Sunday, May 4, 2008

PodCamp NYC 2008 Continued

PodCamp NYC - The afternoon sessions...

The Second Life: Shifted Learners session was quite amazing. A middle school teacher is using Teen Second Life in extraordinary ways to teach students about immigration, bring literature to life and learn about body image, among other things. The thing that struck me most was the speaker's summation of why we need to integrate new & bold ways of learning and it was this simple phrase from a student perspective: "ENGAGE ME or ENRAGE ME". The image that captured this was a student wearing a T-shirt that read "I'm not ADD, I'm just not listening". This really hit home for me in an age where students process information simultaneously and are often bored with traditional learning environments. The speakers' referenced Mark Prensky's term of Digital Natives but prefers to call them "Shifted Learners" because not all youth of this generation are technology saavy and not all prior generations are digitally illiterate. They did reference two books worthy of reading. The World is Flat by Thomas L Friedman and Don't Bother Me Mom, I'm Learning by Marc Prensky. I agree with the speakers that as technology evolves, so must literacy. This includes technological literacy. And to acquire necessary 21st century skills, technological fluency is even more important. Teachers need to strive for engagement and edutainment.

One of the speakers, AJ Kelton, commented that we need to "get a MUVE on". MUVE=MultiUser Virtual Environment. He went on to cite specific locations in Second Life that have interest for education. These include 1) Linden Hills (the inverse of Dante's Inferno), Genome Island (Sciences), The Second Louvre (art all created in Second Life), NOAA, Spaceport Alpha & Delta, Renaissance Island, the Sistine Chapel (with approval from the RL Sistine Chapel) on Vassar Island and many businesses. These are all on the main grid but can still be relevant for students. Additionally, The Ivy Tower of Primatives teaches you everything you need to know about building in SL. It uses notecards and you can upload pics but no CAD yet. (Make sure firefox is closed before you do this.) There is also the ISTE Island with a speaker series every Tuesday night and a dosent on duty.

Some participants noted that IBM has said they will not spend any money on travel, opting to do meetings in SL and that they have some islands that are behind a firewall. I contributed that Sun is doing very similar things: meetings, press conferences, training, etc... in SL. Some companies are doing 1st level interviews via SL and Dell is merging SL & RL but allowing customers to build a computer in SL and then buy it & get it in RL.

The second speaker spoke about Ramapo Islands, a private set of islands in Teen Second Life (13-17 Grid) that she uses to teach her middle-schoolers. This was when the prospect of virtual worlds for education really grabbed me. Peggy Sheehy's daughter works for Linden Labs and got her hooked on SL. She believes that reintroducing play into education is so important. They have 3 islands in the district with 6 SIMS and 1200 students. She wrote a proposal to the district on why they should spend the money on this and it was accepted. They had 175 volunteers help build the Islands on the main gride and then moved it over to the Teen grid. No adults are allowed on the Teen grid (though you can buy an island and a 2nd avatar that is locked on the island to supervise and it is monitored by a 3rd party who does FBI checks on these adults). She trained 45 teachers on the use of Second Life as an educational tool and also runs a tech club. The main projects that were most interesting to me was the Immigration unit and the Literature unit. The students recreated Ellis Island and Liberty Island to learn about immigration. When asked how they would do it differently the next time, the students responded that they would have liked to role play the immigration process as an immigrant avatar. One student took it further by saying that they should have researched actual immigrants using data from the Ellis Island website and then portrayed that immigrant in SL. Wow! For Literature, they did a mock trial in Second Life based on the book "Of Mice and Men". Students took it seriously by dressing the part in RL, while recreating the case in SL. In this case, a picture is worth a thousand words. This isn't the exact presentation used at PodCamp but it does show some screenshots of Ramapo Islands. These are just some of the possibilities that SL brings to the classroom.

The next session was on Social Media & Parenting and dealt with issues around safety and privacy. The big message here was transparency and to remember that you are the same person online vs. offline. We discussed what it means to be "famous" and that this needs to be accompanied by lessons on morals and values. The topic of etiquetter was very much at the forefront. e.g. Inside voices = lowercase letters; Set rules for the dinner table (no texting, etc...) We also discussed that it is good to engage children early with a sense of responsibility on the Internet. One woman said her 8 year old daughter has created a Hannah Montana podcast with hundreds of listeners. Another mentioned that creating a Yahoo! group and managing it is a good activity for 7th and 8th graders. Have them create age appropriate groups and let them facilitate wiki's, group discussions, etc... This will be a foundation for building employable skills for the future.

The session on Education 2.0 spoke of ways to use 2.0 technologies in the classroom and in every day life. One women spoke about how she creates a wiki page for her holiday gift list and how she recruited (dragged?) her family into using it. Another spoke about iTunesU and MIT OpenCoursework which are some typical podcasts in use at the college and university level. Others spoke about video connection tools like ooVoo and Seesmic. The speaker discussed ways that she is using technology in her classroom. This included:

  • Posting assignments to a wiki or as email attachments to the parents. This takes away the excuse "I forgot my homework at school".
  • Lets kids sit in on a class through videoconferencing or podcast while they are home sick. [Ed. Note. Not sure how I feel about this one. If they are truly sick, shouldn't they be resting? Interested in your comments on this...]
  • Class notes posted on wiki for reference.
  • Provide virtual homework help via Skype, Ubuware?
  • Provide a chat room for questions.
  • Study groups online (Ryerson U example).

We also talked about individualizing education and discussed that mentoring and community relationships are key. Make parents part of the picture. Universal design of curriculum is good for everyone. So, how do you get started. The challenge begins with each of us. Here are some suggestions the speaker offered:

  • Call a parent and report on good progress or behavior!
  • Parents -> Email a thank you to teachers or bring a cup of coffee for no reason at all -> not on teachers week!
  • Don't be afraid to care and encourage even the kids who are struggling.

Overall, PodCamp NYC turned out to be a worthwhile event, even though I missed day 2 and even though it took me 3 hours to get home! Maybe next time I'll do the whole event in Second Life! hehehe...

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