In My Mind's Eye, I See Hamlet in Second Life


Part of my list of 2008 education resolutions is to try out some of the more educational uses of virtual worlds and stop being so curmudgeonly about all of it. (Ken doth protest too much, methinks.)

Mary Zedeck at Seton Hall University keeps me posted about SL projects, particularly Shakespeare stuff. (See, when you teach Romeo & Juliet to a kid in 7th grade and it works, they remember!)

Inside a virtual replica of the Globe Theater, a professional theater troupe called the SL Shakespeare Company is prepping plays for second Life. They are starting with Hamlet.

Though they will use this virtual stage, the acting will be live. I watched some samples on the site and they are using photorealistic recreations of the actors that the thespians control. Unfortunately, this real-time motion capture technology creeps me out a bit (as it did in movies like The Polar Express). You take a look at the current production "trailer" and decide.

I am glad that even though this medium offers all kinds of tech toys, they say that they:

"...will tend to the classical ideals of elegance, order, and balance. Our productions will be minimal in sets and prop usage, akin to black box theatre, focusing on story and acting. We will, however, take care to outfit our actor avatars with the most historically accurate and most professional clothing, skin, eyes, shape, and hair possible—to complement their performance. To take on the potential for an arbitrary number of simultaneous performances—what Second Life can offer—we will be using cutting-edge bot technology. But, above all this, we will uphold the core of live theatre: ad lib and audience interaction will be fully possible."

"Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't." (II,ii).

Funding? Each production is to be financed by a private producer who pays a share (very Elizabethan) and then gains access to the company's assets. What assets? Wardrobe, Animation, Technology, Stagecraft. All of those look very good, so there may be a business in producing [period-style] clothing, props, hair, skins and such. Their tech department can produce avatar motions and so on.

Teachers need to recognize, like Horatio, that there are more things on the Net than are dreamt of in their philosophy.

The company opens their first season with Hamlet. How will we judge them? The play is still the thing, so we must wait to see. All you high school English teachers - plan a virtual field trip. No bus reservations or permission slips, and we'll hold this virtual mirror up to nature.

Word of the Year?


Weekend Word Watch

The Word of the Year, according to Miriam-Webster Inc., is w00t (those are zeroes).

The word of the year doesn't have to be a new word, just used a lot that year.

Miriam-Webster describes the term as meaning "yay," and "it could be [exclaimed] after a triumph or for no reason at all."

According to Wikipedia (truly a better source for this particular information) says "w00t (pronounced, and sometimes spelled, "woot"; IPA: /ˈwuːt/) is a slang interjection used to express happiness, excitement or joy, most often expressed via the Internet. The expression has been used in Usenet posts, multiplayer computer games (especially first-person shooters), the IRC and SILC chat protocols, instant messages, weblogs, and web forums.

In second place is "facebook" as a verb ("I met her at a party and then facebooked her.").

Upriver in Search of the Myth of the Digital Native


I was reading Michael Wesch online over the weekend. He's the professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University who drew so much attention for his video, "Web 2.0...The Machine is Us/ing Us", which had millions of views in several versions on many sites.

In the post I was reading, he's commenting on [mis]interpretations of his video from this semester, "A Vision of Students Today."

It opens with a quote from Marshall McLuhan (below) and another from John Dewey - "Students learn what they do."

“If students learn what they do, what are they learning sitting here [silently in straight rows facing a speaker at the front of the room?] In the video I suggest that they are learning to sit in nice neat rows and remain quiet while the information/knowledge is delivered to them by an authority figure standing at the front of the room. They are learning to absorb knowledge from an authority, regurgitate that “knowledge” on exams, and follow along."

"...Nothing happened. Nothing could happen. There was a touch of insanity in the proceeding, a sense of lugubrious drollery in the sight; and it was not dissipated by somebody on board assuring me earnestly there was a camp of natives--he called them enemies!--hidden out of sight somewhere." (Conrad)

It's a "silent" video with students in a lecture hall holding up signs with statistics and comments on "how they learn, what they need to learn, their goals, hopes, dreams, what their lives will be like, and what kinds of changes they will experience in their lifetime."

