world and simulations work for a certain group of learners. They are being offered as a curricular option...not the only platform for learning."Forcing" them on all isn't recognizing the need for differentiated ways of design, process or product that many kids need.
  • The learning curve to get started both as a learner and a teacher is STEEP. One must be passionate and committed about this form of teaching/learning. Teachers and students need a great deal of support with both pedagogy and technology to get started and to stay invested. Both teachers and learners also need to be able to withstand the myriad of issues that arise with interacting with a fairly new area of technology.
  • Safety is a concern for all. Who has access to communicating with the learners? Often when creating these environments help from outside sources is necessary to gain expertise and to learn. The debate between closing, or keeping worlds open has been like a ping pong game.
Next steps: 
  • Continue to explore. Continue to build. Engage learners in helping us to learn more about how these environments are beneficial...or not. Keep an open mind. Ask for and gather continual feedback.
  • Our Province is now supporting an Active Worlds Uniserver for teachers to collaborate and share their worlds within. I'm excited to have the world I helped to create be a part of this new venture.  It means more work...of course...nothing good is ever easy :-) Files are being uploaded, objects have disappeared, and a few other technology related crises have occurred along with working on developing common understanding for how the teachers and learners will work together in this environment.

 Future Steps (Fingers Crossed):
  •  There will be several built worlds for learners to explore and the option available for the learners to build their own environments to show their understanding.
  • Teachers will be able to work together collaboratively with learners to create, design, and share their work efficiently and with an authentic audience.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Time Well Spent

A colleague and I were discussing today how virtual worlds can get a bit old if the main task is to be an explorer within them.

I found this true with my Second Life (SL) adventures.  After visiting many worlds within SL, where I reveled in the brilliance of the designers and enjoyed becoming a fairy or a rock star for a few hours here and there I realized my first life was most important and my exploring days were pretty much done.

However, I have also taken part in several SL conferences and the Community of Expertise in Educational Technology ( CEET ) is now hosting a world for future use by educators in SL. I left these experiences with new contacts for my Personal Learning Network (PLN) from all around the world. These experiences were purposeful, engaging and offered continuation into my daily practices.

We're seeing the same thing with the kids. If there isn't purpose, (much like anything else we propose for kids to learn) then interest wanes quickly. The virtual world experiences that offer the chance to contribute to real world problems and real world characteristics are the most attractive over time in our experience.
So...with that in mind, the world being developed in Active Worlds EDU, West Coast Quest (WCQ) offers a smorgasboard of opportunites.
It will be coupled with a website side offering challenges and problem based learning to meet learning intentions. Learners will be able to create their own challenges and create problems for others to solve.

There is still plenty of room to move around but there is a focus and a purpose. I'm sure, as we are a distributed learning school, that there will be some learners that find the socialization aspect a real draw while they learn at home. For others, they will enjoy the problems we pose and the journeys they will need to travel to solve them.

So once again, I find the "wow" factor of another neat learning tool needs to also contain the "meat and potatoes" to leave the learner feeling satisfied with time well spent, whether it is the physical or virtual world they are in.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

At a snail's pace...

photo cc
I am struck again and again by how slow the process has been to get my virtual environment ready for students to explore. I feel like a snail...taking a whole lot of time to venture up the fence post to get a better look at where I can go next. I get so excited when I see how far I've come...the world is pretty much built from sea to sky and the plans for possible projects and areas of study it could cover have been determined. However, the next steps, the ones to get it up and running within our curricular offerings seem the toughest. I know there are a lot of reasons I am moving slowly. Here are a few:
  • I am learning while I'm creating. The area of virtual worlds and simulations are all new to me. I've been a participant within them but this is the first foray into creating them for me. I am brought back to my first experience with creating web pages and how I had to figure out the technical side of things to create the design I wanted. AND...I had to make sure the content was worth spending time on the design.
  • I want to make sure these are quality experiences for learners. I want them to want to come back. Think of it from a tourism perspective...If all of this time and energy is devoted to creating a virtual space I want it to be used. I want them to visit again and again.
  • Building the "backbone" for this offering to my learners is important. How do I communicate with parents regarding this venture? How do I ensure learners understand expectations? What structure should the learning have? Should I go completely constructivist and tell them to make meaning on their own with minimal guidance...or should I "hand hold" the first time through?
  • For many of my learners, this will be their first experience with a virtual world and perhaps even interacting with others online. I want to spend the time to figure out the best ways to teach them digital citizenship before entering and during participation in world.
  • Looking at security. I want to ensure learners are safe online. There are plenty of online environments for learners but not all provide the level of security to make me feel comfortable.
I feel less "slow" in my process when I look over resources in this field. Things have been evolving in this area for a very long time. Unfortunately, patience is not my forte. I'm working on it :-)
Lately, I have returned to a book I read years ago, Learning to solve problems with technology; A constructivist perspective by Jonassen et al. Although the graphics have really evolved in many virtual worlds and simulations the basic principles still seem applicable in my circumstance.

