Wednesday, June 10, 2009

some end of the year musings

Had a great meeting with our BOCES liason and the kids today...Lynn Yoder (SL Name) came to our RL classroom for a chat. We debriefed a little (what worked, what didn't) and Lynn told us about some exciting new stuff for next year. To wit:

Next year there's a possibility another school will be holding a Virtual Worlds course at the same time we do. This will give us an opportunity to mix the classes and get the kids working on collaborative projects between the districts. Geographically our schools are about 70 miles away from each other. Our sports teams compete against one another, so this will be a fun opportunity to meet them in another setting.

In addition, at least one other school has expressed an interest in bringing kids on "field trips" into SL. Lynn told the class that those who remain will be asked to provide specific builds depending on what these teachers request. I saw grins from the four returning students, that told me they're excited about that possiblity.

Speaking of returning students, the four mentioned above are returning to the class itself, but three others have asked if they could remain as mentors, even though they're not taking the class. I'm encouraging them to do so, since this IS what they trained for this year. Two others are graduating, four want nothing to do with this after the end of the week (I think they wanted more shoot 'em ups). The others are still making decisions about what they want to do next year. Since I have only 14 in the class, I'm thinking a 50% retention rate (as in coming back to work or help next year) is pretty good!

Some other suggestions/requests for next year:
Allowing students to set up businesses that could actually be run for a profit
Taking out 2 of the carousels (kids admitted it was fun riding one the first time, but they didn't go back. And three carousels is overkill)
Get permissions to modify buildings put in by Ohio State or rebuild them and then remove them as there are bugs and assorted problems with some of them that we can't fix without permissions.
Fill up the libraries with texts from Project Gutenburg.

Winding down!

Friday, June 5, 2009

the end is almost here...

We've made it through our first year of VW Explorations -- and have lost only a few along the way. Two students left the class because they turned 18 and thought they would lose their avatars (although apparently this isn't the case; something for me to track down next week). One other student has decided this isn't what he thought it would be when he signed up last year and shut down on me a few weeks ago. He grudgingly does what I ask him, but he lets me know he's not happy.

As for the rest, most are not taking the class next year, but are looking forward to being mentors for the newbies coming in. In fact, one group of girls has been working to create a "mentor center" as a place n00bs can come to ask questions. Very cool initiative on their part!

I had four objectives when starting this course:

•To introduce our students to new ways of learning and doing business using virtual worlds.

Hit: Students learned several new skill sets (how to move, talk, create) in a virtual world. We also talked at length about legal, financial and cultural issues that crop up as a result of a virtual neighborhood.

•To create a body of mentors that will be available next year as more students from other districts begin to use this new technology.

Miss with some hits: Not everyone who took the class this year has signed up to take it again next year. This means we’ll be training newbies again, although there will be a few old-timers to help out. The up-side of this is that BOCES now has its act together and creating the student accounts will be quick and easy (or so I’m told!) so it won’t take as long for the new students to become comfortable enough to mentor others.

•To explore several of the issues surrounding education in a virtual world for myself and see what kinds of things kids learn from using them.

BIG Hit: Was a LOT of fun watching the kids struggle and learn from each other, from the ‘net and from me. Caveat: next year I’m planning to do more community-building exercises as that didn’t happen spontaneously like I expected. The kids formed small groups, but never really formed a community of any sort.

•To create independent learners who don’t need me to tell them what to do next. They can use me as a resource for guidance when needed, but are capable of designing and executing their own projects.

BIGGEST HIT: The creation of the Drop In was one of the most rewarding of my career. It truly was wonderful watching them all take ownership of their sections of the site and then work together to create something useful and beautiful. This was the highlight of the year.

I looked over my blog before I wrote this – and boy, has it been a year of ups and downs. The technical end of getting this class off the boards alone would have been enough to daunt a less-determined teacher. Add in the above-mentioned student-apathy and a healthy dose of attitude from at least one fellow staff member and you have all the elements for a disaster of a year.

And yet, somehow – it wasn’t. I watched students work together to create The Drop In, a central spot where all new students coming in world will get their orientation and skills. It was great to watch them break the task into manageable tasks, then split themselves into groups with each group taking one task and breaking it down even further. They worked together, fought together, succeeded together and in the end, created a practical work of art that will benefit the community for a long time to come.

Would I do it again? Yes. I’ve learned a lot about how to handle kids in several locations at the same time, I’ve even taught from home while they were in world and in class. I’d like the opportunity to go again and see if I can make it a smoother and better experience for all involved.

Till later,