Second Life – It’s Not a Game!

Educational Uses of SL

    Second Life – More than a Game!

I heard about Second Life several months ago and, being a former MUSH (Multi-User Shell) role-player during the mid-nineties, I was intrigued. The role-playing environment has graduated big time from text on a page to a 3-dimensional virtual world. Busy as my life is, I was enticed in for a “tour” over the December holiday break.

I must say, what I saw did impress me. While I still fumble around quite a bit when I am in the environment, it offers a dazzling array of features. There is no audio – yet (soon to come and most impressive, apparently), but there is a text chat feature so one may communicate in varying ways (private, just to one individual, etc.).

The potential of Second Life has certainly created a buzz amongst educators. At the Connectivism Conference two weeks ago, the interest in SL was great and a number of tours were arranged during the course of the week. Unfortunately, my own schedule was crazy, and I was unable to attend any of the tours. Jeffrey Keefer posts about SL in his blog as he sees the “connection” between theory and practice of connectivism taking place in SL.

Also, it was interesting to see several sessions about Second Life available at the 2007 Illinois Online Conference last week. I attended one very interesting session about how to create educational objects through scripting code in Second Life. The presenter shared a number of online resources and tutorials for available for free for scripting code in SL.

    Language and Culture Group

A few days ago, I was sent an invitation to attend a group meeting of English Second Language Teachers who were meeting in Second Life to discuss an initiative of Language and Culture Education in SL. I decided to drop in on the meeting to see what it was about.

I fumbled and bumbled my way in and joined the skypecast conversation that was taking place between the members as they were in SL. More than a dozen avatars were present, representing real-life teachers from countries such as Brazil, Sweden, Germany, Spain, the UK, and the US. A few were high school teachers, but most were college teachers or teachers of adult learners. We discussed how we would like to create a database of lesson plans that could be used by educators who wanted to use SL as an environment to augment the teaching of language and culture.

I applaud the educators who are pushing ahead with such an initiative. We need visionaries who take risks and explore new technology tools for the creation of the best learning situations. I hope they will document their successes and failures for those of us who are not ready yet to take the plunge into this kind of online environment.

    Questions Raised

  • Second Life certainly has the environment for these kinds of lessons to take place. In fact, it would be quite exciting to see this take place. My question, though, is are we ready for it?
  • Can we get past the gaming rep that Second Life has?
  • Second Life is still very much the “new frontier” of online environments. Yes, it could be a learning environment – in fact, is being used as such by several colleges and universities even now. No, there is no research to support its efficacy. It is still *too new*. Are there researchers exploring SL’s (or similar life simulation environments) educational potential?
  • Is the tool driving the content? As always, educators must ask themselves what is the best tool to provide learning opportunities. So it is with all the tools we use. If we use SL, we may need to get our students or learners past the first “gee whiz” stage before openness to learning can take place.
  • An educational use of SL would require a teacher that is comfortable with the SL environment and who is technology fluent. Not many in my faculty (not sure even me!) would fit that criteria. The learning curve to become adept in SL may well be too steep for many. Who is willing to offer teacher training for use of SL?
  • Also, SL is still quite open and therefore not entirely safe for our K-12 students. I would need to be convinced that my students would not be exposed to something dangerous or unsavoury. Who will make SL safe and when will that happen?
  • Then there is the question of bandwidth and hardware requirements for the SL program. Only those with access to these requirements would be able to use SL. Obviously, this excludes a lot of people. Can the SL program be made leaner, meaner, and more stable?
    • The Potential of Second Life

    Still, educators – especially those that are “ready” for it – should not ignore the potential of SL.

    Although I obviously have many questions about Second Life (and I am a rank newbie!), I am pleased that many early adopting teachers are exploring educational uses of the SL environment. We will need them to be mentors someday for those of us who may follow in their footsteps.

    Stay tuned to hear lots more about Second Life in the future!

    If you are interested in the Learning and Culture Group in Second Life, you can join the group in SL by selecting groups and then doing a search for “language and culture”. Or you can email me or leave a comment on this post for contact info about the group.

    Student Travel Blog and Looking Forward to Illinois Online Conference

    Our school enjoyed a long weekend and it was much needed for me as I was juggling a great deal of extracurricular activities, my regular teaching duties, and the Connectivism Conference last week. Phew!