In their chapter relating to microworlds and virtual realities they include seven general uses for vitual environments in education:
  • to explore typically unaccessible situations and environments
  • to explore objects
  • create places, things and events
  • interact and collaborate with others
  • interact with others in unrealistic ways (thought this was interesting and maybe a future blogpost)
  • create and manipulate abstract concepts
  • interact with avatars (e.g. historical figures and individuals that may represent different races, religions and viewpoints
I think they summed up one of the things I so appreciate about virtual worlds and simulation experience with this quote, "In microworlds and virtual reality simulations, learners can practice their newly acquired skills and knowledge without the unfortunate results of actual failures. Therefore, they can learn safely by simply doing and experimenting in the environments provided by microworlds and virtual reality simulations." (p. 206)

So with my feelings of how valuable these environments can/could be for learners remaining intact...onward I go... at a snail's pace.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Gaming to save the world?

I'm excited and uplifted. I have hope. Often people I talk with are concerned about the amounts of time people spend gaming. They are questioning "What's the point?" is a point we all might want to get on board with.

 I just listened to Jane McGonigal, game designer's talk "Gaming Can Make a Better World". Interesting concepts...some counterintuitive but some interesting questions and views to ponder...
e.g. How can we take the feelings of making a difference and "epic wins" from games and apply them to solving the problems in the real world?

Why do people spend so much time gaming?

- you are trusted to join the missions
- the missions are achievable
- hundreds of thousands of people to collaborate with
- inspiring stories
- immediate feedback

These games are so rewarding it is where people want to spend their time. McGonigal suggests the time we are spending with games is actually helping us to evolve into a more "collaborative and hearty species".

I have to say, as a "cup half full" kind of person, that I too believe these games do have a role in our evolution as a species. We are seeking out others, playing games together, solving problems, collaborating to build an "epic story".

Now...we need to find a way to bring the time invested in solving virtual problems to solving real world problems.

I think a lot of this responsibility may lie with the game designers themselves. Surely, the same key characteristics that bring people into games (listed above) could be fashioned into game resulting in people around the world solving problems...

McGonigal has designed many games. Evoke (see the trailer) really interests me. Ten missions, ten weeks based  on concepts such as sustainability, entrepreneurship, hunger and poverty. Visit the Urgent Evoke website for more information.

One of the things I am absolutely sure of is that if as a global nation we hope to solve the Earth's largest dilemmas we will need as many minds as we can get. In my opinion it is not a stretch to look to gaming or simulations to help us meet, work and solve problems. I'm interested...I want to see more of these "games". 

Many people are very eager to solve the problems of a virtual world now let's see if they are still willing to solve the problems of the world we're sitting on.

See McGonigal's Blog, Avant Game, for more interesting and global thinking. I am excited and see someone using her immense talents to try and save our world.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Virtual Worlds for Distributed Learning

I have been working on finding a place for Virtual Worlds in a Distributed Learning environment for 2 years. I have tried a couple of different platforms during this time. Google Lively seemed to fit the bill but it closed down in Dec 2009. I have been using 3dxplorer, a Java language web browser based program this year. This program integrates well with our Desire to Learn (D2L) Learning Management software and is easy for teachers and students to use.

