Monday, May 24, 2010

Imagination Unleashed: immersive inquiry based learning

[Note to Facebook readers: I've added linked captions beneath the videos for you.]

To write this week's reflection, I've stepped a way outside normal boundaries of a Wilkes assignment to imagine what it would be like to blend the power of inquiry based learning with the networking capability of a virtual environment and apply it to the most authentic problem-solving situation of all -- real life. These thoughts were prompted by the conjunction of the ideas of two educators: Sahsa Barab who is convinced of the potential of immersive learning to give meaning back to education and Tony O'Driscoll who used his blog, Learning Matters, to issue a challenge "to get the world involved" in finding a remedy for the daunting problem portrayed in this video.

I suspect from his title that this was the seed of O'Driscoll's vision.

Here's what Sasha Barab has to say.

For Barab, to play a game is to be "positioned with a purpose .... to help transform some situation that's in a problematic state. ... [and to ask] what are the rules of this world? What are the laws that affect it? When I do this, what happens?" He adds: "In a game I'm considered someone who has a really powerful role to do something significant with my time ... and that requires that I learn a bunch of things [so I can ] do that thing even better. ... Failure is motivating. It's not something to be avoided. ... [This kind of learning] allows me to be something I couldn't normally be."

As many of us (even educators) do, O'Driscoll underestimated young people and left them out of his call to become part of his solution. Barab's ideas hold promise, but he may not have been thinking 'big enough' either. I'm wondering if there's a way to involve educators all over the world in mobilizing the untapped resources of today's youth to solve not only an authentic but an actual problem such as the oil spill in the Gulf?

We try to raise children's level of concern when we show video clips of disasters unfolding and talk about how terrible they are in class, but perhaps what we're really doing is role modeling passive response. Without also engaging kids in working towards a solution, we may be adding to their sense of helplessness. They may come away thinking that if such problems are too big for corporations and governments to solve, they as individuals are powerless to do anything that will count.

Here's my question.

Is it possible to use evolving global networking capabilities to involve the world's youth in a collaborative effort of inquiry learning and problem-solving and thereby give them the chance to 'play' what might be the largest and potentially the most impactful 'game' of their lives?

If, as O'Driscoll wrote in his blog, what's going on in the Gulf "is not a technology problem," then we truly need people to "think differently ... to help frame the problem differently to see if there are transferable concepts that can help stop this leak." Imagine if every student we could connect globally in Second Life dedicated seventy-two hours to generating solutions? What if Linden Labs and all residents of Second Life pledged to make it a youth-safe zone for those three days? What if we then mashed the kids up in that virtual environment with adult scientists, designers, architects, educators, and engineers -- harnessing both the energy and unbounded enthusiasm of youth who believe in their ability to change the world now and also the experience and learning of trained thinkers and problem-solvers -- and infused the forum with the urgency of the Apollo 13 mission team?

Could they solve this problem?

Is it at least worth a try?

Can they do any worse than BP?



Edutopia. (4 November, 2009). Big thinkers: Sasha Barab. [Video]. Retrieved May 24, 2010, from YouTube at

EnergyBoom. (12 May, 2010). New underwater footage of BP oil leak at the sources. Retrieved May 24, 2010, from YouTube at

"hychum". (4 June, 2007). Decision Making [Video excerpt from Apollo 13]. Retrieved May 24, 2010, from YouTube at

O'Driscoll, T. (15 May, 2010). 2 Hour “Moon Shot” like Stop the Spill Challenge. [Web log post]. Retrieved May 24, 2010, from Learning Matters at

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Recipe for success: communicating from the inside out

"People don't buy what you do, but why you do it."

"The goal is not just to sell to people who need what you have.
The goal is to sell to people who believe what you believe."

Do you know what you believe as a teacher?
Do you communicate your dream to your students, parents and the others around you?
Do you tell your kids what you "have for them" or what you believe?

Simon Sinek in TED Talks: How great leaders inspire action
first seen in Sail's Pedagagy.

"The early majority will not try something until someone else has tried it first." We can be the early adopters in kids' lives by telling them what we believe so they can take our vision and make it their own. Then they won't be showing up for us or their parents or because society says they must, but for themselves!

"Martin Luther King gave the 'I have a dream speech', not the I have a plan speech. "

So ... set aside taking 15 minutes of planning time every day to work out what you believe. Transform yourself from being "the leader" in your class by becoming someone others want to follow.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Meet Nunyara Fairlady -- a work in progress

Nunyara Fairlady

I'm taking an extra course this term in the Online Education program. It's about virtual worlds and using Second Life as an educational venu. My experiences there this week were 'extreme' so I thought I'd share them in this blog, even though this course isn't part of the Instructional Media program and I decided to try it because I have time to double up. I’ll begin by saying that when I signed up for the course, my expectations about ever feeling at home in Second Life were pretty low. I enrolled to prove to myself that I could do it, but my first days in SL left me feeling like I was an outsider who would always remains so and that no learning experience was worth the frustration I was experiencing, especially when it was self-imposed.

