On-line PD – I’ll Get to the Point

In order for true quality professional development to take place, I think that we need to address some of the ways around which we think about professional development as educational systems.  Yes, it is certainly true that there are hundreds of on-line tools and resources available to enhance PD, but I don’t think that it would matter if we had hundreds of thousands of excellent tools to choose from.   These tools are simply the medium through which to facilitate PD.  If there is no unified direction of message, does it really matter what tools or media are used?

Herein lies the point.  There seems to be a lack of direction as to where we need to head in education.  There seems to be a lack of direction in aiming towards best practices in education, and there is certainly a lack of direction in how we should best utilize professional learning time.  Essentially, I believe this to be an issue of control, and I think it is time to let go.  Traditionally, educational systems and their leaders have prided themselves in their abilities to create quality professional development sessions that have been intended for the masses; a great majority of teachers.  I don’t think this works anymore.  We simply have too much choice, and that is a good thing.  Let’s embrace our power of choice.

It is time for educational systems and their leaders to understand that TEACHERS ARE LIFE-LONG LEARNERS. It is time to give up the control over how PD time is to be spent.  We need to pass this control over to the individual teachers who, as dedicated life-long learners, will ultimately decide what their best possible learning path is, and how they should best go about it.  This is how true PD will take place.  Teachers must be invested in their learning in order for it to take place. A growing number of teachers are finding many current PD opportunities are simply not engaging.

Scenario A.  A PD session is implemented with mandatory attendance from all staff members.  The PD session is designed in a sort of ‘top down’ approach in which the direction was decided upon by an educational leader.  The topic is yet another of several ‘new initiatives’.  The session is well attended, and many staff members contribute to the discussion, however others are not engaged, even sowing buttons on shirts in the back of the room.

Scenario B.  A block of time is set aside for PD opportunities to take place.  Staff members were given advance notice and ample time to ‘choose their own adventure’.  Some staff members have decided to drive to other schools in the system to meet with teachers with a similar focus.  One group in particular meets to learn photography techniques from a teacher who has already set up a successful photography program.  Other teachers decide to head to their classrooms.  One teacher uses his lap-top to watch a lecture from professor Michael Wesch via Ustream.  Another spends time watching a few TED Talks videos about creativity [like Ken Robinson’s, or Elizabeth Gilbert’s].  A small group of teachers meet to discuss potential recycling and composting projects to be implemented in the school.  One of the teachers in this group logs in to Tapped In, and they meet up with a couple of other teachers in another city who have already begun similar projects.  Another teacher browses through a list of new Web 2.0 tools and begins to play with software she was not familiar with.  Several others meet in the library for a more traditional and guided PD session and discussion about literacy.

From these example scenarios, it is my opinion that the second involves a higher level of professional development.  More teachers are engaged in their learning, as they’ve had control over the design of their learning path.  In order for this to happen, we need to change our outlook about PD.  We need to understand that professional learning can take place on-line.  We need to understand that PD can be solitary, and that professional learning can take place by watching quality lectures or YouTube and TedTalk videos.  It’s time to give the control of professional learning over to the professional who is to be learning.

On-line PD – Augmented Reality – iSchool

The 3rd Annual Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education Conference in Second Life (VWBPE) took place on-line in the virtual world of Second Life last Friday and Saturday.  This conference was absolutely massive, and brought together educators, researchers, academics, and business professionals from around the world with a focus on 3D virtual collaborative environments and how they can best be used to support education.  Just one glance at the 48-hour schedule of this conference will give you a sense of just how massive this was, as it offered a vast array of topics  through more than 170 presentations in the virtual world.

Unfortunately my real life schedule didn’t allow me to spend very much time at this conference in Second Life.  However, I did pop in and out a few times to check it out, and did watch a lecture about the fascinating topic of Augmented Reality that was posted as a video by treet.tv.  I’ve learned a lot about augmented reality, and see that this is something that poses a lot of potential impact to education.  Augmented reality is essentially the data and information, aided by tech tools, overlaid upon the real world in real time.  This is the direction that our technology infused world is heading.  Tools like the iPhone and iPad have already made augmented reality a reality, and I suppose that it is only a mater of time before education finds a way to embrace this. I love this young man’s argument about this point.  I love this  iSchool Initiative argument because I believe that such a one-to-one initiative could be a solution to many problems that face education today.  iTools allow students to bring augmented reality into the classroom, and therefore all of the worlds recorded history at there fingertips, all day, everyday.   Its happening anyway, and it would be wise for education systems to take some leadership before we have chaos.

