The Purpose of Education, Human Rights, and New Media

Recently, a really interesting initiative about the purpose of education was launched by UK educators Doug Belshaw and Andy Stewart in the social media sphere. Their plan is to facilitate a critical mass of people all talking about the purpose(s) of education, starting with 500-word blog posts and Twitter campaigns, and culminating, with simultaneous large meetings/conferences further down the line. As I understand it, this initiative has been inspired by a UK election decisive for education set to take place in 3 year’s time, but Belshaw and Stewart are aiming for an international debate, and have set an ambitious goal:

From the website: Purpos/ed

The blog initiative was kick-started on February 1st on the Purpos/ed website, and so far a number of bloggers have contributed in raising their voices and joining the debate. Some of these contributions can be found in the archive, while others may be located by following the hashtags #purposed, and #500words. Furthermore is is possible to connect through a Facebook page. If you have an interest in education this is definitely an initiative worth following.

As for my own take on the purpose of education, I’ve always been inspired by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in particular article §26, (1,2);

Everyone has the right to education. (…) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

Education may be a human right, but for many different reasons becoming educated within the existing educational system is sadly not a given. Stephen Downes highlights this in his contribution with reference to his own educational path, and Lou McGill points to the challenges for kids with special needs. Unsurprisingly, many of the purpos/ed contributions echo thoughts similar to those in the declaration, the tricky part is of course how to promote, facilitate, and obtain these goals. Several authors point to new media as a means to broaden the scope of education and to tear down walls whiter these are mental, physical, or virtual. Dean Groom advocates the idea that education should extend beyond the idea of schools/institutions as being the sole places for education, whereas Fred Garnett calls for education aimed at participation.

Shifting perspective to my own current research within the 3D virtual world, Second Life (SL), I see a huge potential in using this particular kind of edtech to tear down several “walls”. Ever since I first logged into SL back in the spring of 2007 one of the aspects I’ve come to appreciate most about this virtual world is the participatory affordances enabling both me and my PD-students to connect, communicate, and collaborate with people in general, and educators in particular from all over the physical world. We have been given the opportunity to meet, and discuss cross-cultural differences in education, and to interact with a variety of educational designs – all of this contributing to new perspectives on education, teaching, and learning. Informal encounters and spontaneous activities are other very positive aspects of SL, and as it is the case in many other new media, the users of SL quickly respond to current affairs – something that recently could be witnessed during the Egypt crisis. Having heard of activities on the Egyptian island I went in to have a look on Friday February 11th shortly before it was announced that Pres. Mubarak would step down.

Protesters on the Egyptian Island, Friday February 11th 2011

Hamlet Au of the New World Notes blog and Rik Riel of the “Betterverse: Nonprofits in the Virtual World” blog have covered several of these activities on the Egyptian island, and Chantal Harvey has captured some of the ambience after Pres. Mubarak’s resignation in this short machinima:

Virtual worlds have previously been used in protesting, expressing thoughts and hopes of freedom, and in general just to direct attention towards different causes as reported in Mashable by Rita J. King co-director of the Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds project. What’s interesting here is the role not only Virtual Worlds, but new media in general play in distributing and sharing knowledge, something that also Pres. Obama noted in his remark on Egypt ; “a new generation emerge – a generation that uses their own creativity and talent and technology to call for a government that represented their hopes and not their fears; a government that is responsive to their boundless aspirations.

In a very interesting article on the correlation between social media and political changes, Charlie Beckett asks how this new media landscape could/should change the way journalists “report on revolution and feed into the post-revolutionary politics and general political communications”. As an educator I could ask similar questions about new media’s influence. I’m currently experiencing the way new media change the way we think and practice education, and I must say that I’m overall optimistic. New media bring along affordances of participation, collaboration, and ultimately of empowerment. Most importantly new media force us to rethink, reframe, and reform – and this current Purpos/ed initiative is one of many interesting ways to get involved …


Testing #HootCourse #ToolsJam and blogging to wordpress as part of the essay feature .. I think ;-)

Currently testing the Essay feature in #HootCourse via @JennFor in #ToolsJam “classroom”. Not quite sure how this works … but HootCourse definitely look like an interesting new tool :-)

Will update this post on the blog if it works as anticipated …


UPDATE from within WP (because I do so like pictures!;-)

So this new HootCourse tool seems to work vey well!

I tested via a “course” called “ToolsJam” – as I understand it, courses are simply akin to hashtags, but you can make them both private and public. If you need more than 140 characters Blogger, Xanga, Posterous are also part of the toolbox.

My tweets as they appeared in the #ToolsJam course (created by @JennFor) in the HootCourse app,

in Twitter, and here’s how this post originally looked in my Tweetdeck:

It is also possible to connect through #FB, but I haven’t tried that yet. I wasn’t really planning on exploring a new tool at this moment, but a tweet from @JennFor got me interested, and I do see great potential for engaging students, and others used to (micro-) blogging and connecting through #SoMe. Will definitely test some more …

Different aspects of Being There Together

On February 1oth Dr. Ralph Schroeder of The Oxford Internet Institute will be giving a talk entitled ” Being There Together: Social Interaction in Virtual Environments” on the CAVE island at 9AM SLT.