Although the text promised me god-like status and the unfettered fun of getting drunk, having sex, fighting, casting spells, flying, and changing my appearance at will (Rymaszewski et al, p.5), it also made clear that on this 21st century version of ‘Fantasy Island’ (but without Mr. Rourke and Tattoo), “your presence … is defined by your appearance” (p. 82). It implied that in order to avoid hostility I ought to construct an external appearance which would reassure the ‘in-world’ residents that I was like them (p.88). An appealing avatar would go a long way towards satisfying my need to be loved and admired (p. 87). My expectations sank even lower.

Other sources warned that:

  • “looking like a newbie” could draw “mean comments or wrong information” …. because “some of the old residents are really mean with new players” (Kiara Vaughn).

  • I shouldn’t “accept friendship cards from strangers" whose intentions may not be the best (Vaughn).

  • SL is a dangerous place if your are weak and an easy catch for “the griefers, spammers,” and others out to do harm (Lizzie Arriaga).

  • if I didn’t adapt fast to this environment and try to “fit the story,” I risked boring everyone because being unimaginative “spoil[s] the fantasy.” If I "barged in and stuck out like a sore thumb,” I would not be respecting “the rules of the sim” (Shauna Skye).

  • carrying The Newbie Woman’s Second Life Survival Kit (Darn! I wish I hadn’t detached the oversized bag with which my initial ‘av’ was equipped!) and learning some safety tips would probably be a very good idea (Women’s Resource Hub).

  • SL is bound to disappoint some who try it. Despite fans' claims that you can "do all the things people do in RL, but better, ... being there "can't make ... [us] great at what ... [we're] no good at in real life (Jenny Diski).

Those of you who follow this blog know that I'm passionate about the exciting educational possibilities offered by Web 2.0 technologies. I’m also relatively good at figuring out how to make these tools work and at helping others find resources that will fit their needs and comfort levels, but trying to do even simple tasks in Second Life put my anxiety level through the roof. I struggled with technical issues and could find no answers to my questions. I expected to be engaged with talking instructional modules, simulated demonstrations I could try to mimic, and virtual helpers I could activate at the press of a button. However, what I encountered were several 2-D read-only posters and a largely trial-and-error process of learning. Without some way to get a mental picture of what was possible, I felt lost.

Eventually, with the help of a YouTube video I figured out sitting, standing, making fish jump and chimes play, and flying without bumping my head on the ceiling, but I’m left wondering why I had to come back to RL (real world) for help. I expected an immersive experience and masterful tutorials. Did I miss them? I looked for the sign to Help Island. Where was it? I teletransported instead to the public clone of what was supposed to be my next stop and found myself in the midst of a crowd of 'avs' wandering zombie-like back and forth muttering near-obscenities to anyone within earshot. Finally, anxious about being targeted as a ‘noob’ (Vaugn), rather than keep my beginner’s duds until I got the feel of the place, I decided to find a secluded spot to change. From there things went from bad to worse. After a few hours, all I wanted to do was get out!!

This morning I’ve had a chance to compare descriptions of the old and new Orientation Island tutorials. I wish Linden Labs had preserved the old one to provide newcomers with a choice of whether they want to take the time to do the full 'walkthrough' or whiz through the shortcut. As an educator, I’d say the developers have made two versions of the same mistake: they’ve assumed that everyone learns the same way. Initially they made even those to whom these things come easily do every step of every tutorial before they could move on. Now they’ve gone way too far the other way and don’t provide enough guidance to those of us who clearly need more support and guidance to feel completely comfortable with the newness of things. Good educators try to anticipate the needs of their students and craft activities that will allow them to fly past the stuff they know or can learn easily, provide direct instruction and guided practice to scaffold new learning, and give choices that empower learners rather than overwhelm them. The SL Orientation Island learning activities (they really are not tutorials) made too many assumptions about my attitude and prior skills and fell way short of preparing me for the world inside.

Jean Brouchard writes that there are “two kinds of newbies in Second Life: the Eager ones ... and the Paranoid Ones." His point is that if you hang back -- “afraid that … [if you] do something wrong … the computer will self-destruct,” you’ll also miss out on the virtual adventure. I prefer to think of myself as cautious rather than paranoid, but I think there’s a lesson for educators in his piece. There are lots of children in our classes who are frozen by their fears, and yes, we need to encourage them to venture boldly into the unknown. After all what are a few bumps on the virtual head but reminders of where the ceiling is? What are mistakes but messages that you have to try a different way? Still there is clearly a critical mass of frustration and anxiety. Once that has been surpassed, many learners can end up feeling out of their depth and like they just want to escape. Finding the tipping point for each learner is the art of what good teachers do.

