Wednesday, December 17, 2008

We broke it :(

Well, after a little less than two weeks, we managed to break Second Life. Or at least break the sims we're in.

Seems one of my kids figured out how to edit terrain. Since he didn't really know what he was doing and figured he could undo whatever he did, he raised a whole bunch of mountains -- mostly over the tops of buildings. Then the period ended before he had a chance to change them back. When we ran into them (literally) the next day, I tried to flatten them, but since landscaping isn't in my realm of expertise, well...we were stuck.

Not one to give up easily, I searched for tutorials and found one that showed the steps. I did the steps. Nothing changed. I finally wrote Lynn (owner of our sims) and told her we broke it and couldn't fix it. I also got the kid to did it to fess up when I told the class I wasn't mad and he/she wouldn't be punished for being curious.

In fact, the incident helped both Lynn and me to understand a part of the purpose of my class: we're beta testers. We're there to break as many things as we can so we can then figure out how to fix them when others break them. Or to figure out how to set the permissions so things can't ge broken again. Both are valuable pieces of information. So I congratulated the kid for giving us a challenge and he felt a lot better.

I have one student who is too old for the Teen Grid, but he's in the class at least till the change of semester. He's fascinated with scripting and has been searching websites for cool animations and activites. He then sends the script to one of the kids inworld and works with the kid in helping him to create. Today they created a box that, when you sit on it, it counts down from 10, then launches the avatar X number of feet in the air. The avatar then free-falls to the earth. The kids loved it and several spent quite some time having fun being launched.

Now some would be concerned: does such a scripted object have practical use? I would say, "YES!" One, it taught the kid how to change the script in an object. Two, the distance covered gave each of the kids a great overview of the islands. And three, it was just plain fun. And having fun together creates community -- something I very much want to achieve with this group.

So we're "breaking" things, and stretching boundaries in our attempts to find out who and what we are inworld. If all groups "Form, Storm, Norm, and Perform," we're definitely Stormin' now!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Two items of note:

First item:
Our wiki is featured this month in PBWiki's newsletter -- yay! The kids knew this was coming and several of them spent some extra time cleaning up their journal posts over the past week or so. Funny how things like capitalization and spelling become important when you discover REAL people will be reading what you wrote. The newsletter came out on Thursday and we've had several hundred hits over the weekend. I'm so proud of them!

Second item:
I threw my back out on Friday morning while shoveling snow. I took a sick day so I could go to the chiropractor and get myself straightened out. But since my class meets early in the morning (7:20 am to 8:00 am), I told the sub to make sure 5 kids got inworld and I'd meet them there. I sent out a group notice with a landmark to where I was and sure enough -- by 7:25 I had all five students in front of me! We held class as usual, with them doing tasks and me making payments for those tasks, only I kept track on a piece of scrap paper instead of in my database, since I couldn't get to that from home. I even disciplined a student who wasn't in world by shouting at him. The inworld students were all relayed my message!

Of course, teaching remotely does bring up some interesting issues the union will need to deal with in the future. If a teacher isn't in school, but is actually teaching the students from somewhere else -- should that count as sick time (or conference time/bereavement time)? She's still teaching and still interacting with the kids; the only difference is that she's not in the room with them.

Our IT manager likes to remind us, "Any job done by a person will someday be able to be done by a computer." I can forsee a time when kids and teachers go to school only one or two days a week to build social skills, spending the rest of their week in remote learning situations. Kids who don't have computers at school will still need to come to the buildings so they can use the computers. Of course, that begs another issue: will any social stigma be attached to those who come to the building vs those who choose to stay home to meet up with the class?

Many questions for us to consider...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

They're taking off!

I was late to school today because of the icy roads. Not real late, only about 5 minutes, but it was long enough that, when I entered my classroom, the computers along the wall were already occupied by students, one row sitting, the other row standing, nay -- crowding-- around to watch and advise. In other words, had I not shown up for class at all -- they would've been just fine without me. :)

Isn't that a teacher's true objective? To make the kids independent learners? I asked a journal question after their first foray into SL: "Are you a 'learn-as-I-want-to' person or a "you-tell-me-what-to-do-next" type person?" We'd read an article that postulated today's generation wanted structured lessons, that being left to their own devices generally produced frustration. In their journals, nearly every student who answered stated they wanted to be left alone to explore on their own. When they had questions, they'd ask. What I've seen of their behavior in SL supports their words. In other words, they're walking their talk.