    LCC Blogs

    The four students who are on exchange to schools in Melbourne, Australia arrived safely and, to my great delight, are using the blog that was created for them to chronicle their adventures. My 14 year old daughter is good friends with the students and she noted how much of their personal voice was evident in their sharing of the same events and experiences. I found their writing skills to be solid, informative, and much more forthcoming than some of their “academic” assignments. One more piece of evidence, at least to me, that writing for an authentic audience increases student motivation to produce better quality and quantity of writing.

    Please drop by their blog and leave them a comment – it would be such an encouragement to them!

    I am hoping to use their blog posts as learning opportunities for the rest of the students in the class. Some questions I would like to ask – how would headings help the reader? Should they have broken up the text into smaller paragraphs? What questions or issues does the writer leave with the reader? What is an appropriate response for a comment?

    Looking Forward to the 2007 IOC

    Tomorrow, the 2007 Illinois Online Conference begins and I am going to find it interesting to compare it with the Connectivism Conference of last week (also online – both using Elluminate as a conference-sharing environment). The sessions I am very interested in attending are noted on my Google Calendar and mostly have to do with web 2.0 tools or Second Life. I was very interested to see that two sessions about educational uses for SL are offered; one of them is about how to create educational objects in SL to share with a class – wow! Can’t wait for that one!

    Second Life generated a huge amount of interest (serendipitously and perhaps unanticipated by George Siemens) during the Connectivism Conference. Unfortunately, my schedule did not permit to join any of the self-organized groups which toured SL.

    My own presentation for IOC takes place at 14:00 (2 PM) EST on Friday. The presentation is about how social networks, through the use of web 2.0 tools, are being used to foster and promote professional growth.

    Survey Measuring Educators’ Uses of Web 2.0 Tools for Professional Growth

    I created a survey to measure the kinds of web 2.0 tools educators are using for this purpose.

    If you have a minute or two, could you please help me out and take the survey? I intend to present the results as part of my presentation on Friday.

    Click here to take survey

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    The Maine Event of my Weekend

    Sugarloaf, Sugarbush and Sugar Pie

    This weekend I had some free time (a first since the December holiday break!) and I decided to take up Cheryl Oakes‘ generous offer to visit her at her mountain house in MAINE. Admittedly, along the way, I got a few American place names confused – now I know without a doubt that there is a large geographical difference between Sugarloaf, Maine, and Sugarbush, Vermont. Fortunately, I discovered this before I set out on the road. My 12 year old son, Nathanael, bravely set out with me on my small adventure to Maine to meet Cheryl Oakes and her family.

    Just to keep my readers on the edge of their seats with my scintillating adventures, we made a couple of stops along the journey – which should have taken 4 hours from Montréal.

    My first stop was planned. Jen Wagner, Vicki Davis, Cheryl Oakes and I had arranged to pre-record an interview with the inimitable Terry Freedman about Coming of Age (2nd edition) for this week’s WOW2 webcast. I was able to borrow a friend’s Internet connection for the interview in the quaint village of Ayer’s Cliff in the Eastern Townships of Québec. All went well for the interview and it should be ready and posted by tomorrow night. Terry has some great things to tell us about the second edition of Coming of Age and the chat between the five of us was quite lively.

    For the second half of my journey, I admit that I read the map not quite right, ended up at the wrong port of entry border crossing, and was directed to the next one by the kindly customs official.

    On the way back to the main highway (in the middle of rural nowhere), in the middle of a sudden snow squall, I lost control of my car and sort of gently, but firmly, drifted into a snow-filled ditch. We landed just about at a 90 degree angle. Sigh.

    An angel of mercy (who could speak English flawlessly!) drove past within minutes, picked us up and took us back into town where he spent some time on the phone tracking down a tow truck for us. I still can’t get over how blessed we were by him! He wouldn’t accept a penny for his troubles and dropped us off at a local restaurant where we waited another hour in the warmth for the tow truck. Not a scratch on the car for all that!

    The rest of the driving to the border and through northern Maine was simply wretched, but not impossible. We made it to Cheryl’s mountain house much past my intended time of arrival.

    My son Nat spent the next day in skiing heaven. Sugarloaf was a great ski hill and the weather was awesome. I had brought my snowshoes and had a great hike on the trails.

    Cheryl and I were able to snatch a few discussions during our visit. I have so much respect for her wisdom and experience as a public school teacher and technology integrator. While the state of Maine is quite different in its demographics than my situation in Montréal, Canada, there is so much we could learn from what they are doing with their resources and approaches to technology.