"But while teaching has not changed, learning has. Students are learning to read, navigate, and create within a digital information environment that we scarcely address in the classroom. The great myth is that these “digital natives” know more about this new information environment than we do."

I agree. Reading his post made me think of a presentation I did at a conference in October 2006 that I titled "Heart of Darkness: Entering the Land of Digital Natives." That's not so long ago, but when I look at the post about it now, it seems like such basic web stuff. Yet, I recall that almost no one in the audience had used any of the tools I talked about, and that the few teachers that had used them didn't do so in their classrooms.

"But here’s the reality: they may be experts in entertaining themselves online, but they know almost nothing about educating themselves online. They may be learning about this digital information environment despite us, but they are not reaching the levels of understanding that are necessary as this digital information environment becomes increasingly pervasive in all of our lives. All of the classic skills we learned in relation to a print-based information universe are important, and must now be augmented by a critical understanding of the workings of digital information."

Following my Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness presentation theme, I (as Marlow) headed up river to visit the villages of the digital natives with those teachers. Scary places like YouTube, MySpace, Second Life and Wikipedia. The presentation went well, in that they were very interested in all these places that I had access to (accounts), but ultimately failed because my sense was that I had not convinced [m]any of them that as teachers they had to visit these places.

"He was obeyed, yet he inspired neither love nor fear, nor even respect. He inspired uneasiness. That was it!" (Conrad)

It wasn't because I believed that the sites all had genuine educational "value" but because I believe that teachers need to know the world of their students. In loco parentis, we need to at least guide them towards better use of these tools. (Tip of the blog hat to Norbert Elliot)

How much has changed since I did that presentation?

"In the immutability of their surroundings the foreign shores, the foreign faces, the changing immensity of life, glide past, veiled not by a sense of mystery but by a slightly disdainful ignorance." (Conrad)

Putting All Your Educational Eggs In One Basket


I started using Eduspaces when it was called Elgg. It was about the same time that Tim and I were starting out with Moodle (late 2005) and starting Serendipity35. It was self-described as the "world's largest social networking site dedicated to education and educational technology. With forums moderated by the leading experts in this field, this service exists to promote the use of cutting edge technologies within education."

This past weekend, Eduspaces users received this mail:

Hi All,

We would like to inform all users of EduSpaces that we will be shutting
down the service on Jan 10th, 2008.

We have provided a mechanism for you to export all your blog posts in
either an RSS format or HTML. To do this, go to your blog and select the submenu option you require. For those of you with files, you might want to download those as well.

Thank you to everyone who has supported EduSpaces over the last three years.

Best regards,
The EduSpaces team


I can't say I'm fall-on-the-floor shocked by Eduspaces (so far unexplained) end.

The original guys behind it (Dave and Ben) moved out of Eduspaces a while back (though Elgg is still active at http://elgg.org for now). Some bloggers I read - like Chris Sessums - seemed to go inactive around mid-November.

I basically abandoned my own Eduspaces blog because I couldn't keep up both blogs sites on ed tech. I had an RSS feed pull Serendipity35 into my Eduspaces site for a time. I thought it might bring new readers to my writing, but ultimately I think it just diluted and divided the audience. I won't be moving my old Eduspaces blog to the new location.

There's discussion about all this by users on the site. Where to go, how to get all your existing posts, how to move them - many questions.

Exporting your posts may work, but think of all the lost and broken connections and links that have been established by search engines and other blogs and sites to your work at Eduspaces.

When I started having my own students create blogs for my course, I chose Blogger. My thought was that Google wasn't going away soon and it would be at the edge of whatever software and crossovers blogging would take. I still feel that way. I've had my own Blogger site on poetry since October 2005 and have never had any problems with it.

I'm also thinking here beyond blogging to all the other software we rely upon in our schools.

The first thing that comes to mind from my instructional technology time is a course management system. Faculty, support staff and (to a lesser extent) students know the pain of moving from one platform to another.