Interestingly, when left to their own devices, the girls are still fussing with clothes -- trying on new outfits and modifying them to their own designs -- while the boys are grabbing pre-made houses from their inventories and are building a village of their own. One boy already made his own "house", figuring out without any instruction from me how to twist the pillars and add texture.

Some teachers might find this alarming. After all, when kids go off to learn on their own, the focus of control switches. We're used to being the Be-All and End-All of learning. We decide what's important and we decide what order it should be learned in. I will admit, there is a part of me that's affected by this control issue: what if they do something they shouldn't? How can I justify my position as a teacher if they're doing the majority of the work?

But most of me rejoices. This isn't about me -- it's about the kids and their learning. I already know how to use the world. They don't. My position isn't that of the traditional teacher, it's more of a mentor -- answering questions when they have them, guiding their behavior so they remain civilized, laughing at their antics and disciplining where necessary. It's a very different role and not one teacher schools prepare their students for. It is, however, very rewarding to watch what they come up with when all restraints are taken off!

Cool beans!

Monday, December 8, 2008

static vs dynamic

Many thanks to Lynn Roder (in SL) for visiting with the kids inworld. We're still only five in at a time, but having an extra person there for the kids to talk with helps. Since Lynn is actually at a computer 3o miles away from our classroom, the kids have to use text to chat, a skill some of them still find challenging to initiate when the chatbar disappears. But they're learning how to get it back and move on.

I titled this post "Static vs Dynamic" in reference to my classroom vs what's happening inworld. Several times all the students, plus myself and Lynn all stand in one spot. From Lynn's perspective it looks quite static. Nothing is happening, no one is talking. Perhaps one person is editing his/her appearance, but that's all.

But what she can't see is what's going on in my classroom, with several kids clustered around each computer, calling out questions to each other about how to do this or that or, my favorite, "Hey, look at me! I made a new outfit!" or "Hey, watch me fall off this building." I'm afraid the stereotypes are holding true for several of them at this point. Several of the boys don't care what they look like. They spent one period playing with their skin and/or hair and now are ready to jump to some other activity. And several of the girls are interested only in trying on every new piece of clothing they can lay their hands on.

Yes, the majority of the kids lie somewhere in the middle -- both male and female who just want to explore and have fun. Right now I'm not really giving them structured lessons, although they do get a prize for each activity they complete (10L that they're going to need down the road). In fact, when I had them blog about whether they wanted structure or exploration, most chose exploration as their preferred learning style.

GTG-- this is fun!

Friday, December 5, 2008

We're in!

At long last, the students have accounts, the computers are updated, and WE ARE INWORLD!!!

That's not to say we haven't had some bumps -- a big one just this past week. Seems that there are some scheduling issues here at the high school, and we cannot have a lab. Up to this point, the kids have done their wiki work on laptops, but those machines aren't powerful enough to run Second Life. We need the desktops. But no lab is available.

So our IT guy put 5 brand-new computers in my room that are really, really fast. They're part of the school's upgrade, but since we're ready to go, he put my room at the top of the list for replacements.

I have a class of 18 with 14 active members (three students rarely come to class and one student is too old for the Teen Grid. He's fascinated, however, and wants to write scripts, so he's looking over everyone's shoulder and offering help. He's serving as another eye in the room, which I'll talk about in a minute). With only five computers that run SL at my disposal, I've had to go to a lottery-type system. So Wednesday (our first inworld day), I put all the names in a tin and had my 18-year-old pull out five. Those kids went on the desktops and I logged in using my laptop.

A sidenote about my laptop. It's a tablet and while it's wonderful for all sorts of other activities (including blogging), it really doesn't like Second Life. At all. I'm constantly lagging behind the kids!

At first, the five kids went flying. Exactly what I expected. But then they caught sight of each other and realized they all looked the same. Immediately they wanted to change their appearances. We have a 40-minute block. With the first 15 min taken up logging in, accepting their membership into the group, figuring out how to walk and fly...they then spent a half an hour on their appearances. Surprised the heck out of me.

On reflection, however, I should have expected it. Teenagers are incredibly image-concious and to have an avatar that looked like everyone else's avatar? No way! They needed to express their individuality and that was an item far more important than anything I'd planned. So I did what any good teacher does when presented with an important issue. I tossed out what I'd planned and let them edit their appearances to their hearts' content!