    Cheryl had been teased by her family about her online friend (me) coming to visit, so we talked about how we would like to do a joint blog post on how to know who to trust in online relationships. For me, it had not even crossed my mind! This will be an interesting topic to explore….

    (The Sugar Pie, or tarte au sucre, which I brought along, was enjoyed by Cheryl and her family!)

    I am home safely now – the trip home did, in fact, just take a little over four hours after all!

    Survey on Use of Social Networks for Professional Growth

    Next week, I am presenting a session at the 2007 Illinois Online Conference – Tapping into Social Networks for Professional Growth. Besides presenting the various web 2.0 tools that facilitate social networks, I thought I would provide a snapshot of how educators are using tools and social networks to improve their teaching practices.

    If you are an educator and you have a social network, would you please help me out and take my survey? I would so appreciate it!

    Click here to take survey

    More on the Connectivism Conference….

    Today I attended Diana Oblinger’s session “Balancing Agility and Stability in Higher Education“. I was only able to catch parts of it because of some chaotic confusion in my school – a water main had broken down the street and school was being dismissed three hours early (talk about much celebration on the part of the students!). It was a little distracting….

    The chat room once again contained some rich dialogue and sharing of opinions, information and resources. Diana’s presentation included a good deal of very interesting statistics about Internet usage, who was using what tools and for what purpose. I look forward to hearing the presentation again when not so distracted and viewing the ppt slides again as well.

    The moodle environment is very busy with activity. All the new posts to the forums are being fed to my inbox and it is getting hits about every ten minutes it seems! I have been trying to follow some of the threads, but it will take some time to go through everything! Certainly we will all be chewing on the material for months to come.

    One thread that caught my eye contained a reference to Christopher Sessum’s School 2.0 Manifesto – dated January 31 2007. It is just incredible and I want to get out the word about it!

    How refreshing it is to hear other educators take such powerful and potentially controversial stances! Kudos to Christopher!

    The Future does indeed begin NOW!

    I welcome your thoughts and comments about this post.

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    Real student-created video documents war and rebuilding in Israel after second Lebanon war last summer

    My good friend and collaborative partner Reuven Werber has shared with me a video (hosted on google video) that students from Neveh Channah School have created to document real life experiences of the war between Israel and Lebanon last summer. It is an excellent example of student-driven documentation of an international event.

    Students Tova Wasser, Gabi Jacobs, and Temima Lehrman (video-editor) initiated the student video documentary all by themselves. It was their desire to take a bus and travel three hours from their own homes in Etzion Bloc to Bar Yochai (see map below) in order to interview a few of the residents for information about what it was like to experience the war. It was also their desire to show the missile damage and faithful rebuilding of the Upper Galilee settlement.
    They now have a global audience! Think about the learning that the video represents! Teachers and students can now use this video as an educational tool themselves to understand the power of the media and journalism for controversial events.

    I recall watching (with a certain amount of horror) the war from my television screen through the months of July and August of 2006. In spite of the “openness” and instaneity of the press coverage, instances of propaganda abounded.

    This was clearly an issue that touched these girls deeply. Kudos to them for a job well done!

    Bar Yochai

    Will Richardson’s Presentation at Connectivism Conference

    Yesterday’s presentation by Will Richardson at the Connectivism Conference was titled “Connective Teaching: How the Read/Write Web Challenges Traditional Practice”. The session was incredibly well attended in an Elluminate online conference environment by over 180 people from around the world and the chat during Will’s presentation was rich and interesting.

    There is much stimulating discussion also taking place in the moodle environment which has been created for the conference.

    For me, the meat of the presentation was when Will made some suggestions about how teachers can become connectivists.

    Here are some main points that he suggested for this to happen:

    • Teachers as learners first (an old refrain, but well worth being reminded of)
    • Teachers need to be networked learners (ahhhh…. this is new! and a valid point)
    • Transparent learners (tools of the web, such as wikis, blogs, and social bookmarking facilitate transparency)
    • Flexible learners – “nomadic learners”
    • Reflective learners
    • Social learners
    • teachers as mentors who are on call in a 24/7 way
    • more focus on inquiry-based curriculum
    • teachers as connectors – connecting and building a local and global community
    • connectors of students to students globally
    • connectors of students to mentors, authors, experts
    • students to resources (rss feeds and social bookmarking tools facilitate this)

    As interesting were the obstacles Will mentioned which prevent teachers from creating a learning network for themselves and their students:

    • Fear of change
    • Fear of technology
    • fear of transparency
    • fear of being outside of comfort zone of context
    • LACK OF TIME (Will stated this was the #1 reason teachers leave the profession – interesting!)