Whether that's WebCT CE 4 to CE 6, or to Blackboard, or from any of those to Moodle, Angel, Desire2Learn or whatever. Files that don't translate, recreating forums and discussions, new tools, new user interfaces - it's a long list. Faculty don't want to do it. If they must do it, they want it to be seamless, or to have someone else do the grunt work. And that makes a certain sense. Their job is to teach and do research, not to deal with JavaScript errors and such.

Putting all your educational eggs in any one basket is dangerous.

UPDATED 2/26/08
Dear eduspaces.net member:
As you know, TakingITGlobal will continue to host the eduspaces.net community. You will explicitly need to state if you would like to have your account transferred to its new home at educatorcentral.org. This message is a final reminder to state your preference at eduspaces.net - if you say no or do nothing your account will get removed (you will need to be logged in to fill in the form). Please use this final opportunity to have your account migrated to educatorcentral.org, After February 27th this option will no longer be available. Final migration will take place in the second week of March of which you'll receive notification.

A Blackboard K-20 Connection



Back in October (at the EDUCAUSE 2007 Annual Conference), Blackboard Inc. launched their K-20 Connection. It's an initiative, like others that I've written about here, to get K-12 schools and higher education institutions to connect and collaborate.

They plan to invest about one million dollars in "strategic and tactical imperatives that enhance K-20 collaborative opportunities in the US and around the world."

"It is critical that secondary and post secondary education leaders work closely together to better prepare today's students for success in school, in their careers, and in life," said Michael Chasen, President and CEO of Blackboard.
"The lines that traditionally separate high school and college have become blurred as more and more high school students aspire to take college level course work. Similarly, large numbers of college students are in need of remedial work in order to succeed academically. Today's announcement is just the first step in a multi-year effort to leverage our resources to build new and lasting connections between K12 and college."

"We have a tremendous opportunity to leverage education technology to build communities that better engage students, individualize learning experiences and increase learning productivity," said Jessie Woolley-Wilson, President K12, Blackboard.
"Today's students are global citizens and require new skills to compete effectively in a global economy. Education leaders are challenged to find new ways to successfully prepare and transition students from K12 to post-secondary education. Blackboard wants to help them build new bridges to facilitate their efforts."

I know a lot of us in higher education have become wary of corporate initiatives in education. I have written recently about how distrustful some schools are of joining the Apple iTunes U program.

Blackboard Inc. has gotten a lot of criticism since its merger with WebCT, and every meeting I go to where its discussed rings with suspicion whether that's justified or not. Educators have problems with big corporate entities it seems, and when they enter into educational partnerships, some people question their motives.

Blackboard's initiative has the following stated objectives:

  • Provide strategic leadership to help define and promote models for successful collaboration between K12 and higher education, including state and province-wide initiatives
  • Create an online community of education leaders to promote the exchange of best practices in K-20 policy, curriculum, and education technology
  • Cultivate meaningful dialogue among all education stakeholders,including students, parents, school leaders, and administrators by leveraging Blackboard's relationships with thousands of K-12 and higher education partners
  • Increase the use of technology solutions that foster engagement and collaboration while delivering more individualized learning experiences.

As with the case of iTunes U, educators ask, "What is in it for Blackboard? Are they trying to open new markets in the K-12 world?"

I'm sure they are trying to broaden their market reach. Why wouldn't they? They are a business. Of course, as I said about Apple, it's also possible that they are trying to do good things for education.

Blackboard Inc. says it will launch the following specific efforts in the coming months:

  • Create a K-20 Connection Virtual Learning Community
  • Publish case studies of innovative K-20 Initiatives from the US and abroad
  • Offer financial incentives related to Blackboard solutions and services to encourage K-20 coordination and collaboration
  • Develop a K-20 Blackboard practice area that can serve as a resource to education leaders.
I'm willing to suspend disbelief here and see what comes. At the Blackboard K-20 Connection site, you can register for upcoming web presentations, download the "Building K-20 Connections" issue brief and access research and best practices of successful K-20 models.