I can only dream! about virtual worlds

When it comes to change, I’m a person who is not comfortable with taking time about it all. So since starting at Joeys I have been brimming with optimism for the opportunity to ‘get digital’. Lots of new things began to happen as the year progressed, and we made some wonderful advances in our thinking and in the things we are doing.

So you can imagine how excited I was when Peggy Sheehy invited me to Suffern Middle School for the day, on my recent trip to New York City. My ever-patient husband, Martin, was heard to say “You want to do what? take a day out of your 5 days in NYC and work??”

Needless to say, work it was not!

Peggy Sheehy has been leading the way for many years,  demonstrating the power of virtual worlds for learning! Based at Suffern Middle School, Peggy leads the Ramapo Islands initiative, and if you haven’t been reading her blog I suggest you start watching it now. Virtual worlds are the future as learning becomes wrapped in interactive and immersive 3D environments.

It was totally amazing to visit Peggy, meet the Principal and staff, and participate in some introductory classes – new kids launching themselves into Ramapo Islands. Peggy very kindly brought forward some lessons so I could see and participate.  How natural it all seemed! How easily the kids understood what it was all about! In one period these kids were dressing their avatar, walking and flying around, talking with friends, and playing  – the favourite experiment was sliding down the large water slide. If this all sounds like a lot of fun and games – it was! But don’t for a minute assume it was wasted time.

Read Peggy’s blog to see what happens after these first lesson as students become more involved with virtual learning opportunities that teachers create at Suffern Middle School. Peggy writes that they will soon be tearing down the virtual walls and opening Ramapo Island to collaboration with other Teen Life education projects.

I rode the train back to New York City, and wondered how long it would be before I could do such exciting things.

From Tim Berners-Lee to … Muriel?

Twenty years ago today, Tim Berners-Lee wrote his original proposal for a better kind of linked information system. He was doing consulting for CERN in Switzerland, and found that its communication infrastructure was leading to information loss. So he proposed a solution using something called Hypertext. This led to the Hypertext Markup Language, or, as it’s more commonly known now, HTML. That in turn, led to the World Wide Web.

Were you around to see all these changes?  I certainly was, and I definitely remember the trouble I had teaching teachers the concept of the WWW, what it might do for learning, and how to go about using it.  Navigation nightmare – that’s what it was!  But now we all use the Net for stuff – and mostly we incorporate it into our learning experiences for our students, albeit badly at times.  But the argument is won and we have moved onto the whole new media thing – and the relevance of connectedness.

So what’s next?

In the TED Talk below Tim Berners-Lee provides insight into developments that will power the semantic web, and the basis for it’s development which is rooted in linked data.  Way back in 2006 Tim was already writing about ‘linked data‘ which no doubt explains the advances made in subsequent years in semantic web research.  As he explained then

The Semantic Web isn’t just about putting data on the web. It is about making links, so that a person or machine can explore the web of data.  With linked data, when you have some of it, you can find other, related, data.

Now we understand the potential of the semantic web differently and the implications are profound. You must read The Future of Federated Search: Muriel doesn’t search, but DFAST does, by Lee LeBlanc. This will give you a ‘picture’ of what might be – in a way that we can understand. I would never have understood what Tim was trying to explain in his original proposal for the web.  But now I understand virtual environments and crave interoperability and interactivity 24/7!  I won’t be contributing to the evolution any time soon, like the folks over at LinkedOpenCommunity at W3C SWEO Community, but I sure am grateful for their efforts!

A couple of snippets here, then watch the video 🙂

Our information seeking behaviors will come to be shaped by the information we seek. Devices and the access channels we seek information through will further define our search behaviors. The computer is only one of these devices; interaction search technologies another.

In 1995, a user expended time searching; in 2035, a user spends precious time thinking -differently. The days of sitting in front of a dumb search box are over. Users no longer pound the keys in frustration getting zero results or billions or results. How will this happen?

Fix education now please!

I have a feeling that people have been trying to ‘fix’ education, one way or another for a long time, and perhaps that desire to ‘fix’ has become  even more urgent with the digital technology revolution. Whatever your take on the changes that need to happen, it is always a good thing to see organisations such as schools, education departments, and governments take that challenge seriously (rather than as yet another opportunity for political mileage).

I’m no politician that’s for sure – not at school, not anywhere. I tend to say what I think which can get me into trouble at times. The problem is, when passion drives your concerns, it means that it is not always possible to wait and wait and wait….

ICT in Learning Symposium

So I must say, I was delighted to take part in some small way in the activities of the Strategic ICT Advisory Service activites of Education AU.

The primary purpose of SICTAS is to undertake a series of studies in a broad range of areas to investigate the current and future impacts of emerging technologies and to provide strategic advice to assist policy makers to address the implications of implementation of new technologies in education and training. The target audience for this research will be senior policy advisors in the Australian Government as well as State and Territory government departments. The schools sector, vocational education and training and higher education sectors will benefit from the advice provided.

The key investigations are:

While I had to turn down my invitiation to take part in the  Think Tank activities last year, I was there in Sydney for the National ICT Symposium. The opportunity to workshop intensively with leading educators and administrators from around Australia was an outstanding way to start of Term 2. This sort of conversation is rare in my daily work and reminds me of the vital need we have to create a culture of conversation at the school level to help focus our ICT developments in order to empower 21st century learning.