Each of the other groups has done the same thing -- although I'm not sure if their choices were just because the first group led the way in that or because they were truly concerned about how others in the world saw them. Doesn't matter that the person running the avatar is sitting right beside them. They know they're going to be judged inworld as well as in RL and so are making choices about that image they project. As a sidenote: most of the boys have experimented with weird, outlandish appearances (hot pink skin, spiky white hair, bulbuous body shapes) whereas the girls are more inclined to change the color of their dresses).

I need to put in a word about classroom management. With only a third of my students inworld, what do I do with the remaining bulk of the class? Today I had the laptop cart again, so those who were NOT inworld were writing about their experiences in their journals on the wiki. So I had one group co-exisiting in the real classroom and in SL and another group in my real classroom doing work on the laptops. And me? I'm bouncing back and forth between being inworld and dealing with spoken questions coming from the group on the big computers as well as answering questions and helping students on the laptops (and wiki).

And that's where my 18-year-old came in handy. Because my attention just can't be everywhere at once, he stood behind those who were in SL and answered several of the questions that popped up. That freed me to keep an eye on my classroom students who weren't inworld while also being in SL and talking with Lynn and the other students. Do I sound schizophrenic? I certainly feel it!

Having all the kids in one place at the same time is the ideal and is what I've had in mind all along. I got a little blindsided this week when I was told there was no lab available (I thought everything had been worked out. I was wrong and it threw me some). Having only a third of them inworld at any point isn't what I planned for, so I'm doing some fast thinking to keep up (forget getting ahead!).

But, WE'RE INWORLD!!! And the course can really take off now! So I'm psyched and we'll find a way to make it happen. All of it. Step by incremental step.

Take care,

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Getting closer

We've spent the past month mostly spinning our wheels. Grrrrr.... But there is light up ahead and we're hopeful we can actually be inword by the time the kids get back from Thanksgiving vacation. BOCES has finished creating the student account application they needed to create and now we are in the hands of the Lindens, waiting for them to approve us so we can log the kids into SL for the first time. I'm also pestering The Powers That Be on my end to make sure we have a computer lab ready to go with the program loaded onto the computers so we can hit the ground running as soon as we get that approval.

If I've learned anything these past few months, it's that I hate being at everyone else's mercy. I know they're doing their jobs -- but boy, did I underestimate the amount of time all these levels would take. I had prepared enough lessons for several weeks -- but we're now at week eleven. I ran out of lesson plans a LONG time ago. Now we're all in wait-and-see mode and keeping our fingers crossed for December 1st.

The news is not all grim, however! I just got an email from Kristine Molnar of PBWiki asking permission to feature our wiki in their monthly newsletter! Yay! The kids are excited about that and several immediately rushed to the computers to clean up grammar and spelling in their journals. Suddenly knowing that people from all over the world would be looking at their work made those skills more important to them!

So I'm doing the happy dance and thrilled to know we're getting closer!


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Web 2.0 and the law (and textures, too!)

We're stuck as far as being able to get into SL, so after spinning my wheels for a few days, have decided to bring in the legal aspects that govern online behaviors. Even though cyberspace is still (mostly) an anarchy, more and more legal statutes are being created to protect people and to bring order to chaos (I'll keep my own opinions to myself here in the interest of allowing people to make their own decisions. Just how far the government needs to go in protecting people from themselves is an ongoing debate).

We've been reading an article over the past two days, stopping to take apart the arguments and decide how we feel about them. The kids' attitudes range from outrage to fear to "just-ingnore-it-and-it'll-go-away." They'll be journaling on the topic tomorrow (ran out of time today) and I'm interested to see where their thoughts take them.

On a different note: the kids have been creating textures using Paint, Picasa and Microsoft Office Picture Manager (three really easy-to-use programs, two of which are already on the computers. Picasa's a free download and that was a easy, too). It took a long time to get the jpg's uploaded as we have 13 laptops all trying to access the same wireless port at the same time. Needless to say, we ended up splitting the class into groups and uploaded over three days' time. But they had fun playing. Now if only we can get into SL so they can see the wonders they can do with those textures...

Till later,

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What a month!

Sorry I haven't posted in nearly a month...the day-to-day running of the classroom has kept me far busier than I really have time for. To bring things up-to-date....

First off...Thespis is in SL at school! Yay! The techs managed to do their magic and get me access to the Teen Grid right from my laptop at school. This means I've been able to project the image for the class and show them some of the stuff they'll be able to do once they are all in world (I'm assured the techs are working on the program that's needed to create the student accounts. My biggest hope is that, once they've gone through all this for my class this year...things will be in place for future years and future classes. If we want entire Spanish classes coming inworld, the teacher can't wait 3 months for the accounts to be created!).