As it stands now, many of our students are showing up to class with ‘smart phones’ in their pockets.  And for the most part, we tell them that they are not allowed to use them.  There are a couple of very important issues to consider here.  One is of course an enlarging generation gap between teacher and student, or perhaps a growing disconnect between students and the system.  These smart phones are becoming an essential part of how many students communicate in this world.  When students bring these small computers into the class, the education system essentially responds with, “Well that is how you can communicate ‘out there’, but in here, we’re going to communicate the ‘old way’ [even if we have computers in the room].”  Of coarse this is going to cause some disconnect.  Another issue is the issue of equity and equality.  Some students are showing up with powerful Blackberries, others with iPhones, some with much simpler cell-phones, and still many with no technology of their own.  This is an area in which schools will very soon need to take some leadership in order to ensure that all students have equal access to the ‘augmented’ layer of information that the Internet provides.

I understand that this post is getting quite lengthy already, but I want to finish with a short example.  In my art room, many students depend on having a image to look at in order to practice their drawing or painting skills.  If students want an image, they often need to leave the room and use the computers in the library or computer lab in order to print an image.  When they return, they have a black and white image that they found through a Google image search.  They often get started with their drawing, but then come back again to ask if they can see the image in colour, or if it can be printed in colour.  Now, this year, I’ve had a few students who have a large image printed in black and white for their drawings, but use their smart phones to view images in colour.  Of coarse there are many ways to provide equal access to colour images in my classroom, and last year I had a student printing station set up [that lap-top has died].  The point is that it seems logical that all students should have their own devices that allow them to see images in colour, thus no longer requiring colour prints, and making access to this advantage fair and equal.  Student prefer to use their own devices, and are using them in class anyway, but the students that can afford the best phones, have the best access.

Van Gogh’s Arles in Second Life

After searching for a bit, I have found the 19th century Arles, France in Second Life.  This was one of the places where Vincent Van Gogh lived and painted.  The SL replicated town has several paintings of Van Gogh recreated in 3-dimensions through which you can walk and explore.

A possible project came to mind while I was exploring this place.  I’ve thought about having students visit this place, with the task of taking photos [screen captures] with their avatar in several of the replicated paintings [like mine above].  Students would then need to blog about these paintings.  Their blog posts would need to include an image from second life, an image of the real life painting[found online], and a brief researched write-up about the painting and its background information.  This would be a way for students to deepen their knowledge about one of the master painters and at the same time, interact with their findings in a virtual environment.  This would be a great supplement project to viewing videos about Vincent Van Gogh [like the one playing at the IMAX right now], and also attempting to create their own Impressionist works.

Building in Second Life

I’ve been attempting to build in Second Life.  Building is a bit tricky and it’s been a bit of a challenge,  but thanks to my SL cousin TinMan Telling, I’ve been pointed in the right direction.   The image above is my avatar, Rasta Telling, looking at an aisle and canvas that he (I) built.  I suppose I built it, using him.  Weird.  Anyway, I have build something, with some success, although if you look closely, it is certainly not perfect.

TinMan has given me some good advice.   He pointed out that the best way to learn to build is to search for building tutorials on YouTube.  He also noted that in order to build, I need to find a sandbox [those are building places for beginning builders in Second Life].  So I found the sandbox for our EC&I class, and I followed a couple of tutorials.  It was rather cumbersome at first.  A few more tips from Trevor at work, and I found it was getting a bit better.  We met with our laptops at work, and also met in Second Life.  It was handy to have someone right there with you to show you some tricks.  Building is all about camera angles, and Trevor showed me the keyboard short-cuts for the most important camera functions.  Another problem that I was having, and didn’t even think of, was that I was running Second Life over a wireless internet signal.  Once I plugged in, I figured out quite quickly that SL runs much more smoothly with a wired connection.  It is not as choppy, and there is less lag, which is important when you are trying to build and are constantly changing camera angles.

The Potential of Second Life

As I think about my last post about Second Life, I feel that I’ve made a pessimistic argument that is perhaps brought about mostly by my frustrations with the technology.  The truth is that there is great potential for Second Life to provide very intense learning experiences in a variety of educational settings.  The more that I read, the more that I am reminded of these possibilities.

