Thursday, December 27. 2007
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 possibleâ€”to complement their performance. To take on the potential for an arbitrary number of simultaneous performancesâ€”what Second Life can offerâ€”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.
Monday, December 24. 2007
Sunday, December 23. 2007
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: /ËˆwuËt/) 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.").
Tuesday, December 18. 2007
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."
"...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."
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.
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)
Monday, December 17. 2007
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:
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.
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.
Putting all your educational eggs in any one basket is dangerous.
Friday, December 14. 2007
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.
"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.
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:
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:
Thursday, December 13. 2007
I've been attending virtual meetings of the MAGPI K20 User Group for the past year. This tri-state group meets every other month virtually by videoconferencing through the Internet2 Commons. I continue to be amazed at the things schools are doing, and frustrated by how little we are doing with it at NJIT and SPHS.
The purpose of this user group is to bring together connected organizations across Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware to encourage a cross-fertilization of ideas, collaboration opportunities, and resources on the use of MAGPI and Internet2. These meetings are open to any MAGPI member institution and feature guest speakers.
What's Internet2? What's MAGPI? Some background...
Internet2 is a national, high-bandwidth, research and education network, separate from the â€œregularâ€ Internet that you are using right now. It began in 1996 as an experimental project developed by a consortium of universities, and now interconnects with over 80 high-bandwidth networks worldwide, creating a truly global research and education network. Over 50,000 educational institutions are now connected to Internet2 via the Internet2 K20 Initiative. Is yours?
Internet2 is not just a "faster Internet connection" and it's not used to surf the web. Over 200 member U.S. universities, including NJIT, work closely with partners in industry and government, and with advanced networks around the world. Applications for Internet 2 range from the humanities to the sciences. It is frequently used for research that requires interactive collaboration and instruction, real-time access to remote scientific instruments, shared virtual reality and some multimedia services.
NJIT connects to Internet2 through NJEDge.Net (New Jersey's Higher Education Network) and in turn through the MAGPI GigaPoP (Gigabit Point of Presence).
MAGPI is our regional network aggregation point which is a central point where customers meet and exchange traffic. It is run by the University of Pennsylvania and aggregates network traffic. from approved research and education institution in the region. That includes K-12 schools, higher ed, corporate R&Ds and hospitals connecting via the Internet2 backbone network. MAGPI is also its own regional high performance network.
The MAGPI K20 programs (in addition to the national Internet2 K20 programs) connect institutions and innovators from primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities, libraries, science and arts centers and museums.Joining in with the social networking that's all over the regular Internet, they recently launched Muse. It's a social utility that connects you with Internet2-enabled technologies and educators in your region (MAGPI for us) and around the globe.
What kinds of things are K-12 schools doing with Internet2?
Students are using remote instruments around the world to collect data and perform problem-based experiments. Teachers are receiving live interactive professional development from NASA, Library of Congress, and other locations. Classrooms are being "flattened" by including peer groups from around the world. Rich digital collections are being accessed for enhanced learning. Virtual simulation environments are available to teach technical skills.
You can browse projects using Muse even if you're not a member. You'll find things like The Science of International Polar Year (IPY) where students have an opportunity to join scientists from locations like NASA's Cryospheric Sciences Branch at the NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center on a virtual tour of Earth's polar regions. They explore some key questions scientists are trying to answer about how the Earth's poles are changing and get to ask questions of the scientists.
Yesterday, MAGPI ran a seminar called "Virtual Reality, Simulation and Gaming in Education" that was an overview of remote instrumentation, virtual reality and serious gaming in educational settings. We connected at NJIT, but we couldn't do anything with it at the high school I'm embedded in this year.
But, today, we are setting up at Science Park High School new equipment to allow them to connect. They can use Verizon's Access New Jersey video portal and, through their NJIT partnership, they can have a ramp onto Internet2.
The problems so far haven't been in getting the equipment, but in the Newark K-12 district being comfortable with this new and (apparently) frightening technology. Through MAGPI, the national MyK20 database, and other local sources, they can search databases of Internet2 K20 projects, as well as additional resources and information.
This is a brave new world for most K-12 districts. I hope they will allow us to inspire them.
(William Shakespeare, Act I, Prologue of Henry V)
Wednesday, December 12. 2007
Now, Massachusetts Institute of Technology is making freely available to high school students and their teachers a collection of material in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The material is available on a new part of the original site at http://ocw.mit.edu/highschool and features video and audio clips, animations, lecture notes, and assignments.
Of course, depending on the grade level you teach, many of the materials that have been available for the "college" level are useful to high school teachers. There are introductory courses in Biology, Chemistry, Computers and Electronics, Engineering, Foreign Languages, Math, Media, Music and the Arts, Physical Education, Physics, Social Sciences, Writing and Literature.
The intent is not just to have teachers find and use materials. Many of their users are students studying on their own.
One area that I found really interesting offers courses developed and taught by MIT students for high school students. You can take a quick look at a sample from sample from the Educational Studies Program (ESP), an MIT student group offering high school courses for over 50 years.
There's a class on "Guitar Building." A music course?
I also like the "Knowledge in Action" area with sections on "Write Better," "Save the World," and "Build Stuff." In with the things you'd expect to find (robotics, mechanical engineering) are problem-solving activities like "Toy Product Design" and global studies like "Information and Communication Technology in Africa."
That last course made me think about the OLPC that Tim has on order. What a great unit you could do if you purchased a give-one-get-one laptop (that offered has been extended until 12/31/07) and used these materials to flatten your classroom world a bit to look at technology in developing countries.
I looked through the course materials and, sure enough, there was a document on "Policy for the Introduction of the $100 Laptop into Schools in Zambia" by Mark Scott (PDF).Then have students investigate the OLPC Wiki.
We have been trying at NJIT to get an open courseware effort started, but are still dealing with issues like intellectual property that MIT seems to have overcome. I was happy just to see some of our faculty agree to make their courses in our iTunes U site public, so that's a move in the right direction.
At all grade levels, you find teachers who want to share materials and those who guard them closely. The MIT site reminds you that "OCW is not an MIT education. OCW does not grant degrees or certificates. OCW does not provide access to MIT faculty. Materials may not reflect entire content of the course."
And we all (teachers & students) know that good materials do not necessarily make a good course. I have always believed that a great teacher in a room full of students with no materials will still make learning happen. Equipping those teachers with good materials will make some things happen faster, better or more memorably. And those teachers that aren't very good? All the computers, SmartBoards, videos and tools won't save them. They probably need to get out of the way and let the students learn.
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