I solved my tech dilemmas yesterday by giving myself a fresh start. I decided that doing more of the same was getting me nowhere, so I created a new account using the name I'd originally wanted, selected a different avatar, and quickly made enough changes to her to create a skin in which I feel comfortable. I used the Map feature to locate SciLands (after a false start that landed me in with the Naked Scientists). Nunyara (“made well again”) Fairlady (a person I’d like to become) fell into the ocean only once, figured out how to use the virtual telescope, collected some notecards, and made it back to a quiet place of contemplation overlooking the sea near the free store on Help Island (public). She’s going to spend a few real dollars this weekend rather than head off to dubious locations in search of money trees because shewants new hair and a different scarf and really needs her glasses. Then she’ll be ready to take on new challenges even if that means colliding with a few people or objects along the way.



Arriaga, Lizzie. (23 January, 2009). Newbie in Second Life. Retrieved on May 13, 2010, from People at

Brouchard, Joe. (1 May, 2007). The fear of being a newbie. Retrieved on May 11, 2010, from Clear Night Sky at

Diski, Jenny. (8 February, 2007). Jowls are available. Retrieved on May 5, 2010, from London review of books archive at

Extreme rock balancing. (21 May, 2009). Image retrieved from Pichaus on May 13, 2010, at

Fantasy Island.(nd). Retrieved on May 13, 2010, from IMDb at

Newbie woman's SL survival kit. (25 March, 2009). Retrieved on May 13, 2010, from Women's Resource Hub in Second Life at

Orientation Island (out of date). (13 March, 2010). Retrieved on May 13, 2010, from Second Life wiki at

Rymaszewski, Michael et al. (2008). Second Life: The official guide. Linden Research Inc., Indianapolis.

Skye, Shauna. (28 December, 2009). Five ways to be boring in Second Life. Retrieved on May 13, 2010, from Moonletters at

Vaughn, Kiara. (nd). A quick guide for newbies in Second Life. Retrieved on May 10, 2010, from Hub Pages at

Welcome Island. (7 April, 2010) Retrieved on May 13, 2010, from Second Life wiki at

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Australian Dreams & Mother's Day

I'm recently home from 7 weeks in Australia with my family. I presented at the ACEC2010 conference there and towards the end of the trip had the great fortune to share a some time with a new teacher friend, Yvonne, who kindly arranged a tour of 3 Australian schools for me. We ended our wonderful day together with my doing a workshop for about 8 of her colleagues at Taylors Lakes Primary School (their primary is our elementary).

I have to say that workshop was the highlight of all the sessions I did while in Melbourne. I was chatting over lunch yesterday with my usual workshop partner, Debra, about whether either of us would have turned up Friday after school for a workshop on Web 2.0 tools, and we agreed that we would have NNNOOOTTTTT! So I have to both congratulate and thank the educators who came to play with my suite of tools that day. When everyone else was on the road home to families and weekend freedom, they showed up and gave me the hands-down professional highlight of my trip.

What was most exciting for me was that as the session progressed, the energy in the room lifted. The more they had the chance to play, they more they become absorbed in the fun and intrigued by the creative possibilities of using these in their own classes. We all left so positively charged by our time together that I couldn't stop talking about it when I got back to Mum's place. That session has given me the confidence to plan my way back to Australia. My goal is to return in a little less than a year to do lots more workshops and collaborations with any school that will have me.

Because my time in Australia was mostly split between family, getting ready for the conference, and doing homework for Wilkes courses, this time round I didn't get in much sightseeing. However, we did manage 3 trips to the seaside, and if you've read any of what I wrote last summer, you'll know that as long as I'm near the water, I'm a happy girl. Australian beaches are white or reddish sand backed by huge dunes or towering cliffs, and (where we were) cobalt blue water with curling surf that rolls up from Antarctica -- soul-fillingly beautiful. It's a good thing I didn't grow up there, because my parents would have had a terrible time trying to keep me in school. The call of the sea would have been too strong.

On my last evening there we watched the video of a trek you can do on the part of the coast we'd toured by car. The Great Ocean Walk runs from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles (actually now 7 sea stacks that form when a portion of a cliff erodes and leaves a pillar behind). From the car on the Great Ocean Road, we looked down to the beach below from several fantastic lookouts along the way, but to walk it would be a peak experience -- and that will be part of my tour when I get back.