I have stated that I am somewhat skeptical of the educational value of touring students through places in Second Life.  Again there are some very interesting places to visit, but I am not convinced that the outcome of such visits is any more than playing, and achieving a sense of the ‘coolness’ of the ‘game’.   The ‘touring’ value of Teen Second Life is likely not as great as the adult grid, as many of the best place to visit only exist in the adult world.

I am starting to realize that perhaps the greatest educational potential that Second Life has to offer is in building.   Projects like the Regina Public Schools’ Grade 8 Culture Project in SL, and the recreation of Batoche in SL are excellent examples of this potential being actualized in real and valid learning experiences.  In these examples, the students have done the building in SL on the teen grid (TSL).  In the example of the Batoche project, a class visited Batoche in northern Saskatchewan, took a large number of photographs, and then recreated a virtual version of Batoche in Second Life.  I cannot imagine a greater demonstration of learning.  Students would have a true spatial understanding of a place after creating it virtually in 3-dimensions.

Second Life creator Robbie Dingo (real life Rob W.) has created a masterpiece with his 3-dimensional recreation of Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night.  

It is in the design element that this technology offers that I see the most potential for valuable learning experiences.  Garnett Gleim told me about a drama educator from Australia who used Second Life to create and record a virtual production of the play they were studying.  The class designed the stage, the costumes, the lighting, the camera angles, everything.  They rehearsed and performed their play in their virtual world and made a video recording of the performance.  And after all this, they performed the play in real life, to a real audience.  Doesn’t this sound like real learning in a virtual space?    These are the type of projects that excite me about Second Life.   They excite me, and they scare me.  I’m afraid of jumping in and finding myself ‘in over my head’.  As you can imagine, such projects must take an immense amount of time.  The Australian Drama project was likely the better portion of a semester, and I can scarcely imagine the number of hours Robbie Dingo puts into his creations.   I can, however, imagine a variety of projects like this that could benefit students in my visual art courses.  And so it is with this apprehension that I move forward with my exploration of Second Life.   Now I need to learn how to build.

Another Look at Second Life

Over the last couple of weeks, I have spent several hours submersed in the virtual world more commonly known as Second Life.  This was not my first experience with Second Life.  I first became familiar with this virtual world a couple of years ago while studying for a course titled E.C.&I. 833, which was a critique of different distance learning models of education.  Over the last couple of years, I have returned to Second Life a couple of times.  I explored the Regina Public Schools virtual campus with the help of Garnett Gleim and Paul Cutting.  At that time, I was just exploring the world out of curiosity.  Paul gave me help customizing my avatar and learning ways to communicate, travel, landmark places, and teleport.  I remember being intrigued by the technology, and being optimistic about its potential impact on education.

Last year, I visited the world of Second Life again with Dr. Alec Couros and the rest of the class of E.C.&I. 831.  We met up with an instructor from the University of Saskatchewan and went on a virtual tour (similar to the experience in this class with Marnie) of several places of interest within Second Life.  We visited some interesting educational institutions, and a campus of the International Spaceflight Museum among other places.

This year’s experience has confirmed some of my previous thoughts about second life.  There are a lot of very interesting places in Second Life that are worth visiting.  This time around, I visited ancient Mesopotamia, 19th century Paris and the Eiffel Tower, and Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in 15th century London.  These are some great places, and Second Life is full of places just like this.  One of my favourites is still the Sistine Chapel.  I’ve spent much time checking out several virtual art galleries, include the virtual Louvre, and many others.  There is even a virtual Batoche, SK.  And so again, I am convinced that there are a lot of very interesting places to visit in Second Life.

I have now become rather cognizant of the fact that many of best places to visit in Second Life have been created by educational institutions.  The SL Sistine Chapel was created by Vaser College [as one example], and many colleges and universities have well developed campuses.  I’m not entirely certain what this means, but it is very clear that there is a very strong connection between Second Life and education.  I think that, as I was a couple of years ago, many educational institutions get very excited and optimistic about the overwhelming potential that Second Life poses.

Although I’ve found many particularly interesting places to visit, I’ve become somewhat skeptical of Second Life’s ability to amount to anything more than just potential.   And potential for what really?  I question the value of the experiences available in Second Life.  What exactly is the potential?  The potential to have artificial experiences?  I am not sure.  Years have passed, more interesting places have been developed, and yet I am still skeptical of any truly valuable learning experiences taking place in Second Life.

Click these links to read more about my first and second experience in Second Life.  Or better yet, click here to read an excerpt from a paper in which I discuss some of SL’s futuristic potential.