Web 3D: Students using OpenSim Reflect on the Pressing Issues that We all Ask about Using Virtual Worlds

Fridays are always reflection days here -- when we share what we learned via blog post, discussions, or video. Today, we ustreamed. Several times my mouth went open.

Like, when one of the terraformers (these are the people who make the land) talked about the vision for the island and the creation of good "badguys" - people who are trustworthy to operate the avatars of the villains who roam the island and try to get students to give out inappropriate information. So, let the students speak for themselves.

Listen to our terraforming team talk about our island, the uses of Open Sim in schools (We use www.reactiongrid.com and LOVE it!), and their vision of what they'd like to see happen. Also, hear the reflections of the other students about their work in virtual worlds.

Free Webcam Chat at Ustream

This is a great group of students and they are doing wonderful work! We're getting ready to start on their book.

So, what am I teaching them, what are our objectives?

Actually, this Island building is a continuation of digital citizenship but is also part of the time management, working with people, leadership module I teach in January / Early February. Usually it is lecture based with a few student hands on exercises -- now it is a live experience full of project management and people skills work that they have to do. Totally different! (You'll see Miller talk about this in the second video.

What is next?

Next, we're going to be learning advanced collaboration features in Word and also Excel and charting. How will we do it? We're going to write a book on digital citizenship and require each chapter to have an author and an editor and some piece of authentic research and charting in each chapter. Same objectives, but the workbook is gathering dust on the shelf. The plan is to publish it on lulu and to use any proceeds to help fund as many students as possible to go to next year's flat classroom conference.

This is a struggle to move to this method, gosh, especially for me, as my assessment methods must change and I must look at the whole world differently. But, PBL - project based learning is totally different.

Evolution of Lesson Plans

Just listen to Miller in the video talk about creating "lesson plans" for the island and how she is creating a lesson plan to construct a self-teaching environment in the OpenSim -- I am spending a lot of time with her developing how to do this so I can learn how to do it myself.

Boy, this is a tough transition but it is so rewarding. It is the RIGHT way to teach but I wish I could read it in a book. Oh well, it is not in a book - People like Peggy Sheehy, Kevin Jarrett, and Beth Ritter- Guth, Chris Dede and his Amazing Harvard RiverCity Project are my book. You are the book.

(And really, I need a few more books - we're having trouble hyperlinking objects and scripting some things -- We use hippo open sim which is the open source version of the Second Life browser -- alas, we don't know how to move items from Second Life to the other grid, and I don't think you can.)

We are the book. I love the vision that all of these students cast for how these worlds can be used in teaching. For example, a Tale of Two Cities - a tough book to understand - one class learn to use OpenSim and create world - The Tale of Two Cities - yes it would take a month or so - but then, the students coming after would take a day or two to learn in deep ways all about the Tale of Two Cities. We share. We work together.(This is Trent and T-Rob's suggestions from video #1 by the way.)

Surfing the Tidalwave of Change

Sometimes all of this is a bit disconcerting. The students know SO MUCH more than me about OpenSim because I run from computer to computer to help them and don't get in and do it myself as much. (See their Jing tutorials on Creating Clothes and Gestures in Open Sim.) I have to sit down daily and refine objectives and make sure to incorporate it in that day's project or reflection.

Really, with stringent standards of many of you -- how on earth are you going to move to this kind of environment? People have numbered 1, 2, 3, the order and detail of what you are to teach and when!

To me, it is sort of like the binding that chinese women used to put on their feet to keep them small -- we have bound the cords of standards so tightly that these classrooms grow somewhat uniformly - but what if we are indeed damaging the potential of some to grow to be much more than they are going to be? What of those who will surpass the standards?

No magic wand for education

So often, people are looking for the "magic wand" in education.

There is no magic wand except this --- hire great teachers, empower them to be teacherpreneurs and teach - hold them accountable for results but don't overtest in the process - let them teach. (If you're always weighing the chicken, when does the chicken eat?) Empower them to customize the classrooms in ways that they can get the work done. Support them and their methods but also expect that your teachers will have to work very, very hard.

I do not know a great teacher who comes in at 7:55 am and leaves at 3:05 pm -- it doesn't happen. Great teachers pour hours into their practice both at school and beyond. And great teachers are empowered by administrators who also match this effort. (Don't ask them to give 100% if you got into admin so you could coast. Sorry admins demotivate great teachers -- but also great admins motivate all teachers to become more than they are.)

Look at the CUSTOMER. The customer is who you do most of your work for-- your audience. If your audience is that person who reads the reams of paperworks (or more likely just files them) then you've got the wrong customer. Administrators should be slashing paperwork or making the delivery of information more streamlined -- allow teachers to submit reports via voice recorder and have it transcribed or via video documentation or other ways -- even a private ustream channel or video.

Why not have each teacher shoot one video a week where they must verbally reflect on each of the students who have an IAP? and then email it to admin or the person overseeing them.

And if the person overseeing them says --

"I don't have the time to view all of those videos -- one minute on each student."

Then, my answer is this --
"If you don't have the time, then why are we doing the paperwork, because it would take you much more than 1 minute to read all of the paperwork coming into your office."

Paperwork hypocrisy and bureaucracy is drowning public education in paper and wasted time. I have this on good authority -- from YOU the teachers and administrators who bend my ear to tell me how "it really is" for you. Your stories are beautiful - not because what is happening is good - but because you CARE SO MUCH that you will not accept the status quo.

There is great beauty in the nobility of your heart to do the right thing amidst wrong circumstances.

And it is to you, those who care enough to push forward that the future of excellent education lies. You care. You love the students.

You know that ultimately their future selves are your customer and you've got your priorities right.

Bless your vocal selves that you are willing to speak up for what is right and grapple with this change that envelopes us all.

Not that any of us has all the wisdom - but working together we're a heck of a lot smarter than we are alone.

Keep the faith and remember the nobility of being an educator -- it is the most noble calling on earth and that upon which the future of society hinges.

Keep the faith.

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