NIDES has a very rich text based learning environment and a Virtual World component allows students to experience the curriculum in context. No longer is there a need to describe an environment when we can recreate it in 3D rendition. Not only can students interact with the environment they can communicate in a more natural curricular setting with their peers and teachers.

There are some elements in a Virtual World that do need to be attended to. There should be a teacher presence to moderate the environment. Students will need to be given direction and assistance to navigate the world and get the experience that the virtual world is intended to impart. Bandwidth is always a concern. Image and media rich environments requires large bandwidth and a lagging virtual world is like walking through molasses. There should be a backup in case bandwidth is an issue. In our Learning Management System (D2L) this can be chat, pages, discussions and dropbox options for traditional text messages and assignments.

Virtual Worlds opens up many possibilities to create a better learning environment. There are many different platforms available, both free and subscription based. Some are browser based and others require client software. All expand the learning experience for the student and allows the teacher to explore new ways to present the curriculum.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Avatars and Self

An interesting read about the avatar-self relationship. I find it fascinating to see how people are digging deeper into virtual worlds and the opportunities they offer us. Ms. Schultze, the professor being interviewed, explains her interest in avatars and the implications of the avatar-self relationship. Her full paper can be found here.

I have been a resident of Second Life, the platform she discusses, for just over a year. The first time I entered the world it gave me shivers...I could instantly see the potential for learning....imagine being able to learn by matter what the concept or venue...I visited a world where the focus was Shakespeare's Macbeth...I could open books, listen to voices eerily reciting the play....I lived it for a short time...

I started imagining what it would have been like if when I had read Macbeth in high school, I could have come to this place with my peers and teacher...we could have designed avatars and re-enacted the play. Maybe the learners in the class that just sat through each lecture, totally disengaged, may have come to life when they saw the grisly bits of the story...or got to take on the roles of Macbeth themselves...

I also had an image of "The Magic School Bus" series come to mind when looking at the potential of using virtual worlds and simulations within an educational context. In those books/videos, Ms. Frizzle, the coolest teacher ever (in my opinion), takes her learners on amazing trips with a magic bus to learn first hand e.g. a trip to an underwater volcano, a journey inside a classmate's body to find out why he's sick, traveling to outer space and becoming part of the food chain. Experiences the learners in her classes will NEVER forget because "they've been there and done that".

Well...that is what I want to do for the learners I teach. I want them to fly their own ship to outer space and complete a mission that saves the Earth. I want them to experience rescuing others needing help. I want them to explore themselves and their abilities in as many environments as possible as a variety of different characters. I want them to be inspired into new directions. For instance, maybe by joining a mission to reclaim treasure from a sunken ship a child may be inspired to try diving, archeology or anthropology.

In no way am I saying regular classrooms cannot provide inspiration. However, I do believe that being able to live and "do" the experience, even in a virtual context may be the way to help leave a lasting impression with some learners.  Living these experiences through their avatars may also help to teach character and morality that could also impact real life interactions...we shall see...
- Alissa

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Today's reflection has been around how excited I am to be learning about virtual worlds through virtual world use myself. Is this not exactly why I am excited about using virtual worlds with learners? So they too can learn to do by doing?

I'm reading Clark Aldrich's Book - Simulations and the Future of Learning. - and am thoroughly enjoying his blog
Here are some of his quotes from Wikipedia:
"If I had six hours to learn anything, I would spend four of it practicing."
"An inexperienced learner is thrown by frustration, but a good learner uses it."
"The simulation interface is part of the content, not just a conduit to the content."
"We are at a time in the history of education when everything can change. Our minds can be as well developed and nurtured as our bodies… the work of a few people will echo through the ages, changing the very wealth of nations."

One thing that interests me even more as a distributed learning teacher is his unschooling project as many of the families I work with aim to, and succeed at, bringing these philosophies into their child(ren)'s learning experiences. He outlines 33 Critical Skills Seldom Taught, Tested, or Graded in High School which are a good reminder of where sometimes as educators we are missing the boat...

So...back to today's learning activities. Tree planting in Active Worlds, checking out several simulations to use with Grade 3 learners and then maybe an adventure in Second Life. I feel lucky to live in such an amazing time...