As requested, here are the PowerPoint slides for our two sessions for those attending the Second Life conference on virtual worlds best educational practice:

As the Worlds Turn3-black[1]

The Reality of Transcending the Virtual – SL Conference – Dona Cady 3-13-10

A New Blog Location

Recent additions to the themes of this blog have been moved to a new WordPress site.  The new blog “Beyond the Crystal Ball” will focus on preparing teachers and  students for the 21st Century, so the focus has been expanded beyond the original topics covered on this site.  To visit the new blog click on http://futurestudy.wordpress.com

Web 2.0 and Education

I just came across two blog posts  that deal in a thoughtful way with the impact of Web 2.0 technology on education and the world at large.

1.   “Not Natives & Immigrants but Visitors and Residents by Dave White presents this dichotomy in an insightful and useful fashion in terms of planning for distance learning with students.

2.  In another blog post, Rob Paterson takes a broader look at the evolution of society through a Web 2.0 lens in his commentary  “The Social Web – A New World.” He compares the current transition to an earlier period in United States history.

“I think that Web 2.0 is not just a set of tools but is more a label for a real “New World” that shares many of the characteristics of America in its more innocent years – post the Civil War.  If it was just tools, any one could pick them up. No I think that Web 2.0 is a place.”

It’s difficult to keep on top of all the new technology tools that may be useful for both educational and personal purposes, but fortunately there are some bloggers to assist us in weeding through the possibilities.

The first list was compiled by Jane Hart of the Center for Learning & Performance Technologies.    Her top ten tools for 2009 include a number of interesting possibilities ranging from SlideRocket (an online presentation alternative to PowerPoint) to Posterous which allows you to create and maintain a blog simply by using email.

If ten new tools are not enough to satisfy your desire for new technology goodies take a look at Larry Ferlazzo’s 31 top educational Web 2.0 Tools for 2008.  Larry teaches English language learners at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, California.

Larry offers a number of  additional technology lists on his blog, including the best online learning games for 2008.  I found his number one pick “Play the News” to be a well designed critical thinking activity.

Second Life is an open ended virtual world that is popular with educators interested in the potential of this technology. The environments in Second Life are created by the inhabitants. You can create an account and download the software for free. Below is a list of places you might enjoy visiting to get a flavor of a number of Second Life areas (most have educational themes). It will take a little while when you enter a new area for the graphics to load, so your avatar may be in limbo for a time. The images will quickly form around you and then you can walk around. Be aware that Second Life is like a large city, so there may be areas that may not be appropriate for educational purposes depending upon your intended use for this technology.

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The following resources were collected in preparation for a meeting of members of the COPPER Carnegie leadership group (involving six colleges) that are a part of the Carnegie Academy’s CASTL initiative http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/general/index.asp?key=21 . Members will meet in a virtual world to explore the educational applications and potential of this technology. These resources may be of value to those looking for information on virtual worlds and games as educational tools.


Bridging Cultures

Our theme will be “Bridging Cultures,” exploring new teaching strategies and technologies to bridge the gap between the digital culture of our students and the culture of school. In addition, given that the majority of college faculty at most institutions are age 40+, we have a generational gap to challenge us. While we will be focusing on one social technology, that of virtual worlds, there are a range of tools from podcasting, blogging, streaming video, interactive voice and video, computer simulations and games, instant messaging, etc. that can be of use.

There are three individuals who are writing most persuasively about the theme of “bridging cultures” that I can recommend. They include Harvey Jenkins (MIT Comparative Media Studies), James Paul Gee (Arizona State Professor of Literary Studies), and John Seely Brown (visiting scholar at USC, formerly Chief Scientist of Xerox Corporation). Here are links to their bios if you want to know more about them.

Henry Jenkins – http://cms.mit.edu/people/

James Paul Gee – http://www.joanganzcooneycenter.org/about/our-people/gjames.html

John Seely Brown – http://www.johnseelybrown.com/bio.html

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Virtual World Cultures

While there are a number of specific attributes to consider when choosing a virtual world world for educational purposes, the culture of that world is of particular significance. The Internet still resembles the “Wild West” in some ways, and when venturing into cyberspace with your students you never know who or what you will encounter. Most virtual worlds have a community culture which varies greatly in terms of the ages of the members, common topics of conversation, acceptable behavior and helpfulness. While many high school and college students are Internet savvy and little will surprise or distress them, older students and those with minimal online experience might find some potential encounters bothersome. In addition, the appropriateness of the environment for educational purposes might make some virtual cultures more desirable than others. While public spaces are never free from some risk, there are some virtual cultures that are better bets than others.

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A previous post focused on getting one’s feet wet in a basic virtual world. Open ended virtual worlds like There, Active Worlds and Second Life provide free initial memberships and are not overly demanding in terms of computing power. They function well as simulations of real world environments for social, entertainment, educational, and business purposes.

In this entry we’ll look at the process of exploring the theme based “gaming” worlds called MMORPGs (Massive Mulitplayer Online Role Playing Games) or MMOs. These worlds have the largest number of members world wide (15+ million), and while not used as widely for educational purposes, they have a number of potential applications. Among their participants are a significant number of educators who play for fun, challenge and connections with others. It’s not uncommon for real life friends, family members and colleagues to spend time adventuring together in these worlds. They have also been the subject of a number of research studies which investigate their social aspects, virtual economies, cultural dimensions and skills developed in the process of playing.

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Worlds of Wordcraft

At Vanderbilt University a first-year writing course entitled “Worlds of Wordcraft: Narrative Forms in the Digital Classroom” makes use of a variety of media to engage students in the learning process while enhancing their writing skills. Games and virtual worlds that are used in this course include Lord of the Rings Online, Dark Age of Camelot and Neverwinter Nights 2.http://sitemason.vanderbilt.edu/vanderbiltview/articles/2007/11/01/learning-in-a-digital-age.48427

If you’re fairly tech savvy or have spent some time in virtual worlds, this post may not be for you. If on the other hand, you have an interest in getting your feet wet in the virtual waters, but your current use of online technology is limited primarily to email and surfing the web, then this entry is intended to help make this process quite manageable. Some of the earlier blog posts on virtual worlds might be useful as background, but this one will focus on the nuts and bolts of getting started.

When I’ve had a chance to talk with educators about virtual worlds I’ve noticed a considerable amount of interest, but also some concerns or apprehensions. One concern is related to the technology as mentioned above, the other relates to time issues. We’ll address them both below. Continue Reading »