    Time is a precious commodity to a teacher. Indeed, it took me nearly 24 hours to respond to his presentation because of a lack of free time. Actually, I wouldn’t even suggest that the time I have now to write is free – it is stolen time. It is a constant battle for me to manage my time. In fact, just as I sat down to collect my thoughts and do some writing, my 17 year old daughter dropped by my office, sat down, and shared with me some difficulties she was experiencing. Rarely do I have time with her to myself, so I cleared the decks and nothing was more important for me than the half hour we talked. Such are the “outside, real-life” demands on a teacher’s time!

    Teaching is also a lonely job – especially for those of us who are trying to be change agents in institutions that are not aware (or pretend not to notice) that learning happens outside the four walls of a classroom. Creating a personal learning network has certainly helped me to cope with that sense of loneliness and isolation. In fact, it has been my lifeline in the last six months.

    School in a Box

    I see many teachers compartmentalizing their teaching practices as if “school-induced learning” took place in a box. While it gives one a sense of control, it does not represent the reality of today’s digitized world. At the end of his presentation, Will made the very excellent point that students are creating their own networks anyways – with or without our help. For their sake, it would be so much better if they experienced guidance and modeling so the development of critical thinking skills and a sense of ethics were provided by their more mature mentors – their parents and teachers.

    The Women of Web 2.0 were very fortunate to have Will Richardson as a guest two weeks ago. I asked him the question that is most important to me – what advice could he give to the ordinary teacher (like myself) to be a change agent in a school where the recognition that interactive tools and environments of the web is slow? He encouraged us to continue to be providing models and he stated that openness, encouragement and support was needed by the administration to foster change. I wholeheartedly agree. The administration opens doors, creates and provides opportunities for teachers, and most importantly, provides a vision that affects the entire culture of a school.

    We need more open, supportive and encouraging administrators!

    I welcome your thoughts and comments about this post.

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    Connectivism and the K-12 education “real world”

    Kick-Off to the Connectivism Conference

    I was not able to be at George’s synchronous presentation on Friday because I was in the classroom watching my own students try to make connections. They were making public speaking presentations this past week and some of their thoughts and ideas were excellent.

    Unfortunately, it seems that there have been some problems with the audio recording, so I have had to rely on the slideshow notes that George has provided in order to see his presentation. I am sure it was a terrific presentation and I will be sure to read the others’ comments about it.

    I have been following George Siemens’ and others’ thoughts about connectivism for some time now. Because I had been spending a good deal of time reading and studying for my own thesis work in educational technology in the last two years, when I came upon the description of connectivism, I was very interested. Much of the approach resonated with me – certainly because of my own interest in online environments and a networks approach to communication.

    A Context Filter

    I am certain I was one of the first to sign up for the Connectivism Conference – within minutes of the rss feed going out, I had read about the conference and signed up. It is a particular privilege to be asked to be a “context filter” for the conference. I will do my best to be a filter that represents those who represent Women of Web 2.0 – and to me, that means those who are trying be change agents in the K-12 education system around the world to promote better learning through the use of technology tools. It is a challenging task to attempt to discern and speak for so many of whom I have the highest regard!

    In my experience, the difficult issues of the digital information age are alarming and somewhat frightening to those educators who are beginning to become aware of them, particularly those who realize they are not prepared. Frankly, I have never seen as wide a gap as now between our students and their teachers in terms of facility of technology. The response of many school administrators seems to be to close everything down with filters and closed ports rather than deal with the real issue of creating a meaningful information literacy programme and a pedagogy that matches the technology tools that we use and provide to students.

    Connectivism Connecting with Real Teachers

    It was in this context that I recently brought up the topic of this new learning theory of connectivism to a group of my colleagues at the school where I teach. Over dinner for an organized prof. development evening (Critical Friends Group), we were discussing how to cope in an environment of information deluge. How do we create the best learning environment where there is so much easy access to information – some of it very shallow? How do we teach critical thinking skills to manage this deluge of information? How can we control it? Can we control it? The strong undertone was that this was a curse of technology and that these tools had opened a Pandora’s box for which we were not prepared

    Because I had been reading George’s book, Knowing Knowledge, I was able to offer a few thoughts about connectivism to the group of teachers – a group which represented gr. 1 to gr. 12 teachers from different disciplines. They were intrigued. I had earlier passed around Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, to a few of them, so they were even more intrigued that Siemens had incorporated some of Pink’s material into his description of connectivism.