Dean & Al

The discussions were intense, and challenging. The key summary points can be found at ICT Symposium wiki. While the key points are captured, the real telling of the story can be found in the pictures of the day and the new connections/alliances formed to further our common goals.  I met up with my favourite two men – Al Upton (primary teacher  from SA, and virtual worlds designer)  and Dean Groom (all round smart guy, co-conspirator in our upcoming publications and Head of Learning Design at Maquarie Uni) . Jo Kay (Jokaydia owner and design consultant) and Bronwyn Stuckey (Quest Atlantis) completed the Jokaydian “get real” team!

I also loved the chance to talk with Moodleman (aka Julian Ridden IT Knowledge Services Manager at Riverview College).  Just imagine if Moodleman and I worked in the same school??  The world would maybe change 🙂 I was also delighted to meet up with Tomas Lasic, the other Moodle and e-learning guru who hales from WA. Wow Tomas, you are tall in real like as well as online!

Raju Varanasi

Many participants came to Sydney from around the country. A small group of us had some really interesting professional conversations with Raju Varanasi, General Manager, Centre for Learning Innovation within the NSW Department of Education and Training. Raju has the opportunity to provide seriously important opportuities for learning initiatives in our State, and as such he is pretty much abreast of what is possible, what the challenges are, and what processes we should adopt to facilitate innovation and change. It was delightful to work with him – and he came up smiling even after the Jokaydians threw every possible challenge at him to consider.  Raju returned for another dose of  discussion with the most exitable group of all (you are always excited when you are full of ideas and challenges!) and as a result Raju has invited us to spend time with his team to provide input into his planning programs. Cool!  The power of networking and the opportunity for conversation and robust discussion at such events is critical and so very helpful for moving things along.

Gary Putland

The work of EducationAU in this field is always vital in Australia. For me it was again a good chance to catch up with Gary Putland (General Manager, and the gentleman who HAS to fix his newbie icon in Twitter!)  and Kerry Johnson (fellow Jokaydian). These people and all the Edna Team – some more of whom I was able to meet – play a vital role on our behalf!  Though many teachers don’t realise it, we are lucky that they are passionate about the future of ICT in education on our behalf.

My summary?  It’s a long way before these  conversations happening ‘at the top’ reach the leaders in our schools, our middle managmenet, and our classrooms. But to be realistic, things have progressed since 2006 when I started in this whole Web 2.0 thing. Now we are having national conversations that understand that the digital agenda is not only about hardware and infrastructure, it is also about the digital connectedness of students and teachers. How we move forward will depend on how we connect through our social media, as connectedness (more and more) becomes our curriculum and our professional learning construct.

Kerry Johnson

As money pours into connection infrastructures, computers in schools, wireless networks, 3G device connectivity, the days for discussing the pros and cons of one-to-one computing are over.  Every school should have a myriad devices connected to the intrawebs – psp, itouch, netbook, laptop, whatever!  What is now needed is ubiquitous connectivity – not locked down access.  Through these myriad devices we can transform the frameworks for learning – catch up with the kids in their technology timeline, and at last deliver learning and teaching in ways that are relevant to their furture.

The issues and challenges in all this, and the debates that must be had to ‘win the day’, are the topics for another blogging day.

It was great to get a group of people together in one room, from around Australia, who actually understand the complexities and imperatives. Well done and thank you EdnaAU for the chance to participate in your day.

By the way – take note!  The words Web 2.0 were not mentioned all day!  Roll on the future.

Launching the Journal of Virtual Worlds

While articles about education in Virtual Worlds appear frequently in journals and anthologies devoted to the study of immersive worlds, the new Journal of Virtual Worlds in Education is the first academic journal that will center solely on education in virtual media.

The first issue is slated to appear in May 2009. The Journal of Virtual Worlds and Education is accepting articles on learning and the arts. The innovative representation of literature, music, graphic arts, design, workshops on poetry, playwriting, and new access to cultural information through virtual libraries– and any other immersive venue with an educational component– would make excellent subject matter for such a submission.

Anyone who has visited the sim called “Foul Whisperings, Strange Matters: Shakespeare’s Macbeth in Second Life” (a collaborative educational design by Angela Thomas, Kereen Ely-Harper and Kate Richards) understands how a three-dimensional presentation of Macbeth’s deranged mind can supplement a reading of the play for students of the near future.

Submissions, along with book reviews, will be refereed anonymously for peer review before acceptance.

Visit JVWE at http://www.jvweducation.org.

From: RezLibris: the Magazine for Librarians

April Festival on the Islands of Jokaydia

Exciting! Jo Kay has announced the April Festival on the Islands of Jokaydia on the 19th and 20th of April!

It’s a chance for jokaydia Community members and friends to get together to share and support each other…. and of course have some fun!

Come for a newbie tour!

Find out about the Virtual Classroom project, featuring the project’s first Educator-in-Residence, Leigh Blackall (SL: Leroy Goalpost) working with Konrad Glogowski (SL: Konrad March) , who is inviting individual educators like Leigh to design and build their ideal learning space for use as either a virtual classroom in Second Life or as a prototype for a real-life classroom.

Join us for a social event and announcement of the winning entries in the Annual Jokaydia photo competition.

…..and lots more!

For full details, check out April Events on the Islands of Jokaydia. Looking forward to seeing lots of my friends there – and to making new ones too!