The talk is organized by the Applied Research in Virtual Environments for Learning Special Interest Group (ARVEL SIG) as part of their ongoing in-world discussions.

This talk will be of particular interest to me given that different ways of being there together are some of the core concerns in my PhD, and the first book I read in relation to my PhD research was in fact “The Social Life of Avatars” (2002) edited by Dr. Schroeder. Since then I’ve been following Dr. Schroeder’s work, and especially some of the articles he has published in The MIT Journal, “Presence – Teleoperators and Virtual Environments“. In my opinion the different ways of being there together are closely connected to different perspectives of the perception of presence that humans potentially get when interacting with computers (the HCI perspective), and in this regard I think it is possible (at least in an analytical sense) to distinguish between

  • a sense of being – related to self-presence
  • a sense of there – related to tele-/or virtual presence
  • a sense of togetherness – related to co-presence

In so far as you define a “virtual environment” to include the affordance of creation, I would add a sense of doing, which then in turn also could relate to doing together (co-creation), and then could relate to social presence. However, these are my preliminary thoughts, and it is important to stress that there is no consensus in the literature as to neither definition nor use of the terms of presence. When I’m done with the final analysis of my data, I’m hoping to be more articulate on this matter. An interesting challenge here is also that I’m hoping to connect Wenger’s (1998) 4 components of learning (practice, community, identity, and meaning) to the different aspects of presence, and this will be tested in my analysis. Regardless of this outcome, I find it important to emphasize that when dealing with virtual environments such as 3D virtual worlds doing together becomes just as – if not more – important as being together. And I have a strong feeling (not very academic yet, I know ;-) that becoming together may be even more important … anyways, these are some of the issues I’m currently struggling with in my PhD-work.

As I understand it, Dr. Schroeder will focus on results from his latest 2011 book (with the same title as the talk) “Being There Together. Social Interaction in Shared Virtual Environments“, which I haven’t read yet. Nonetheless, Dr. Schroeder’s slides for the talk have already been put up for viewing on the island, and judging from these, the talk will include some of the ideas Schroeder expressed in a 2007 paper entitled “Virtual Environments and Other Media for Being There Together: Towards a Convergence of Technologies, Uses, and Research Agendas.” In this paper Schroeder compares “virtual environments” (VEs) with three other technologies: 1) videoconferencing, 2) online spaces for socializing and gaming, and 3) online awareness and social networking technologies. One of the things that puzzle me about this is the way Schroeder defines “virtual environments”:

VEs are defined as providing the sensory experience of being in a place other than the you are physically in, and being able to interact with that place [1, 2] A shorthand is to say that these are technologies for ‘being there’, and multi-user VEs for ‘being there together’ [3]. (Schroeder. 2007: 1 – see original for references)

And in the video below Dr. Schroeder repeats at least the first part of this definition of VEs :

It is in fact not so much the definition that puzzles me, but rather the way Dr. Schroeder uses it to differentiate between VEs and other media. In the 2007 paper Schroeder summarizes his comparison of the four technologies in this table below:

Figure 1 from Schroeder. 2007:5

When looking at this table actually a couple of things puzzle me. First of all, I’m wondering what kinds of technologies Schroeder would label as VEs? In the above mentioned 2002 book Schroeder links VR and VE tech closely, and that could perhaps explain the “face with limited expressiveness, and body” in the Appearance cell, but I’m honestly not sure … Secondly, when I look through my SL-avatar-based glasses, I guess a medium like SL would best fit in the column of “Online spaces for gaming and socializing”, but again I’m not sure. However, if this is where Schroeder would place SL it brings forward new questions/comments. As a general comment I would say that SL fits the definition of a VE in that it also gives the user the experience of being in another place, being able to interact in this place, and of being there with others. Schroeder does in fact point to an increasing overlap between different technologies, and so I wondering why he doesn’t reserve VE as an overarching concept or definition. In more specific terms related to SL I would comment on some of the claims in the column;

  • ad. Realism: judging from the rest of the paper I think Schroeder mainly refers to fidelity here, which would explain the “low” claim. However, whiter or not something is perceived “real” in psychosocial terms remains highly controversial.
  • ad. Object and environment interaction: here I’m simply not sure what Schroeder means by “restricted field view” – at least not if it refers to the user’s control over different POVs?
  • ad. Communication and interaction: while it is true that much communication in SL is synchronous (text/voice chat), the asynchronous aspect should not be neglected, and this is something that has improved with the Shared Media feature that enables users to communicate in web-based systems outside SL from inside SL, and this of course does not have to real-time.