    Teachers do not want to hear about a learning theory that is based on technology or changes due to technology. At first glimpse, it may seem that connectivism is exactly that and only that. The real appeal for teachers is to see balance and relevance to their own teaching situations. They want to see an approach that retains the human-ness of their students. The teachers with whom I spoke were especially interested that this approach factored in the need for reflection as well as a recognition to a spiritual component of their students.

    Because I missed George’s presentation, I am going to rely on my reading of Knowing Knowledge to share some points I had highlighted as I read.

    What types of skills do our learners need?

    Anchoring. . . . Staying focused on important tasks while undergoing a deluge of distractions.

    Filtering. . . . Managing knowledge flow and extracting important elements.

    Connecting with Each Other…. Building networks in order to continue to stay current and informed.

    Being Human…Together . Interacting at a human, not only utilitarian, level…to form social spaces.

    Creating and Deriving Meaning….. Understanding implications, comprehending meaning and impact.

    Evaluation and Authentication…. Determining the value of knowledge… and ensuring authenticity.

    Altered Processes of Validation . Validating people and ideas within an appropriate context.

    Critical and Creative Thinking . Questioning and dreaming.

    Pattern Recognition. . . . Recognizing patterns and trends.

    Navigate Knowledge Landscape . . . Navigating between repositories, people, technology, and ideas while achieving
    intended purposes.

    Acceptance of Uncertainty. Balancing what is known with the unknown… to see how existing knowledge relates to what
    we do not know.

    Contextualizing . Understanding the prominence of context…(understanding context games) seeing continuums…ensuring key contextual issues are not overlooked in context-games.

    I see from George’s slide presentation that he did highlight a few of these, notably pattern recognition, acceptance of uncertainty, critical and creative thinking, network formation and evaluation, and contextualizing. As I look over these key points, I ask myself what would be new to the teachers that I know? And really, all but critical and creative thinking would be probably be outside of the lexicon of the average teacher. The challenge will be for teachers to develop these skills themselves and be active practitioners of them.

    The challenge for the future will be developing an easily disseminated pedagogy for teachers to use to teach such things as network formation and evaluation and contextualizing if teachers are not practicing them already or if they simply do not recognize the value of these skills. How do we shift a culture of high stakes testing on knowledge that may not be relevant in five years?

    What do you think?

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    Web 2.0 made me happy today

    It was a very connected kind of day for me.

    My first happy moment took place when I was able to “catch” the live audio stream over at WorldBridge’s Webcast Academy earlier today. I can do live internet audio streaming! This used to be called “radio”! I now have access to a channel for my very own live Internet broadcasts! The potential for use of this with my students is huge!

    Webcast Academy is a free six-week course for webcasting live Internet audio shows and they provide channels for one to use for this purpose. It is a great example of a free course that provides anytime/anywhere training at one’s own level of expertise.

    One also records the audio show at the same time so it can be offered as a podcast later (after editing).

    Today, I finally spent some time editing a recorded discussion from last week with Shaun Creighton, one of my partners for the Global Virtual Classroom Web Design contest, in which about 38 of my students are participating. It was a happy moment for me to finally post the podcast over at my space at podomatic and share it with others. It is an awesome example of a project where students from three different schools and geographical locations are collaborating to create an educational website. They are using a wiki to host a great deal of their collaborative efforts. We have visions for the use of video and audio segments to augment our site.

    Two sets of my students used skype this week to communicate with partners in other locations. The students are so excited to be chatting with peers from other schools. They are already begging to have other such meetings! I was able to record some of the audio and the students have really enjoyed listening to it.

    I chatted online with many people today, but another happy moment was when Chris Harbeck passed on this amazing video from youtube that shows the web 2.0 “message”. While I thoroughly enjoyed it and “got” the message, I am not sure that anyone but technogeeks like me would completely appreciate it. It can be used for educational purposes, I am sure, if it were integrated properly into a lesson. Chris does a much better job describing it on his blog!

    And a great big happy moment – earlier today, I posted about a blog I had created for my students as they traveled to Australia for a student exchange. Within just a little while, dear Jo McLeay, from Melbourne, left a comment for one of the students on the blog! The power of rss feeds! Thank you so much, Jo!

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