The kids got excited all over again when I showed them what could be done. While I don't like the fly animation I bought with the animation HUD I have (the kids make fun of it and I let them. It'll wear off eventually), everything else works well. We did find a leftover motorcycle and reported it to the sim owner. They actually enjoyed finding that and got quite excited about riding it. But permissions were set that only the owner of the bike could actually control it :( .

I also took a day and showed them what could happen with building and with textures. Really a very brief overview. I'm not expecting anyone to remember how to actually do it. But the theory is that I'll show them the once...then, since we're not in-world, we'll make some of our own textures and, once they ARE in, they'll learn how to upload the textures and begin playing around with the prims.

So, to that end, today we used the Paint program and created textures. It was fun to watch them play around and draw stuff they've obviously been drawing in Paint for a while. Everyone was familiar with the program (a pleasant surprise to me), so I turned them loose while I left the projector on and created a piece of my own. I then downloaded Picasa to my computer (I'm still using a temporary one, but that's a whole different story for a whole different blog). When I bemoaned the fact that they didn't have Picasa on theirs...several of the kids checked and said they did! Turns out it's on ALL the laptops, but not the big machines along the side of my room. So those on laptops were able to then tweak their drawings using Picasa's tools. I ended up with a very nice zebra skin, if I do say so myself (and I wasn't even trying!).

Next step will be to upload all the textures to the wiki, not only to brag a little about each one, but to share them with each other and have a place that they can go to grab what they need. I love Torley Linden's site for textures...but he hosts them on Flickr and the school blocks that site. So...we work around it and create our own :) !


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Research projects

The research projects are moving along, but we've identified a few problems along the way. Most of the trouble stems from the fact that our site-blocker (whom I've nicknamed "George" after the big, fluffy monster who picks up Bugs Bunny and says, "Oh! A bunny! I'll hug him and keep him and I will call him 'George.'") keeps stopping the kids from exploring.

Because most of the virtual worlds are still listed as games (and there are some great conversations going on concerning the differences), George blocks student's access to the sites. So here I am, trying to educate them on what a virtual world is, and I can't get them out to examine them. I want the kids to come up with their own definition of "virtual world" and "game" so exploring both is the foundation of this research project.

The kids have been great about it, though. Several have done their exploring at home, trying out various games and worlds and making their own decisions. Imagine that! Students thinking on their own! What a concept! They're also writing me journal entries on the wiki that I hope to use to pinpoint the exact frustrations so they can be addressed.

Still not in Second Life, btw. I mean me, not the kids. BOCES still hasn't isolated the trouble as to why even I can't manage to get inworld. Am hoping this will be figure out soon!

Have fun,

Monday, September 8, 2008

insights and problems

School's now been in session, with students, for three and a half days and already I'm finding things out about where the kids are...and where they're not...when it comes to technology. I've also made an important discovery about the nature of how we teach (or how I teach, anyway).

So far the Virtual Worlds course is off to a resounding flop. There are 16 students enrolled in the class, several of whom, I swear, threw a dart at the course offerings, leafed to the last page and picked the course where the hole was. There can be no other reason. This is an elective course. There were several dozen to choose from. So why pick a course that deals with computers and then come in the first day and loudly proclaim you hate computers and virtual worlds are only for those wimps who can't cut it in the real world.

Okay, so I exaggerate. But only by a little. While the majority of the kids are there because they're interested in the topic, several are there because they had to be somewhere and for no other reason. Even among those who are interested there's a degree of apathy. So getting everyone excited about the topic is more of a challenge than I anticipated.

It doesn't help that I can't get into SL from school yet to show them what we'll be doing. We have the firewall problems fixed on this end, but there are still troubles on the BOCES side (and we get our Internet connection through them) and they work at their own pace. I'm not blaming them, they have their own set of issues (including a lot more districts and a lot more classrooms than just mine). And I knew I wouldn't have student access right away. But I did expect to be able to at least show via the projector some of what I'm talking about.

And that leads to the third problem: I'm doing all the talking so far. I can't seem to get them engaged enough to either share experiences or even ask questions of ANY sort. They sit like lumps and I need to change that. That's where the insight into my own teaching comes in.