I’m fully aware that a general comparison can’t and shouldn’t capture more system specific nuances, and Schroeder recognizes that this comparison may “be drawn too sharply – in reality many of them overlap” (2007:2). Even so, I’m really looking forward to meeting Dr. Schroeder in-world later this week, and I’m hoping that I get the chance to ask him to elaborate on some of these issues – and meanwhile I’m impatiently waiting for his new book to arrive :-)



Schroeder, R. (2007) Virtual Environments and Other Media for Being There Together: Towards a Convergence of Technologies, Uses, and Research Agendas. Proceedings of Presence 2007, Barcelona, Spain, October 2007.

Perceived properties of SL in relation to ADHD-patients

On Thursday, January 20th Milo Spot and Viola Stonesoul from the “MILOVIOLA” group did their presentation and analysis of SL as teaching and learning environment for pupils diagnosed with ADHD. Both Milo and Viola have previously investigated more general use of ICT as tool for people with ADHD in coping with daily activities, and so were interested in exploring if and how this multi-modal medium could be applied with regards to such a target group. We started off in a sandbox up in the sky, where we were asked to switch to sunset setting, and Milo and Viola made it clear that they wanted to focus on different affordances of the teaching and learning space.

The  sandbox above the Danish Visions island

In the NE corner of the sandbox, Milo and Viola had set up several display screens with information about ADHD, and Milo gave us a short introduction, so that we could better understand the background for their design thoughts.

Milo explaining ADHD …

One of the major challenges for people diagnosed with ADHD is their problem with staying in focus if too many impressions are perceived simultaneously, and in the space depicted below Milo and Viola wanted to show us how multiple impressions could become overwhelming because of lacking ability to filter information – the many pictures sort of “coming toward us” in this space illustrated this point very well.

After this short introduction to some of the challenges involved in designing for ADHD-patients, we were asked to fly up above the sandbox to sit down and listen to Viola’s more theoretical presentation of using SL. Viola and Milo explained that it was on purpose they had chosen to place this part up in the air to illustrate the common perception of Theory, and as one of the other students subsequently noted it was hard not to think of Aristophanes’ “The Clouds” ;-)

Scaffolding (as depicted in the slide above) was one of the key words in Viola and Milo’s analysis, and in a related manner, they referred to a model illustrating the stages of learners’ participation in virtual worlds created by Dr. Mark Childs as part of his PhD dissertation. Childs visited the class in-world as Gann McGann on January 3rd, and his thoughts on avatar identity, presence, and embodiment really seem to have influenced the students (and me!).

Gann McGann and one of his alts visiting the MIL Class.

Childs’ model in the horizon …

Back on the ground in the sandbox, Milo and Viola walked us through some of the designs/objects they had considered as part of their teaching and learning design for this particular target group. ADHD-patients tend to become frustrated if their daily routines are disrupted, it is not a target group that handles change well, and as an example one of Viola’s pupils demanded there be a clock in a classroom – otherwise she wouldn’t enter the room.

Chess with its meticulous rules appeal to some ADHD-patients, and strengthen their ability to stay focused. Many ADHD-patients also need private space, even when in a social space, and the tipi in the background could accommodate this need.

In the next part of their session, Milo and Viola divided us into three teams, Red, Blue, and Yellow, and we were asked to enter the similar colored boxes/spaces set up in the south end of the sandbox. We all got note cards with case-scenarios each describing someone with ADHD. Our task in the boxes was to identify learner needs and write them in a shared document.

Petter and I writing in the that was shared among the 3 groups enabling us to see real time what the other groups were writing.

One of the concerns Milo and Viola expressed with regard to using SL in relation to their specific target group was the amount of information that the SL-user constantly is expected to cope with. To exemplify this they asked us to go to a freebie store and see if we could find and buy some doors ….

A typical example of a Freebies Store

and another example, which also includes sounds and animations  Tropical Paradise Designs

Lots of screen info – tuff .. not only for ADHD-patients …

Next stop on the tour was the holodeck on the Danish Vision island. In the setting below ADHD-patients could practice social and communication skills in a safe environment.

We ended the tour visiting the Al Andalus Mezquita, which could be used in teaching more general life skill and as a setting for discussing different perspectives on culture, religion, life, and death.

Al Andalus Mezquita

Finally we all went back to the sandbox for the feedback session. Through this highly packed program Milo and Viola splendidly showed how the space in SL can be transformed into meaningful teaching and learning places, and we all appreciated their effort to use different features in the environment such as audio-visuals and shared media. The connection between pedagogic underpinnings and practical use of the medium was very strong and well reflected. Furthermore, Milo and Viola clearly demonstrated how an educational setting could be designed with free objects found in various freebie shops in-world.

This was the fourth and final student presentation in the course – and I do think that Milo and Viola managed to leave us all with a very good impression of the teaching and learning potentials of SL – not only in relation to ADHD-patients, but in general.