Sunday, March 29, 2009

EDTECH Island Two Years Later: Training Teachers in Virtual Worlds

Had a great experience today presenting at the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education 2009 conference.  Thanks to everyone who participated.  As always, I appreciate your feedback and input.

Audio (coming soon!)

Friday, March 27, 2009

VW BPE starts tomorrow!

The Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education starts tomorrow and runs through Sunday in Second Life.  Hope to see you there!  Many of our friends from EDTECH will be on the program. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

ARVEL SIG coming to San Diego April 13!

I blame Sarah Robbins.  Two years ago at AERA in Chicago, she posted a call on the SLED listserv to show up for pizza to meet-n-greet other Second Lifers.  I not only got to meet Sarah, but several other folks with whom I've developed lasting relationships.  One of those individuals was Mary Herring, current President of AECT, who went on to start the AECT in Second Life group.  Two other folks included Jeremy Kemp and Jonathon Richter.  As the three of us lingered over a late-night chat, we brainstormed ways to create a venue for virtual world researchers to share their work, and voila! the Applied Research in Virtual Environments for Learning Special Interest Group (ARVEL SIG) was born.

With many thanks to our original 30 founding members, and our current membership of over 70 virtual world educational researchers, we are pleased to announce our first year offering eight sessions, roundtables, and interactive symposiums representing the work of over 65 researchers at this year's annual meeting of AERA in San Diego.  Our sessions run April 13-16, and we look forward to your participation as we continue to grow and evolve as a SIG!

Be sure to join us on Tuesday night for our business meeting, socializing, and most importantly, to hear our keynote speaker, Yasmin Kafai, discuss her work studying tweens in virtual worlds.

Monday, March 23, 2009

What Would Jeff Jarvis Do?

Yesterday I finished reading "What Would Google Do?" by Jeff Jarvis.  Amazing text.  I was pleased to get a Twitter from him asking him about my new ideas as a result of reading it.  As I write this post, I'm wondering how much of an "Apple" I should pull--how discreet I should be at this point as we have new work in-progress that is in non-disclosure, versus being totally open with my ideas--a central tenet of Jarvis's book.  

One of the later chapters in the text (Google U) discusses potential implications of the Google Way for universities.  It was a good overview chapter, but surprisingly, didn't give me the depth I was looking for as we seek to continue to evolve the way we "do" education in our EDTECH program at Boise State. However, in earlier chapters, I was able to glean many great ideas that can be parlayed into educational realms:

1.  Make curriculum open.  While many in educational technology are starting to work openly (George Siemens does a good job at this), most of us keep our curriculum guarded.  After all, if you're an online program, what distinguishes your program from every other online degree around the country?  People will choose your university for several reasons:  1) cost, 2) prestige of degree, 3) innovativeness and/or reputation of program, 4) reputation of faculty, 5) friend referral, 6) potential for employment with a specific degree from a specific university.  

On our website, we are very open with tons of information.  All class syllabi are listed, schedules, faculty information, projects in-progress.  We are also re-working our site and putting it in Drupal to make it more dynamic. However, what you don't see are our curriculum modules.  These have value.  What happens if we make all that curriculum freely available on the web?  Do we lose our advantage?  Jarvis gave me lots of reasons that confirmed it could be distinct advantage to offer-up our online curriculum to the public.

2.  Create platforms that organize bodies of information for others, and provide the gadgets that get that information easily to the user.  Don't make the user come to you.  Fascinating!  This process mirrors tenets of social constructivism and connectivism in learning theory.  Now we have the actual tools to make it happen.  As we train teachers, older existing pedagogical models such as cooperative learning now have new mechanisms to facilitate that process.  So what could that organization look like?  A Moodle learning site incorporating streamed feeds?  Google map mash-ups that overlay audio and video to create place-based curriculum?  Twitter communities of educational technologists that can be subscribed to with one click of a button?  What if we overlay college credit on top of these technologies and curriculum to rethink what a college education could look like in 2009?  

Jeff, I look forward to sharing more concrete examples of these ideas and how they play out in educational technology and teacher/faculty training.  For now, I return to our Apple-ized approach to keeping things closed until we are ready to release a quality product that can be modified and improved by the community.  Thanks!

Do we still need college degrees?

Jonathan Mead's recent blog on "Land Your Dream Job: Ditch School and Get a Library Card" proposes that we may no longer need college degrees to be successful.  He gives great examples such as Bill Gates and Walt Disney.  In an era of social networking and instant access to information, just what purpose DOES college serve? 

In its current format, it's becoming hard to justify four years of sitting in lecture labs.  However, trends in online education show that enrollments continue to grow across all grade levels:
  • Over 20% of freshman will take at least one online class this year.
  • Over 1,000,000 K12 kids will take at least one online class this year.
In online education, if you're lucky, your instructor will have incorporated access to social networking tools outside the LMS--blogs, wikis, twitter, facebook, virtual worlds, etc., to help empower the learner in constructing their own knowledge and link them to unique individual and ideas around the world.  We use all these technologies and more in our EDTECH program at Boise State.  So what's the value-add of using these tools "in college," as opposed to using them on your own?

First, with a savvy professor or instructor, you have a "guide" in your studies--someone who can facilitate you organizing your own studies, introducing you to important resources that you may not find on your own, assist you by posing questions that allow you to reconsider, think more deeply, and reframe.  A good professor is trained to be a facilitator in your learning process--THIS is their expertise.  This is what you should be paying for in a college education.  

Second, as much as we may or may not like it, degrees open doors.  They provide employers a quick means of determining a baseline or advanced education.  While the self-studier can create a portfolio to leave with an employer to review (and ALL learners should have some place where they collect their work), as an employer, to me a degree indicates that a person has some level of self-discipline, ability to write at a basic level, a foundational knowledge base to think critically, and some subject-specific knowledge.  In today's competitive economy, I'm going to encourage my kids to move on to college, and at the same time, follow their passions and creative process, wherever that leads them.  My 12 year old asked me if he could be a guild leader and gold-farmer, and start a business.  He's showing leadership and enterpreneurial skills, even if I'm not quite ready to let him go down that path.

Now, is there a way to reframe higher education so that it doesn't have to be boring lectures?  Can we support self-directed learning, integrate the voice of individual through social networking, pursue our own passions?  Absolutely.  We work on this everyday in our own program.  Jeff Jarvis also gives us some hints in "What Would Google Do?"  See his chapter on GoogleU.  

As a university professor, I suppose I'm biased about college degrees.  It can even be a love-hate relationship, at times.  But I'm an eternal optimist.  I wouldn't give up my degree in a million years, and thank the powers-that-be on a daily basis that I put in the time to get the degree done.  I was lucky and had amazing professors in graduate school who taught me to think about the world in a different way.  My goal is to assist others down the same path, to evolve institutions of higher education.  And maybe, just maybe, we don't need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.