Education is a primarily solo task. When you get right down to it, each person's learning journey is as individual as they are. Classrooms are set up to move students along the curriculum continuum from where they are in September to where we want them to be in June. But while instruction is done to the whole group, the work is done by the individual. We teach them from the beginning that working with others (especially on a piece of writing) is cheating. We want them to be "independent learners" and spend hours, nay months and full years teaching them the skills they need to learn things on their own.

Except that's not true in the current state of affairs for virtual worlds. Collaboration is the key to creating communities, to building physical settings where activities can take place. People need to work together and much has been made of the social nature of all these virtual worlds.

So what do I need to change in the classroom? I need to make it less a traditional classroom and more a community. I need to stop thinking I need to provide all the information and start asking them to share what they know for the greater good of the community.

To that end, I'm going to do several community-building activities this week that have nothing to do with virtual worlds and everything to do with creating a different kind of "learning environment" (to throw some educational-ese in here for good measure). I need them to get to know one another as real people. Only then can I expect them to speak up and ask their questions and make their comments.

Technical issues aside, this course is going to be a challenge...


Friday, August 22, 2008

GenX vs Millenials

There's been an ongoing discussion in the SLED listserve concerning students and Second Life. The gist of the discussion has been the difficulty in getting students excited about doing business, taking classes, socializing...basically interested at all in using virtual worlds. While the listserve's discussion centered around SL, it has branched out to other VW's as well (sorry...I type that shortcut for Virtual I the only one who sees it and immediately thinks "Volkswagen"?).

This article, however, puts things into an excellent nutshell. While fairly general (not much room in those nutshells), I found it to be an interesting concept. Have Gen X parents have robbed Millenials of the opportunity to create?

As I begin the school year with only a general outline for this course and a few set lesson plans, I will have the freedom to adapt the lessons as I go. Feldspar Epstein's article is one I will share with the students to get their opinions (and I already know I have some VERY opinionated students in the class who will not be shy about saying what they really think! ). Am curious about their learning process...and if the premise of the article is true...this has wider ramifications for education than just learning via a virtual world!

(edited to add: I've also done about an hour's work on the wiki for the class today...arranging pages, adding links, general clean-up).

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sorry for not posting recently...I've been away on vacation. Needed to take some time away from the computer and revist the real world. :)

I've been keeping up with the assignments for my wiki summer camp, learning how to use the security features and how to invite kids to participate who don't have email addresses. Our school provides free email accounts to every single student, but I often have kids who either just don't see a need for email (with Facebook, why would you need one?), or whose parents don't want them to have one (although they will often let their child get a school one because of the stringent filters we have). Every year I have to build wait time into the curriculum before I can use whatever Web 2.0 system I'm trying out (messageboards, Moodle, wiki) because I can't sign students in until they have an email account.

But now, with this new feature of PBWiki...I can be ready to go within days rather than weeks. Once I get my list of students for the Virtual Worlds course, I can just put their names in and voila! In fact, I can be up and running before the first class even meets. A VERY cool time-saver! And, since I'm planning to post all the journal assignments there (and have students keep their journals online), being able to have access right away is a wonderful option.

Off to answer emails...


Monday, August 4, 2008


I've mentioned that I'm working over at PBWiki taking a course this summer in how to use the wiki more effectively. Well, I just want to share that the wiki I'm creating for the Virtual worlds course is one of three wikis mentioned as an "awesome completed assignment"!
Since the wiki is closed to all but those of us in the course, I've attached a screenshot as proof :).

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Machinima workflow

If you read my last post, you know I'm working on creating my first machinima. I decided to document my workflow for future use (as I'm sure there are things I'll forget when I go to teach this to the kids). So....

Day one:
1) Get assignment from the PBWiki summer course and decide to create machinima. Estimated time for assignment according to the instructor: 1.5 hours.
2) Go to Torley Linden's site to determine how it's done.
3) Read his workflow
4) download Camtasia and watch several "how to" videos from their site
5) open SLTG and record first Camtasia video (it's terrible!)
6) discover my original idea of doing a flyby of the entire set of sims just isn't do-able on my computer (need new graphics card and faster processor). Recorded video is jerky when SL graphics are turned up full.

Day two:
7) Turn down graphics in SL
8) now buildings appear and disappear when I try to film them as I move closer and further away from them. Video still looks terrible.

