Collaboration and Virtual Worlds

We met this week with one of our new clients – a school of education – an excited group of faculty and administrators, working hard to finish the school year, and completely enthralled with their teaching mission and the work their students are creating. Besides having a good time sampling another part of the country, the trip was hugely useful for us. Every school we talk to is at some point along a continuum of looking for effective ways to assess student work (of all types). Whether the solution is eportfolios, Waypoint, custom-built databases, WeaveOnline, Bb Outcomes…there is a commonality here that is truly exciting. These assessment systems will answer, over the next few years, exactly what is going on inside curricula, where students are performing well, where they need help, and will root out inconsistencies and some of the massively incoherent events in a student’s life…bouncing from course to course, professor to professor, with expectations changing (to a student) with a gust of wind…

I also read with, great interest, about ‘Sloodle‘ – a matching of the Moodle LMS and Second Life (SL). I’ve had two conversations in the last month with people involved with virtual worlds (check out www.protonmedia.com to get a sampling), and the potential is clearly huge, especially when you consider that the average 18 year old has spent entire weeks of his/her life in virtual worlds – whether The Sims, Webkinz World, Quake, Rainbow Six etc. etc. But the ideas described in the Sloodle white paper seem impoverished to me. There’s a very good reason that a calendar appears in 2D. What’s the advantage to having it appear as a 3D calendar in a 3D world? How would it help students to be wandering on ‘an island’, no matter how beautifully rendered, with nothing to do but gather in virtual spaces and wait for flags to pop up letting them know of some LMS activity?

The value here is building these worlds, exploring ideas, and seeing what we can collectively invent. The immediate potential is in much more resource-intensive (i.e. expensive) applications of the technology: advanced simulations. That’s where Proton Media comes in…mostly for corporate and military clients for now. But imagine being able to create a virtual Yoknapawtapha County, so that students reading Faulkner can visit, see, and interact with characters. Better, yet, scenerios where students can create compelling “what if” scenerios, program them with GUI tools, and make compelling arguments about literature with a simulation as evidence.

We’ll all have an easy way to experiment a bit with SL when Angel Learning open their island for general exploration.

As you can tell, I’m trying to engage with the technology. I remember all too well, circa 1987, saying “why would anyone need a hard drive” as I waited for my Macintosh Plus to boot up off a floppy. The largest underlying problem for me is the gigantic disparity between the techie teachers and IT professionals who see intrinsic value in e-learning tools of all kinds, and the vast majority of teachers who struggle to manage multiple windows in a browser, post discussion topics, and edit basic html. So while some are pushing for the latest $300 graphics card to optimize their virtual experience, most are barely using the technology we’ve already got.

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