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...