Day three:

9) Decide to do a set of small shots showing just AccelerateNation4 (the sim which will be the home base for my class come September). By scaling down the project and going with several shorter recordings, I'm hoping to get rid of the jerky camera movements.
10) Prepare SL; start Camtasia
11) make 2 recordings
12) edit first recording by adding titles (had to watch another vidtut to figure them out)
13) add transitions once all the titles are in (some work, some don't. Have NO idea why)
14) burn the music I want to use to my hardrive to make it easier to find and upload into the program
15) ask permission from Heath to USE the music (I know, I did it backwards).
16) discover if you edit after adding music, you also edit out the music clip.
17) add in second recording; edit
18) add end titles and second piece of music
19) discover you can move the music away from the titles so you can edit titles, then put music back (still want a way to play the music and edit the video separately so I can time the beats better)
20) save and publish to web!

Actual time spent: 7 hrs. (sigh). And that doesn't include the extra time I needed when the video didn't upload to YouTube because I had the wrong extension (thank you, Frank! And don't laugh at my jerky camera!).

Saturday, July 26, 2008

I peeked ahead at the wiki homework for next week (PBwiki is wonderful!) and saw I have to embed a movie that I made myself into a wiki page on my current wiki. I have NO idea how to do the machinima I want to eventually do and planned to make that a student project this coming year. I had it in my head that I'd get someone in the class who wanted to go further faster than the rest and I'd sic machinima on him/her and then have the student teach me. But this is probably better.

The first thing I did was go to Torley Linden's site and see what process he uses to make the Tip of the Week videos. The guy is amazing and all his videos are so fluid, appearing effortless. NO one can be in Second Life long and not learn about or from Torley. His site also features free textures, so I'm sure my students will also learn about him.

Imagine my surprise to discover Torley uses Camtasia...a program our IT guy has been promoting for over a year (waving to Frank and giving in!). I downloaded a 30-day free trial, watched a few tutorials and eagerly went in-world to start capturing my first video. Ugh! This poor computer is too old and NEEDS A NEW GRAPHICS CARD!!! I've been wanting to upgrade for a year now and now I have a better reason other than just wanting to. The video I captured was far too choppy simply because my computer cannot render the image to the screen fast enough with the graphics turned all the way up in SL. Hopefully I'll be able to get enough video that works so that I can complete my assignment.

But this actually has a good purpose in showing me the basics of machinima for the Virtual Worlds course. I *think* we have a site license for Camtasia which means the students will be able to learn it...and I have an in-house expert on the ins and outs of the program I can bring in to guest teach it (waves again in Frank's direction). Will be a lesson for second semester, but definitely will become a part of the class!

Okay, going off to capture more video...


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

in-world meeting and a wiki

Several items to report today! First up, it was great to meet Lynn Yoder in-world. Lynn is our BOCES leader on this project. She and I have been emailing frequently, but this was our first Teen Grid hook-up. We had a great conversation and I taught her how to add texture to an object.

Second, I signed up for a free PBWiki online course this summer. Six weeks of work and conversation and if I do all the homework, I get a free, platinum-level wiki for an entire year. Not a bad payoff at all. Over 1000 people have taken advantage of this offer (educators only) and the place is rocking!

Why do I report that here? Because I'm wedding web 2.0 and web 3.0 (the wiki and SLTG, respectively) with this course. Not only am I using a blog for accounting purposes (and my own need to think things through), but I'm using the wiki for students to do the same. They'll record their thoughts in a journal page they keep, but they also will create content for the wiki as they go along (I'm planning to have them prepare "how-to" guides of some of the basic skills people need in SL). It's also a great place for me to put their the kids can progress through at their own pace. I'll be in RL (real life) with my whip in the classroom to spur them on, but those that want to outpace me, will easily be able to.

So, I met Lynn and then added a few more texture boxes to the texture "store" and also added the journal page to the wiki today. A good day's work of about an hour and a half spent (would've been longer in SL, but the region was undergoing a restart, so I needed to log anyway. Took the time to write this post instead of making more texture boxes).

Take care,

Friday, July 18, 2008

baby steps

Bit-by-bit we're getting there. The estate manager of the sims I will be working in has created a group, I've been invited in. She's given me permissions and I should be all set to set up my in-world office soon. Although I'm not really sure how I'll use the space as an office. Wish I had brought over an inbox so kids could leave me notecards easily.