If my mum is up to it, I hope she'll be able to walk at least part of it with me. We did 5km together along the beach from Urquart's Bluff to Point Roadknight in Anglesea where my Aussie family has a summer house. To share that with her was the absolute highlight of my personal trip and I'd love to several more days of that with her before she's totally past it. That's my incentive to get shake loose from my computer chair and get back into shape -- so we can do some of that walk together. Several years of inactivity and eating have put on the pounds and robbed me of stamina, but now that I've retired and have this wonderful goal, I plan to embrace the opportunity to set that part of my life right and celebrate my new self with that trek next (Aussie) fall.

I've embedded the video we watched below. It's the tale of 3 walkers and their 6 days on this spectacular piece of Australian coast. I'm off for a local beach real-life walk with Thelma, the wonder dog, while the tide is out, and later today I'll be perusing a virtual island as we're into the first summer session at Wilkes and one of the courses (yes -- I'm doubling up to fit this one in) is about Second Life. Perhaps I'll get up my nerve and purchase a little waterfront real estate 'inworld' so I can have a virtual retreat by the water where I can go to write and study. How going to Second Life fits with my Third Chapter I'm not sure.

Happy Mother's Day to my Mum and all the other mums reading this. Most of us daughters do eventually figure out what's important in life and relationships. Although I now feel a long way away from my mum, I know it's because our time together in Australia brought us closer than we've been in a long time. Missing her is bitter sweet.

Enjoy the video!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Teacher -- heal thyself

I've been watching this video and thinking about how I measure up as a teacher and as a learner. How many of us can truly say we value all of these skills for ourselves as teacher/learners? For how many of us have these habits of mind become a matter of do as I say, not as I do?

Arthur Costa Interview from 21Foundation on Vimeo.

And how many of us believe that our students will remember us as pivotal people in their lives -- guides who had helped them find their own voices?

Found in this blog post which is worth reading to the very last line --

Click image for expanded view.

From the Caine Learning Center --

Saturday, May 1, 2010

508 -- last day

Well I survived another one and am now 3 courses from the end of my program -- well 4 actually because I've decided to take a course in the Online Learning program on 3D/virtual worlds and Second Life. Since I'm in what Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot calls my 'third chapter' having recently retired from classroom teaching (yes -- I actually did it), it only seems fitting to launch a second life as well.

All that aside -- what is the most remarkable thing that happened to me in 508? Aside from doing my first Google Earth tour (definitely a lot easier if you have a bit of a handle on HTML code) , it has to be coming across the remarkable video of Sugata Mitra that I used as the centerpiece for the 508 Glogster project.

[For the full sized version, you can click on this link -- you may have to login to your Discovery account to view the assessment tools built with DEN's Assignment Builder.]

I realized about the 5th time I watched Mitra's video that, although I seldom turned the control of learning over to students that way in my classes, I have been moving that very direction in my pro-d work with other teachers. I am convinced that if you put teachers into a social setting and give them intriguing tools to play with and explore, they will reconnect with their passion to learn, and they’ll experience the delight that students feel when their “creating minds” (Gardner, p. 81) are engaged. Anyway as the workshop progress, the energy grew. As happened with the children in the video, the participants began to cluster in groups around those who emerged as the leaders. These ‘leaders’ did not take over but had simply figured out certain tools first and shared with others what they had done. Again as happened in the video, the people behind them made suggestions and even though they may have watched more than they played, they left feeling the tools they’d made lots of progress.

It can be so easy for us teachers to remain frozen by our own fears about not being able to make technology tools work. I am “device-phobic”. I don’t carry a cell phone; I’ve never used an i-Pod. I’m the last in a workshop to put my finger on a SmartBoard. Others, on the other hand, are perfectly at home with hardware, but find it equally challenging to try the tools that I demonstrate. They have what they feel are good reasons for holding back, but the more we let these fears put limits on our “creating minds,” the more we put truth to students’ doubts that formal education can deliver on it’s promise to develop life-long learners.

I once had a student who told me that she was terrified of going on the roller coaster at the PNE (Pacific National Exhibition) but that she feared even more being left out of all the fun and being thought a ‘wimp’ by her friends. One morning she decided she had to get over this, so she took the long bus ride from Surrey to Hastings Street and bought herself a ticket to ride.

After the 6th time around the circuit, she finally began to enjoy the excitement and the feeling of living life on the edge. It’s not always that kids are fearless in the face of new experiences. I think it’s they bring to learning that they feel is important a sense of determination which carries them through even the most difficult and frustrating moments. A student who will skip school rather than face a math test he thinks he’s going to fail will take the test for his driver’s license 3 times so he can get behind the wheel. Another who lives in terror of being asked a question in front of the class will spend countless hours in the skateboard park trying and failing at tricks and moves in the company of other boarders. When curiosity and perceived value outweigh fear and hesitation, even the least talented among us will try and keep on trying until we gain gain some mastery. From that point we can move into creativity and passionate involvement. That’s where the greatest rewards are waiting.