In a very short compressed space of time of the last few days here in Charlottetown, I have met some cutting edge educators who are changing the face of education from the grassroots level.
Dr. Sandy McAuley is using the latest iteration of the former CSILE knowledge-building environment with his students at University of Prince Edward Island. He provided a demo of the environment for all of us to explore. It takes a sort of concept-map building approach to a content management system-like environment. While it has its limitations in being a very closed system, I particularly appreciated the tagging/keyword system that it uses. Another disadvantage, however, is that it is not possible to export the knowledge that is created there. Sandy worked with Scardamalia and Bereiter at OISE in the early 90’s developing and using the earliest iteration of CSILE up in the Canadian Arctic communities.
Sandy and I had a few conversations about whether new pedagogies were required to use the latest web 2.0 tools and environments or whether we were reinventing the wheel and ignoring the important research that has already been completed about the creation of knowledge and learning in online environments. As I have reflected upon my students’ conversations and multimedia products in the last few years, I have returned to the published research that has explored the benefits of online learning spaces. Much value has been documented along the way. On the other hand, it has remained in silos as web 2.0 tools and environments have proliferated in the last two years. Educators without any prior experience with online learning environments are discovering the tools and using them in very innovative ways. Accessibility to the research is sometimes prevented or not encouraged. There has been a huge disconnect between the teachers in the trenches and the researchers in the white towers. In the meantime, critics are quick to point out that little qualitative or quantitative research has been done on their use in the classroom. The fact that they have not been developed exclusively for the education domain makes them even more dubious. Those of us who see the benefits should draw upon the pioneers of online collaborative learning environments from the 1980’s and 90’s.
I also met the creator, Mike MacAdam, of Chuala, a language community and web-based pronunciation application that shows great promise for learners of other languages. My own son’s resistance to learning French could certainly be helped by this great tool.
Elana Langer was also at this conference as one of the presenters, but she also was with Dave Cormier from the beginning in creating the goals of the Living Archives. Besides being a videographer who will create a documentary about the project, she teaches in New York at SUNY and is also involved in the One Laptop Per Child program. Her involvement with the OLPC was what fascinated me in particular and I had an opportunity to have a couple of conversations with her about that. We actually audio-recorded our conversation in Dave’s pantry as he and Jeff were webcasting live in the living room!
The developers behind the XO (the machine for OLPC) have created a new platform for the machine (Sugar) which is based on a new pedagogical approach to education. Elana explains it much better than I can try, so you are invited to listen to the podcast (soon to be posted!). She has also agreed to come on to a WOW2 webcast on December 8th as our special guest, so tune in then to hear her live!
In the meantime, OLPC has just released an offer to purchase/give the XO laptop. For $400 a person will purchase a model of the XO and finance one to be sent to a developing nation. I am dying to see the XO for myself and play around with it to see how it can be used pedagogically in a school community.
Earlier this afternoon I was also able to help out with the WorldBridges videocast from Dave’s livingroom and then later capture a video interview with he and Jeff Lebow that will be featured in our WOW2 K12 Online conference presentation in about three weeks. Jeff Lebow’s vision for WorldBridges is more than 10 years old and it was fascinating and inspiring to hear his convictions and passion for webcasting at the grassroots level.
And, of course, we were all here in Charlottetown, PEI, to support the Living Archives Project which is a brainchild of Dave Cormier, who is himself also a visionary of education. Originally, he had wanted to use Second Life as the environment to support the project’s goal of student-created villages of digitized historical content. Due to the young ages of the student participants, he was not able to use SL so, undeterred, he has since discovered OpenSim. This program allows him to install and host the virtual world platform on his own server or even computer. Islands can be connected and disconnected with each other by user control. This provides him with a great deal more control and ownership over the project. The students appeared very enthusiastic when they saw the virtual world the other day. Students in Virginia also were invited to look over the virtual world and are watching this project carefully in the hope they can build their own world too!