Which leads me to a small problem with adults on the Teen Grid. Because we're essentially "prisoners" of our islands (adults are confined only to the sims in which they will be teaching) and because our avatars can have NO contact with the "other" SL (the adult grid), there is no way to get any items one might discover one needs after the transfer has completed. I tried to get some freebie stuff from SLExchange that would be useful for the kids...and was denied. I can't even send anything from my regular SL avatar. I'm on the SLED list-serv and every once in a while I discover something new that would be helpful (the NMC has a teacher's box on thier island free for the taking. Who knew?) but I don't bother picking it up because there isn't a way to get it to myself anymore. This is a frustration.

Other than that...having fun!


Sunday, July 13, 2008

The title of the course I'll be teaching in the fall, like the title of the blog here, is focused on the exploration of virtual worlds...what they can do, what they can be used for, what their purpose is. While I have Second Life in mind for the bulk of the course since it is, by far, the most user-controlled world I've found, I do want the students to understand it isn't the ONLY virtual world in cyberspace.

So I've checked out There and Alice. I recently made myself a room at Lively. All attempts, although poor ones based on the learning curves needed for each one.

Then I found the Association of Virtual Worlds ...and their Blue Book. Oh, my glory. I knew there were many worlds I wasn't exploring (Club Penquin and Neopets leap to mind), but I had no idea there were so many run by so many different organizations. The sheer number of them certainly brings the Open Sim project into focus for me.

Open Sim is, if I understand it correctly, a project designed to make cross-platform jumping a possibility. I can create an avatar in Second Life and then, without logging out, jump to Open Sim and from there, to my room on Lively. While this is barely out of the lab yet, it's incredible to see the work being done (most of which, admittedly, is over my head). I look at this list of virtual worlds and realize that, someday, we will jump from world to world with the same ease we now move from website to website. And there are some who don't believe this is important?

Moving teachers into virtual worlds won't happen until there's a major shift in educational philosphy. Until then, only those who are willing to bleed a little are going to be out here, and believe me, there are far more adventurers ahead of me. I thank them for leading the charge. I'm just a footsoldier. And if I may stretch this analogy a little further...the majority of teachers are the folks back home who don't come out of their safe places until the rest of us have secure the area. to create a lesson plan with that Blue Book as a guide...


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Woohoo! I'm in! I got the notice today that when I logged in, I'd be on the Teen Grid. Good thing I've spent HOURS these past few days loading up my avatar with clothes, buildings, textures, furniture...everything I could think of. Last night I spent time putting it all into boxes so it would be easy to find and unpack once I migrated.

So now I'm there...on the AccelerateNation islands run by the Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES. They've had someone else build on their 4-sim set (unfortunately...I wanted the kids to learn from the ground up, but I'm flexible) and I now have a list of a bunch of "errors" or "mistakes" that need correcting. The worst one was a teleport that 1) jumped me to the wrong building and 2) put me in a trench UNDER the wrong building, so I couldn't get out. Since I don't yet have building permissions, I couldn't rez a box and use it to lift me out (a trick I learned years ago in SL...yes, I've been in bad tp situations before). Only way out was to quit SLTG and log in again. Oh! And the main log-in doesn't seem to work either. I keep getting the message that the location is "unavailable" and it will put me close. I enter right beside the outside wall of a building, so I suspect the builders put a structure over the original log-in point and never changed it. Another "error" that needs to be cleaned up. Believe me, I'm making a list!

Can't wait to actually get in and start preparing stuff for early lessons. I'm thinking a scavenger hunt fairly early on. Something to get them moving around the islands to see what's there, while learning how to pick up notecards/objects along the way. Of course first will be lessons in learning how to fly, move, and use that pie chart. Although I suspect fixing one's appearance also needs to be pretty close to the front, too :).

Cool! I feel like I've been treading water for the past few weeks, although I know I've done far more than that. I have literally tens of thousands of free textures, thousands of individual pieces of clothing for both guys and girls, hundreds of pieces of furniture and decorations...all of which took time to gather and sort (I think I've managed to get rid of all the non-PG stuff, but need to unpack the boxes and be sure. But I need permissions to build first 'cause right now I can't rezz ANYthing!).

Now, however, the actual lesson plan creation begins and for a teacher, that's the fun part. The research is done (although on-going. New information is always coming out about the societal/educational/business applications of SL), the materials gathered (although I *know* there is something I'm going to wish I had time to pick up), now it's time to figure out what to do with both the research and the materials. Fun!

I'll keep posting to this blog (now that I finally remembered the password) as time goes on and keep this as my official record of work in-world. To that are my hours so far...

July 5th -- 52 minutes spent visiting freebie places on adult grid; collecting "stuff"
July 7th -- 2 hrs spent loading and sorting all the freebie stuff I'd collected; also visited more freebie stores and gathered more "stuff"
July 8th -- 1.5 hrs spent accepting freebies from my other avatar and sorting; made boxes of gestures, clothing, furniture, textures to unpack after the move
July 9th -- 1.5 hrs spent exploring my new home! Also spent time finding the "flaws" in the build and making notes on what needs to be fixed. Updated this blog.

Take care...this is fun!

Thespis Thespian

Friday, June 20, 2008

project proposals

Being on the edge of something new is exciting...and a little daunting. I've filled out two project proposals in the past week, and each group wants different information. Although the process is time-consuming, filling out this paperwork is good for me in that it forces me to approach this project from different perspectives, giving me a deeper understanding of what I want to accomplish. The proposal for our local BOCES asked me to apply the idea of education in virtual worlds to the NYS Learning Standards...and when I did, I was amazed to discover this proposal covers almost every single one. The few it doesn't, can easily be picked up by future classes as more subject areas begin to develop in-world projects.

I've created the avatar I will be moving over to the Teen Grid and am in the process of loading him up with all sorts of goodies. Yes, I said him. I'm curious as to how the students will react to a male teacher vs a female one. Most of my students at this point are boys. A little sociology experiment of my own.

Anyway, I visted the ISTE island the other night and met a wonderful docent who gave me lots of clothing to pass out to the kids when they get onto our island(s). She also made a good point about the teacher needing to have things to hand the girls as well as the boys, so my inventory is now overflowing with clothes for both genders. I need to make some time to go through it all and toss the junk and organize the rest into folders that make sense to me. I've also rented a small apartment so I have a spot to change my clothes in (was changing behind a tree...probably not a good example to set!) and to rez the boxes I need to open. I also will make boxes of things to hand to the students (or to let them fact, that might be more fun. A scavanger hunt to find outfits? hmmm...I sense a lesson plan coming on...). It's costing me about $1.50 US a week right now to give Thespis a place to call "home".

Off to find the moodle where I will also post my virtual educational journeys...happy explorations!


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I am lucky enough to teach in a district that has a very forward-thinking gentleman in charge of our IT department. He's often pushing us as educators to not accept the status keep abreast of the newest technological innovations. The kids are fast outpacing their teachers in this field and he knows it.

I call myself one of his thorns...because I'm always pushing just a little bit further than most. While I can't embrace all the new technologies (who has the time?), I certainly like to find the edges of the box...then color outside the lines. To that end, I've proposed a course entitled "Virtual Worlds" that will be taught starting in September 2008 in which the students (and I) will not only hold thoughtful discussions on the future of these worlds, but (eventually) enter the Teen Grid of Second Life and start realtime explorations into the very real educational possibilites of this virtual world.

I'm no stranger to SL. I've had an avatar on the adult grid since October 2006, so am quite familiar with the incredibly steep learning curve. But as I've told everyone, it might be steep, but is well worth the climb. Someone once said, "if you're going to be on the leading edge, you should expect a few scrapes, cuts and bruises." Lags, crashes and downtimes are all taken in stride.

So I've taken the first steps toward making this course a reality. First up...creating an avatar that can move from SL proper to the Teen Grid: Thespis Thespian. Saw the surname and couldn't resist the first. Who better than the very first recorded actor? And in that vein, I made my avi a male rather than a female (in RL I am a woman). I've several reasons for that, but that's a blog post in and of itself. I've been traveling around and picking up freebies that I know I'll want on hand when I transfer over, although that means scouring through the offerings and dumping anything not PG in nature.

Second step...the background check. Since I know this process can take several months, I registered at Ascertain today in hopes that I can actually get moved over by early to mid-October. We'll be using islands created by our local BOCES district for our forays at this point.

I've also done a bunch of research ("bunch"...I think that's the official term for the number of hours I've spent reading blogs and research reports) and downloaded a ton of data ("ton"...another of those official terms) to support both my reasons for taking the kids in-world and for the discussions the kids and I need to have prior to their entering the Teen Grid. Soon I'll start on actual lesson plans, although there's so much exploration I want THEM to do, I hesitate to structure the classes too much.

So perhaps it is good we can't get in-world right away in September. Gives us time to talk, to plan, to research, to think. Then maybe when they get to the point of developing their own avatars, they will be happy with who they are.

See you in-world (in the fall)!
C. Duprey (Thespis Thespian)